abortion: a christian appraisal
By Paul V. Harrison
The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 killed an estimated 230,000 people. The tragedy rightly evoked a groan from the global community. When we consider abortion, however, the contrast is striking. From January-March of 2008, we took the lives of more babies in the United States than the total number of lives lost in the tsunami.
In 1973, the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized taking of life from the womb. Prior to 1973, an estimated 100,000 illegal abortions were performed each year. In 1974, the number rose to nearly 900,000, and since 1975, each year’s total has topped one million.
Before 2008 is over, abortions in our land alone will claim roughly five times more lives than the tsunami tragedy. More children die from abortion in one year in America than the total number of combat deaths sustained in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars combined. The National Right to Life website (www.nrlc.org) reports that since 1973, over 48,589,000 babies have been aborted. Sadly, few groan for these silent millions.
Are abortions morally justified? Do women have the right to an abortion, as is frequently suggested? Or isabortion a violation of God’s command against murder?
Christians have long believed abortion was a violation of the sixth commandment. Tertullian, born around A.D. 160, wrote: “Murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb.”
American law holds a different view. Currently, a woman can terminate her pregnancy at any time for just about any reason. While these abortions are legal, they are not moral. I don’t wish to heap guilt on anyone struggling with a tragic past. Praise God, forgiveness is available through Jesus. But the possibility of cleansing should not keep us from seeing abortion for what it is.
Various arguments are used to defend pro-abortion laws. One suggests that if abortion were outlawed, women would still have abortions but would resort to back alley practitioners, which would in turn lead to serious health problems. This argument holds only if we assume the unborn is not a full person, which is the point in question. For if the unborn are fully human, this abortion-rights argument is tantamount to saying that because people die or are harmed while killing other people (i.e. unborn people), the state should make it safe for them to do so.” Many pro-abortion arguments make this same mistake. They only work ifwe assume the unborn are not human.
Some line up for and against prohibiting abortion on the basis of an agnostic argument. One side says: “Since no one knows when life begins, a woman’s right to choose should be protected.” The other side counters: “Since abortion might be the murder of an innocent person, it should be outlawed. Let’s give the unborn the benefit of the doubt.”
Robert Wennberg of Westmont College uses this approach to argue for a pro-choice position. He envisions a woman, raising four children and living in poverty, who finds herself pregnant again. Her income is needed to keep the family afloat. Concerned about whether abortion is justifiable, she consults two moralists, a conservative and a liberal. Both appeal to the “benefit of the doubt argument.”
One says abortion might be the unjustifiable taking of a human life, so she should not have one. The other argues that avoiding a birth that would mean certain suffering for her and her family is more important than to avoid what is uncertain regarding the status of the fetus. Wennberg concludes: “It seems to me that both pieces of advice are reasonable and that neither is clearly superior to the other.” With this reasoning, he maintains that abortion is a viable and moral option.
The professor’s story, however, doesn’t take into account the seriousness of taking human life. Consider Francis Beckwith’s revision of his story. The same woman, in the same terrible plight, finds herself pregnant. A wealthy benefactor gives her this option: “If you detonate the building across the street, which I own, I will pay you $25,000 a year for the next 20 years. However, there is one catch. There is a one in 10 chance that a perfectly healthy and innocent eight-year-old child is playing in the basement of the building. Thus, you run the risk of killing another human being. Is your personal well-being worth the risk?’”
Confronting Double Standards
In America, product safety reigns supreme. Toy manufacturing giant Mattel has been on the hot seat recently as a result of selling unsafe toys. The media has been all astir. We are careful when there’s even a remote chance that a product may negatively impact the health of our children. However, this caution does not extend to abortion. The double standard is hard to miss.
More sophisticated pro-choice supporters attack the question of the humanness of the unborn. They suggest abortion is permissible because the unborn are not fully human.
A number of problems exist in such reasoning. Foremost is the fact that a separate unique human being forms at conception with its own genetic code. Though the life is small, it constitutes an individual. Within it, from the moment of conception, is all that is needed to define every aspect of its complex makeup. To live, this tiny life only needs food, water, and oxygen.
Matthews-Roth of Harvard Medical School argued, “It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life.”
