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.

Contraception, Encouragement, and Affirmation

Last week, Matthew Lee Anderson published an article through Christianity Today arguing that Churches Shouldn’t Push Contraceptives to Their Singles. I thought the post was thoughtful and interesting, and shared it with a few friends. It helped start a couple of helpful conversations, so there was merit at least in that outcome, if not the article itself. Continue reading Contraception, Encouragement, and Affirmation

Convenience and Reducing a Pregnancy

I stand resolute on my position on abortion: I do not believe abortion is a viable option. The sanctity of the life of the child is tantamount to making any health-related decision. There may be extreme cases where there is a certainty that a pregnancy will lead to the death of both the child and the mother (though I express my reservations about the possibility of ‘certainty’ in this situation). But the primary push ought to be for life itself. Continue reading Convenience and Reducing a Pregnancy

“Two’s company, three’s a crowd … and four’s an environmental disaster!”

One would think that if anyone’s genes need reproducing, David and Victoria Beckham would have approval. But even in our success-obsessed culture today, the achievement and beauty of Mr. and Mrs. Beckham is not enough to get them off the hook among those who believe that one’s family size should be a debate for the whole world to weigh in on.

Recently, an article in the UK Guardian criticized the Beckhams after the birth of their fourth child, Harper Seven, calling them “environmentally irresponsible.”  Simon Ross, chief executive of the UK based Optimum Population Trust was critical of the couple: “We need to change the incentives to make the environmental case that one or two children are fine but three or four are just being selfish . . . The Beckhams, and others like London mayor Boris Johnson [who also has four children], are very bad role models with their large families.” He went on to argue, as do many who are concerned with the world’s population, that with 7 billion people in the world and counting,  “there cannot be more people on this Earth than can be fed.”

Mr. Ross, like others with concerns about overpopulation and the world’s food supply, fail to take a few things into account.  When Thomas Malthus predicted in the 1800’s that the population would overtake the food supply, he failed to also predict the impact of the Industrial Revolution, along with many subsequent technological innovations that allow crops to be grown faster and in harsher climates than he could have possibly imagined.

The concern about resource depletion isn’t a proven science, and studies show that human capital and labor productivity are what actually drive the increases and reductions of resources.  What’s more, worries about overpopulation disregard the principle that life is inherently good. Even if humans and the environment existed adversarially (though I believe that they don’t), human life is still an unqualified good. The choice for life shouldn’t be made on the basis of environmental concerns, though all our decisions about consumption should certainly be with prudence. And empirically speaking, if there’s a crisis in our world today, it’s underpopulation. Most countries in Europe, for example, are seeing birth rates drop below replacement levels (looked at Russia lately?), though immigration will contribute some stability to these nations’ numbers.

While we must certainly care for the environment, the answer is not that families or developed nations are to blame. Even if developed nations use a larger proportion of the earth’s natural resources, the technology coming out of these countries allows many people in the developing world to be fed, and affords a greater quality of life to everyone around the globe. The earth’s resources are not a pie whose portion for everyone at the party shrinks as new guests arrive. Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute, argues that because each person has unique value, “more people means more for all of us — more economic production, more potential for artistic and scientific achievement, more innovation.” And speaking of innovation, two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, we are still not running out of food.

What is more unsustainable than the current rate of population growth is the increasing numbers of people who do not grow up in stable, married families. Dr. Henry Potrykus, of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, recently released “Our Fiscal Crisis” detailing the relationship between the future of America’s economy and the proportion of intact, married families. It is impossible for a country to remain strong when fewer than half of its citizens grow up in homes that do not offer the stability that marriage provides.  This holds true for any nation, not just the U.S., and the negative effects of broken homes are well-documented.

David and Victoria Beckham have remained committed to one another in marriage, thus demonstrating what is right about families in Britain. To the Beckhams I say, Congratulations! The begetting and raising of human life in the context of marriage is one of the greatest adventures in the world. You are setting a good example for the world to follow.

What’s in a Name?

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban announced the birth of their second child, Faith Margaret, last week thanking everyone for their support, especially Faith’s “gestational carrier.” While Nicole and Keith were simply using the vernacular of the fertility industry, referring to their child’s birth mother as a “gestational carrier” betrays an underlying cultural attitude fostered by technological developments in this field.

With advances in the field of assisted reproductive technologies [ART], a surrogate mother can carry a baby conceived with her egg and a donor’s sperm. Now there are also gestational carriers: a woman who carries a couple’s fertilized embryo to term, but is not herself the baby’s genetic mother.

