What strikes me about the abortion debate is that compassion is in short supply. Whether it is the pro-choicers ruthlessly mocking or denying the devastating grief and pain that many women feel after abortion or pro-lifers condemning women as “evil” or “murderers”, it seems few people want to approach the subject with heart and mind truly open.
The truth is that extraordinary numbers of women are saying the same things about abortion: that they didn’t understand what it was, that they felt they had no real alternative and that they have suffered alone, sometimes for years or even decades, from its aftermath, silenced by shame and by the universal notion that abortion was their “choice”. They are then further condemned by almost all pro-choicers and many pro-lifers.
There is a very moving story in St. John’s Gospel about Jesus and a woman caught in the act of adultery, which was of course a very serious crime in that society, commonly punishable by lapidation. The scribes and Pharisees bring her to Jesus, saying that the law of Moses condemns her to die by stoning – what does he say? Jesus initially refuses to answer them but when they insist, replies that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. At this, they slowly begin to leave until Jesus and the woman are left alone. He says to the woman, in a famous and commonly quoted phrase, “Go and sin no more” – but before that he says something very interesting that is far less commonly quoted. He says, in the Authorized Version, “I do not condemn thee”. This holy man tells a woman caught in the act of adultery that he does not condemn her. There can be no more complete and moving statement of compassion.
It seems to me that many supposed followers of Jesus have lost faith with the inspiration of their master. They are quick both to cast stones and to condemn. Yet this neither touches people’s hearts nor gives them hope and inspiration to change, to go and sin no more.