—Based on Deuteronomy 30, 15-19
"Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live."
When I was in college, I remember a priest saying with all the wisdom of his many years, that one cannot legislate morality. My first reaction was to scoff. After all, a great deal of our legislation deals with morality. It was not until many years later, however, that I realized the truth of his insight. In America today, perhaps nothing is a better example of legislating morality than abortion. The attempt by the Supreme Court to resolve the question of abortion--certainly a moral one--has failed. It has failed not because the decision in Roe Vs Wade was wrong, though some legal experts would say that it is. The issue is not between right and wrong. It is much deeper.
The reading from Deuteronomy gives us a clue. God tells his people that he has set before them a choice--a choice between life and death. His people choose life. Who wouldn't? Everybody I know chooses life. The question is what kind of life? This passage occurs in Deuteronomy after God has set down a list of rules for his people; after he has carefully identified the kind of life they are to choose. If they transgress his law, they are not choosing life. If their choices are geared to satisfy their own wants and desires, they are not choosing life. Choosing life simply means being faithful to God's commands.
In the case of abortion, the choice is not so clear. We do not have such an obvious command from God. If we did, other Christian groups would not be so at odds with Catholics on this issue. What we do have is a government, which has before and continues to to legislate morality. This results in people across the land attempting to justify their positions on abortion--pro and con. In the process they confuse the question with statements of rights--the right to life and the right to choice. It is further complicated by those who insist on linking contraception and abortion. Whether or not that link exists, (and it appears that it does not) the link is not the issue.
Over the centuries, philosophers have shown us that the choices we make are always geared to good--at least the perceived good. Nobody chooses what he or she thinks to be bad. Today the expression often used for this choice is the good life. That is precisely where the real issue of abortion lies. What constitutes the good life?
Abortion advocates refer to a woman's right to control over her own body. They call it her right to choose. What they are really speaking of is her choice for a particular quality of life--her choice for the good life as she sees it. Abortion opponents offer no further clarification when they posit the child's right to life. These two groups create a conflict of rights, but creating a conflict of rights does not lead to a resolution. While it is true that the child has a right to life that alone should not be the question. On that level we will continue to encounter the absurd schizophrenia of people opposed to abortion, but in favor of capital punishment and possession and threat to use nuclear weapons. The question to be raised, which lifts the abortion debate to a wholly new plane, is the question of the good life.
What constitutes the good life? In today's society, our thinking has been polluted by the surge of self-indulgence. Altruism would seem to be a thing of the past. Society at large reflects this in materialism run rampant, while government has unleashed a militarism out of control. All this is done in pursuit of the good life. This is where abortion fits into the modern society. The question is not about a woman's right to choose. It is about a pursuit of the good life, but a pursuit without direction. For the Christian, how can the pursuit of the good life ever impinge upon the good of another? It can't. The pursuit of the good life is never a pursuit for one's own good at the expense of others. It is always a pursuit for the common good, a term long lost in American discourse.
Without clear rules and regulations, such as those found in Deuteronomy, we would appear to be at a distinct disadvantage. What has really happened, is that we have been thrust into a more responsible position of being co-creators with God. All people will continue to choose the good, and governments will continue to regulate life. Christians, then, must be able to articulate a vision of the good life. As with the people in the time of Moses, the choice before us is of the kind of life we choose. Let us choose life, then, that we, and our descendants may live.