Ethics within the field of ART are, admittedly, complex, but the shift from surrogate mothers to gestational carriers, while subtle, is significant. In the past, the words “birth mother” or “surrogate mother” and “adoptive mother” have been used to describe the situation in which a baby born biologically to one mother was given to another family. But as technology evolves, so does its vocabulary.

Regardless of the technical intent behind “gestational carrier,” the term is, at its root, dehumanizing. The phrase reduces a woman to a function, instead of a person in a relationship. No longer does her title represent who she is— a woman, a mother bearing a child in her body— she is her function, a gestational carrier.

Thanks in part to technology, our society makes distinctions between function and identity. Men can be “sperm donors” without being known as the father of the baby. We have children who are biologically one man’s, but socially another’s. This calls into question the very nature of relationships. Not all fathers always act like fathers, and children may look up to another man as a “father figure,” but for most of human history, fatherhood was tied to biology, except in cases of adoption. This is no longer the case.  Technology is changing what it means to be a parent: the creation and raising of a child can involve a sperm donor, an egg donor, a gestational carrier, or surrogate mother, and the couple that the child eventually lives with and calls Mommy and Daddy. And this technology defines people by what they do, instead of who they are.  While calling someone a mother certainly does not describe the totality of who that woman is, at least the title of “mother” is defining her relationally, humanizing her, for the ability to have relationships is uniquely human.

Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, notes that the use of ART is turning baby-making into a consumerist activity. Pregnancy has been reduced to a “bits and pieces” brokered industry: sperm from a handsome Scandinavian stud, eggs from a beautiful Ivy League graduate, a womb-for-rent from a poor woman in India trying to provide food and education for her children, and brokers in the middle setting up the legal transactions to build a better baby the 21st-century way.” Individuals are applying their bodies to bringing new life into the world through a segmented, fractured process,turning children into things to be designed and purchased. The Scandinavian man and the Ivy League woman are now means to an end. Lahl argues that children are not products to be made, but with the rise of medical tourism, that is what they are becoming.

Technology brings with it as many questions as answers. In the process of advancing our physical capabilities, it (in this case) blurs the bright line of relationships. I will not make a moral judgment on all blurry lines; not all things unclear must be rejected as wrong. But how we speak about things matters for words frame how we see the world. In this case, it is important to remember that people are fundamentally ends, not means thereto. Before helping ourselves to the vast array of opportunities technology offers, it is imperative that we ask hard questions and consider the ethical implications of each. When people are defined by their functions and not their relationships, are we seeing an age in which technology helps the body while harming the soul?

A Sack of Spin

A recent article by Kevin Sack concerns pre-abortion ultrasounds, and whether they might or might-not affect a woman’s decision. But he wrote another article simultaneously–one about how only cold, cruel extremists insist that clinics provide ultrasounds.

Impressive. Sack’s article is composed of subtle, well-crafted infusion of bias, all neatly packaged into what I would think appears to most people as a typical, passably-objective piece of journalism.

But take a closer look at the article. Sack uses rhetorical devices to maintain a dual agenda throughout his article—one on a literal, journalistic level, and another on a persuasive, op-ed level. A careful read can reveal the devices Sack employs. After all, it’s one thing for someone to be a bad writer; but it’s a whole other, and more dangerous thing to be a bad reader.

1. Euphemism, or ‘Positive Expression’, and Dysphemisms, or ‘Sneaky Smack’

A euphemism isn’t always bad. I’m glad we say, ‘I’m going to use the restroom’ instead of a more graphic description of that room’s goings-on. All the same, in an article like Mr. Sack’s, euphemisms are used as a powerful form of rhetorical manipulation.

Here are a few examples:

‘abortion method’? Nope: “method of extraction
‘Young (or small) fetus’? Uh, no: “bean-size fetus”
‘Abortion Supporters’?  Nah: “Abortion rights advocates”

These are some fairly obvious examples of how words can be crafted with that ‘dual agenda’ I mentioned earlier. On a factual level, both ways of speaking—the ‘moderate’ and ‘euphemized’—convey the same information. But the euphemisms motivate substantially different responses by softening and/or abstracting language.

Dysphemisms are the opposite of euphemisms, and Sack’s article is loaded with these as well. Dysphemisms employ words to make something sound a lot worse than it is.

For example, Sack does not say that anti-abortion supporters hope sonograms will convince women to ‘carry their babies to term’ or ‘not have an abortion’. Instead, they are trying to get them to “preserve pregnancies.” As if abortion were so natural that a woman must make extra effort to ‘preserve’ her pregnancy…?

