Why We Should Care (and Talk) About Mary

“And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’” — Luke 1:28

Author and podcaster Michael Hyatt, a former Protestant and current deacon in the Orthodox Church, states in one of his podcasts* that in Protestantism, Mary is “eerily absent.”

“I don’t think I ever heard, as a Protestant, a single sermon about Mary,” he says. Outside of the Christmas narrative, Mary is not talked about much. Having been raised in the Evangelical church, this was certainly true of my experience. If Mary was ever discussed in my Sunday School classes or from the pulpit, it was to emphasize how normal she is —  presumably as a way to distance themselves from Catholicism, the churches I grew up in presented Mary as just like the rest of us. That’s the impression I was left with, at least.

It’s true that Mary is not divine like God, and she should not be worshipped or thought of as such. Redemption and salvation come only from Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot benefit spiritually from a proper understanding of his mother. To diminish or even dismiss Mary —  also referred to as the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or the Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”), among other titles —  is to miss out on some deep and incredible theological realities about God, humanity, and womanhood.

Now, there is truth to the sentiment that Mary is just like us: she is a human being in need of a savior just as much as anyone else, a fact she herself acknowledges (Luke 1:47). But she is an example for all Christians because she fully submits to and obeys God. In fact, her humanity makes her actions and responses to her circumstances all the more outstanding and inspiring.

Dn. Michael calls Mary the “prototypic Christian” because her humility and acceptance of God’s will for her life is a model for us all. Her humility, he says, “is a huge shift…from the way we think about ourselves as Americans in the twenty-first century. We think we’re entitled. We deserve better. And even as Christians we sometimes think that…why didn’t I get a different life? Why didn’t I get an easier life?…But not Mary.”

After hearing Gabriel’s announcement that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, Dn. Michael points out that Mary calls herself the maidservant of the Lord, and says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) “She knows who she is and she’s content to obey,” explains Dn. Michael. “And she puts herself fully at the mercy of God’s word.” This is central to Mary’s significance to Christianity; Dn. Michael continues, “To me, whatever else Mary is for us as the Theotokos, she’s also the proto-Christian. The first Christian. The best example of what it means to receive Christ, not just with lipservice, but in our hearts, and to abandon ourselves completely to God.”

Further, we learn from her words in the Magnificat that “[Mary] begins with God…in verse forty-six: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ (Luke 1:46) This is the essential feature of Mary’s life. This is why she is the protoypic Christian. This is why she’s a worthy example for all of us…Mary understands: it’s not about her…it’s about [Christ].” Mary demonstrates the proper Christian posture toward God: one that is marked by humility, acceptance of God’s will, and Christ-centeredness.

Another important reason we should care about Mary is that through her, womanhood, motherhood, and unborn life are redeemed and sanctified.

Christ redeems all of humanity. There seems to be, though, a special redemption given to women through the Mother of God. What does it say about God that the way he chose to redeem humanity was to become human, and the way he chose to become human was to be carried by and born of a human woman? God chose to be born and to have a mother who nursed and nurtured and raised him. This says that God values and esteems unborn life, women, and motherhood.

Through Mary, womanhood was redeemed: as Eve disobeyed, Mary obeyed. Through Mary, childbirth and motherhood were redeemed: as Eve was cursed to bear children in pain and suffering (Genesis 3:16), Mary was blessed to bring forth Christ and to be the vehicle of salvation and life. Christ is the second Adam. Mary has been called the second Eve.

Abortion is, to say the least, a tragedy for the unborn children who lose their lives, but it is also a tragedy for the women who lose or even willfully deny a part of themselves that is, in a way, divine. I am not suggesting that women who don’t bear children have an incomplete or lesser identity, but generally (and biologically) speaking, childbearing and motherhood are uniquely female things, and they therefore are part of the female identity. Because Christ was conceived and born and has a mother, the ability to conceive and bear children and the role of mother will forever be linked with the incarnation. Just as dismissing Mary is to dismiss a rich aspect of Christian theology (of which I’ve really only scratched the surface here), dismissing childbearing and motherhood is to dismiss a deep and sacred aspect of what it means to be a woman as well as what it means to be human.

“And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” — Luke 1:41-42

*quotations are taken from episodes of At the Intersection of East and Westa podcast of Ancient Faith Radio. The episodes quoted here are “Mary — The Prequel,” “Mary — The Annunciation,” and “Mary Meets Elizabeth.”

What Are Our Rights?

On September 28, 2013 a judge struck down a Texas bill restricting abortion. The judge ruled that parts of the law violate the constitutional rights of women, by placing undue strain on doctors performing abortions. Pro-abortion groups praised the decision as giving private decisions back to women and their doctors. Conservative voices vowed to continue the fight to preserve the unborn life. Then, three days later (on Halloween), an appellate court reinstated most of the parts of the law previously struck down. The two sides, based on the same respective criterion, switched their tunes accordingly.

This is just one small skirmish in the ongoing civic conflict over abortion’s place in American culture, a battle allegedly over fundamental constitutional rights. Regardless of the issues in this bill about health standards, the effect will be to permit or shut down abortion clinics that cannot or refuse to comply. It comes down to whether abortion is advanced or hindered, bringing us to the basic debate over the procedure itself. Those who support abortion argue that women have the right to decide over their own bodies, and thereby choose whether to keep a pregnancy or terminate the fetus before or during birth. Those who are against abortion argue that the fetus in the womb has the right to be protected, that ending the pregnancy is simply murdering an unborn child.

Both argue they have constitutional grounds, but technically that’s not the issue. The United States Constitution was not originally written, nor has it been subsequently amended yet, to describe what the rights are in the case of abortion. It is highly arguable that the Founders, most of them religious, would not be on abortion’s side; but such conjecture, even if true, is not binding upon the current population. For now, the Constitution is not the authority on abortion. Rather it is state law and Supreme Court rulings (as yet the latter has only allowed abortion, not defined it as constitutional or not).

With such ambiguity, it would help to go back to the, not legally binding, yet unspoken father of all our liberties, namely the Declaration of Independence. In Jefferson’s words, it is self-evident “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Immediately, the anti-abortion crowd would think ‘Aha! See we’re right!’ and point out God’s creatorship, scriptures that describe life in the womb, and the obvious glaring right to, well, Life. Yet, the problem is that the other two rights, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness, are equally invoked by the pro-abortion group, since they say abortions are a liberty that is part of making them happy (and you would be ‘anti-woman’ to say otherwise).

What is self-evident, here, is that contrary to the Founders’ rather simple and clear vision of what things are universally considered agreeable and essential, humanity has reached an age (or perhaps has re-entered an age) where things like Life and Liberty cannot be simultaneously sustained, or at least without being revised. Protecting the life of the unborn child means sacrificing the full ‘liberty’ of the mother to end the pregnancy, and protecting her right to do so sacrifices the unborn child. I ignore the abortion advocates’ sophistry that they are not violating life, claiming the fetus isn’t human— every fetus, if un-aborted, will become a human, and if a fetus that the mother wanted to keep terminates before delivery, it is considered a tragic loss (this is why in most cases criminals can be prosecuted for double homicide). There is no way around it: in the case of abortion, if we want to advance both Life and Liberty, we must redefine one or the other, or give up on one of them.

