Abortion Turns 40 in America

The following post comes from Spence Shelton (our Small Groups Pastor) and Chris Pappalardo (our Pastoral Research Assistant), with a brief addition from myself.

“The right of privacy . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
-Roe v. Wade; January 22, 1973

Mourning Roe v. Wade

Since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade in 1973, there have been approximately 50 million legal abortions in the United States.[1] The rate of abortions has slowed some over the past decade, but conservative estimates still show that 825,000 abortions are performed every year. This means that 23% of all pregnancies end in abortion, about one every 40 seconds.[2]

Recently our country rightfully mourned the loss of 20 children and their six teachers whose lives were taken from them. Our president led us through the grief, even shedding tears over the tragedy. What else could a father do but mourn the loss of these children? Those children could not defend themselves. How could someone do that to anyone, especially a small child?

This slaughter of the helpless set off deep internal alarms in each of us. We found no way of expressing ourselves but to say, “That was just wrong.”

That is precisely the feeling that many have in response to the millions of children losing their lives to abortion. Russ Moore said well that he “hates Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” because it reminds us of so many innocent lives being taken. The posture of the Christian towards the murder of innocent lives must always include mourning. And we are reminded that while politics are involved, this is not merely a political issue. It is a human issue. God created humans in his own image: this is why we cherish life and mourn death.

Is It Really About Personhood?

Peter Singer, a respected ethicist and distinguished bioethics professor at Princeton, once astutely outlined the argument against abortion in a simple syllogism:

1. It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
2. A human fetus is an innocent human being.
3. Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.[3]

The argument by pro-choice advocates usually denies the second premise. But Singer, himself a staunch pro-choice advocate, finds this impossible to maintain. There is no point in the development process where the fetus moves from “non-human” to “human.” It would be better, he says, to deny the first premise. And this is precisely what is happening. The abortion discussion is no longer about whether the fetus is a human life, but whether human life is worth protecting over and above a woman’s right to privacy.

The discussion about whether the fetus is actually human, actually a “person,” has been the point of attack for pro-life supporters for the past 40 years. And of course, this makes sense. Even if the medical and legal communities are unsure of whether this prenatal being is actually human, one might hope that they would err on the side of caution. For instance, if I am unsure whether my 4-year-old is hiding behind a door, I don’t swing the door open quickly to find out.

But the “personhood” debate is looking more and more like an irrelevant discussion. As an example, take Merle Hoffman, a key figure for the pro-choice movement, who founded one of the first abortions clinics even prior to 1973. She notes that most people who get abortions acknowledge that the fetus is a tiny human life, with fingers and toes and a heartbeat. But that fact was outweighed by their decision:

“They knew [the fetus was a human life], but my patients who made the choice to have an abortion also knew they were making the right one, a decision so vital it was worth stopping that heart.”[4]

Hoffman and Singer are more blunt than the average pro-choice advocate, but their logic is consistent with the Roe v. Wade ruling. These terminated beings are humans, but their rights are not as important as the nebulous “right to choose.” So let us guard our ears and minds from the sanitary language of “women’s health” when this is used a euphemism for taking human life. One of the greatest tragedies the world has ever known is being committed freely in our country. We must begin by seeing it for the horror that it is.

What Can We Do?

Feeling the weight of this tragedy, however, is only a first step. As a church, we must respond. Let me propose three steps:

First, we as the church must take a stand. Throughout history, the church has shared very few heroes with the world. But those we do share are men and women who stood up and gave a voice to those who did not have one. William Wilberforce did this for the innumerable slaves streaming into our country in the nineteenth century. Dietrich Bonheoffer did this for the church in Nazi Germany. Martin Luther King, Jr. did this for the oppressed African American community during the Civil Rights Movement. We celebrate them now, but these figures were opposed in their time. Will we have the courage to do the same? 

Second, we need to educate ourselves on how to help women who are considering abortion. It is not enough to make a grand statement against the practice. It is not enough to change legislation. We must cultivate an environment that recognizes the need of these women and serves them with compassion and grace. We must learn how to interact, one-on-one, with women who face the challenges of unplanned pregnancies. And we must learn to respond with grace to those who have had abortions. Organizations like Pregnancy Support Services are invaluable in this effort.

Finally, to the mother who has had an abortion, the message is simple: Jesus loves you. There is grace and forgiveness with at the cross of Jesus. None of us is too far removed from the grace of God. None of us, no matter how ashamed or confused or hurt we feel, is broken beyond repair. In Christ, you can be washed, forgiven, made whole again. In Christ, you are no longer judged based on your docket of rights and wrongs. Jesus loved sinners and died for them. And he receives all who come to him with a repentant heart, regardless of their past. I know—he received me.

Jesus takes even the tragedy of death and overturns it with the triumph of resurrection. Every child is precious in his sight, and one day we will be reunited with the millions of unborn taken from us in this life where we will marvel in the grace and power of God from eternity. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and make every sad thing come untrue.

[1] Center for Disease Control. “Abortion Surveillance” accessed on 1.17.2013 at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6015a1.htm?s_cid=ss6015a1_w

[3] Peter Singer, “Abortion” in Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford, 1995, pp. 2-3 accessed at http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1995—-03.htm

[4] Merle Hoffman, Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom (New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2012) as it was quoted on Albert Mohler’s blog from 1.20.2012 entitled “Abortion is as American as Apple Pie” — The Culture of Death Finds a voice”