Some dysphemisms verge on also being ad hominem. Sack calls ultrasound advocates ‘anti-abortion strategists’. ‘Strategists’—brilliant choice. Consider the dictionary definition: “a person skilled in planning action or policy, esp. in war or politics.” With a single word, Sack throws the anti-abortion side into freezing cold category connotations of war and politics, perhaps the two worst human inventions in all history.

My favorite dysphemism, though, was when Sack was still talking about the woman ‘Laura’, and why she did not want to look at the ultrasound images. The image, Sack writes, “would only unleash…hormonal emotions.”  Oh, Mr. Sack, don’t you mean they would ‘activate maternal instinct’?

Another tip: also look for overarching euphemisms/dysphemisms. Sack maintains a subtle consistency in his references to pro-abortion and anti-abortion supporters. Pro-abortion supporters are ‘who’s’: they are personified groups or individuals. Anti-abortion, on the other hand, is referenced as ‘groups, which’ or the aforementioned ‘strategists’.

Be aware of euphemisms and dysphemisms. Receiving information is good, but don’t fall for the word play.

2. Ambiguity, That-Sometimes-Interesting-Thing

Take a look at the following sentence:

Because human features may barely be detectable during much of the first trimester, when 9 of 10 abortions are performed, some women find viewing the images reassuring.
Sack impresses me. That’s a golden amorphous sentence—I bet that nearly all readers finish it thinking, ‘Oh, first-trimester fetuses are just blobs and seeing them has no effect on women.’ And yet, Mr. Sack doesn’t make that claim–at least, not concretely. Instead, his statements are couched by terms like ‘may barely’ or ‘some’.

Ambiguity is not only is what is written, but largely also in what is not written. For example, Mr. Sack never directly comments on what type or quality of ultrasounds women are given in abortion clinics.

His article only contains two vague indications: the first occurs in the opening paragraph, which portrays a woman named Laura, about to have an abortion, staring “away from the grainy image on the screen.” Okay, so we know they are ‘grainy’. The second comes from a post-abortive woman named Tiesha, who Mr. Sack quotes as saying, “It [the 8-week old fetus] just looked like a little egg, and I couldn’t see arms or legs or a face.”

No wonder Mr. Sack chose to be ambiguous in the ‘human features’ sentence. Look up high-quality, 4-D ultrasound images 8-week old fetuses. I highly doubt Tiesha saw what you see in those images—a fetal image from the best ultrasound technology wouldn’t be confused with a ‘little egg’.

3. Emotional Appeal, aka ‘Feel Good—Agree with Me’

‘Appeal to emotion’ is a powerful tool, but it also happens to be a logical fallacy. The fallacy runs something like this: A is associated with B. B is associated with positive (or negative) emotions. Therefore, A is a good (or bad) thing.

Take Sack’s following sentence: “But a number of women at the Birmingham clinic, which was the site of a fatal bombing in 1998, said they simply did not want to subject themselves to images that might haunt them.” The bombing of the Birmingham clinic has nothing to do with the ultrasound discussion. However, all sorts of negative emotions towards anti-abortion supporters are wrapped up in any mention of anti-abortion violence. Likely, those emotional connotations will transfer onto the also anti-abortion, ultrasound advocates, even though the two aren’t actually  connected at all.

Sack also embeds a lot of emotional quotations into his article, particularly at the beginning and end. The article closes with an interviewee concluding that ultrasounds are “emotional torture.”

This recalls an earlier statement, made by the National Abortion Federation’s president. Laws, she says, that require ultrasound images be available to women who choose to view them “don’t respect women’s ability to make informed choices.”

Funny, that. I never knew that providing information was disrespecting someone’s ability to use information. Thank you for enlightening me, Ms. Saporta!

4. Appeal to Authority, Their Word is my Communiqué

A writer need resources and authorities when he/she writes an article, particularly a news article. But choosing those authorities has a huge impact on the spin of the piece. Are they objective? Are they knowledgeable? Do cited statistics come from credible sources?

Sack uses at least two authorities that seems to be fallacious: first, people who are either unknowledgeable or highly biased, and secondly, questionable statistics.

Let’s look at Sack’ interviewee list:
Laura: 36-year old post-abortive woman
Tiesha: 27-year-old post-abortive woman
Carmen: 28-year-old post-abortive woman
Diane Derzis: abortion clinic owner
Vicki Saporta: president of the National Abortion Federation
Linda Meek: director of Reproductive Services abortion clinic in Tulsa
Carrie Earll: spokeswoman from Focus on the Family
For an article concerning abortion law and the boundaries of informed medical consent, Sack’s article has a startling lack of interviews with lawmakers or non-abortionist physicians. Also, the only voice on the pro-life side comes from Focus on the Family—undeniably, an organization with a pre-existing reputation among secular media, no matter or just or unjust that reputation may be.