Clearly, we have to decide which of these two Rights is more essential in its current form. Notice the unforeseen implications in choosing undiminished Liberty. If abortion is a right of free society, that purely by a woman’s decision, a potential human being can be considered no longer human (or not human enough to have a voice), isn’t that a few steps away from saying we each have the right to decide whether a human remains human? Some argue this is extenuated by the intimate connection between a mother and fetus, but the option to carry the fetus to term and give it up for adoption counters that abortion is the selfish way out, especially when the high demand by infertile couples could benefit from those millions of abortions. When Life does not need to be sacrificed to absolve women of the inconvenience, when Life is amendable in the name of unrestricted Liberty, what bond keeps us from redefining Life, wherever it is, as an inconvenience to be removed? Justifying abortion in the name of Liberty opens up frightening consequences that make Liberty a very terrifying, rather than freeing, privilege.

It is a deeply ingrained flaw of American culture that we assume for ourselves all kinds of actions as our ‘rights’ without recognizing that Liberty is not an unchecked loosening of all restraint. Likewise, the Pursuit of Happiness is not unrestrained in the balance of preserving Life. The murderer certainly has no right, in our eyes, to spend his life outside jail (in some cases even to live) which means a very unhappy future for him. Yet, the same lack of respect for a class of human beings, who get in the way of our convenience, on the part of abortion is colored as an entitlement to which the law, so restrictive of the criminal, should give consent. We have lost the understanding of what our freedoms mean, of how they were fashioned by constructing the right boundaries, not simply let loose from English domain.

And the damage goes beyond whether abortion is constitutional. If, for the healthcare well-being of women, religious founders of companies must violate their personal beliefs, then every religious individual can thus be forcibly subjected to whatever the public decides is for the common good. If, to advance the civil rights of homosexual couples, pastors of churches or religious wedding photographers are forced, by law, to perform their services for weddings they believe are immoral, where will the invasion of public policy into citizens’ faith end? There are priorities to freedom, and when they shift our true rights become endangered. If Americans do not realize what their true liberties are, that having rights necessitates preventing others’ ‘rights’ to injure the former, then we shall surely lose all the unalienable, God-given freedoms our Founders fought to preserve.

Autumn in the Sovereign Zone: Why “It’s My Body, I Can Do What I Want” Won’t Do

Autumn in the Sovereign Zone[1]

Anyone who has ever heard a conversation about abortion has heard pro-choice statements like:

  • “My body, my choice.”
  • “You can’t tell another person what she can’t do with her own body.”
  • “The fetus is part of her body.”
  • “The fetus is inside her body.”

When a pro-life advocate hears statements like these, a common impulse is to respond by saying, “But it’s not her body; it’s another body!” or “If the fetus is part of her body, does she have two heads and twenty toes?” or, perhaps, “But the unborn is a human being, here’s some evidence for that…”

Not so fast.  The pro-choice statements above are ambiguous.  If the pro-choice advocate is confused about whether the unborn is a separate organism from the mother, then graciously giving him an impromptu biology lesson might be helpful.  In many cases, though, the pro-choice advocate is intending to communicate that the woman can do what she wants even if the fetus is a human being.  Many pro-choice advocates don’t know how to articulate this argument in a way that helps pro-life advocates understand.  The pro-life advocate hears, “The fetus is not human,” but the pro-choice advocate means, “It doesn’t matter if the fetus is human.”

Pro-life people generally think there is one question to answer in order to determine the morality of abortion: “What is the unborn?”  Generally speaking, there is merit to this idea.  For instance, when a pro-choice advocate says abortion should be legal because some women are too poor to have a child, he is begging the question.  He is assuming the unborn is not a valuable human because (presumably) he wouldn’t say women should have the right to kill their toddlers if they are too poor.  If the unborn is human, like the toddler, then we can’t kill the unborn in the name of poverty any more than we would kill a toddler.  In contrast, attempting to give a reason that the unborn is not a valuable human being would make a better argument.[2]

One might be tempted to think that all pro-choice justifications can be accurately summarized as either 1) assuming the unborn isn’t human or 2) arguing that the unborn isn’t human.  But as Trent Horn[3] has pointed out, there is a third type of pro-choice justification, one that 3) admits the unborn is human and says that the woman can kill it anyway because of her bodily rights.

Learning to Recognize Bodily Rights Arguments

When I first heard this distinction, it seemed foreign to me.  Why would anyone admit that the unborn is a valuable human being and say it’s okay to kill it?  Then I started thinking about all of the conversations I’d had in which pro-choice people made references to the woman’s body and how it didn’t seem to matter to them when I demonstrated that the unborn is a separate human organism.  Could I have simply been misunderstanding them all along?

So I went on the lookout.  If someone made one of the above pro-choice statements, I would clarify if he was arguing that the unborn isn’t human or if he was making a bodily rights argument.  For instance, when someone said the unborn is part of the mother’s body, I asked:

“I want to understand you, but it sounds like you might be saying one of two different things.  Do you mean that the unborn is literally a part of her body, like a functional part or something; or do you mean that because it is inside her body and connected to her body that she has the right to kill it because she can do what she wants with her body?”

Almost every time I have asked this question, the pro-choice advocate has said that he meant the latter.  I ask a similar question when people say that the unborn is inside the woman, such as:

“I want to understand you, but it sounds like you might be saying one of two different things.  Do you mean that the unborn is not a valuable human being because it is inside the woman; or do you mean that even if it is a valuable human being, that a woman has the right to kill it because it’s inside her and she can do what she wants with her body?”

Almost every time, he responds by saying he meant the latter.  Since I began asking for clarification on this, I have found that bodily rights arguments are much more common than I had previously thought.

The pro-life mind is generally oriented towards the unborn: the unborn is a human being, and it should be illegal to kill human beings, so abortion should be illegal.  But pro-choice people are generally oriented differently.  Even if they don’t believe that the unborn is a human being, sometimes they don’t think that issue matters.  The important thing is that women can do what they want with their bodies, no matter what.  If this is the perspective of one of your pro-choice friends, then biological or philosophical arguments that the unborn is a human being are not likely to change his mind about abortion.  Some pro-choice people truly don’t care what the unborn is; the unborn is in the woman’s way, and that’s all that matters.

Pro-life advocates need to get in the habit of asking these kinds of clarification questions.  If we do not clarify, but merely assume we know what the pro-choice advocate means, then it’s likely our conversation will get stuck and neither person will know why.

Some might think, “What’s the use in trying to persuade people who think it’s okay to kill humans?  They’re so unreasonable.  A lost cause.”  I strongly disagree!  While I’ve found some hardcore moral relativists almost impossible to persuade, the pro-choice advocate focused on bodily rights is different.  He is right about something very important: we do have significant rights to our bodies.  Yet it is not difficult to make a persuasive case that our bodily rights don’t extend as far as most pro-choice advocates think.

