Born Alive but Still at Risk

One of the big new stories coming out of Congress this week was the failure of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to receive the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to come up for a final vote. The bill was intended to protect infants who survived abortions. Medical professionals would have been required to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” In addition, the bill would “ensure that the child born alive is immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.”[1]

The failure of this bill comes on the heels of high-profile legislation in New York that legalizes abortion for the entirety of a pregnancy. As we can see from these situations, the lines regarding abortion are growing starker. On one side, there are people who continue to work for further limits on abortion and even to ban it entirely. On the other side, there are people who are working to expand access to abortion up to the point of birth or beyond.

What the failure of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the passage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act tell us is that those who support abortion are moving closer to what was once considered an extreme position. This position is one of supporting abortion at any moment up to birth and perhaps even after birth.

The progression of this view can easily be seen in the work of Peter Singer. Dr. Singer is the longtime professor of bioethics at Princeton University. His writings on issues of life espouse infanticide and abortion. However, he also offers great insight into the debate regarding the right to life. Here is how he casts the argument over the search for a point at which new human life achieves personhood and thus has a right to life:

The central argument against abortion, put as a formal argument, would go something like this:

First premise: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
Second premise: A human fetus is an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

The usual liberal response is to deny the second premise of this argument. So it is on whether the fetus is a human being that the issue is joined, and the dispute about abortion is often taken to be a dispute about when a human life begins.

On this issue the conservative position is difficult to shake. The conservative points to the continuum between the fertilized egg and child and challenges the liberal to point to any stage in this gradual process that marks a morally significant dividing line. Unless there is such a line, the conservative says, we must either upgrade the status of the earliest embryo to that of the child, or downgrade the status of the child to that of the embryo; but no one wants to allow children to be dispatched on the request of their parents, and so the only tenable position is to grant the fetus the protection we now grant the child.[2]

Singer notes the difficulty in determining “a morally significant dividing line” between conception and birth. He then suggests that if one cannot be found, then the embryo must be upgraded to the status of the newborn child or the newborn child must be downgraded to the status of the embryo.

This is the main sticking point in the discussion today about abortion. At what point must abortion be outlawed. For a couple of decades, the idea was that abortion would just not be allowed in the final trimester of the pregnancy. In recent years, those restrictions have been backed up closer to the point of viability. Abortion proponents have reacted against these restrictions by pushing for relaxing the restrictions to the point of birth. Some have even proposed that an abortion could be completed after a baby is born. This position may seem extreme, but it is the logical conclusion of Singer’s argument. Singer writes, “It seems peculiar to hold that we may not kill the premature infant but may kill the more developed fetus. The location of a being—inside or outside the womb—should not make that much difference to the wrongness of killing it.”[3]

Since the location of the infant—“inside or outside the womb”—does not make a difference to Singer, then where does he ultimately draw the line? He goes on to write, “In attempting to reach a considered ethical judgment about this matter, we should put aside feelings based on the small, helpless and—sometimes—cute appearance of human infants. . . . If we can put aside these emotionally moving but strictly irrelevant aspects of the killing of a baby, we can see that the grounds for not killing persons do not apply to newborn infants.”[4] Singer ultimately suggests that infanticide should be legalized for the first month after birth even though he admits that the month-old infant still does not have the rational capacity to be threatened by this policy.

There was a time when Singer’s views were considered extreme, but that time has passed. Those who support abortion are finding Singer’s logic sound and are willing to accept his position. In the past they might have found his logic sound, but they were swayed by the “emotionally moving but strictly irrelevant aspects” of the argument.

Just when we thought the battle over abortion was turning in the direction of life, we find a new extreme position entering mainstream thought. Therefore, we must redouble our efforts to protect the most helpless and vulnerable members of our society.

[1] https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/311/text.

[2] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 125-26.

[3] Ibid., 126.

[4] Ibid., 152.

Do We Always Have the Right to Control Our Own Bodies?

