Anti-abortion demonstrators, center left, argue with abortion-rights activists outside the...

Anti-abortion demonstrators, center left, argue with abortion-rights activists outside the Supreme Court in Washington, on June 25. Credit: AP/Steve Helber

Are you a vegetarian or a carnivore? If a vegetarian, do you eat eggs and milk products? Onions and other vegetables pulled up out of the ground? Vegetarian or carnivore, how do you feel about the other?

Deer hunters and broccoli lovers seldom come to blows, but do disagree. Some do not understand how a Christian can eat meat, while it makes no sense to others that cattle should have the same rights as people. Jains think that pulling onions or potatoes out of the ground is violence, which seems ludicrous to those who do not see vegetables as endowed with feelings. Hunters believe culling the herd is more compassionate than letting Bambi starve from overpopulation. Everyone has a point, but their point makes sense only to those who share their assumptions.

The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is a victory for the Catholic and evangelical Christian churches, and a defeat for everyone else — roughly two-thirds of Americans. It allows states to restrict abortion based on a theological belief and more than half the states are poised to take an extreme step, including the claim that a fertilized egg has the same rights as its mother. This is certain to inflame religious tensions.

Those who see human personhood as beginning at conception are duty-bound to reject abortion and want it outlawed, but those who believe personhood is conferred with your first breath find it incomprehensible to call this medical procedure homicide.

It is wrong, however, to condemn others’ intentions on the basis of your own presuppositions. Onion-eaters do not wish to torture defenseless vegetables and deer hunters are not violating the rights of anyone they recognize as having them. It is unfair to say that Christians who support legal abortion “have little regard for human life,” since they do not recognize a fetus as a human being (or oppose abortion personally but think banning it is bad public policy). It is equally unfair to claim that abortion opponents oppose women’s rights, since nobody believes we have a right to commit murder.

When we talk about abortion, most of us assume we are right about the key question: Is a zygote a human being? In this, as in other matters of faith, your answer can be believed but not proved.

The Rev. Thomas Goodhue

The Rev. Thomas Goodhue Credit: Newsday Staff/Kathy Kmonicek

When Christians quote Scripture to support their position, they often quote “Thou shalt not kill” from the Ten Commandments — but unless the fetus is a person, ending a pregnancy is not murder. The Hebrew Scriptures, I am told by those who know better than I, assume that you become a person when the nephesh (breath or spirit) enters your body. When pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, Jewish law not only permits abortion but requires it. The scriptures of other faiths sometimes condemn abortion and sometimes permit it.

Pro-choice Christians note that Jesus never said a word about this issue and that the Bible does not explicitly prohibit abortion, in contrast to the laws of surrounding cultures, but an argument from silence is never a strong one.

It may not be very convincing to argue, “If my assumption is right, then you are wrong,” but that is the most honest thing any of us can say. It would be foolish to expect either camp to stop fighting for its position, but we can and should expect ourselves to not lie about our differences.

This guest essay reflects the views of Rev. Thomas W. Goodhue, a United Methodist clergyman who led the Long Island Council of Churches for 17 years.

This guest essay reflects the views of Rev. Thomas W. Goodhue, a United Methodist clergyman who led the Long Island Council of Churches for 17 years.

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