The new federal law banning third trimester abortions is a good and godly decision. Most of us think it is irresponsible for would-be parents to wait so far into the pregnancy to determine whether the birth of the baby is as wise and wonderful as it is intended to be.

True, the law should have included a loophole for situations that endanger the life of the mother, if for no other reason than to withstand the scrutiny of federal judges. Already challenges to the law have been filed in courts around the country and have put on hold the implementation of the law.

But even while omitting concern for the health of the mother this legislative victory on behalf of the weakest among us is a sturdy step along a righteous road.

But not every signpost along this contentious highway is as helpful and holy as we could wish.

In fact, some traffic signs are pointing us in the wrong direction: two, in particular, have been erected by those who feel most passionate about the evils of abortion.

The first comes from Rome.

The Vatican has let it be known that Roman Catholic legislators and judges are bound to the doctrines and ethics of their Church and thus are not free to vote and rule according to conscience. In other words, canon law trumps constitutional law. Or to sustain our travel metaphor: Catholic officials have received word from their Church about how and where the road must go.

Such a strategy lays out a dangerous road. Not only does it constitute foreign meddling in national affairs; far worse, it bodes ill for a host of other issues wherein elected or appointed officials in these United States are beholden to the directives of something other than the will of the people, the law of the land, or the conscience of the individual.

But a second and equally dangerous development comes most strongly from Protestant preachers.

In their passion to generate the political strength to eliminate abortion as the law of the land, many routinely use the sort of radical rhetoric that lingers long in the minds and imaginations of young women.

“Baby killers will burn in hell,” some say; and others quote the Bible, “Murderers will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

They are like street preachers who periodically stand at the edge of campus and denounce university students as drunkards, reprobates, and hell-bound whoremongers.

Some women, even some devoutly Christian women, feel abortion is in the best interests of mother and child. Such decisions are often driven by a complex host of emotional, medical, and social issues.

Thus the intersection of angry pulpit rhetoric and agonizing personal decision produce students like the one who knocked on the dorm room door of a friend. She was sobbing, uncontrollably. It was, she said, the first anniversary of her abortion.

The guilt that had plunged her into depression was rooted in the act she was told would threaten her salvation and endanger her soul.

Christian people rightly stand for life and peace in the midst of so much war and death, not only here but around the world, not just in public places but in the private spaces of our lives.

But the two strategies employed by those who wish the legal road ran according to their ethical maps actually dig political and emotional potholes that make our travels more dangerous than they need to be.

Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.

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