Both cite the same Bible. Both follow the same Jesus. And both talk about the sanctity of life.
And yet both stand on opposite sides of the contentious debate over abortion.
Trent Horn, an author, speaker and podcaster, is a Roman Catholic and an opponent of abortion rights. Laura Ellis supports legal abortion rights and is project manager at Baptist Women in Ministry, a Baptist group that advocates for women in ministry.
Both personify the divisions over abortion in the church — and show how complex the issue can be when two smart and well-informed people cite scripture to support their point of view.
The US Supreme Court addressed a momentous legal question Friday when the court’s conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping away nationwide access to abortion. For the first time in almost 50 years, Americans are living in a country where abortion is not enshrined as a constitutional right.
But the debate will continue over access to abortion, which is both a moral and religious issue for many people of faith like Ellis and Horn.
While much of the debate around abortion has been filtered through angry protests and shouted slogans, CNN chose to interview these two Christians because each has penned thoughtful public essays on the issue.
Horn, author of “Persuasive Pro-life,” wrote a recent essay, “Catholics Can’t Be Pro-Choice,” in which he argued that all “reasonable” people should oppose legal abortion because it is the taking of a life. “If the unborn are not human beings, then abortion is harmless surgery. But if the unborn are growing, they must be alive,” he wrote.
Ellis is author of a recent essay, “Why I’m a pro-choice Christian and believe you should be too.” One of her biggest criticisms of abortion rights opponents is that “often these activists fail to support other political causes that preserve the life of the child after being born.”
We asked both Ellis and Horn the same four questions and received dramatically different responses. Their answers were edited for brevity.
How does your faith shape your position on abortion?
Horn: My faith informs me that God created human beings in His image. He loves human beings, and He wants us to share that same love and promote justice towards every other human being. Since my faith teaches me that every single human being, every single member of our species is equal in value and dignity, then my faith informs me that I should never directly kill an innocent member of our species just because they’re unwanted. My faith informs me that every single human being, from the moment they’re conceived until the moment they die, deserves equal protection under the law.
Ellis: I do believe in the sanctity of human life, and I would love to see a world with less abortions. But I also know that banning abortion is going to most harshly affect people in society who are already really marginalized, and rich White women are always going to be able to have access to safe, affordable abortion. Making abortion illegal is going to disproportionately affect young women, women in poverty, women of color, in rural areas, women who don’t have a support system that some people are privileged to have. These are the kind of people that Jesus was always advocating for in his life and ministry. I first and foremost am always going to side with a living, breathing, human woman and what’s best for her and for her family situation.
What Bible passages do you cite to justify your position?
Horn: The Bible does not explicitly mention abortion, so it doesn’t say that abortion itself is wrong, but it also doesn’t say that infanticide is wrong or that pedophilia is wrong. Instead, I use scripture to inform me with general principles. The Bible is clear in Exodus 23:7 and Proverbs 6:16-17 that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings. Proverbs 6 says that God hates the hands that shed innocent blood.
If the Bible says that it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings, and science and sound reasoning tell us that human embryos and human fetuses are human beings, then the Bible informs me that it is wrong to kill them. The Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong to lynch Black people, but clearly it is wrong because the Bible says it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings. That would apply to all born and unborn human beings.
What’s more relevant is that the Bible says human life exists in the womb (Luke 1:41) and the Bible prohibits killing innocent human beings (Exodus 20:13). This prohibition would apply to abortion as it would to any other homicide. Because the unborn are just smaller, more dependent human beings, those differences don’t nullify their inalienable right to life.
Ellis: We have to be really careful when we try to take a topic as complicated as abortion and try to justify it or condemn it through a single verse or a couple of verses that are taken out of context. The Bible is an incredibly complicated book written by multiple people over different historical and social contexts. It could be irresponsible to just pull out a sentence or two and relate them to 21st-century America. The Bible does not talk explicitly about abortion, pro or con in any kind of way. It’s just not there.
When I think about the kind of scriptures that people who are anti-abortion pull out, they are often about murder, sexual immorality and blaming women. They are so taken out of context. I fall back to drawing from the life and ministry of Christ. Jesus really advocated for women in a beautiful, unique way for the time period he was living in. Even by being with women and speaking to women, he was honoring them and breaking social conventions. Both in Jesus’s day and in our day, women’s bodies are too often tossed aside. I Think Jesus would not approve of that.
There are biblical stories where Jesus advocated for and empowered women. In John 4: 1-42, Jesus engaged with the woman at the well and empowered her to spread his teachings. In Luke 8: 43-48, Jesus dropped everything to speak with and help the woman who touched his garment. And in Matthew 28: 1-20, Jesus entrusted the good news of his resurrection to women.
What is the biggest myth people have about people who share your position?
Horn: The biggest myth that people have about my position on abortion is that it is merely a religious position. There are many religious people who oppose abortion, just like there were many religious people who opposed racial segregation in the United States. Opposition to racial segregation and opposition to abortion are not merely religious positions. Rather these are human rights issues because they’re grounded in a basic truth that any reasonable person can come to, which is that we ought to give every single human being equal respect and protection under the law.
Just as there are no morally relevant differences between Black and White people to justify Whites mistreating Blacks, there’s no morally relevant differences between born and unborn humans. Unborn humans are smaller, less developed, and more dependent than we are, but newborn infants are also smaller, less developed than we are and very dependent. But those reasons wouldn’t justify killing a born child and they don’t justify saying the unborn are not persons and can be killed.
Ellis: I wish people would understand that you can be a Christian and not oppose abortion. Just because somebody is pro-choice doesn’t mean that they hate life or babies or the Bible or God. The power of the religious right is so strong that so many Christians have a hard time conceiving that somebody could be on the other side of this issue. But to echo Randall Balmer [a historian who is an authority on the religious right], the religious right was created to oppose desegregated schools. The change in focus to being anti-abortion took place to gain political power. People have very real commitments and moral beliefs on both sides of it. So I’m not saying that someone who is “for life” is corrupt and just seeking power, but that is how the religious right movement was founded. It’s always going to be tainted because of that.
Can a person who opposes your position on abortion still legitimately call themselves a Christian?
Horn: There can be Christians who support legal abortion just like there were many Christians who supported legal slavery. Being a Christian means that you have a valid baptism, and you believe in the central tenets of the Christian faith. However, a Christian who endorses legal slavery or endorses legal abortion stands in contradiction to the moral law that Christianity gives us. So while they would be a Christian, they would be in contradictions of the law that Christ has given us to protect the innocent, to protect the weak, and they will stand in judgment for violating that law as Christians.
People are free to have any religious beliefs, including pro-choice Christian ones, but they aren’t always free to act on those beliefs. Some religions teach that polygamy, slavery, female genital mutilation, or honor killings should be legal, but the law must protect all innocent human beings, both born and unborn, from all harms, including harms done in the name of religion.
Ellis: I obviously disagree with people who oppose abortion, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be a Christian just because I personally disagree with them. Who am I to say who can or cannot be a Christian? That’s really only God’s business. I think we have to stop this intense gatekeeping that we have on Christianity, particularly when our gatekeeping is just based off of an issue like abortion that is not talked about in the Bible.
When Jesus asked people to follow him, you didn’t have to pass some sort of moral or political checklist first. I grew up in West Texas in a very religious and very conservative environment. I know so many people who are anti-abortion because of their faith. I obviously disagree with them personally because of my faith, but I don’t think that means that they aren’t good people, or they aren’t good Christians, much less than they’re not Christians at all.