Restorative Justice’s Place in the Abortion Debate

On Oct. 23, 2012, a few weeks before the presidential election, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock caused yet another uproar in the abortion debate. Mourdock stated, “I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” His comments pervaded the news and many people on both sides of the debate were horrified that Mourdock would suggest pregnancy from rape was God’s will. Some, including the chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, even claimed Mourdock said something akin to “rape is God’s will.” These comments were understandably unreasonable to many people, but they hold a profound theological truth about God’s character that Christians would be wise to consider.

By taking a closer look at what Mourdock actually said and viewing the abortion debate through the lens of justice, Christians who are both pro-life and pro-choice have the chance to reevaluate how they think about abortion. Far too often the topic is only viewed through the lens of rights; with the rights of the unborn pitted against the rights of women as if those were the only two considerations in the matter. An important question that is often ignored is what justice requires, which involves more than life and choice—true justice must also include hope.

“When Christians think of true justice they must take into account the hope contained in the restorative justice God constantly displays in the Bible.”

“When Christians think of true justice they must take into account the hope contained in the restorative justice God constantly displays in the Bible.”

Those who believe life is a gift from God, as Mourdock stated, must realize that belief has implications for how they view rape and abortion. Christians shouldn’t just believe that our physical existence is a gift from God, but that life in the more broad sense is also a gift. John 10:10 (ESV) states, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The Bible is replete with scriptures about God’s desire and ability to give life, or vigor and vitality, in a seemingly hopeless situation.

There is more to the abortion debate than the physical life of the fetus. To be “pro-life” should also include the concern for the life, not just the rights, of the mother. Even the terms pro-life and pro-choice connote the dichotomy that someone is either for the life of the fetus or for the choices of the mother. The debate is not that simple. It is important to consider the mother’s physical health but also the quality of her life. The just thing, on the part of Christians as well as the government, is to ensure the mother makes an informed decision that includes the option of adoption—something commonly left out of the conversation. Pregnant women should be able to hear every option and internalize the consequences of each before making a decision that will affect their lives and the lives of their children.

While rape and violence against women should always be fought against, for that is a matter of justice as well, Christians have the unique opportunity to offer hope to pregnant women, something the government cannot do. Christians should be more vocal about protecting life and protecting women from objectification and violence, but they should also be vocal about all of the choices pregnant women have. Churches and their members should be more active in providing community support, such as crisis pregnancy centers for women who may think abortion is their only option. Those who follow Christ should also consider and be prayerful about adoption. If we only fight for the lives of unborn fetuses or a woman’s right to choose, we limit full justice from taking place while also hiding the hope we have in Christ. While we cannot explain away rape and dismiss its atrocious nature, we cannot forget the light we have to shine in such a dark circumstance.

When Christians think of true justice they must take into account the hope contained in the restorative justice God constantly displays in the Bible. God is a restorer and a redeemer. He doesn’t just give eternal life, but restores the quality of our lives by giving us hope. We live in a fallen world and there is brokenness everywhere, including rape; God did not intend for us to live in this brokenness, but in wholeness. Therefore, in the case of rape, it would be a grave mistake to say God intended that act to occur, but to ignore God’s ability to turn that situation into something beautiful and redeem it, for the child and for the mother, is a disservice to God, His power, and the gift He has given Christians to share with the world.

The abortion conversation must go beyond the life versus choice debate and include the hope of restoration and redemption for all lives involved. Psalms 72:13-14 (NLT) says, “He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.” God hates violence against women, but to think He could not redeem a pregnancy resulting from a tragic situation limits and devalues Him. Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, as a Christian, you should not talk about abortion without talking about restorative justice, redemption, and hope. From a practical standpoint, that means advocating for better services and resources available to women. True compassion and justice, from the government and from Christians, cannot be reduced to the life of the fetus versus the choice of the mother. It must be more nuanced and complex because God and His perfect justice are nuanced and complex.

-Cristina Martinez graduated from Princeton in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology and a certificate in Values and Public Life. She is currently working at a Philadelphia foster care and adoption agency.