Over the last couple of weeks, the abortion debate has come to the forefront of cultural issues in ways that few could have anticipated. On January 22, the forty-sixth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law New York’s Reproductive Health Act. This bill guarantees access to abortion through the third trimester. In celebration of this action, Gov. Cuomo ordered that the tower on One World Trade Center to be lit up in pink. In the days that followed, Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran introduced a bill in the Virginia General Assembly to relax abortion restrictions in the third trimester. Embattled governor Ralph Northam endorsed the bill, but it failed to pass in the Assembly. Other similar legislation is being worked on in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

What has been most interesting in this current cultural debate is the honesty with which supporters of abortion have spoken about these bills. In the years immediately following the Roe decision, the typical response of abortion supporters was that they wanted abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. They seldom spoke of the realities of abortion and never dared to mention how much access they wanted. Today, proponents of these legislative measures are being very honest about aborting children up to the point of birth. Gov. Northam has even been accused of defending infanticide due to comments he made in an interview that suggested a doctor could refuse care to a newborn and allow the child to die.[1]

The arguments being made by abortion proponents primarily deal with radical autonomy and self-ownership. They make the case that a woman should have absolute rights over her own body without any concern for the child growing in her womb. In a press release following his signing of the Reproductive Health Act, Gov. Cuomo stated, “Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”[2]

Most of these abortion proponents would probably argue that a right to control one’s own body is enshrined in the founding documents of the United States. This is generally understood to be drawn from the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Bill of Rights according to Griswold v. Connecticut and out of the 14th Amendment’s restriction on the state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Applied to the abortion issue, these ideas regarding the right to privacy form the foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision that opened the door for abortion on demand.

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John Locke

Even though most abortion-rights proponents do not make the explicit connection, the right of self-ownership is typically attributed to the work of John Locke in The Second Treatise of Government.[3] Locke writes, “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself” (V. 27). There is no doubt that John Locke’s work was very influential upon the Founders of the United States, and language from the Second Treatise appears directly in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, are we correct in inferring a right to self-ownership of our bodies from Locke?

Locke’s premise of self-ownership is based on the idea that an individual in the state of nature has liberty to do what he wishes with his own property and possessions without depending upon the will of another man. It is in the state of nature that we find inherent rights to life, liberty, and property. It is at the intersection of the rights of liberty and property that we find those who make the claim for absolute liberty in self-ownership.

How does this apply to the abortion debate? Abortion proponents generally adopt an understanding of absolute liberty in self-ownership that would allow them to do anything they want with their own bodies. Therefore, the choice to end a pregnancy on the basis of self-ownership is the natural consequence of this absolute liberty. No person or governing authority has the right to limit this freedom. As a result, the woman can choose to have an abortion without consulting the father, the government, or the unborn child.

With Locke’s words that “everyone has property in his own person” ringing in the background, abortion-rights advocates declare that neither the government nor the citizenry can tell any woman what she can or cannot do with her body. They call for absolute liberty regarding the body based on self-ownership.

Considering Locke’s influence on our most important founding documents, it may seem that there is a solid case to be made that the Founders implied self-ownership in the language of the Constitution. However, there is a glaring problem regarding its application to abortion—Locke himself did not view self-ownership as an absolute right. Locke explains in the Second Treatise:

But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence, though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone. And reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. (II. 6)

According to Locke, then, self-ownership is a limited right. One cannot destroy himself or another creature in his possession without a nobler use than mere preservation. Aborting the life of an unborn child for the sake of convenience or because the child is unwanted does not meet Locke’s test of a nobler cause.

Locke further clarifies, “For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise maker, all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order and about his business, they are his property whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure” (II. 6). Right here Locke denies absolute self-ownership and actually places the true right of ownership in the hands of God. It is the Creator who has absolute control over the body, and we are stewards of our own bodies.