Distinguishing Between Bodily Rights Arguments

Trent Horn has distinguished between two types of bodily rights arguments: the Right to Refuse Argument and the Sovereign Zone Argument.[4]  The Right to Refuse Argument states that even if the unborn is a human being, a woman has the right to refuse to allow the unborn the use of her body.  I will not address that argument here; if you are interested, I recommend “De Facto Guardian and Abortion: A Response to the Strongest Violinist,” Steve Wagner’s summary of the discussion of Justice For All’s philosophy team.

The Sovereign Zone Argument states that even if the unborn is a human being, a woman should still be able to have an abortion because she has the right to do anything she wants with anything inside the sovereign zone of her body. Notice that this is a much more extreme claim than that of the Right to Refuse Argument.  The Right to Refuse Argument says a woman has the right not to be forced to do something, while the Sovereign Zone Argument says she has the right to do anything, as long as it’s to something within her sovereign zone.

If you say something like, “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins, and abortion kills a baby,” you won’t be addressing this pro-choice person’s concern.  Remember, she has acknowledged that the unborn is a human being.  She doesn’t believe a woman’s right to bodily autonomy gives her the right to kill a toddler, or swing her fist into her neighbor’s nose.  The unborn is different because it is in her territory, in her sovereign zone.  While I haven’t ever heard a pro-choice person use the term “Sovereign Zone” to explain this view, I have talked with many who hold the position I’ve described.  And, it’s an integral part of their pro-choice perspective.

Dismantling the Sovereign Zone Argument

The most obvious problem with the Sovereign Zone Argument is that it entails something that is indefensible: a woman should legally be allowed to do anything to her unborn child, even if it is a human being.  Once I’ve clarified that I am dealing with the Sovereign Zone Argument, I respond with some version of a story I call The Five Years of Autumn to help the person see the problem and hopefully abandon the view.[5]  If the pro-choice person wants to continue to defend abortion with the Sovereign Zone Argument, he will have to “bite the bullet” in five progressively difficult scenarios.

I want to be clear that this story is not intended to mock anyone, and I don’t ever approve of pro-life people mocking pro-choice people.  I also don’t ever approve of pro-life people attacking straw men instead of actual pro-choice arguments; on the contrary, I think we should go to great pains to make sure we understand pro-choice people’s views and respond to the most plausible versions of them.  I’m not intending to imply that pro-choice people are like Autumn or that they should approve of her actions.  I think a pro-choice person who agrees with the Sovereign Zone Argument should consider the implications of that view as illustrated by Autumn.  If someone justifies abortion with the Sovereign Zone, I do not think he can consistently claim that Autumn should not at least have the legal right to do what she does.

The Five Years of Autumn

Autumn has just completed her doctorate at the age of thirty.  She is pro-choice and has fully embraced the Sovereign Zone Argument.  She believes the unborn is a valuable human being, but that abortion is justified because women have the right to do anything they want with anything inside their bodies.

In the First Year after completing her doctorate, Autumn becomes pregnant.  Her boyfriend is supportive, and she’s excited because she’s always wanted a baby.  Well, that is, she’s always wanted a baby boy.  Her doctor orders an early amniocentesis test at twelve weeks because of factors discovered during genetic counseling with Autumn and her boyfriend.  Though the child appears to be normal, Autumn’s heart sinks when the doctor tells her that it’s a girl.  She wrestles for a few days, and finally decides to have an abortion.  She doesn’t want to have a girl, and her body is her sovereign zone after all, so she shouldn’t have to justify to anyone what reason she has for getting an abortion.

Autumn gets pregnant again soon after and this time at twelve weeks she is relieved to find out that she’s having a boy.  She and her boyfriend eagerly anticipate the birth, until around eight months into the pregnancy when they break up.  Suddenly Autumn goes from being excited at the prospect of raising a baby boy with her boyfriend to the terrifying reality of raising a child all by herself.  She thinks eight months is awfully late to have an abortion, but she considers the sovereign zone of her body.  If it’s her sovereign zone and she has the right to do anything she wants with anything in her body at twelve weeks, why not at thirty-five weeks?  Her state happens to allow abortion up until birth, and she convinces the doctor that her mental strain is sufficient to qualify her for abortion in this late stage.  After she goes through with the abortion, she tells herself that it was the right thing for her.

In her Second Year after completing her doctorate, Autumn starts dating a physician.  She becomes pregnant, and she is somewhat happy about it, but her excitement is quickly overshadowed by a terrible case of morning sickness.  One day her ever-attentive new boyfriend brings home some white pills he has illegally acquired for her.  He tells her he has brought her thalidomide, which will help her to feel better, but could cause their baby to be born with very severe birth defects.  He may be born without arms or without legs.[6]  She thanks him for his compassion for her, but declines the pills.  After suffering through three straight days of morning sickness though, she decides she can’t take the discomfort anymore and starts taking thalidomide.  She fears for what may happen to her baby, but she decides that those possible effects shouldn’t stop her from doing what she feels is necessary.  After all, she tells herself, “My body, my choice.”  When she sees her deformed baby for the first time, she realizes just how severe the consequences of her actions are.  But, she thinks, at least she gave him a chance to live, and if he decides later that he would have preferred death to being handicapped, he could make the choice to end his own life when he is old enough.[7]

As she goes into the Third Year after completing her doctorate, she discovers that she doesn’t mind so much having to take care of a deformed child.  Her community doesn’t know she took thalidomide, so they all think she’s a hero for being so strong for him.  When she becomes pregnant again, this time with a little girl, she fortunately doesn’t experience such a bad case of morning sickness, but she still has some of those little white pills left.  She considers the bond her kids would have if they went through the same challenges together, and the way her community would support her and admire her.

She thinks about her deformed infant son and how hard his life will be, and feels selfish for even thinking of deforming another child.  But then again, she considers what her abortion doctor told her about abortion procedures.  If she had the right to have a doctor pull her baby apart while killing it through a dilation and evacuation abortion,[8] why shouldn’t she have the right to take a drug to deform it?  Having an arm pulled off seemed a lot worse to her than just not growing one properly, so if her sovereignty over her body gave her the right to do the one, why not the other?

She considers the possibility that some might argue that it is worse to maim someone than to kill him.  But if people really thought that, why didn’t they go around killing maimed people to help them out of their misery?  She knew happy handicapped people.  And even if it is worse to be maimed than to be killed, who are they to judge her for doing what she wants to with what’s in her body, especially if they’re pro-choice?  She concludes that she doesn’t have to justify to anyone her personal decisions about what she does with her body.  After all, it is a private medical decision between her and her doctor.  She takes the remaining thalidomide and when her baby girl is born, she is pleased to see that she turned out deformed.  She has second thoughts about her decision from time to time, and sometimes even feels like she’s a pretty mean person.  But she tells herself that even if it were immoral, surely no one could tell her it should be illegal.

