Being a pastor, I usually try to give a wide berth to the topic of politics. I have seen far too many pastors ruin their reputation with their congregations and with outsiders by spewing uninformed political bias from the pulpit. Ironically, there is probably no more controversial a “political” topic which I could have chosen to engage! Nonetheless, this is an issue on which I simply cannot remain silent, for it is not merely “political.” No, this debate–regarding abortion–is far more spiritual than political, and it is an issue on which the Church cannot afford to remain silent.
I try to keep up with the news online, especially the news surrounding the upcoming election. One of the biggest issues that keeps reappearing is the issue of “women’s rights.” Now, let me begin by saying that I’m all for women’s rights. I have no intentions or desires to see women’s suffrage repealed nor do I think that women ought to be paid less for their work. I’m not against women. I like women (one woman in particular!). But, I think that–as usually happens in politics–this issue has been posed in such a way that it disguises the truth. Should we really base our vote this election on who is most supportive of women’s rights? Or, a better question might be this: “Is the issue of abortion best described as an issue of women’s rights?”
Let’s rewind history about 150 years for a moment. You are an African American slave on a Southern Plantation. You work hard for 12-14 hours a day picking cotton in the hot summer sun while men with bullwhips stand over you ready to come down on you at the slightest demonstration of weakness. Day in, day out, this is your life. An election comes around in which you, of course, are unable to vote. You are not human, after all, you’re just a slave. All around, you see political banners from the opposing parties. One party says, “End slavery!” The other, much to your dismay, says “Support farmer’s rights!”
(History lesson over) “Wait a minute!” you say, “He’s not really comparing abortion to slavery in the 1800s, is he?!?! They’re not even comparable!” I agree. Abortion is worse. Much worse.
The issue in this election is simply NOT women’s rights. In the story above, after reading the last political sign which read, “Support farmer’s rights!” you were probably shocked and outraged. How in the world could people be so blinded as to think that the issue of slavery was fundamentally an issue of a farmer’s right to grow crops, be free of the burden of paying employees, and pursue unbridled success in his career? The issue of slavery was not “Farmer’s rights” but “African Americans’ rights!”
Here is my fundamental presupposition: If an unborn child is a living human being in the eyes of God, then abortion is murder.
That first “If” phrase deserves attention, which I will give in a moment. But first, lets examine this argument from this side for a change. Obama is championed as a proponent for “Women’s rights.” Romney is (as are other pro-life advocates) degraded as a “Woman hater” who desires to move society backwards into the fundamentalist 1950s. If, indeed, unborn children are human, then how ridiculous and insulting would it be to label pro-life advocates “Women haters” and champion pro-choice advocates as proponents of “Women’s rights?” “But,” you say, “Not everyone agrees that unborn children are fully human, while everyone agrees that African Americans are fully human.” That is (mostly) true–in today’s society. But, it was not true in the 1800s. In the 1800s, it was not uncommon to find people who believed that people with black skin were “subhuman.” They were wrong, but that notion was common. Thus, I propose to you that it is ever bit as absurd and offensive to label abortion an issue of “Women’s rights” as it is to label slavery in the 1800s as an issue of “Farmer’s rights.” This is not an issue of rights, but an issue of personhood. I have heard it said that “Your right to swing your arm ends at my face.” How true. Our rights are not absolute. They extend only so far as they do not cause harm to another. Thus, I conclude, that if an unborn child is a living human being in the eyes of God, then abortion is murder.
Some may be troubled by the phrase “in the eyes of God.” But, imagine trying to reconcile the two groups in the 1800s over the moral status of African Americans! It took a civil war and thousands of dead bodies to reconcile the two parties, and the job wasn’t even complete for another 100+ years! Some would say it is still not complete. Thus, I don’t see how we can ever solve this issue objectively on our own. Science can’t solve it. The scientific method is not capable of answering questions of morality. It can determine that the baby’s heart is beating by 18 days and that it has fingerprints by 3 months, but it cannot determine that the baby ought to receive the same moral status of a human being. Politicians can’t determine that, either. They can pass laws declaring abortion “legal” or “illegal,” but their laws don’t change the morality of the action. Furthermore, politicians seem incapable of producing legislation that is even morally consistent, much less morally acceptable! How ironic it is that many who are “pro-choice” will call it a “baby” when it is a desired pregnancy and be willing to prosecute any who would cause it harm and then turn around and call it a “fetus” when it is undesired and toss it in the garbage.
Take a look, for example, at the laws regarding the unborn child in my state, Kentucky:
Ky. Rev. Stat. § 507A.010 et seq. (2004) define “unborn child” as a member of the species Homo sapiens in utero from conception onward, without regard to age, health or condition of dependency. The laws define fetal homicide in the first, second, third, and fourth degrees. These laws do not apply to acts performed during any abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman has been obtained or for which the consent is implied by law in a medical emergency. (2004 HB 108)
(To see your own state’s laws, click here)
Interesting. So, in Kentucky, an unborn child is usually considered human. But, it suddenly becomes less than human when its mother decides she no longer wants it. And she is free of any fear of legal prosecution.
