Published in the PEI Guardian
Thanks so much, Rev. Moses.
Prince Edward Island is an exceptional place. Not least among our unique features is the role that faith, especially the Christian faith, still plays in our common life. Church attendance here is fairly high, compared with many other parts of the country and even those who seldom if ever occupy a pew can usually say which church they are staying away from. I can’t help wondering, therefore, if fear of negative reaction from the churches might have played a part in the way the politicians ran for cover when the issue of on-Island access to abortions arose not long ago.
Abortion is the hottest of hot-button issues. It stirs deep emotions and there are many Christians who feel absolutely bound to affirm the sanctity of unborn life. This is a tradition which dates back to the earliest days of our faith and it was one of the factors in the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Because they refused to terminate pregnancies by the crude (and dangerous) means then available and because they would not abandon “surplus ”infants to die, Christians had a birthrate which significantly exceeded that of pagans. It was not entirely a case of “conquest by the cradle” but the full cradles helped. (See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity)
There is, however, a darker side to the insistence on the sanctity of unborn life and that has to do with a persistent lack of respect for women and their bodies and their ability to make reproductive choices. I sometimes fear that we are not far in our thinking from the days when women were not regarded as persons capable of making decisions for themselves and needed all sorts of paternalistic guidance. Is it the case that women on PEI are less competent than their sisters in the other provinces and territories? They can, of course, go elsewhere to have an abortion but that must surely serve to further complicate some situations. There was a fellow named Jesus had something to say about laying heavy burdens on people and not lifting a finger to help.
Of course, some Christian-based groups do help with support for women who decide to carry an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy to term. But why is it that we seem to have so much more concern for unborn children than for the children already among us? There is a high incidence of poverty on the Island. This includes the so-called “working poor” as well those living on social assistance and other support programs. The effects of poverty on children are well documented. It puts them at risk in many, many ways and exacts an economic cost which we all have to bear. There are, however, few votes in poverty and addressing it any serious fashion seldom rises to the top of any political agenda.
I have never understood why it is that abortion is considered by a whole lot of Christians to be a moral issue while poverty is not. Maybe it’s because sex is so much more interesting or because it’s easier to tell women what they should do with their bodies than to consider what we would need to do in order to build a just and compassionate community for all of us. In the tradition of Israel and in the tradition of the church as unfolded in the Old and New Testaments economic justice is certainly a moral issue.
Imagine the premier going into a cabinet meeting and saying to his colleagues, “We have to get busy on the poverty file. If not, the churches will raise hell.”
You might say that I have a predisposition to believe in miracles.