If the limitation of self-ownership by Locke were not enough, he makes another argument that would deny an absolute right of self-ownership as justification for abortion. Later in the Second Treatise, Locke addresses the question of parental authority and the duty that parents owe to their own children. He writes, “The power, then, that parents have over their children arises from that duty which is incumbent on them to take care of their offspring during the imperfect state of childhood” (VI. 58).

Notice that while parents have authority and power over their children, it arises from the duty and obligation they have for their children’s care. This arises during what he calls the “imperfect state of childhood.” As evidenced from other discussions regarding the authority of parents, Locke considers this imperfect state to be the time during which a child has not developed the full rational capacity to make his own choices.

Interestingly, many abortion proponents make the case that the reason why a child in the womb can be aborted is that he has not developed the rational capacity to be a person. Since they believe personhood is achieved, then they declare that the child in the womb has no right to life. His life can be terminated without consequence.

However, Locke seems to disagree. He believes it is incumbent upon the parent to fulfill her duty toward the “imperfect” child, which would include protection of that child’s life. At this point, we have a clash of rights. The mother wants to exert her right of self-ownership, but the unborn child has a right to life. Since the right of self-ownership is not absolute, the child’s right to life trumps self-ownership. In Locke’s view, parental obligation requires that we protect the rights of the child, the chief of which is the right to life.

Therefore, invoking Lockean self-ownership is not consistent with abortion. If the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Constitution speak of a right to privacy and self-ownership, they most assuredly speak in Lockean terms. His influence on the Founders is undeniable. If Locke’s ideas are the ones speaking about self-ownership, then we need to consider his thoughts in their context. As we have seen, Locke’s understanding of self-ownership is not absolute, and he places an incumbent duty on parents to protect the rights of their children. Taken together, these ideas nullify a right to abortion based on a supposed right to privacy and self-ownership.[4]

[1] Alexandra DeSanctis, “Democrats Overplay Their Hand on Abortion,” The Atlantic, February 4, 2019.

[2] “Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Protecting Women’s Reproductive Rights,” January 22, 2019, https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-legislation-protecting-womens-reproductive-rights.

[3] John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, in Political Writings, ed. David Wootton (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003).

[4] This article is an update to “Abortion and Self-Ownership” that I wrote for the ERLC and was published in Canon & Culture. The original version is now available on the ERLC resources page at https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/abortion-and-self-ownership.

Continuing the March for Life

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Last week I attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., for the first time. It has always been on my list of events in which I wanted to participate, but for various reasons I was never able to do so until this year. The March for Life is held every year around the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision handed down on January 22, 1973. The first march was held in January 1974, making this march the 46th annual event.

Joe Cater provides a little history on how the march got started. He notes:

The annual event was started by pro-life activist Nellie Gray. Following the Supreme Court decision in Roe in 1973, Gray retired from her federal career and dedicated the remainder of her life to the protection of the unborn.

In October 1973, a group of 30 pro-life leaders gathered in Gray’s home in Washington, D.C., to discuss how to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Roe. According to the March for Life organization, “There was a fear that January 22 would pass as any other day rather than allow for a moment to reflect upon how legalized abortion had hurt women and taken babies’ lives over the course of the year. That was the day that plans for the first March for Life began.”[1]

After attending the march, here are a few impressions that I want to share regarding the event and the pro-life movement at large.

