"In years to come, historians will look back on these days, and as they seek to identify the pivotal turning point of the history of America in our era . . . . they will focus on one bleak winter day, January 22, 1973." So wrote the Lutheran pastor Dr. Lawrence White some years ago in correspondence to the annual meeting of Concerned Women for America, and though as each year passes we have to look farther back to remember that moment, the "Culture of Death" legacy resulting from this landmark Surpreme Court decision has never been more imminent.
"Roe v. Wade" was decided exactly one day after I turned one year old, which means that my generation is the first in America to have grown up entirely in a culture that views the infanticide of the preborn as both legal, and socially acceptable. This of course speaks only of those in my generation who managed to survive this decision, as over half of those born between 1973 and 1976 (The "buster" generation lasts from 1965 to 1976) were murdered before they were even born! Today, one of every three children who are conceived are murdered by abortion.
"Murder?" Isn't that language a bit strong? After all, when we speak of abortion, we are speaking of the most frequenly performed outpatient surgery in America today. Every year in America, 1.6 million children are aborted (That's 4383 children per day, 183 children per hour, 4 children every minute!). This of course, is the uncomfortable side of the "pro-choice" argument. Interesting to me is that those who trumpet a "woman's right to choose," never elaborate very much on what that choice is. And in my estimation, their reticence to deal with the fundamental questions of life are the result of the convoluted logic that has permeated this debate for over three decades. On this anniversary of that dark January day, I want to speak of the legacy this court decision has left us. But I want to begin by addressing the primary questions and objections raised by those who would take issue with my assertion that the termination of unborn life is no less than an act of homicide.
We aren't sure when life begins: Though this one is used less often than in the past, it still, from time to time, is raised in the effort to question our epistemology of life. Yet since a 1981 Senate subcommittee meeting on this issue, Geneticists, Biologists and Academic physicians have been uniform in contending that life's beginning coincides with conception. World class scientists and physicians from the Mayo Clinic to Harvard Medical School have confirmed these contentions, but possibly the most compelling evidence comes from a Professor of Genetics at the University of Descartes in Paris: "After fertilization has taken place, a new human being has come into existence. This is no longer a matter of opinion. It is not just a metaphysical contention. It is plain in experiential evidence; each individual has a beginning at conception."
Still, for the follower of Jesus Christ, such evidence, though helpful in our discussions with the culture, should ultimately be unnecessary. God's Word speaks clearly to the issue of when life begins:
"It is you who brought me forth in my mother's womb . . . .you have been my God from my mother's womb" -Psalm 22:9-10
"You formed myinward parts, and weaved me in my mother's womb" -from Psalm 139:13-16
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; I concecrated you, set you apart as a prophet to the nations." -Jeremiah 1:5
The question of life's beginning is ultimately a "smokescreen" designed to introduce doubt. But in the end, this objection is on the same intellectual level as, say, those who question the meaning of the word "is." Science is clear. Physicians are clear. The Scriptures are clear. Life begins at conception. Therefore, no other description can be given to the act of abortion. It is, without a doubt, the taking of a human life.
A woman should have the right to choose what she does with her own body: I honestly find this argument amusing. For one, society has already stated to both men and women that there are certain things you can't do, even with your own body. Indecent exposure, public defacation, and prostitution are all illegal acts, not to mention the use of illegal drugs, or the refusal to wear a seat belt while driving.
But this objection ignores the most obvious of its stumbling blocks: If life begins at conception, (and it does), and if human life is created in God's image (and it is), then abortion isn't about what a woman does with her own body, but rather, what she does with the body of another. John Wilkey of National Right to Life speaks eloquently to this issue: "Since when did someone's right to live depend on someone else's wanting them? Killing the unwanted is a monstrous evil. A person's 'right to choose' stops when it injures or kills another human being. The pivotal question is; should any civilized nation give to one citizen the absolute right to kill another to solve that first person's personal problem?" The truth of this matter is hard to face, but it nonetheless remains: To be "pro-choice" about one person's right to kill is, by default, to be "anti-choice" about another's right to live.
What about the "hard cases?": Although they represent less than 5% of the abortions performed in America, the so-called "hard cases" demand serious reflection.
The Mother's Life is in Danger: This is possibly one of the most heart-wrenching situations in which a mother can find herself, and certainly most mothers would gladly give their own life for that of their baby. A 1996 story about a Georgia woman still inspires me. Diagnosed with a fast-spreading uterine cancer, she chose to have the baby and give her own life. Her courage and conviction are the kind of which this world is not worthy!
It can be said that most cases where the mother's life is in danger are precipitated by medical situations that will prove fatal to the child regardless, and in those situations, it is certainly better to save one life than to lose two lives. Yet anytime an abortion takes place, even if for this reason, it is still a tragedy, and followers of Christ should be prepared in such circumstances to rally around the woman and minister to her needs throughout what will be a neccesary grieving process.
The Preborn Child is Handicapped: Statistics over the last decade bear out that children aborted for this reason were discovered later to be perfectly normal children in over 1/2 of the instances where the doctor reccomended abortion due to a severe handicap.