Six of Sack’s seven interviews were with already pro-abortion advocates—once a reader notices that, the slant of the article begins to be recognizable. Another way to  reveal bias is to look at the source and type of cited statistics.

Sack writes:

In one of the few studies of the issue — there have been none in the United States — two abortion clinics in British Columbia found that 73 percent of patients wanted to see an image if offered the chance. Eighty-four percent of the 254 women who viewed sonograms said it did not make the experience more difficult, and none reversed her decision.
I was unable to find the source of this ‘study’. Where is Sack getting this information? And since when are two Canadian abortion clinics an adequate sample size or representation of all American abortion clinics?

Later in the article, Sack takes the report of an abortion clinic owner as an authority concerning ultrasound’s effectiveness or lack thereof. Again, Sack cites illegitimate statistical authority and inadequate sample size/representation.

Conclusion: Read Defensively

I know that here at Evangelical Outpost we often talk about ‘reading charitably’. And that’s true and good. All the same, reading a modern news piece on sensitive topics like abortion, health care, euthanasia, religion and other similar topics calls for a different method of reading than does reading other types of literature. Sack’s article could compel a blithe reader into, at best, opinion with strength unwarranted by the evidence and, at worst, pure uninformed belief. Read well, read defensively and seek out truth–it remains unmovable beneath any spin.

Not Your Own

If there’s one thing most people agree on, it’s that human beings have an unqualified right to do what they want with their own bodies.

There are, of course, a few exceptions, most of which are mired in debate.  For example, should a minor be able to get a tattoo or piercing without parental consent?  Even in such cases, however, the notion of absolute, individual autonomy is rarely questioned (in the example I just gave, the question is whether parental rights over their children outweigh the child’s autonomy, not autonomy itself).

As with most things in the Christian worldview, here also we find our deepest cultural assumptions challenged.  The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, writes:

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again…

Within the context of marriage, Paul actually asserts that the spouse has authority over one’s body.  A wife has the right to her husband’s body, and vice versa.

This passage could be twisted by the wicked into a pretext for rape, but that is clearly not what Paul means.  Such authority does not turn one’s spouse into a plaything.  Rather, Paul is arguing that within certain contexts we do not have the unqualified right to do whatever we please.

In this case, he is focused on the sin of sexual immorality.  Though we are free in Christ to do many things, including expressing our sexuality, we are not free to do so in any way we see fit.  In marriage, we belong to another person.  Crass expressions like referring to one’s wife as “the old ball and chain” are a twisted reflection of this truth.  When you have a husband or a wife, you are no longer free to say, “It’s my body, and I will use it as I see fit.”  Your body belongs to another.

Ultimately, of course, your body does not belong to your spouse (especially for those who aren’t married!), but to God Himself.  And He has a deeper claim on how you ought to use your body than a spouse could ever have.  Literally everything done on any given day should be accomplished, first and foremost, with the glory of God in mind.  That’s a big task, and it doesn’t leave much time for thinking about your own rights.

Freedom from any sort of enslavement is a good thing, or else God’s own Son would not have died to set us free from our bondage to sin.  I’m glad we live in a libertarian society where I won’t be fined or put in jail for refusing to give my spouse her conjugal rights.

But this passage ought to reorient our thinking generally away from a “me-and-my-rights” mentality.  In human sexuality, I ought to be thinking first about how best to love my wife, not how to satisfy myself.  I would call this simply obligation or duty, but that would fail to fully capture what Paul is teaching here.  As the Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 1, puts it:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,

but belong—

body and soul,

in life and in death—

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

A Killer in Captivity

The killer whale killing of this last Wednesday has received a lot press. Video footage of the trainer’s shocking death has gone viral, which hackers have used as a vehicle to spread actual viruses. This has aroused as much righteous indignation as the prurience which motivates millions of hits on videos of a violent end. The killer whale show is slated to resume, Seaworld CEO Jim Atchinson announced on Friday, but without any “in-water interaction” until 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau’s death has been thoroughly investigated.

Reminiscent of Roy’s (of Sigfried and Roy) debacle in 2003, it bears remembering that this whale does have the word “killer” in its name.  Even with creatures less overtly predatory, keeping huge animals confined for an audience’s thrills is an obvious problem. Though Sea World does not plan to kill Tilikum (the whale responsible for Brancheau’s death, as well as two others), neither do they have any plans to “Free Tili.”

The only surprise here is that we are still shocked each time wild animals, expected to perform like clockwork, don’t. In both the case of Roy’s slow recovery and Dawn’s legacy, the possibility that “the show will go on” is touted as a triumph of the human spirit, though it could equally be seen as a continued colonization of the animal spirit, and a lesson consistently disregarded.