  1. The March for Life is a symbolic representation of what the pro-life movement seeks to accomplish. The march begins on the National Mall in the midst of the iconic monuments that represent freedom and liberty. From the gathering point for the pre-march rally, one can see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. For many Americans, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln represent the American ideals embedded in our founding documents. Some of the most famous words of the Declaration of Independence read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The March for Life begins on the hallowed ground on the Mall among these monuments with reminders of the equality and unalienable rights of all people. Then the march proceeds towards the seats of power following a path along Constitution Avenue, turning in front of the United States Capitol, and stopping in front of the United States Supreme Court. Taking a message of liberty for the unborn from the monuments to the two branches of government most capable of intervening in the atrocities of abortion, the march makes a symbolic statement.
  2. The March for Life is an event for people of all ages. I was struck by the number
    320px-i_am_the_pro-life_generation_283255495954129
    Image via Wikimedia Commons
     of young people at the march. I expected to see adults of all ages who had planned for weeks—even months—to attend the march, but I was not expecting to see the number of youth and college-aged people at the event. While it is difficult to offer statistics or even total numbers of people in attendance, there was definitely a youthful flair to the march. The people holding the sign at the front of the march looked to be college students. There were countless signs declaring, “I am the pro-life generation!” Honestly, I was not prepared for the overwhelming number of young people at the march, but I was extremely grateful. If progress is going to be made in the pro-life movement, it must include each subsequent generation. Involving young people in these types of events is crucial to the success of the movement.
  3. The testimonies of women who regret their abortions are powerful. As the march reached its final destination at the steps of the Supreme Court building, the organizers hosted more than thirty people who gave testimonies about their own abortions or how they had aided someone in getting an abortion. The testimonies that I heard were both powerful and heart-wrenching. The narrative surrounding abortion by pro-choice advocates is that abortion is safe and life will simply return to normal after an abortion. Such was not the case for the people who gave their testimonies at the end of the march. Stories of depression, medical problems, and regret were common. No one’s life simply returned to normal. Many have battled regret and pain for decades. These testimonies need to be heard. The truth about life after abortion needs to be communicated effectively.

The future of the pro-life movement depends on getting the message across that children are a blessing from the Lord, life begins at conception, and the unborn have a right to life. The March for Life is one avenue for communicating this message. Let me encourage you to be a part of this event in the future.

[1] Joe Carter, “Explainer: What you should know about the March for Life,” ERLC.com, January 18, 2019.

Challenging the Culture of Death: Gerber’s 2018 Spokesbaby

For nearly a decade Gerber has conducted an annual search for their Gerber baby. This fresh face every year complements the iconic Gerber baby logo that adorns their product lines. This past Wednesday on the “Today Show” Gerber announced that Lucas Warren, a 1-year-old boy from Dalton, Georgia is the 2018 Gerber baby, and he has Down syndrome. This is the first time in the contest’s history that a child with Down syndrome was selected to represent the company.

Bill Partyka, President and CEO of Gerber, stated, “Lucas’ winning smile and joyful expression won our hearts this year, and we are all thrilled to name him our 2018 Spokesbaby. Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby, and this year, Lucas is the perfect fit.” As the winner of the contest, Lucas’ family receives $50,000 and he will be front and center on the company’s social media platforms.

What makes this announcement so interesting is the fact that Down syndrome births have been steadily decreasing through the years. This is not due to the fact that medical technology has found a cure for Down syndrome. Instead, a higher percentage of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome are being aborted. CBS News reports that the estimated abortion rate of Down syndrome children in the United States is 67%. In France the rate is 77%, 98% in Denmark, and Iceland is almost 100%.

The situation in Iceland is particularly disturbing. Even though the population in that country is small compared the United States, they have effectively eliminated the birth of Down syndrome babies through prenatal testing. Kari Stefansson, the founder of the company that has studied the Icelandic population is not comfortable with the results. CBS News further reports:

Geneticist Kari Stefansson is the founder of deCODE Genetics, a company that has studied nearly the entire Icelandic population’s genomes. He has a unique perspective on the advancement of medical technology. “My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society—that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore,” he said.

Quijano asked Stefansson, “What does the 100 percent termination rate, you think, reflect about Icelandic society?”

“It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling,” he said. “And I don’t think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable. . . . You’re having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”

Stefansson noted, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision.”

The situation in Iceland (and other parts of the world) reflects the reality that society does not value life, especially when that life appears to depart from ordinary expectations. While children with Down syndrome and other genetic abnormalities may face some difficult medical and developmental challenges, they are still people made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” All human beings bear inherent worth before God because they are made in his image; therefore, they also deserve the right to live as image bearers in the world God has created. Aborting a child with Down syndrome denies this inherent value.