When all is said and done regarding the study of the developing unborn, “there is no decisive break in the continuous development of the human entity from conception until death that would make this entity a different individual before birth. This is why it makes perfect sense for any one of us to say, ‘When I was conceived . . .’”
This point of identity has basically been surrendered by abortionists. For example, David Boonin in his highly reasoned arguments for the pro-choice position wrote very personally of his son Eli. “In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. This picture was taken on September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.”
The book Why I Am an Abortion Doctor by Suzanne T. Poppema illustrates further the conflicted thinking of abortion proponents. The doctor-author herself had an abortion some years ago. She wrote, “I recall vividly how I dealt with mine [her abortion]. Since my fetus was at 20 weeks, I could actually feel the fetal convulsions not long after I was given the saline injection. The embryo dies, and then I was supposed to deliver, presumably the next day, though in my case it was two days later. A friend drove me to the clinic for the saline injection and later we returned for the delivery, but I never saw the embryo. It happened on my mother’s birthday, which I’ve always found odd. I remember having a special kind of conversation with the embryo at the time: ‘I’m very sorry that this is happening to you, but there’s just no way that you can come into existence right now.’ It was so clear to me that I was doing the right thing.”
This is a most striking conversation between a mother and her “embryo.” If the statement about not coming into existence had any meaning, there would be no “you” to address.
A Question of Rights
Perhaps the most well known argument used to protect a woman’s right to choose has come from Judith Jarvis Thomson in her now famous article “A Defense of Abortion.” She wrote: “But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist, a famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own.
The director of the hospital now tells you, ‘Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you—we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist now is plugged into you. To unplug you would kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.’ Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?”
Thomson argues that to unplug the violinist would be morally acceptable, and she, of course, draws a connection between this right and a pregnant woman’s right to “unplug” her fetus. This is a much more brazen argument than what we’ve seen so far, for Thomson grants the personhood of the fetus while maintaining that it is morally acceptable to abort it. She suggests that though the fetus is a person with rights, these rights do not sweep aside those of the mother, and, therefore, abortion is permissible.
The length of this article does not allow a full-scale refutation of Thomson’s argument. For that I would refer you to Patrick Lee’s book Abortion & Unborn Human Life. I will offer, however, the following objections to the violinist analogy.
First, abortion is not a mere “unplugging” of the fetus but a violent act of aggression against him. The child does not die of some other disease but of the abortion itself.
Second, abortion is perpetrated against one’s own child for whom a mother has an inherent responsibility. If mothers can dispose of their children merely on the basis of a nine-month inconvenience, why can’t a mother dispose of her six-year-old on a similar basis?
Third, abortion is an act of violence against a baby whose dependence on its mother, in the vast majority of cases, is the result of the woman’s voluntary sexual choices. She chose to run the risk of putting another person in a dependent relationship upon herself. This was not thrust upon her. She was not kidnapped or coerced. She voluntarily embraced both the possibility of having a child and the inherent responsibilities thatwould ensue should the possibility become a reality.
Finally, one must ask, what are the consequences of shedding the inconvenience of being plugged to the violinist? In other words, in making such a decision to rid oneself of the difficult circumstances involved in pregnancy, these inconveniences must be weighed against the consequences of a decision to abort. The consequences, of course, entail the death of the baby.
The congregation I serve is blessed with babies. I watch with delight as parents and grandparents and church family dote on the new additions to their families. Surely, when we hold these precious newborns, we hold the same tiny individuals who were residents of their mothers’ wombs a short time earlier. Our obligation to care for them began long before they were born. Thus, I can only reach one conclusion. Abortion is a violation of nature’s law and is an utter violation of God’s commandment.
To read an extended and annotated version of this article, along with many articles dealing with the Christian and popular culture, purchase Integrity: A Theological Journal. The volume is coming soon from Randall House: www.randallhouse.com.
2008 Theological Symposium
Take part in the 2008 Theological Symposium in Nashville, TN. The meeting, held on the campus of Free Will Baptist Bible College, October 27-28, will address various theological and contemporary issues facing believers today. For more information about the conference, contact the college at (615) 383-1340.