A Special Kind of Witness: What About Abortion?

By His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel, transcribed by Valerie G. Zahirsky

How shall we Orthodox witness to the community around us? The most obvious way, of course, is to share our beliefs and the teachings we have inherited. One aspect of this sharing a very important one is to speak to our neighbors about the vital moral issues of our day from an Orthodox perspective. We can try to show that the Church's teachings are based on certain ideas about all humanity, and therefore are valid for everyone.

His Grace, Bishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America has approached the issue of abortion in this way. In a talk given on his weekly "Orthodox Hour" radio broadcast, Bishop Nathaniel shows why the Church opposes abortion not in negative terms, but based on God's own love for the human lives He has created. We must follow His command to revere life, value and nurture it, and oppose its willful destruction.

Such an approach seems a good one for us to take as we speak to others about abortion. Rather than condemn the "pro-choice" advocates among us, or dare to call ourselves their judges, we can speak lovingly and positively of God's love which precludes the destruction of life given by Him. Here, taken from Bishop Nathaniel's talk, are some points to help us as we witness to our faith in a God who wants His creatures to live:

1. There is plenty of Scriptural and patristic evidence that life was always seen as something that begins long before birth. In Jeremiah 1:4-5 we read; "Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."'

Psalm 139 records these words of the king/prophet David: "For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb. Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."

Such passages show clearly that God has a plan for each of us, knows us and loves us, long before we make our appearance on earth. We are, because of His love, already persons.

2. To say that abortion is a private matter between a woman and her doctor is to ignore a basic fact. That fact is that another life - the life of a child created by God and with a right therefore to live is involved.

3. It is false to call the fetus "part of the mother's body" and thereby imply that she is free to retain or destroy it. The evidence shows that a fetus, while dependent on its mother for nourishment and intimately connected with her, already has its own characteristics and uniqueness.

A woman has the right to decide whether or not to conceive, but not to destroy a life already conceived. Once we claim the right to terminate "unwanted pregnancies" we edge that much closer to destroying unwanted elderly or disabled or otherwise "imperfect" lives. A caring society must offer the possibility of adoption for babies whose natural mothers cannot or will not raise them.

4. Abortion does not solve the problem of abused children. Most battered children come from planned pregnancies.

5. The idea of aborting babies known through pre-birth testing to have some serious deformity raises huge moral questions. Who has the right to decide that someone shall not be allowed to exist? Would the child choose not to live if he or she were consulted? Shall we someday decide to kill those who are already living but whose lives have become deformed through accident or illness?

This question becomes especially important when we consider studies showing that the malformed have the same level of happiness and expectation for the future as do normal people. Human life is human life: this has always been the prevailing belief. To decide now that only life which meets certain criteria will be allowed to exist would be to go against Orthodox Christian teaching - a teaching that we have stood by throughout history.

6. We sometimes forget that mothers and doctors who take part in abortions are often deeply and seriously affected. Many women find themselves longing for their lost child after having an abortion. Doctors have reported feelings of being murderers and liars. They see fetuses reacting violently after swallowing the fatal salt solution during a saline abortion, reacting like persons in distress rather than mere masses of tissue. Doctors know they are going against their own word, the Hippocratic Oath, by which they specifically pledged not to abort babies. What do such experiences do to people?

7. The Supreme Court's 1973 decision to legalize abortion, along with other decisions, could fundamentally change the roles of basic institutions in our society. First, the courts are becoming the determiners of what is and is not meaningful life. Are courts of law the appropriate arbiters in such matters?

The government, too, takes a new role when in addition to protecting life, it pays for abortions and thereby becomes an agent in the process of keeping down the population.

Doctors, always looked up to as healers in society, now are asked to be destroyers of life as well. As we have seen, many are experiencing a kind of schizophrenia, the inevitable result of doing two things which are diametrically opposed.

Recent court decisions also affect the status of married couples and of parents. A ruling that wives can get abortions without their husbands' consent means that married couples can be seen not as a unit with special responsibilities and privileges to and for each other, but as individuals with no special status. Another ruling has overturned state laws requiring parents' consent for a minor to get an abortion. Does this mean that parents have no moral responsibility for, and control over their children, that minors are free to abort without any adult consent? These questions will not go away. The casualties from this "war on the unborn" are staggering. Compared to a half-million lives lost in the Civil War, 400,000 in World War II, and 58,000 in Vietnam, we have had 19 1/2 million abortion deaths since 1973.

In the face of this, we Orthodox cannot be neutral. God has commanded us to love and care for life, as He does. We can share this love, and this command, with those around us. We can stand solidly with those who want to honor God's law. By so doing we will offer a terribly important witness to our neighbors. By God's grace we may be acting for their salvation and our own, as well as saving the lives of the unborn.

The Right Rev. Nathaniel is Bishop of Detroit and of the Romanian Diocese of the OCA.

Valerie Zahirsky is Chairman of the Department of Lay Ministries' Task Force on the Resource Handbook and Other Publications. She is a member of Holy Trinity Parish, Erie. Pa.

Taken from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries