Pastor’s Perspective – August 2022
There are many issues that confound and frustrate the Church and the people that embody the Body of Christ. Most of the time, to get along with each other, we carefully whisper our dissent or gather around like-minded individuals within the local Church to express our opinions. In recent years this has become more difficult and many people within the Church have segregated themselves based on their political and social standards. This has resulted in a deep wound in the American Church, furthermore it has injured our ability to understand the distinctions between a biblical and political stance.
Over the past year the abortion issue has once again cleaved the body of Christ. For the past few years, we have lived in a détente of sorts. Abortion was ‘settled law’ and there was nothing good that could come of a hearty discussion of something that simply was the law of the land. In the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, this is no longer the case. State legislatures will be wrestling with these issues in real time and the decisions that they make will create a new set of standards into which the Church will be required to speak love and grace.
It is with this in mind that I am writing this article. I am pro-life and have been since I can remember. Perhaps it was my Roman Catholic upbringing, perhaps it was the guidance of my parents, or maybe it was just because it makes sense to me in a way that the pro-abortion position does not. Regardless I hope that you can read this and find more understanding on the pro-life position and why I think and believe the way that I do.
The positions that I will articulate are based on biblical concepts; many of which rapidly become extraordinarily complex as we attempt to translate them into real life circumstances.
The first is that God wants us to champion the weak, the poor, and the least. We are instructed to live in agape love with each other. This guides my opinion on abortion. While there are indeed difficult cases where abortion may well be the best choice, particularly when the life of the mother is at risk, it is my opinion that a healthy society should do its best to minimize destructive actions, even when the path forward seems difficult. A good and Godly society should take care of its mothers and children and makes sure that their needs are met. The widow and the orphan are beloved by God and woe upon any who neglect them. Abortion has become the technological way in which we eliminate the single mother and the abandoned child. Not only are there better ways in which we can solve the problems of abuse, neglect, and poverty; but the past forty years of public policy has shown that these problems have only been exacerbated by our abortion policies.
Abortion, like the prison system, is a seemingly necessary evil that is the symptom of a problem that our society chooses to ignore. We continue to move forward assuming that there is no other way to deal with the problem, since the problem does not impact our lives and is the “fact” of life. Our lack of creativity and our unwillingness to deal with the marginalized, neglected and forgotten people of our world in love and grace continues to negatively impact generation after generation. It is my assertion that every time we ‘solve’ our sin problems with separation, isolation, and death we make things exponentially worse for the next generation.
I will dive into legal and logical reasons for the pro-life position and try to focus on legally and scientifically identifiable standards. While I have an opinion on when life begins and the nature of the soul, I am also aware that our society is not structured around my esoteric spiritual opinions. For that purpose, I will stick to the observable facts and ignore the debates surrounding personhood that deal with currently unknowable aspects of life including consciousness and the soul.
Much of the difficulty is speaking about abortion is that both sides are dominated by absolutists. Liberals speak of abortion as an unconditional right that should never be restricted, while conservatives often ignore the difficult choices that many women must consider in a society that often leaves them abandoned in their most fragile moments. Abortion is “politically speaking’ either always right or always wrong. Our partisan demeanor has coarsened our public discourse and discouraged both parties from coalescing around any common ground.
It must be clearly stated that from a Constitutional there are few unconditional (or unfettered) rights. Guns rights, though enumerated (or clearly numbered in the Bill of Rights) are not unconditional; neither is free speech; or even the practice of one’s religion. Each foundational right is conditional when your right conflicts with the rights of others. In other words, you may have the right to bear arms, but you do not have the right to use those weapons in a way that endangers or menaces another holder of rights.
Our laws constantly draw lines between the conflicting rights of individuals, and court cases with juries and lawyers determine which side the law supports. When does my speech cross the line; libel, slander, do real harm to another person, incite violence, or otherwise endanger the peace? When does my religious liberty cross the line; can one perform ritual sacrifice, ingest illegal drugs, or play Church bells at any volume?
The right to an abortion involves the same conditions and restrictions. While advocates of individual rights seek to make their sacred rights unconditional, reason and experience tells us that this is not legally reasonable.
Simply put the central platform of the pro-life movement is that there are two people involved in an abortion. One who can speak as to their wishes and expectations and one who, as yet, cannot. The pro-life movement (at its best) seeks to speak for the unborn and through support and assistance help each mother receive the necessary assistance to bring their child into the world and whenever possible raise that child as the beloved child of God that they were intended to become.
The key difficulty of the abortion question is not truly a legal one but a scientific and (at times) spiritual matter. This is from where much of the abortion argument stems. When does life begin? Where we place the answer to this question determines when we establish the rights of the second person’s life. Once this is true, then the traditional legal conditions used to restrict one’s personal rights comes into play.
This is the general standard of good law. You have freedom as long as your actions do not harm or risk harm to another person. While one can easily cite the recent COVID vaccination standard as evidence, let me avoid an unnecessary firestorm and look at another example. You are not breaking the law if you get drunk and sit in your parked car in your garage, but once you put the car into drive and take to the open road drunk, then you are breaking the law. Why is that distinction important to the legal nature of your inebriated state? A drunk or otherwise impaired driver is now a danger to other people. The law is not written to protect a person from drunkenness (that was the conceit of the 18th amendment) it was written to protect innocent citizens from an unnatural death.
The same basic legal logic should come into play with abortion laws.
So, when does life begin? Let’s once again consider the issue with an example. Have you ever dropped an egg to the floor? How did you feel about that? Did the destruction of the egg cause you emotional pain? Most likely the only pain you suffered was the frustration of losing an egg to make your cake and the annoyance associated with cleaning an unnecessary mess. This is because the egg is an object. It is not alive any more than a celery slice is alive.
Now let’s ask another question; have you ever killed a chicken? Cut her head off and plucked the feathers off the bird before preparing it for the table. Few have in our modern world, but those who have can tell you that it is a much more difficult process. The first time you do it you act tentatively and perhaps even with disgust. Some wretch and others cry over the death of a creature. When it is packaged in the meat section it is easy to cook, but it is not as easy to do it yourself. Why? Because even though the bird is going to become dinner, the moment before the blade falls that chicken is alive.
The distinction between the egg and the chicken is what I will refer to as an object and a subject. The one has no rights, while the other is a living being that human or animal has some level of rights. One must remember that torturing a chicken can get you in legal trouble, while throwing eggs is a sophomore stunt in which many people have participated.
Eggs have no legal protection, and neither do sperm, but once they join and become a living being, even the dogs, cats, and turtles can be given legal protection under the law. Now the question must be when does the object become a subject to the law?
When Roe was decided the court punted on claiming when life begins, they made the question a spiritual one and claimed that no one could ascertain the nature of the soul. This was their fundamental mistake. The court was correct in acknowledging their inability to determine the nature of the soul, but they were incorrect in determining the nature of life. This can be determined, which is why in Ohio there is a heartbeat law differentiating the status of an embryo from the status of a person. The rationale behind heartbeat laws is that once there is a heartbeat and a brainwave, there is a living person. It is here that I believe the line of a second life is appropriately drawn.
This does not mean that one cannot make an argument concerning the nature of the soul to argue that life begins before or after the heartbeat starts, but it is the only clinical and measurable way to determine life.
Another place of debate is the understanding that the baby is a part of the mother. This can also be clinically determined. Each person has unique DNA. DNA is now admissible as evidence in criminal cases. People have been imprisoned and released based on evidence that simply wasn’t available when Roe was determined. DNA is now legally recognized as evidence of personhood, individuality, and presence. It should be clearly stated that the DNA of a baby is distinct from that of her mother. A baby in utero is not the body of her mother, she is inside the body of her mother.
