Imagine if we had a pro-life movement that said the following: “We’re not trying to change any laws. But we want you to take a look at these pictures of the child in the womb and decide for yourself that abortion is wrong. We will study why particular women have particular abortions and see if there are things we can collectively do to reduce the pressures that cause women to end their pregnancies in this way. We will measure our success not by what we are able to criminalize, but by reductions in abortion’s frequency. We’re already 1/3 of the way to our goal, as compared to 1980, and with continued effort we hope to achieve continuing reductions in the future.”
Such a statement would involve some considerable changes in the thinking of the pro-life movement. It would mean the end of abortion’s signifier as a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern world. It would sever abortion from the larger debate over sexuality and spirituality–just as alcohol has been separated from debates over ethnicity and spirituality. And it would define success in terms of abortion reduction rather than abortion prohibition.
That is a movement I would enthusiastically support. But notice the key distinction here: between persuasion and prohibition. That is really the nub of my distinction between Christianity and Christianism. Christianity is something that must be freely chosen to be real; it cannot be imposed by law; and its chief goal is the extraordinarily fraught attempt to live our own lives as Jesus taught us, not to control other people's lives to improve our own.
A Christianity that was prepared to accept legal, safe and rare abortions as a political matter would have far more clout with its argument about the sanctity of human life than one that seeks to control the bodies and souls of fellow citizens by the coercion of the law. And it would also be spared the absurdities of regarding the usual cycle of reproduction – in which countless fertilized eggs are flushed out of a woman's body – as some sort of mass murder, as these "personhood" amendments would mandate.
Same too, by the way, with civil marriage. Imagine if Christians said they would never interfere with a fellow citizen's civil equality but still insisted on the uniqueness and superiority of the heterosexual, exclusively procreative model. I think it would be much more persuasive.