In her Fourth Year after completing her doctorate, she decides to take an art class at a local university.  She was always artistically talented and had even considered pursuing an art degree when she was in high school.  She seems to have the skill to succeed, but she struggles to come up with ways to make herself really stand out as an artist.  One day a pro-life group comes to her campus with graphic pictures depicting the results of abortion.  The pictures don’t really bother her, but it does occur to her that they are very controversial and attention-grabbing, and this gives her an idea.

She gets herself pregnant three times and has three early abortions, having already agreed with her doctor that she could keep the bloody remains of the embryos and placentas so she can use them for her art.[9]  She succeeds at getting a lot of attention when she unveils her project, though more of it is negative than she expected.  When one critic asked her how she could do such a thing, she fired back at her, “Who are you to tell me what I can do with my body?  What business is it of yours how many abortions I have, when I have them, or why I have them?  It’s my body, so it’s my choice.”

At the beginning of the Fifth Year after completing her doctorate, Autumn breaks up with her physician boyfriend and falls madly in love with a very pro-life man.  She doesn’t tell him about her abortions, her role in deforming her children, or, heaven forbid, her recent art project.  Before they start sleeping together, they agree that if she becomes pregnant, she won’t have an abortion.  She becomes pregnant after a few months, and shortly thereafter, her new pro-life boyfriend cheats on her.  Fueled by her desire for revenge, she forms a plan.

She goes back to her abortion doctor and tells him of her situation and he agrees to help Autumn carry out her plan.  He devises the cruelest possible ways he can hurt a late-term fetus without killing it.  They wait until thirty-eight weeks, then Autumn goes to her doctor’s clinic, where he tortures her child for as long as possible until finally the child dies.

She reflects afterward on how much suffering she caused her child, but reminds herself that her right to do what she wants with her body is absolute.  While many would surely disapprove of her decision, no one, not even the child’s father, has a right to stop her from doing anything to her baby as long as it is inside her sovereign zone.

Cognitive Dissonance with the Sovereign Zone

There is only one question this story is intended to ask the pro-choice person: should Autumn’s actions be legal?  My argument is very simple: if abortion should be legal on the basis that women can do whatever they want with anything inside their bodies, then Autumn’s actions should also be legal.  One could consistently believe abortion should be legal and believe that Autumn’s actions should not be legal, but only if he doesn’t rely on the Sovereign Zone Argument to justify abortion.

As a conversational tool, sometimes it is easier to simply point to the five implications of the Sovereign Zone Argument, rather than walk through a detailed story.

Five Implications of the Sovereign Zone Argument:

1: There can be no restrictions on abortion at any stage or for any reason.

2: A pregnant woman can take thalidomide to treat her morning sickness even though it will deform her fetus.

3: A pregnant woman can take thalidomide to intentionally deform her fetus.

4: A woman can have multiple abortions for the sole purpose of using the results for an art project.

5: A pregnant woman can do anything to her unborn child, including having it tortured to death.

In my experience, most people aren’t willing to accept the third “year” or implication of the Sovereign Zone Argument.  Most people do not think a woman should have the right to intentionally deform her child, even if they think she should have the right to intentionally kill it.  They know intentionally deforming a child is wrong, so when confronted with the third year, they either try to make a distinction to save the Sovereign Zone Argument, or they abandon it entirely and move on to a new argument.  Every now and then, they change their minds about abortion altogether.  Only on very rare occasions have I met someone who has agreed that fetal torture should be legal.

When I’m in a conversation in which I can tell the pro-choice person advocating the sovereign zone is struggling with her view, especially after discussing thalidomide, I often ask her if she knows how abortion procedures are done.  Often she has no idea.  After describing an abortion procedure, such as suction abortion or dilation and evacuation abortion, I gently ask one of the following questions:

  • Why should a woman have the right to dismember a child if she shouldn’t have the right to deform him?
  • Why is it okay for her to have a doctor rip her child’s limbs off with a suction machine or with forceps, but it is not okay for her to take a drug that causes her child to not grow limbs?
  • Why does she not have the right to cause her child to have a harder life, but she does have the right to deprive him of life completely?

The cognitive dissonance this line of argument creates is extremely powerful.  I suspect that pro-choice views are often driven by a sort of wishful thinking.  Many pro-choice people want abortion to be okay, so they rationalize it in their minds.[10]  They think: “It’s not really human anyway,” or, “it’s basically a part of her body,” or even, “maybe it’s wrong, but it should still be legal.”  But while they have spent years rationalizing that killing fetuses is justified, they have not gone through a similar process of telling themselves that it is okay to deform a fetus.  Their moral compasses still function properly once we step away from abortion for a minute and talk about doing something else to an unborn child, something that is obviously immoral.  When we bring up the case of thalidomide, we force their rationalization of abortion to come into conflict with their view that it is obviously wrong to deform a child with thalidomide.[11]


[1] Many thanks to Trent Horn, Steve Wagner, Rich Poupard, Scott Klusendorf and Josh Brahm for their excellent work, and for helping me to understand the Sovereign Zone Argument.  I heartily recommend their web sites and their work.  Additional thanks to Steve Wagner for serving as my editor. Image courtesy of Justice For All.

[2] For examples of this focus on the question, “What is the unborn?” see Greg Koukl’s article “Only One Question,” and Scott Klusendorf’s article “Only One Issue.

[3] See Trent Horn, “My Body, My Choice,” in Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue – The Interactive Guide, ed. Steve Wagner (Wichita: Justice For All, 2013), p. 95.  Trent is a former Justice For All intern.  See Trent’s blog, www.trenthorn.com, for more information about Trent’s current work with Catholic Answers.

[4] See Trent Horn, “My Body, My Choice,” in Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue – The Interactive Guide, ed. Steve Wagner (Wichita: Justice For All, 2013), pages 95-106.  Trent’s observation that there are two distinct forms of bodily rights arguments was, in my opinion, a groundbreaking development for the pro-life movement.

[5] Thanks to Steve Wagner for the ingenious idea to take the five points of this argument and tell it as a story.

[6] I believe Rich Poupard of the Life Training Institute was the first to utilize thalidomide in an argument against the bodily-rights-based arguments for abortion.  See his post “Do No Harm (Except For That Killing Thing)” here.  Trent Horn applied it specifically to the Sovereign Zone Argument.

[7] I don’t think words can do justice to the effect thalidomide has on a child.  A simple Google image search on the term “thalidomide” illustrates this.  Warning: The pictures are disturbing.

[8] To learn about abortion procedures, see http://www.abort73.com/abortion/abortion_techniques/ or “What Are the Facts?  Frequently Asked at Justice For All Events” (www.jfaweb.org/Facts).

[9] Unfortunately, this is based on a true story.  Aliza Shvarts, an art student at Yale, allegedly had multiple early abortions intentionally so she could use the remains for her art project.  When I talk about her in conversations with pro-choice people, I’m careful to specify that it isn’t clear whether she actually did this or not, but that she claims she did it.  I heard of this story as a response to bodily rights arguments from Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute on pages 199-200 of The Case for Life.  Trent Horn applied it specifically to the Sovereign Zone Argument.