But what if the child really does suffer from a severe handicap? In Luke 14, Jesus told His disciples that a certain blind man was created "for the glory of God." I find it interesting that many of the same "pro-choice" individuals who would push for an abortion in the case of a handicap would rightly oppose with all their might any move to discriminate against a handicapped person. This demonstrates our righteous societal consensus that a person's worth is not measured by whether they are handicapped. And this premise, along with the above premise that from conception unborn children are human beings created in God's image, lead to this singular conclusion: Being handicapped does not warrant the death penalty!
What about Cases of Rape and/or Incest? Obviously this is a very sensitive issue, and followers of Jesus are commanded to respond to situations like this with the greatest humility and concern for the victim. Rape is a most abhorrent crime. It denies the woman a place of equal worth with the man as also created in God's image, viewing her as a "piece of meat" created only for exploitation. It violates every Biblical mandate concerning how women are to be treated, and deserves the harshest punishments that civil government is allowed by its people to administer. In crises moments like these, the church bears a great responsibility to suffer with the victim, and to walk with her throughout the entire healing process.
But if pregnancy results, who then is the guilty party? Admittedly, this is a very difficult question to ask at a juncture like this. But if abortion is the taking of a human life, then how can it possibly be seen as the response to pregnancy that results from rape? Along with exhibitng true Biblical compassion, the church is charged with helping the woman as she makes decisions regarding whether to give the child for adoption, or raise it herself. And if she chooses the later, the church's responsibility is to serve her by giving her the support she needs to fulfill this calling. At the same time, the church must speak clearly that life is life, regardless of how it is conceived. The life created by a rape is just as precious as that created by love. As difficult and agonizing as it may be to carry that child, abortion will not heal the effects of a rape. It will however, complicate matters further by creating a second victim.
I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I'm still "pro-choice" and it is the law of the land: This of course is the false dichotomy set up by many politicians who want to play both sides of this issue. It is the position of our supposedly "conservative" governor here in Maryland, and it is the epitome of political cowardice.
The one question I always want to ask someone who makes this statement is "WHY are you personally opposed to abortion?" The only reason one has to be opposed to it is that they believe it to be the taking of a human life. If abortion isn't the termination of human life, what possible reason would one have for being opposed to it? But if it is the taking of human life, only a political coward would be "personally opposed," yet still committed to keeping it legal.
I thank God today that a century and a half ago, Lincoln did not say "I'm personally opposed to slavery, but one man ought to have the right to own another if he so chooses." Lincoln stood on moral principle when he said that its not only wrong for one person. It is wrong for America. And in doing so, he was forwarding essentially the same argument that those who are pro-life should be making today. In a very real sense, slavery, racism and abortion, through distinct, are similar. At the root of each of these evils is the propensity to look at a human being created in God's image, and contend that he or she is somehow less than human.
For example, take a look at this 1857 statement of "law": "A black man has no right that a white man is bound to respect." Does this sound morally reprehensible to you? If so, then consider that it was the United States Supreme Court that made this statement. The "settled law of the land" in 1857 was an outrageous insult against the Creator of all races. "Roe" is no different.
Even in light of all the above, I admit that the overturning of "Roe" will not stop abortion in America. The church has a responsibility that it has by and large ignored in this area, and changed minds begin with changing hearts. As with all social issues of this nature, the truest, deepest answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the overturning of court precedent. Nevertheless, these facts do not negate the neccesity of demanding that our leaders speak clearly to these moral issues, and write and adjudicate our laws accordingly.
The legacy of "Roe v. Wade," is a culture that has minimized the meaning and value of life created in God's image. The "domino effect" of this court decision can be seen daily in the issues of asisted suicide and euthanasia in our own country. But the culture of death has spread its tentacles even further in other regions of the world. Certain forms of infanticide for instance, are now legal and socially acceptable ways of dealing with ill children in Holland. And rest assured, as the conscience of America continues to be seared by our increasing disrepect for life, we will soon join the ranks of those that approve of such atrocities.
But the real danger of these issues lies in the truth of the imago dei. When an unborn child is murdered, God's image is insulted, and a blow is struck against His sovereignty. This is what makes this issue such a deadly serious one to our culture: God takes the treatment of His image with extreme seriousness!
But the most personal effects of this legacy are found in the homes of those who have fallen victim to this twisted worldview. Perhaps someone reading this has chosen to have an abortion. Perhaps you are a man who encouraged it, or even paid for it. Perhaps you have had many sleepless nights as you now wonder what that child would have been like at 5, 7, 14, or even 20 years old. To you I say abortion is sin. But it is not an unpardonable sin! And the good news of the Gospel is this: The same God who created that unborn life can heal the hurt and restore you, if you will only come to Him.
The legacy of "Roe" is far-reaching, but the power of the Gospel can turn it back, beginning with each individual touched by this plague, and ending with an entire culture who has turned to God through Christ, and embraced all life created in His image.