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.

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?


“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.


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