[10] For the record, I am not claiming that self-deception only exists on the pro-choice side.  I am making a specific comment about how self-deception affects pro-choice people, and how that impacts their response to thalidomide.

[11] For a printer friendly version of this article, use this link.

How Should Christians Interact with Politics?

Editor’s note: This week, we’re running a series on questions, inspired by Matthew Lee Anderson’s book, The End of Our Exploring. We reviewed his book here. There’s a great deal going on this week: buy one copy of Matt’s book, and you can give one away for free. Check out the details here.

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. – Romans 13:1

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’ But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.’ – Acts 5:27-30

There are many Scripture passages one could point to in a discussion on politics and “governing authorities;” these are just two, and they serve to raise the question: how should Christians interact with politics? How does our faith in Christ and His Church interact with political issues and secular authority?

I’ve never been a very politically minded person, and I must admit that I haven’t seriously considered how I, as a Christian, ought to interact with politics. Of course, many Christians are way ahead of me on this front, but this is my attempt to breach the subject in my own, small way. Being a Christian is the most important defining aspect of my life, so it only seems natural that it would influence my political beliefs and activity. The question of how Christians should interact with politics is an important one to consider, which is why I’m taking the opportunity this week, not to try and answer the question, but rather to consider why the question is an important one with which Christians (like myself) should grapple. I tread forward cautiously.

I don’t believe there is, necessarily, a single, “right” way to answer the question. Many political issues are  complex and multi-faceted, and politics is a hot-button topic for anyone because there are so many varied opinions about the right way to do things. In some cases, I think it is no different for Christians; it doesn’t seem as simple as “All Christians should vote [insert political party here],” for example. It’s difficult to paint the topic in broad, black-and-white strokes.

The difference, it seems, comes when moral issues become political issues, which is something I’ve noticed more and more in recent years. For example, abortion has become a women’s rights issue and the subject of a heated, ongoing political debate in our culture. I admit that there are complex factors involved, but the heart of the issue is the sanctity of human life. In this case, a moral issue has evolved into a prominent political issue, and as Christians we need to take such issues seriously and consider how to respond to them in light of our faith. (Of course, the tricky part is that many Christians are in disagreement about whether abortion is right or wrong, what constitutes a human life, in what specific contexts abortion is or isn’t acceptable, etc.)

Gay marriage is another example. The Church has a radically different perspective on what marriage is, as well as who can and should get married, than does the secular world. For Christians, marriage is a moral and spiritual issue; it is a sacrament, a holy mystery of our faith. But our country and culture are becoming increasingly open to varied forms and opinions of marriage. It is an important political issue for Christians to consider because it leads to other valuable questions, such as: who defines marriage (the government, the Church, or some third party)? What is marriage, according to the Church, and how does it differ from secular views of marriage? There is an important distinction to draw between civil, legal marriage and spiritual, Church marriage; the two are entirely separate from each other. No matter your opinion on what should or should not be legal regarding marriage licenses issued by the government, it is an important issue to consider because it can help clarify what Christian marriage is and how it differs from secular, legal marriage.

A further question that stems from this discussion could be, What are the potential consequences for Christians not interacting with politics? At the very least, we’d be isolating ourselves from a very real and significant part of living as contemporary Christians in this world. It seems to me that it’s better to be active politically while guided by our faith than to be passive politically, potentially falling into the belief that politics don’t matter that much for Christians. I think the development of the two issues I mentioned—abortion and gay marriage—provide ample evidence that politics very much do matter, or at least should matter, to the Christian life. The extent and form of the action one takes in response to certain political issues depends, I think, on one’s particular spiritual and life path. Perhaps monks in a monastery respond by praying for the leaders of our country; perhaps I can respond by voting more conscientiously. All Christians should strive to respond in kindness and love above all else.

I mention these things and raise these questions in an effort to explore and broaden my own relationship to politics. Some folks are too politically active…but I’m not very active at all, and as a Christian who only recently realized she ought to take politics more seriously, these are the types of issues and questions that make me think it’s time to make a change.

Image via Flickr.

Practical Love in the Pro-Life Fight

In the wake of the recent Gosnell trial, other stories have come to light that demonstrate that Gosnell is not merely an isolated incident. The shock and horror of the initial unveiling of Gosnell’s atrocities is slowly hardening into resolve among pro-life advocates. It is a time of great mourning and reflection for those who are pro-life, even while we have hope of seeing the tidal wave of blood staunched one day in the future.

However, it is also a time for those who are pro-life to stop and examine their commitments to the pro-life cause. Reassessment is necessary because the church isn’t presently prepared to deal with the potential outworking of operating under an explicitly pro-life system. We especially need to consider what it means to love well in the midst of the pro-life fight. One of my fellow bloggers wrote in February about remembering to love in the midst of the pro-life Fight. I agree with him, and want to further that discussion with three commitments that Christians need to examine if they hope to be robustly pro-life.

1. Pro-lifers need to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to participate in adoption. While adoptions are on the rise, and this is largely due to influence from Christian communities, the reality is that the present rate of adoption in the US will only handle approximately a tenth of the babies that would otherwise be aborted (120,000 adoptions a year vs. 1,370,000 abortions each year in the US). When you break those adoption numbers down further, close to half are adopting someone they know, such as grandparents or step-parents adopting children for the sake of guardianship. Another sixth of those adoptions are international children. Finally, a little over 50,000 children are adopted out of the foster-care system each year, or a little less than four percent of yearly abortions. The stark reality is that even if those babies lived, their quality of life will be abysmal if people do not adopt them. What does love look like in this instance? Love looks like not only mourning the 53 million lives that have been lost, but also being willing to open our pocket books and homes to those who might be saved from such a fate. If Christians are not willing to open their homes to these children, then who will?

2. This first point reminds us that while we can increase the number of families who adopt babies, we also need to significantly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies to begin with. Thus, we must reconsider our methods of sex-education. While it is common knowledge that abstinence a great way to guarantee no pregnancy, the reality is that nearly everyone also believes they are entitled to uninhibited sexual expression. Unfortunately the values of the world after the sexual revolution and Roe V. Wade means that a large portion of people, even Christians, are having extramarital sex. Even within the bounds of marriage, people consider aborting children because their fertility methods worked too well, or because they are over-burdened financially. The result has been an explosion of unwanted pregnancies.

Studies have suggested that comprehensive sex-education would significantly reduce the number of un-wanted pregnancies each year, and yet Christians oppose it on many levels. Some of the reasons are sound, some birth control methods are potentially abortifacient and thus are a compromise of a pro-life position. Other reasons are less valid, such as the belief that allowing their children to have a comprehensive sex-education will give them license to sin. Both potential problems have thorough arguments for why there are mitigating factors to these concerns. But at bottom, there is a huge gap in how Christians deal with sex education, both in religious and secular educational settings. It is worth considering, with the number of lives at stake, that supporting comprehensive sex education in all schools could reduce the number of abortions by 60%. And if Christian parents are worried that their children knowing about safe sex will increase the likelihood that their child will be promiscuous, then this underscores that we are not teaching our youth comprehensive views of the integration of sex, their souls, and God. Instead, we are merely scaring them into following the rules, and that is never good motivation for virtue.

