Abortion Once Again

January 21, 2014

by William Edgar

This week, we remember the historic Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, enacted January 22, 1973, 41 years ago. The decision was 7 to 2. Even for the fortieth anniversary, polls showed that 53% in all age groups believed abortion was “not that important, compared to other issues.” Indeed at the time among people under thirty, 56% had no idea that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion. Those numbers are only likely to go up this time around.

Why this remarkable indifference? A majority of white Catholics, black Protestants and white mainline Protestants believe Roe v. Wade should stand. Only white evangelicals want it overturned, but just by 54%. What could possibly cause such support for a poorly understood decision about the termination of an unborn human being? A number of reasons suggest themselves. First, there is no doubt collective exhaustion about the issue. For forty-one years controversy has gone on unabated. Many states have passed laws heavily restricting abortions. Others have liberalized them. At times the rhetoric is so strong that facts are obscured. Shouting matches are not uncommon. Many people are more worried about other issues, such as the economy or withdrawing from Afghanistan. And yet the number of abortions in the U.S. alone since Roe v. Wade is upward of 57 million. Mostly, people are tired of hearing about it.

A second reason is, according to the old adage, “My mind is made-up, please don’t confuse me with facts.” In 1973 the two dissenters, Justices Byron White and William Rehnquist, pointed out that the Court had exceeded its powers and denied freedom to the fifty states. Rehnquist even stated that the main argument of the majority, based on the right to privacy, was an interpretation of the 14th Amendment with no basis: “To reach its result,” he stated, “the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment.” How did the right to privacy gain such a status? The decision was partly based on the assumption that a fetus is not really a person, at least in the beginning. The majority opinion writer, Chief Justice Harry Blackmun, said at the time, “If the suggestion of personhood of the unborn is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Many medical and scientific investigations have shown that personhood begins at the very earliest stages of gestation (most evangelicals believe it begins at conception). To boot, Norma McCorvey, the real name for “Roe,” has become an evangelical Christian and is strongly opposed to abortion on demand. But 41 years later people don’t seem to care about this kind of logic. They don’t want to hear about it anymore.

A third reason is the rights narrative. Many who favor abortion on demand liken it to the civil rights of minorities. The women’s movement often equates the choice to abort with “a woman’s right over her body.” As someone who has long stood for civil rights, particularly of African American people, I don’t buy the analogy. The rights of minorities are for opportunities to be employed, to attend school, access to legitimate power, to belong to institutions regardless of race, etc. Women as people do have many rights, of course, and it must be admitted they have been denied them in the past. But the decision to kill an unborn child is simply not a right, any more than we would have a right to cut off our arm, or poke a needle into our eyes. God has given us our bodies to care for as stewards of a holy temple. If an unborn child were merely an appendage, one which became infected, like a cancerous organ, then we might argue for the right to remove it. But we are talking about human life here, not an appendage. Besides, the mother is not the only steward of procreation. Biblically, the two become one, and both should raise their children. It may appear implausible that a father should have an equal part in decisions about children, since the mother carries the baby. But why is he excluded from making decisions about their child? Is not the child as much his as the mother’s?

So, then, is there anything to say for the pro-choice side? I don’t think the “pro-life” side has always argued in a civil or persuasive manner. That may be a lot to ask in the context which we just described, where things are so poorly understood and argued. But we should never stoop to propagandistic manipulation. For example, demonizing our opponents by calling them “abortionists” will bring heat but not light. I have never met a woman facing the decision about her unborn who wants or approves abortions. When they do decide to terminate their pregnancy they deeply regret it. Even calling someone “pro-choice” makes it sound as though they dispassionately could go either way. This sort of rhetoric is profoundly unhelpful.

We should avoid direct parallels. Israel was a theocracy, America is an independent republic. And yet the signs of profligacy are widespread. Surely we are not quite in the barbaric times of the Judges, nor of Gomorrah. There is still a good deal of capital of common grace. But the time has come to take stock and effect change. Real change, the kind that many who oppose abortion are looking for, will not come only through the courts. Real change will occur when the good news of the kingdom of heaven is extended through preaching the gospel and doing justice. Real change means working on several fronts at the same time. Real change will occur when populations begin to believe in the world as God the Creator sees it. That will include the elimination of abortions, but it will also include acting to protect young people from the mentality that engages in casual sex and has no thought for the consequences. It will include working hard to help at-risk populations. Study after study shows that the greatest increase in unwanted pregnancies is among women with lower education, low income, and cohabiting women. The problem with abortion on-demand is that it appears in a culture with systemic dysfunction. The gospel of the kingdom is the ultimate remedy. So let us pray for revival and reformation in our time.

William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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Life: Who Decides?

January 21, 2014

by David Garner