So, clearly neither science nor the legislature is qualified to answer this question. The question of the moral status of the unborn is a question only philosophy and religion can answer. I do not intend to deal here with the philosophical arguments (though it should be noted that many secular philosophers have made persuasive arguments against abortion), but the religious ones since they are more important to me (and incorporate some philosophy, anyhow). Further, in my personal experience, philosophy tends to create more questions than answers and is often a frustrating and fruitless endeavor if one seeks a solid answer! Thus, because science, law, and–to an extent–philosophy, cannot determine the moral status of the unborn, we need an outside, objective source to determine it. God must answer it. “But,” you may object, “Americans do not share the same religious affiliations, so how can religion help us?” That is true enough, but for every religion you find that deems abortion morally acceptable, I bet I can find ten that don’t. It doesn’t really matter which one you pick, most of them conclude the same on this issue. Furthermore, we are a democracy, so why not examine first what has been the clear teaching of the religion with which the majority of Americans identify themselves?
The clear teaching on this issue which the majority of Christians through history have accepted is that only God, the One who gives life and creates the baby, has the authority to give the final say on when life begins. If God says life begins at birth, then abortion is wholly acceptable. But if not, then it is morally contemptible. We don’t get to decide when life begins based upon what is convenient or politically acceptable, we must use the objective truth God has given us. So, let’s look to see if/what God has to say about the moral status of an unborn child.
“And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”” (Genesis 25:23 ESV)
“Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”…Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.” (Genesis 30:2, 22 ESV)
“You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” (Job 10:11, 12 ESV)
“Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15 ESV)
“Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Psalm 71:4-6 ESV)
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3 ESV)
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:13-18 ESV)
“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5 ESV)
“Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.” (Isaiah 44:2 ESV)
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…” (Isaiah 44:24 ESV)
“”Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”” (Isaiah 49:1-3 ESV)
“And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him…” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV)
“”Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15 ESV)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 ESV)
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”” (Luke 1:26, 27, 31-33, 35-37 ESV)
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”” (Luke 1:39-45 ESV)
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25 ESV)
Children are a gift (“heritage”) from The Lord. Children are “knit together” in their mother’s womb. A child’s destiny is prepared for him/her by God while they are still in the womb. God determines whether or not a child is conceived. God grants life and “spirit” to a child while in the womb. It is assumed that a mother could not–or should not–“forget” her child or lack compassion toward him/her. The example of the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist demonstrate that God’s Holy Spirit is actively working even in an unborn child. And, lastly, Old Testament Law treated unborn children as “persons” who could be avenged in the case of an assault on their mother which caused their death. Such assault was punished as murder.
Of course, I understand that some may still be hesitant to accept a “life at conception” view, for the Bible does not tell us explicitly that life begins at conception. But it doesn’t tell us that life doesn’t begin at conception, either. When there is a possible life at stake, should we not err on the side of caution?
Lastly, there are a couple common objections. First, what about rape/incest? First of all, these are horrendous crimes. I cannot imagine the emotional, physical, and mental trauma which these crimes cause in their victims. They are crimes and they ought to be punished. But if someone is to die, why is it the child? Let’s execute the rapist! I understand the objection that a woman doesn’t want to have a living, breathing reminder of the tragedy, but if an unborn child is human, then killing that child only worsens the situation. To quote the old adage, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Added to the tragedy of the rape, this woman now has to deal with the emotional and spiritual guilt of having taken a life. That can’t be the solution. It’s a horrible, unfathomable situation, but killing the child only makes it worse.
Second, what about instances where the mother’s life is in jeopardy? First, let me say that as a husband and father, I take this issue very seriously. To be honest, I’m not at all sure how I would handle this particular situation. But let’s be clear on one thing–if faced with this decision, my choice is not between the life of my wife and a “fetus” or some cancerous growth in her uterus. My decision is between the life of my son or daughter and the life of my wife. I view this particular situation differently than an abortion of convenience and of rape/incest because in this situation, another’s very life is threatened by the life of the child. In the vast majority of abortions, the mother’s life is not at stake. Perhaps her career, her emotional stability, and her finances are threatened, but not her life. In the case of a life threatening pregnancy, it is literally a choice between two lives. That is a choice I hope I never have to make. So, because I feel this to be a separate circumstance, I will reserve judgment on its morality and simply say, “I don’t know.” Thus, I am neither for nor against abortion in this particular circumstance.
In conclusion, let me challenge you to vote this year based upon your convictions on this subject. For those who accept that an unborn child is a human, this is not an issue of “women’s rights” but of the rights of the unborn. Much like African Americans in the 1800s, unborn children can’t vote for themselves. But even worse, they can’t stand up for themselves at all. They can’t flee their persecution or plea for help. I have heard some say, “I don’t believe in abortion, but I’m not going to force that belief on someone else.” Let me ask those who would take this stance, “Do you also not believe in murder? Are you still willing to force that belief on those who have murdered?” If an unborn child is a human being in the eyes of God who formed him/her, ordained their future, and loves them, then abortion is murder. In fact, it is the worst genocide that has ever taken place on this planet. To those who would say, “I don’t believe in abortion but there are other issues we must consider when we vote,” I would say, “Would you have said the same thing regarding slavery if you were voting in the 1800s, or regarding civil rights in the 1960s? Would you really vote based on economics and your financial stability while the same candidate for which you voted advocated the mass murder of an entire generation?” As Christians we have a duty to defend the cause of the oppressed, of the fatherless, and of the widows. I propose that if we are willing to champion the cause of the civil rights movement of the 1960s–and as Christians, we should–then we ought to also champion the cause of the unborn, who cannot defend themselves. This is our Christian duty. I hope you will consider that when you vote tomorrow.