In the first post on this topic, I pointed to some problems for religious approaches to the abortion question. Just saying that abortion is wrong because God forbids it depends on the Divine Command theory, and that’s an unfortunate view even for the religious. (As Bertrand Russell points out, it turns the claim that God is good into a triviality.) And talking about the soul is just an attempt to explain the contentious by appeal to the obscure. But there’s another way a believer might well think about it.
Let’s start with something more mundane.
The fact that someone you care about cares about something can be a reason for you to care too. At the very least, it might give you a reason to treat it with respect. Suppose your beloved is uncommonly fond of a particular teacup. This might well lead you to be careful with it — to make sure you don’t break it when you handle it, to put it away even if your loved one forgets to, to keep it out of reach of people who might be careless with it… All this could be true even if you wouldn’t otherwise have given this teacup much thought.
In this sort of case, your care is mostly a matter of deference to your beloved. But it might well go further. Suppose your beloved gets enormous pleasure from a work of art — say, a painting — that you had never had much interest in yourself. You might come to see the painting through your beloved’s eyes. You might come to see that it is worthy of being valued, but it might well go beyond that. Your beloved’s unfeigned delight in the painting might infect you, so to speak, until this painting that you would never have paid much attention to fills you with delight as well. You value it because your beloved does, but in a more interesting way: you see the thing in a new way.
We can also imagine that your lover’s affection for another person might overtake you in the same way. You might come to love someone — really love them — because your beloved loved them first. You might come to see them as he or she does.
Now consider a passage like this one from Psalm 139 (verses 13 through 17)
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!
Some people use this as a “proof text,” but that’s not what interests me. What interests me is the window that the passege (and there are others like it) give into a way of looking at the world. If you see the world as the gift of a loving God, and if you believe that God loved not just you but all of us from our very beginnings, then abortion may well seem very wrong. It might be partly a matter of deference to what God loves, but it could be more: it could be a sense that one has glimpsed God’s own view of life.
For some, the respose will be “So much the worse for religous fantasy.” I’ll have more to say on related matters in another post, but for now I’ll just register my disagreement. The view I’ve described isn’t mine, but I don’t hold it in anything like contempt. Interestingly, this is partly because there are people whom I respect and about whom I care see the world in something like this way, and because I can perfrom the act of imaginative empathy to get what I hope is a serious glimpse of their view. When I perform that act, contempt is very far from what I feel.
Put briefly, what I’m saying is that I have no trouble understanding why a sincere, thoughtful religious person might see abortion as a terrible wrong. But there is more to think about — even for the believer. People of equally deep religious commitment can and do disagree about abortion — even if they agree that it’s far from trivial.
How can that be?
One reason may seem “philosophical” and picky: even if God loves all of creation, it doesn’t follow that God loves all of it in the same way and without nuance. As has often been pointed out, a surprisingly large number of pregnancy end in spontaneous miscarriage. Suppose a sincere believer finds out somehow (imagine the science exists) that last month, she had a spontaneous miscarriage of a three-week-old embryo. Should see see this as a tragedy? Especially if she already has children and, though willing to have more, was not looking to do so? Must she see it as a failing to take God’s point of view seriously if her reaction is at most a moment of wistfulness?