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.

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.

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.

 

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