A reader writes in:
“Hi there. I’ve got something to ask that I think I already know the answer to, but it’s something I want to say anyway. about 10 years ago, I was in a relationship with a girl who fell pregnant. We hadn’t been together long, were both young, and totally unprepared financially or mentally, and so it came as a massive shock. She told me she didn’t want to keep it, and I said I’d support her decision, so she had an abortion, which I understand to be a major sin. At the time, I had no interest in religion, but over the years I’ve become more and more interested in Christianity, to a point I’ve started asking questions about life and wondering about our meaning. I consider myself a good person, who’s kind, caring and moral, and anyone who knows me would say the same, only I know deep inside that because I allowed this to happen, that my soul is likely to go to hell. Again, I never used to believe in hell, but I’m beginning to think it’s an apt place for me due to what I did. I know it wasn’t my own decision, but the fact I agreed to it makes me just as responsible as my ex. Our relationship fell apart weeks later, she got involved with another guy and I was dumped, and I convinced myself that if we’d had the child, it would either have had to be adopted, or I would have had to look after it on my own and maybe even resent it, which would have been again, terrible to even do to an innocent, but the fact remains that almost 10 years after this event, not even my family know of it, and it’s beginning to eat away at my insides because I’m not convinced no matter how ashamed I am, and no matter how deep I regret it, that I’m going to be punished for it. Is there anything I can do to try to earn God’s forgiveness in this matter, or should I just accept my fate, live a good life, and then take my punishment? It feels kinda good to be able to try to confess this to someone religious, and I can only hope you don’t judge me too harshly in your reply. If I am to suffer God’s wrath, believe me, I’ll accept it, but I really hope there’s something I can do to try to earn redemption.”
I’m going to divide this into two responses, the moral theology response and the pastoral response. In the moral theology response, I will address the issue of Abortion and the Episcopal church’s stance. In the pastoral response, I will discuss forgiveness.
Abortion is a complex question morally, as it has two sets of goods in conflict. One set is the woman involved. In some cases, her life and/or health may be threatened. Beyond that, there is always the question of her right to self-determination. The other set are the rights of the fetus - obviously a question of life. Many people with pro-life opinions consider this an easy dilemma, as a fetus is a human being with a soul from conception. Pro-choice people also sometimes consider this decided, as the rights of a woman to self-determination is the core principle.
But neither of these positions are as obvious as some make them out to be. Who determines that a fetus is a human being from conception, rather than at some other point of development? Jewish tradition from early times seems to be that a fetus is not a human being from a legal standpoint and there are varying ideas as to when “ensoulment” happens. Christians have had varying ideas about when a fetus changes from being a part of the mother to a distinct human being. And even if the fetus IS a human being, in the case of risk to the mother, is it moral to endanger a viable human life (the mother) in order to preserve the possibility of new human life? Likewise the principle of self-determination is not so obvious. If the fetus IS a fully human life, does not the right to life trump self-determination, at least as a matter of reproductive choice?
Beyond the issues of individual morality, there are issues of how to deal with this as a society. If we do wish to prohibit abortion, are there exceptions? Does the answer change the further along a pregnancy gets? Can we really force a woman, against her will, to carry a child to term? Will legal prohibition actually stop abortion, or will it simply mean that the rich will have access by going to where they can get them while the poor return to the dangerous providers they had before Roe vs. Wade?
None of these are easy questions to answer. And despite some opinions, there is no unified consensus as to how to answer these questions in either Judaism or Christianity. Therefore, the Episcopal Church has a nuanced opinion, as reflected in the resolutions of our General Convention. A good summation of them can be found in an article at Pew:
While the Episcopal Church recognizes a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy, the church condones abortion only in cases of rape or incest, cases in which a mother's physical or mental health is at risk or cases involving fetal abnormalities. The church forbids "abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection or any reason of mere convenience."
We tend to be pretty down to earth with moral issues. While we recognize the moral problems with purely elective abortion, we also recognize that a woman’s body is her own and that legal prohibition is unlikely to resolve the underlying issues. While legislating against abortion might make us feel better, there are good questions as to whether it would actually stop abortion, or simply make it more risky for the poor. Decisions such as these are ones that should be made in consultation with a local pastor, who understands the people involved and the specifics of the case.
I’m not going to get into whether what you did was a sin, because it does not matter, you experience it as sin, that is, something that separates you from God. Blame is not the point, the question is, is this keeping you from a full relationship with God? The answer from you seems to be, “Yes.”
There is nothing you can do to earn redemption, because redemption is not earned, it is a gift freely given from God. It was given to you before you were born through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven (Except perhaps “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” See Blasphemy Challenge.) If you confess your sin, you are forgiven. Most of the time, WE are the barrier to forgiveness, being convinced we are too unworthy to be forgiven. But God is quick to forgive. If your shame and guilt has become a stumbling block to your restoration to relationship with God, I would suggest finding a minister and making a confession to him or her. Sometimes, another person is able to convince us better than we can ourselves. (See To Confess or Not To Confess)
Confess your sin, your shame, your guilt, and lay it at the foot of the cross. God loves you, and God forgives you.
For further reading see: Acts of General Convention regarding Abortion