3. Now, lest we fall prey to the temptation to only love the apparent victims well, we need to learn to love the women who are considering or who have had abortions, and not only because they are frequently victims themselves. While Christians claim that they love the sinner while rejecting the sin, the Christian community’s language towards those who fall into sexual sin, who get pregnant, and who consider abortion is anything but loving. While I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of organizations like abolishhumanabortion.com, their language is so inflammatory that there is no room for the human struggle that goes with that. There isn’t room for the hard cases, for girls and women who get pregnant through rape or incest, or the families that would be left bereft of a mother if she didn’t choose to end her pregnancy. While we need to be uncompromising in our stances about abortion, Jesus didn’t just simply condemn sin, he healed the hurting and loved well, even as he commanded them to turn from their sin. It’s time that Christians work toward getting down with people in the trenches, doing life with them, and loving them where they are at, instead of condemning them from the sidelines.

In sum, the pro-life movement has traditionally advocated for the unborn. While this is necessary and good, the conversation also tends to further an “us vs. them” mentality, where it’s pro-life and babies on one side and pro-choice and women on the other. There needs to be a shift in perspective, wherein we acknowledge that the moral climate we live in is no longer that of older generations. We also need to find ways to love the vulnerable in the pro-life movement, and that includes the women – because society has lied to them and told them that what they do with their bodies doesn’t matter, and that abortion is no different than removing a benign tumor. We need to be firm about the rights of the unborn, but we need to love the broken hearts and bodies that abortion has left behind.

Abortion: How and Whether to Read about Evil

The trial of a particularly demented abortion doctor has been going on, this last week, and links to news stories appeared on Facebook under comments like “I’m almost hesitant to share this…but, you need to know.”

That hesitation wavers in my heart. Reading these articles is painful. I have, several times, tried to post links and chickened out. I couldn’t bring myself to spread it without extended explanation.

On the one hand, these things must be known. It’s important not to turn our eyes away from someone else’s pain in order to stay comfortable when we really ought to alleviate that pain, even if it involves our own discomfort.

On the other hand, the descriptions in these reports and media stories horrify me. I feel physical pain and permeating nausea when I read them. I have difficulty breathing afterward. Their short sentences etch images on my mind’s eye that will never go away.

I know they’ll never go away because I remember sitting in English class as a teenager while the teacher graphically described a suction abortion. Feeling vomity, I tremored after several minutes, “Please, please stop. I can’t hear this.” She replied that I had to know to change things. She continued. I sat in class, listening obediently, as my heart-rate escalated. I remember her description as vividly and colorfully as one remembers a traumatic experience. And, I remain uncertain to this day if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

In a cruel and violent world, exposing ourselves to that cruelty and violence can help us to rise up against it. But, there are risks: the possibility of becoming so overwhelmed we are desensitized. Enough exposure may make us numb, like too much noise deafens the ears. Exposure to extremely terrible events could also make other horrific things look “not as bad as that one.”

This is the war inside me: these things are simultaneously too horrible to know and too horrible not to know. I don’t want these things to continue, but is grating sandpaper across my soul going to stop it? How should I approach these events, these news stories?

I hypothesize this answer: purpose.

For what purpose do I read these articles? I must consciously measure my exposure to my purpose. My intuition is that there is some amount of grisly detail that translates into purposeful action: we need enough understanding of the atrocity to realize we must act, but not so much that we damage our own ability to act. Humility is also key: I once saw a horror movie with the explicit thought that I could “take it.” But, is wanting to be “strong enough” to look at evil a healthy attitude? We must, must, must read these articles humbly, listening to our soul and realizing that we may be most able to effect our purpose if we don’t finish reading, not because we can’t “take it,” but because what we “take” at some point may ferment into input that drugs the soul. (This is the same way I read Lolita, or – rather—the way I came to read only the first half of Lolita.)

Additionally, reading for purpose will help keep us from drifting into the very modern danger that “being aware” can take the place of real action. It is painful and arduous to read the descriptions reported in these articles, so it’s natural that our recognition of the difficulty of the exercise subconsciously morphs into a belief that by reading all the way through, we’ve “done something.” Wouldn’t we have “done something” more if we’d only read the first paragraph, left our computer, and volunteered at a pregnancy center for a few hours?

Did I go volunteer at a pregnancy center? No. I am moving slothfully toward action; I went and checked out Real Choices (a beautifully empathic pro-life book on abortion) from the library and read it straight through that afternoon. In one sense, I felt as though I was doing penance for not reading the news articles. In another, I felt that I was equipping myself for a conversation I may have in the future with a daughter or friend.

Mine is not a tidy argument. I can’t say what to read, how far to read, what not to read. My suggestion, vague as it is, is simply that we are responsible to read about evil in our world and, when we do so, we must designate a clear purpose. To refuse to look is to allow it to continue; to look without discernment is to create the danger of it becoming part of ourselves.

Here is a link. Read with grace.

With thanks to Zoe Doss, for indispensable insights and idea contribution.

The State Of Our Union Is…Confused.

President Obama’s State of the Union address was nothing new.  As all politicians do, he called attention to a few high points of the past year, but primarily focused on the future, laying out a fresh list of promises that few people truly believe he can make good on.

The President took aim at Big Business, especially the medical and insurance industries, blasting them for making record profits while average Americans struggle.  What is more interesting is that he went on to warn Congress that now is not the time to gut funding for medical research that helps to save lives.  We have to wonder if the President is aware of how much of those record profits the medical industry invests in just the kind of medical research he wants to protect.

The real issue here, though, is not the specifics of where certain money is being spent, but rather an entire political philosophy.  When the President suggests that high profits for private companies can actually have a negative impact on society, and that any reduction in government-funded research is unacceptable, he is implicitly saying that the responsibility to do such research should be entrusted to the government rather than those private companies.  It would be better, in his mind, for the medical industry to hand over more of its profits to the government (paying more of their fair share, as it were) so that the government can do more of the same work that the medical industry is already doing.  I’m not arguing here that this is either good or bad.  The President’s underlying philosophy could be right.  I merely point it out because, sadly, the underlying philosophies of our politicians are rarely scrutinized and examined in light of other issues, which often leads to confused voters and even more confused politicians.

An excellent example of this political schizophrenia came from two of the President’s more praiseworthy statements.  In his best line of the night the President said, “What makes a man is not the ability to conceive a child, but the courage to raise a child.”  He went on to say that our rights as individuals are always wrapped up in the rights of others, highlighting the importance of community and cooperation.  Taken alone, these statements are excellent and any Christian on the conservative side of the spectrum ought to be able to endorse them wholeheartedly.  What may seem puzzling to some, then, is the President’s radical Pro-Choice agenda and his newfound but staunch support for gay marriage.

