This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Sensitive Debate over Abortion

Even the word—“abortion”--creates an atmosphere of fear and anger.  Most Americans don’t want to talk about it.  Those who do seem pretty fixed in their opinions one way or another.  This post is intended to offer some suggestions to help the discussion of this, the greatest issue which divides Americans.

Most people don’t think about abortion very much.  This comes as a great shock to those who are ardently “pro-life” or “pro-choice”.  But it seems to me that most folks form some opinion on the issue and then want it to go away.  I think that the words used in the debate form a large part of the confusion.  Most people would say that they are for “life”.  Equally, most people would say they are for “choice”.  Having “life” and having “choices” seem to be good things.

One question to ask those who believe in the “right to choose” is: The right to choose what?  The infinitive demands an object.  For a pregnant woman, the right to choose whether or not to have a baby has already been made.  She has a baby.  The real choice is now whether to destroy that baby or not.  Many, of course, would object to this reasoning by suggesting that the pregnant woman does not have a baby but a mass of material that, if the woman chooses, becomes a baby.  But life is not subject to such cavalier whimsy.  Many arguments can be advanced pointing to the humanity of the life within the womb—biblical (see Jeremiah 1), scientific (see the research by the French geneticist Jerome LeJeune), and philosophical (see work by Francis Schaeffer among many others).

The argument that makes a lot of sense to me involves the nature of life within the womb.  What shall we call this thing growing inside the woman?  Is it a baby if and only if the mother wants it to be?  Is it merely a mass of tissue otherwise?  If it is merely a blob of tissue, what kind of tissue is it?  It isn’t lion or bear or cow or pig tissue.  It is, in undeniable fact, human tissue.  Now, if it is human tissue, whose tissue is it?  We might be tempted to believe that it is the woman’s tissue, but it is not, at least not in any biological sense.  This tissue has a separate DNA code and separate organ systems from the woman.  It most assuredly is not her tissue.

Now we come to a startling question.  If the mass of tissue is human and it is not the woman’s, whose tissue is it?  It must be someone else’s!  It’s that “someone else” who deserves to be heard in this debate.  The “right to choose” cannot have a horrifying object—the right to choose--to kill--another person.  The “mass of tissue” is alive;  it is human;  it is not the woman’s tissue.  Whatever you want to call it, it cannot be that one person has the right to kill what belongs to another (or more properly, what is another!).

So, the next time someone speaks of the “right to choose,” you might want to ask, “the right to choose what?”  I find that most people don’t really believe in the right to choose to kill another person.  But they like the euphemism of “choice.”  It even sounds patriotic!  We must urge people to think more precisely of the choices that are out there.  When they do so, they won’t like one of those choices.

More recently, “pro-choice” advocates have been acknowledging what they have long denied.  They are beginning to acknowledge that the “right to choose” is, in fact, the right to choose to kill. They are now arguing that the right to kill a baby, even outside the womb, ought to be legalized.  They argue that the right to kill a baby for the parents’ own reasons is more important than the right of the baby to live.  They justify this by differentiating “human life” from “personhood.”  Mary Elizabeth Williams  in Salon magazine expresses this disdain for the life of a baby this way, “Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: 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.”[i]

According to London’s Daily Telegraph,[ii] Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics declare in the Journal of Medical Ethics, “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”  Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns are merely “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.  We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.” As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”. The authors therefore concluded that what they call “‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled”.

They also argued that parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, for example citing that only 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing.  “To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care,” they write. They prefer to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to emphasize “that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus.”

 While I can hardly believe that our nation has declined so far into the moral cesspool as to accept this argument immediately, there is little doubt that this is where the abortion debate is headed.  I hope that you noticed the argument about the “unbearable burden on society, when the state economically provides for care.”  Any scheme of nationalized health care must engage in “cost containment.”  In a godless society (which ours is becoming), this will trump any ethical considerations of the intrinsic value of all human beings at whatever stage of development or capacity.  In the church, this means that we must be prepared to bear the financial burden to care for the helpless, even defending their right to existence by civil disobedience if necessary.  It could mean church based development of alternative medical care systems which operate outside the realm of contemporary modern medicine.  Actually, who knows? Who can say where this road leads?  We can only say that it is a bad road, and we need to prepare ourselves for it.

I recognize that this article might bring painful memories on many of my dear readers.  People who have been part of the pain of the abortion experience, more than any others, want the pain to go away.  So our tendency is to try to hide, ignore, suppress, and dream away the facts.  Actually, only by confronting this pain and taking it to our dear Savior and His cross will we be able to move past the pain into the joy of forgiveness.  We cannot pretend that abortion is anything less than the killing of an innocent child.  But, praise God, “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.”  (1 John 1:7)  “All” means all!

“By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
‘Til my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary

Mercy there was great and grace was free!
Pardon there was multiplied to me!
There my burdened soul found liberty!
At Calvary.”
                                    --William R. Newell

May God help us bring a word of hope to an intractable debate,

Scott Boerckel



  1. Your assignment of personhood to a fetus with so tenuous an argument is rather flippant, isn't it? For reference, cancer has a different genetic code from its host, as well (as do very many cells within the body, for that matter, see epigenetics).

  2. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comment. If you would like to pursue a more detailed scientific argument for life beginning at conception, see the fascinating testimony from Jerome Lejeune on the personhood of the fetus, see:

    The appeal to epigenetics is intriguing to me. Epigenetics is being used to defend abortion as well as defending why homosexual behavior is genetic even though many identical twins do not have the same sexual orientations (see Jason and Jarron Collins). My sense is that those who make such appeals do not know the field of epigenetics all that well. In fact, the field is so new that no one can truly say that they know it well. But the bottom line is this: a person is a person no matter how small--(if not, tell me precisely when it ceased being merely genetic material and became a person). A cancer cell is not a person no matter its size.