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