Abortion Debate: These two Christians worship the same Jesus. But they have very different views on abortion

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And yet, the two stand on opposite sides in the contentious abortion debate.

Both personify the divisions over abortion in the church – and show just how complex the issue can be when two smart, knowledgeable people cite scripture to support their point.

But the debate will continue over access to abortion, which is both a moral and religious issue for many people of faith like Ellis and Horn.

While much of the abortion debate has been filtered through angry protests and shouting slogans, CNN chose to interview these two Christians because each has written thoughtful public essays on the issue.

Horn, author of “Persuasive Pro-life,” wrote a recent essay, “Catholics Can’t Be Pro-Choice,” in which he argued that all “reasonable” people should oppose legal abortion because it is the taking of a life. “If unborn children are not human beings, then abortion is harmless surgery. But if unborn children grow up, they must be alive,” he wrote.
Ellis is the author of a recent essay, “Why I’m a Pro-Choice Christian and I Believe You Should Be Too.” One of her biggest criticisms of abortion rights opponents is that “often these activists do not support other political causes that preserve the life of the child after birth.”

We asked Ellis and Horn the same four questions and received radically different answers. Their responses have been edited for brevity.

How does your faith shape your position on abortion?

Horn: My faith informs me that God created human beings in his image. He loves human beings and He wants us to share that same love and promote justice for all other human beings. Since my faith teaches me that every human being, every member of our species is equal in worth and dignity, then my faith informs me that I should never directly kill an innocent member of our species just because they don’t. is not desired. My faith informs me that every human being, from conception to death, deserves equal protection under the law.

Anti-abortion protesters pray as demonstrators gather outside City Hall in Houston, Texas during a Ban Our Bodies rally on May 14, 2022.

Ellis: I believe in the sanctity of human life and would like to see a world with fewer abortions. But I also know that banning abortion will hit members of society who are already truly marginalized harder, and wealthy white women will still be able to access safe and affordable abortion. Making abortion illegal is going to disproportionately affect young women, poor women, women of color, in rural areas, women who don’t have the support system that some people are privileged to have. These are the kind of people Jesus always championed in his life and ministry. Above all, I will always be on the side of a woman who is alive, breathing, human and what is best for her and her family situation.

What biblical passages do you cite to justify your position?

Horn: The Bible doesn’t explicitly mention abortion, so it doesn’t say abortion itself is wrong, but it also doesn’t say infanticide is wrong or pedophilia is wrong. Instead, I use the scriptures to inform me of general principles. The Bible is clear in Exodus 23:7 and Proverbs 6:16-17 that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings. Proverbs 6 says that God hates hands that shed innocent blood.

If the Bible says it is wrong to kill innocent human beings, and science and sound reasoning tell us that human embryos and human fetuses are human beings, then the Bible informs me that it is wrong to kill them. The Bible doesn’t say it’s wrong to lynch black people, but it’s clearly wrong because the Bible says it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings. This would apply to all born and unborn human beings.

What is more relevant is that the Bible says that human life exists in the womb (Luke 1:41) and the Bible forbids killing innocent human beings (Exodus 20:13). This prohibition would apply to abortion as to any other homicide. Because unborn children are simply smaller, more dependent human beings, these differences do not negate their inalienable right to life.

Abortion rights activists demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 13, 2022.

Ellis: We have to be very careful when we try to take a subject as complicated as abortion and try to justify or condemn it through a single verse or a few verses taken out of context. The Bible is an incredibly complicated book written by many people in different historical and social contexts. It might be irresponsible to just pull a sentence or two and relate it to 21st century America. The Bible does not explicitly talk about abortion, pros or cons in any way. It’s just not there.

When I think of the kind of writing that anti-abortion people put out, they often talk about murder, sexual immorality, and blaming women. They are so taken out of context. I fall back on the life and ministry of Christ. Jesus truly stood up for women in a beautiful and unique way for the time he lived in. Even being with women and talking to them, he was honoring them and breaking social conventions. In the time of Jesus as today, the body of women is too often set aside. I don’t think Jesus would approve of that.

There are Bible stories where Jesus championed and empowered women. In John 4:1-42, Jesus engaged with the woman at the well and gave her power to spread his teachings. In Luke 8:43-48, Jesus dropped everything to speak and help the woman who touched his garment. And in Matthew 28:1-20, Jesus entrusts the good news of his resurrection to women.

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What is the biggest myth people have about people who share your position?

Horn: The biggest myth people have about my position on abortion is that it’s just a religious position. There are many religious people who oppose abortion, just as there were many religious people who opposed racial segregation in the United States. Opposition to racial segregation and opposition to abortion are not just religious positions. Rather, they are human rights issues because they are based on a fundamental truth that any reasonable person can arrive at, which is that we must give every human being equal respect and protection under the law.

Just as there are no morally relevant differences between blacks and whites to justify whites mistreating blacks, there are no morally relevant differences between born and unborn humans. Unborn humans are smaller, less developed, and more dependent than us, but newborns are also smaller, less developed, and highly dependent. But these reasons would not justify killing a born child and they do not justify saying that unborn children are not persons and can be killed.

Gabriel Oliver, who opposes abortion rights, reads the Bible outside an abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, December 1, 2021.
Ellis: I would like people to understand that you can be a Christian and not oppose abortion. Just because someone is pro-choice doesn’t mean they hate life, babies, the Bible, or God. The power of the religious right is so strong that so many Christians find it hard to imagine anyone on the other side of this issue. But to echo Randall Balmer [a historian who is an authority on the religious right], the religious right was created to oppose desegregated schools. The shift in focus to being anti-abortion took place to gain political power. People have very real moral commitments and beliefs on both sides. So I’m not saying that someone who is “for life” is corrupt and simply seeks power, but that’s how the religious right movement was founded. It will always be tainted because of it.

Can someone who opposes your position on abortion still legitimately call themselves a Christian?

Horn: There may be Christians who support legal abortion, just as many Christians have supported legal slavery. To be a Christian means that you have a valid baptism and that you believe in the central tenets of the Christian faith. However, a Christian who endorses legal slavery or legal abortion contradicts the moral law that Christianity gives us. So while they would be Christians, they would be in conflict with the law that Christ gave us to protect the innocent, to protect the weak, and they will be judged for breaking that law as Christians.

People are free to hold religious beliefs, including pro-choice Christian beliefs, but they are not always free to act on those beliefs. Some religions teach that polygamy, slavery, female genital mutilation or honor killings should be legal, but the law must protect all innocent human beings, born and unborn, from all harm, including those committed in the name of religion.

Anti-abortion activists confront a rally of abortion rights protesters outside a Catholic church in midtown Manhattan on May 7, 2022 in New York City.

Ellis: I obviously don’t agree with people who oppose abortion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be Christians just because I personally disagree with them. Who am I to say who can or cannot be a Christian? It is truly God’s business. I think we need to stop this intense control we have over Christianity, especially when our control is just based on an issue like abortion that is not talked about in the Bible.

When Jesus asked people to follow him, you didn’t have to go through some sort of moral or political checklist first. I grew up in West Texas in a very religious and very conservative environment. I know so many people who are against abortion because of their faith. I obviously disagree with them personally because of my faith, but I don’t think that means they’re not good people, or that they’re not good Christians, much less that they’re not Christians at all.

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