But what about the so-called tough issues? Rape, incest, and the health of the mother. Believe it or not the pro-life position does and in my opinion should allow for exceptions based on these issues. Once again, however, we must consider the competing rights of another person in our administration of the law.
It is my opinion (and it is the law in many states) that every “rape kit” should include a morning after pill. If someone has been raped, they should have immediate access to this medication. It should be noted that if a pregnancy is going to be stopped then it is in the best interests of the mother to end it before the implantation of the ovum in the uterus, and certainly before any hormonal changes begin. This benefits all involved, and if you accept the premise that legally speaking there is no baby before the heartbeat, then it perfectly permissible under the law. While many in the pro-life community would blanche at this suggestion, I am not speaking to the morality of the choice, which each person must determine for themselves, but to one’s legal right in a pluralistic society.
The problem with incest, which is in many cases simply another form of rape, is the victim of incest is even less likely to report the crime. Often the family is unwilling to deal with the perpetrator of the crime and is willing to sacrifice the health of the victim for the sake of the predator. This often results in a pregnancy that is not dealt with until after the baby has a heartbeat. As difficult as it might be to state this; once the baby is alive (heartbeat and brain wave) then the baby has rights as a person. This is the problem with abortion in the second trimester regardless of the origins of the pregnancy, once someone has rights or is recognized as a person, then they should be protected. I would like to add a caveat that if abortion is considered appropriate for these cases, then the law should reflect the loss of life and add a murder charge to the perpetrator of incest or rape. The overall problem with the rape and murder defense is that our legal system often treats the rapist with far more respect than either the woman or the baby. If we are going to kill a baby to lessen the trauma to the victims of rape and incest, then we should at least punish the perpetrators of those actions with true sanctions befitting the damage done.
Let us now consider the toughest choice; what happens when the health of the mother in endangered. The health of the mother should always be a factor in allowing a woman to make the difficult decision to move forward with an abortion. Because of the nature of pregnancy oftentimes these concerns are not revealed until the heartbeat begins. Now under the law you have a difficult choice. Do you risk the life and health of the mother, or do you protect the baby at all costs? In my opinion, and the opinions of most state legislatures, the health of the mother is a serious concern that would allow for the choice of an abortion. This is indeed a tough choice and is in fact the place where a mother must be counseled, protected, and supported regardless of her choice. I would rather the family grieve the lost child than to have other children raised without their mother, but I believe that regardless of the choice made, it is morally defensible.
So, there you have it, a pro-life position that respects the mother, acknowledges the life of the baby, and addresses the difficult choices. It is not a catch all, no law is, but it also allows for women to patrol their own choices until their choices impact another life. If we restrict abortion in cases of rape, then we should also increase penalties for sexually predators and rapists. Abortion does not heal the brokenness of a victim of sexual predation, and we should stop pretending that eliminating the baby somehow erases the trauma.
It should also be stated clearly that love and grace should surround all aspects of the Christian pro-life position. Pro-life proponents should no more shout down a woman than peace protestors should shout down returning veterans. We all live by grace, make mistakes, and injure others due to those mistakes. We should embrace each other during the hard choices and support one another to make life affirming choices easier and more likely.
We need our babies and mommies to be cared for, loved, and cherished by the nation and our communities. While I believe that abortion should be rare, I also believe that compassion to mothers in tough choices should be common. A people that seek to live by the covenant of God should learn to love the weakest and the least. Too often those definitions apply to both the child and the mother impacted by abortion laws. We should emphasize that the pro-life position must extend into how we treat families, how we need to teach our young men the responsibility of fatherhood, and how libertine sexuality is as demeaning and objectifying to women as abortion is to the unborn.
Our abortion problem is truly a problem of broken communities and families. We are living in a broken world, but we foolishly believe that we can heal our brokenness by continuing to break things and people. It is time to stop cutting, killing, and objectifying. It is time to love, forgive, and heal. That should be the Christian worldview regarding abortion, and pretty much everything else.
Let us continue to pray for healing in Jesus Christ,