Why these shows attract audiences is the first place is a good question. It is undeniable that they are astonishingly popular. Siegfried and Roy were Las Vegas superstars, and Shamu has merited a theme park. The majesty of wild animals is something we feel viscerally. Their elusiveness and their strength mesmerize. It is unsurprising that we like it when animals do tricks. Astonishing feats and entertaining shows will always attract an audience, and this is especially true when they are performed by animals without apparent higher cognitive abilities. But these are no dog and pony shows. The unique cocktail of awe at the majesty and power of large, undomesticated animals and the razzle-dazzle of watching them jump through hoops has made a great deal of money for those with the wherewithal to combine them. It is as if we are trying to reenact the spectacle of King Kong with live animals, from the comfort and safety of bleacher seats.

There will never cease to be a demand for entertainment. Particularly the entertainment of watching human beings make animals above them on the food chain do tricks for fish, or a pat on the head. It is a high wire act: breathtaking in the feat it accomplishes, always in the face of real and imminent danger. But when the danger is real because the wildness of an animal is real (and something enforced generationaly, cannot be trained out in a single animal’s lifespan), then it seems that the endangerment of life and of quality of life is not just a risk for the trainer. In the wake of Dawn’s death, her family and coworkers can take comfort in the fact that “she loved her job and was well aware of its dangers.” The same cannot be confidently ventured for the whale. ‘

Logic, Anyone? (Part I)

The most common arguments for abortion rest on fallacious logic. This is not to say that every argument for abortion invokes faulty logic. However, in my experience traveling to many US college campuses and dialoging about abortion, studying abortion ethics at Oxford, and interning at the Yale Bioethics Center, this is the prevailing argument used in favor of abortion:

We agree that human persons should not be killed.
However, the unborn [qualify with developmental stage] is not a human person.
Therefore, the [human being not yet attained to personhood] does not have the same rights as a human person.

This line of thinking usually attributes the “right to life” in the rights attributed to human beings established as persons but not to the unborn “pre-person.” It carries emotional weight by pitting the being-who-has-not-yet-attained personhood (the embryo or fetus) against the rights of the being-who-has-obviously-attained-personhood (the mother). When it is thus framed, many people would argue that the non- or pre-person may morally be aborted.

It took a Yale professor to show me the flaw in this argument. Karen Lebacqz is a thirty-year bioethicist from Harvard who now teaches at the Graduate Theological Union and Yale. Her many contributions to the field include helping draft the internationally recognized Belmont Report.

Lebacqz introduced her “Methods in Bioethics” seminar this summer with a reprisal of basic logic. With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy tucked under my belt, I expected nothing new. When we began by reviewing this simple fallacy, I almost fell asleep:

Major Premise: Red apples are good to eat.
Minor Premise: This apple is green.
Conclusion: Therefore this apple is not good to eat.

This is the fallacy of the “Illicit Major,” in which the converse of the first statement is assumed to be true. I had spotted plenty of these fallacies while working on my undergraduate degree. Simple enough. But then we changed the terms:

Major Premise: Human persons should not be killed.
Minor Premise: The embryo/fetus is not a human person.
Conclusion: Therefore the embryo/fetus can be killed.

This is the same fallacy: the major term is undistributed in the major premise, but distributed in the conclusion. In other words, nothing has been said about non-persons, so we cannot draw a conclusion about whether we may kill it, at least not without making a fallacious argument. Simply assuming that an embryo/fetus is not a person does not grant us the right to terminate it. Additional arguments—and robust ones at that—are needed.

These additional arguments must state clearly and defend the hidden assumption that it is permissible to kill a non-person.

However, most people who use the above argument for abortion also argue that certain non-persons ought not be killed. While Lebacqz used the example of a redwood tree, I would point to the vast animal rights movement. I don’t think dolphins are persons, and I don’t think they ever will be. But I would do everything in my power to stop someone who threatened to shoot a dolphin.

Assume, then, that the unborn are not persons. But don’t think it is therefore obvious that abortion in all instances is morally acceptable. If a dolphin was growing inside my friend’s womb, I would do everything possible to convince her not to have an abortion. Only if her life was in danger would I drive her to an abortion provider (and I’d do that if it was a baby, too). While unborn babies are far more precious than dolphins for many reasons, this “hierarchy” has no bearing on the fallacious assumption that “we can obviously abort non-persons” operating as a hidden premise in this common argument for abortion. If abortion advocates want to persuade those who have taken logic, they will have to provide arguments that are much more robust—and logically valid. ‘