President Obama rightly acknowledged that a stable family structure is best not only economically, but also for raising healthy and productive children.  The redefinition of marriage is at odds with this truth.  In every nation that has officially redefined marriage on a large scale, marriage is disappearing.

More important is the issue of abortion.  How can you hope to encourage young men to think of fatherhood as something that requires courage when all the consequences and “dangers” of sex and pregnancy are so easily removed, and with no remorse?  When you continue to push the “easy way out” on the one hand, any calls for courage on the other hand ring hallow.

Moreover, why is radical individualism only a bad thing, and why are the rights of others only important, when it comes to gun control or higher taxes?  Why does the President not chide the radical individualism of the successful businesswoman who seeks an abortion because a child is simply inconvenient at the moment?  Why is she not to be reminded that her rights are tied up in the rights of others, necessarily limiting her choices?

Again, our current way of political discourse in America is not set up to handle these underlying philosophical questions, so I don’t place all blame upon the President or his party.  Mr. Obama may be wrong, but Conservatives and Christians in the media are failing to say so in an intelligent and persuasive manner.  We are all caught up in the culture of soundbites and shouting matches.  Worse yet, when we finally do tire of this unhelpful bickering, we retreat into the amusement of trivialities.  Senator Marco Rubio delivered a winsome, articulate, and at times passionate response to President Obama’s address on Tuesday night.  All day Wednesday, the biggest topic of discussion was Rubio’s 3-second, awkward reach-and-sip from a mini water bottle.  This mildly humorous non-event has received more attention than anything the President said in his speech.  That’s a sad statement.

I don’t exactly know where to go from here.  But I do believe that if conservatives and independents start demanding more thoughtfulness from their representatives while refusing to reward the escalating “cycle of soudbites”, things can only change for the better.

You can start right now by NOT posting that angry knee-jerk response to your brother-in-law’s annoying Facebook post.

 

Memorized and Meaningless? A Fresh Look at 1 Corinthians 13

Something is rotten in the state of the pro-life movement.  We are fighting so hard to save unborn babies from abortion that we become tunnel-visioned.  It isn’t that we should stop being mindful of the plight of the unborn.  But we shouldn’t focus on the unborn to the neglect of everyone else.  What are we missing?

Love.

“But Tim, we love babies; we aren’t missing love.”

I’m glad you love babies; I do, too.  Over a million of them are dying each year, so we had better do something about that.  But do you love their moms?  Do you love their dads?  Do you love your pro-choice friends?  Sometimes I don’t.

While I was reflecting on this problem a few months ago, it reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13.  I wrote my struggles into the text, not to elevate my thoughts to the level of Scripture, but to remind myself of the power of a passage quoted so often that I hear the words without thinking about what they mean.  Below, I’ve placed the original text in bold type with my added thoughts in normal type.

If I speak with the conviction of a great apologist, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have great powers of perception, and understand all science and philosophy, and if I have all faith, so as to inspire a congregation, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give away all excess income to pregnancy care centers and take in unwed mothers, and if I deliver up my reputation for the cause of saving unborn babies, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; it listens and seeks to understand rather than merely waiting for the chance to respond.

Love is kind; it treats everyone as a valuable human being made in the image of God – not just embryos, fetuses, and those who agree with us.

Love does not envy or boast; it gives all glory to God and does not seek to be honored by men.

Love is not arrogant; it remembers how many times it has made mistakes in reasoning.

Love is not rude; it does not dehumanize people by calling them faggots, homos, or fairies.

Love does not insist on its own way; it does not need to have the last word in a debate.

Love is not irritable; it is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Love is not resentful; it does not dwell on the failures of those around us.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing; it is not excited when those who oppose us are caught in sin.

Love rejoices with the truth; it does not distort the facts or misconstrue another’s arguments.

Love bears all things; it does not need to be defensive when insulted.

Love believes all things; it does not assume that people have evil intentions just because they disagree.

Love hopes all things; it is not cynical, but remembers that God is good and He is in control.

Love endures all things; it does not give up on the unborn no matter how discouraged we feel.

Every time I read this I can’t help but remember times I utterly failed to love people.  God forgive me; when I was seventeen years old, I told an obnoxious pro-choice woman on an online forum that I wasn’t going to “cast my pearls before her anymore.”  Yes, I had that much nerve.  And yes, I was that arrogant.  In my conversations now, I don’t imply that the people I encounter are swine.  But almost ten years later I still struggle sometimes to think of the person I’m talking to as a human being made in the image of God, just as precious as the unborn babies we’re trying to save.

Even if you feel convicted, don’t let a fear of making mistakes cause you not to try.  On the day that you read this there will be more than three thousand abortions (in the US alone), killing more than three thousand babies and deeply wounding more than three thousand moms.  There are also millions and millions of people who don’t know Jesus.  Who will tell them about Him if you and I give up out of fear?

We can’t help them all, but by God’s grace we can help many of them.

Abortion Ends Lives: Why This Actually Matters

A troubling post has been making waves lately, mostly causing controversy among those of us who willingly and eagerly call ourselves pro-life. Often, the primary discussion when debating the morality of abortion is the personhood of a fetus: at what point does the fetus obtain the same rights as a human being? Pro-lifers argue conception or some other early moment, while the pro-choice crowd claim that life begins far later, thus justifying abortions.

Not everyone has stuck to this discussion, however. Sometimes, they veer off, ignore the normal arguments, and run with their conclusions all the same. Such it is with the post in question.

The circulating article, So what if abortion ends life?, almost sounded satirical to me, at first. Much like last year’s controversial paper suggesting that after-birth abortions should be acceptable, this post takes the pro-choice position to its logical conclusion:

All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

That constitutes the heart of her argument. This turns the arguments that we’ve all been having for years now on their heads: our arguments have primarily rested squarely on the statement that human life should not be unjustly destroyed, and that a fetus is an example of a human life that, if killed, constitutes an unjust death. Most of the pro-choice arguments have pushed against this second point: fetuses are not yet human, and thus do not have the quality of human life that is wrong to kill. This post, however, pushes against the first proposition: it is not always unjust to end an innocent life.

Or, more accurately, she suggests that it is not always the most wrong thing to end an innocent life. She never suggests that the fetus deserved death, or any such thing; simply that the rights of the mother should always override any rights we may offer to the fetus, including life.

In fact, let’s take a minute to lay out her argument explicitly, because my logic class taught me to, but also because I believe it will be genuinely helpful:

  1. All life is not equal.
  2. A fetus is a human life.
  3. A woman who has a fetus inside of her possesses a type of life that is above the type of life possessed by the fetus.
  4. The type of life the woman possesses in (3) includes the right to end the type of life possessed by the fetus.
  5. Therefore, from those propositions, it follows that it is acceptable for a woman to procure an abortion.

My disagreement is with proposition 3, and by implication 4. In order to arrive at the conclusion that a woman has a different sort of life than the fetus inside of her, you have to either provide some sort of criterion by which life may be judged, or you have to simply assert that it is self-evident that a woman’s rights should trump the rights of the fetus. I’ve seen no criterion that isn’t defeated with relative ease, and the brute-force fact simply does not seem self-evident for a great many people.

