When I was in law school many years ago, my Constitutional Law professor made a comment which sought to imply that many judges subscribe to one version or another in interpreting the Constitution. Judges may be originalists, textualists, or pragmatists. But in spite of how they see themselves, there is no question that their personal beliefs often help shape their conclusions on certain cases. It didn’t make sense then, but it makes sense now, considering the recent ruling from the Supreme Court regarding abortion.
For the life of me, I have no idea why abortion is such a hot topic among Americans. In my native Ghana, it is not even an issue of debate. It is not one of the topical issues for conversation or policy. You only hear about it from friends when they tell stories about it or when one person talks about someone who had had that procedure. Other than that, it is not part of the news cycle nor is it part of a conversation among policymakers.
It was here in the US that I came to realize that abortion was a hot topic issue. "For what?" I asked myself. "It’s about the sanctity of life," I heard. "Oh really? Does that sanctity begin at conception, through pregnancy, and even after birth and throughout the life of that person or does the sanctity of life end at some point?" I wondered.
Listening to those who are firmly against abortion and thus support the recent decision of the Supreme Court makes me wonder to what extent their personal beliefs influence those decisions. I am not against personal beliefs; trust me, I have some. But the question is, to what extent do my personal beliefs, or yours, drive us to either affirm or reject another person’s decision that may not affect us in any way?
I’d like to know how a woman’s sacred decision to abort a pregnancy - which, for example, may have been caused by incest or rape, or may put the woman’s life in danger - affect you or me? Do people believe that abortion is such a casual decision? I know that it is not. It is a painstaking decision that women have to live with for the rest of their lives. And so, it does us no good to assume that women are simply having sex and making some casual decisions like buying stuff at the grocery store or fruits at the farmer's market.
Do I believe in abortion? No, I don’t. Have I offered one as an alternative to unwanted pregnancy? Yes, I have. Do I have an issue with those who believe in it? No, I don’t. Do I have a problem with those who have undergone that procedure? No, I don’t. Does my personal belief determine whether a woman should have access to abortion or not? No, it does not.
I have long learned that my personal beliefs have no place in determining the choices and preferences of those who make decisions like having an abortion.
Let me take you back to the days before the Civil War, and even thereafter. Many were those whose personal beliefs were enough to keep the African Americans in the bondage of Slavery. In fact, many of those whose personal beliefs had such a powerful influence over their lives and believed that theirs were superior, actually fought others in a war to determine the extent to which their personal beliefs should determine the lives of African American Slaves.
The honest truth is that many of those who believed that their personal beliefs were superior did not care about the sanctity of the life of the African American Slave. In fact, it makes no difference to them, even to this day.
So wherein lies this fallacy about the sanctity of life? At which point does it begin? At which point does it end? If we truly believed in the sanctity of life, whose life are we talking about? Yours or mine? If that is truly our belief, then why don’t we honor that belief all through the life of a person?
I posed a question to a colleague priest at a conference a few months ago. I’d like to share the question with you: “If the gospel is about good news. How come we have a hard time convincing others about this good news? How come the good news is not resonating with people?”
The issue is, as good news as the gospel may be, we can’t convince others about this good news because we are not honest practitioners of this good news. We sell half-baked stories of the good news and pretend that that is what the good news is all about. We pretend that we have been transformed by the good news whiles we have our knees on the necks of the vulnerable whose life we don’t consider to be sanctified.
Again, whose life are we talking about? Because if we are talking about sanctified life, your knee wouldn’t be on my neck.
Every single justice of the Supreme Court who voted for this atrocity is a Christian. They themselves swore to uphold stare decisis - a legal principle that respects precedent. They believed that precedent matters because they told us that they do. They know that certainty within the body politic matters. They know that to change such decisions as Roe v. Wade undermines the idea of stare decisis, reduces public confidence in the Supreme Court, and gives room for other Supreme Court justices down the road to change decisions that their personal beliefs question. More importantly, it creates mistrust within our society and gives room for people to question the independence of the one institution which has often risen above partisan politics.
I was terribly sad when the decision came down. I asked myself, "Why? Why would these justices do this?" I was sad, not because I personally believe in abortion, but because five males decided that a woman’s personal and agonizing decision matters less than their personal beliefs.
This is a travesty; on the one hand, we have to respect the right of law-abiding citizens to purchase as many guns as they can afford because of the Second Amendment. But on the other hand, we cannot respect the right of a woman to make a personal decision about her body because the provision for abortion isn’t in the Constitution.
The question isn’t whether our personal beliefs matter or not; they do matter. But what informs those beliefs? And are they the sort of beliefs that diminishes us or lifts us and our burdens up, making us visible?
Well, I am not a constitutional lawyer but if you ask me, between guns and abortion, which of these is a present danger in our public space? I am only a priest, but if you ask me, when does the sanctity of life begin? I will respond that it begins at the moment of conception till even after death. That is a personal belief shaped by the gospel of the good news of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is this gospel that both challenges and helps me in honoring every single life, not only those who have not yet been born.
If you want to honor the life of the unborn, perhaps first try to honor the life of the living.