Here is where pro-lifers will have the strongest disagreement: the idea that a fetus has a different, subservient set of rights than the mother has simply sounds absurd. It is not because of some scare-tactic that we use the term ‘pro-life’ to describe our position: we value the life of every fetus, and attempt to highlight the core of our argument–that the fetus is a living human being–even in our self-appointed description.

I’ll agree with the author on this much, at least: “A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides.” That’s spot on, actually, though the intended disparate rights are not so accurate. There are many rights that the mother has that the fetus does not have: the mother has the right to vote, to own a gun, etc. The fetus does not have these, because these are earned rights, in a sense: you earn the right to vote by participating in society via tax payment, you earn the right to own a gun by not only aging, but also securing a license, etc. There are, however, basic rights available to all humans, regardless of age or location, ability or licences. While we may spend decades debating what actually constitutes a basic right, life is certainly on that list. The right to life is basic, and we should seek to defend it any time that we can. Occasionally an individual acts in such a way that they forfeit that basic right, but it stands to reason that a fetus is not a being that is capable of moral culpability, at least in regards to the law or the choices we may make. While some suggest that it is inconsistent to be pro-life in regards to abortion while also voting to maintain or institute the death penalty, it should be noted that the primary difference is the action of the individual on consideration for death: the fetus has done nothing of its own free will to impose upon another individual, while the criminal has (assuming guilt, of course).

And so my own self-evident and contradictory truth is this: a fetus possesses the same sort of life as the mother, and if both are alive, both lives should be preserved. The mother does not possess the moral right to end the life of the fetus, with a potential exception for self-defense, though those cases are extremely rare.

Purposelessly ending a life is evil. I hope we can all agree on that, regardless of your position on abortion. But whim, quality of life, or even, dare I say it, comfort should not function as reasons for ending another life, particularly one that simply cannot be personally responsible for any hardships. To suggest that ending a life is something we have a right to do, simply because we are able and possess some undefined ‘higher’ type of life, is deplorable.

The image of God is a powerful truth: we are made in it, and our concern should be for every image-bearer. This stretches from the fetus to the mother, and back again. The basic human right to life is founded on simply this: God creates life, and calls it good. If we take this seriously, as we ought, then we must own up to the fact that life is worth preserving if at all possible, regardless of the cost. Sacrificing our children to our whims, to our preferences, or to our sense of timing all spit in the face of a God who breathes life and calls it good.

Image via Flickr.

 

The End Of Abortion

Evangelical Christians have lost  gay marriage. 

This is my humble yet controversial opinion.  I could be wrong, I’m no prophet, but when the social conservatives are also the party of unyielding individualism and liberty, it’s very hard to make the rhetorical pivot to being against what appears to most people to be a matter of individuals exercising their  liberty.  Beside that, in my opinion, we are still losing the narrative debate.  Traditional marriage defenders have been, so far, pretty lousy at providing the alternative positive story of marriage in contradistinction to the “I just want the equal right to marry whomever I love” story that resonates with most people of good will.

Here’s the good news, we’re winning abortion.

The positive story has been on our side for a long time now, and it resonates powerfully.  The striking parallels between the abolition of abortion and the abolition of slavery are also persuasive.  When abortion becomes a human rights issue, as it is, both right-wing individualism and left-wing concern for social justice meet in common cause.  To oppose that cause is to take up a fool’s errand.

Moreover, when the proponents of abortion are forced to continuously admit that abortion itself  is “tragic” and “should be rare”, well, it’s easy to see a lost cause.  Can you imagine gay activists admitting in solemn tones, “We all know gay marriage is tragic, and should be a rare occurance, but gay people should still be free to choose in those extreme instances when it’s necessary”?

One thing that always puzzles me about the Left is how they mock and deride those who argue that the shifting sands of their own moral foundation will eventually eradicate all standards of right and wrong.  They cry “Oh, that’s just a slippery slope!”  This is one of those moves that Facebook Philosophers like to make.  Look up a list of logical fallacies and throw a few out in an argument so that you appear educated and skilled at critical thinking.  What puzzles me about this, though, is that when, lo and behold, the sands start shifting a little too fast for the current tastes of the Leftist elite, they profess shock and disbelief, yet no hint of an apology to that wise man or woman whom they had accused of peddling hysterical logical fallacies just a few moments earlier (in fact, they may simply lash out and deride him or her even more).

This is just what’s happened over at Slate, where William Saletan begins with this lament:

Just when you thought the religious right couldn’t get any crazier, with its personhood amendments and its attacks on contraception, here comes the academic left with an even crazier idea: after-birth abortion.

Here is a man who clearly hasn’t been paying attention.  The Pro-Life movement has been arguing for a long time now that there is no substantial difference between an infant and a fetus.  And Peter Singer has argued for infanticide for years.  I suspect Mr. Saletan is merely nervous, and his nervousness leads him to open the article by reminding everyone how crazy the other side is.  This is important, because Mr. Saletan provides no answers for those Pro-choicers who are repulsed by infanticide, he merely raises unsettling questions. 

His article is actually quite insightful.  He goes straight to the assumptions, so often taken for granted without argument, that underpin the whole Pro-choice position.  He calls each of these assumptions into question because they seem to lead logically to the acceptability of infanticide.  This can’t be, however, because Mr. Saletan realizes that infanticide is “crazy.”  Here are the assumptions:

1. The moral significance of fetal development is arbitrary.
2. Prior to personhood, human life has no moral claims on us.
3. Any burden on the woman outweighs the value of the child.
4. The value of life depends on choice.
5. Discovery of a serious defect is grounds for termination.

Without these assumptions, the Pro-choice position completely collapses.  Mr. Saletan’s challenge in this article is for Pro-choicers to confront the logic of the “after-birth abortion” position head-on and explain how any of these assumptions can remain intact for an unborn fetus and yet not apply to the newborn baby.  He concludes:

The challenge posed to Furedi and other pro-choice absolutists by “after-birth abortion” is this: How do they answer the argument, advanced by Giubilini and Minerva, that any maternal interest, such as the burden of raising a gravely defective newborn, trumps the value of that freshly delivered nonperson? What value does the newborn have? At what point did it acquire that value? And why should the law step in to protect that value against the judgment of a woman and her doctor?

Unbeknownst (I assume) to Mr. Saletan, who is after all a Pro-choicer himself, he has just articulated the presuppositional argument against abortion.  And it is telling that he makes no attempt to provide any response.  I believe that’s called a deafening silence. 

All Mr. Saletan can do is nervously proclaim that he just knows (and after all, doesn’t everybody?) that infanticide is “crazy”, and remind us that the other side is just as crazy, so whatever we do we certainly can’t join up with them.  I don’t blame him, really.  I’d be nervous too if I felt myself slipping down the side of a steep slope I was quite sure wasn’t there.

Image via Slate.