Gerber should be commended for naming Lucas as their 2018 spokesbaby. They are pushing back against the culture of death in society. Lucas’ mother, Cortney Warren, states, “This is such a proud moment for us as parents knowing that Lucas has a platform to spread joy, not only to those he interacts with every day, but to people all over the country. We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support, individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world—just like our Lucas!” May we come alongside them and affirm that all humans are valuable, and every child deserves the right to life.

 

No Independence Day for the Unborn

300px-supreme_court_front_dusk*My recent post at Theological Matters addresses this week’s Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The full post is available here.

This weekend I plan to attend a patriotic concert with fireworks, food and friends. It has become an annual tradition for my wife and me that we would not miss for anything. We will sing along to the national anthem and probably tear up as they honor military veterans. In fact, one of our friends who organizes a group of us to attend each year will have just returned from a war zone on a brief leave from his military duties. It should be a great evening full of emotions and patriotic pride.

Unfortunately, there is another cause for tears heading into Independence Day. These are not tears of joy, but tears of sorrow. As was the case last year, the week before Independence Day celebrations, the Supreme Court issued a decision that will alter the course of our great nation. This time the decision struck down abortion regulations in Texas and has made it almost impossible for states to enact commonsense medical regulations on the abortion industry.

In the days ahead, we must not lose hope. Independence Day gives us a good reminder of what we should work to attain for the unborn. Let us give them an opportunity to celebrate their own independence rather than having their lives snuffed out in their mothers’ wombs.

Read the rest of the article on Theological Matters.

Fort Worth Locals for Life Rally—September 23

Perhaps you have seen the recent Planned Parenthood expose videos and they made you sick. Perhaps you have received a devastating diagnosis about your unborn child and struggled with your doctor’s recommendation to abort. Perhaps you have listened to the political rhetoric about abortion and walked away unsatisfied. Have you ever wanted to do something to support the pro-life cause but didn’t know how? If that is you, then don’t miss a unique opportunity in Fort Worth, TX on September 23.

The Locals for Life Rally will be held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Wednesday, September 23 at 6:00 p.m. Locals for Life was started by a group of ladies that wanted to do something to promote life in light of the growing controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos. These ladies envision a place where pro-life advocates can gather and see all the various local ministries and organizations that work in the pro-life arena. They also want a chance for Christians to pray for these ministries. Finally, they want to provide a point of contact for those who desire to volunteer and support these ministries.

The evening will consist of a time of prayer, testimonies, and encouragement. Some of the speakers include Anthony Moore, pastor of The Village Church Fort Worth; Konni Burton, Texas State Senator from District 10; and Matt Krause, Texas House of Representatives from District 93. There will also be testimonies from real people who made tough decisions for life in the face of very difficult circumstances.

Check out their website at www.localsforliferally.org and follow their updates on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fwlocalsforlife. If you want to get involved or donate to support the rally, visit the website and click the “Contact Us” link.

Good Reading: Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Marriage Future

The Public Discourse has posted a very interesting article from Mark Regnerus on the connections between support for same-sex marriage and other issues related to sexual morality. Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and became (in)famous for an article he published about the effects on children raised in a same-sex couple households.

In this article, Regnerus documents the beliefs of churchgoing Christians (attending 3 or more services per month) regarding sexual morality. He specifically looks at the differences in beliefs between those who support same-sex marriage and those who oppose same-sex marriage. The related issues include pornography, cohabitation, hook-ups, adultery, polyamory, and abortion.

Here are some of the highlights:

Primarily, this exercise concerns the attitudes of all churchgoing Christians who express support for same-sex marriage. And since the LGBT population remains a small minority (and even smaller in organized religious communities), it’s reasonable to conclude that the sexual morality that “welcoming” congregations or individual Christians profess will have largely been fashioned—and maintained—by sympathetic heterosexuals. These are and will remain the majority (and hence, the norm) in all congregations, save for the Metropolitan Community Church and perhaps scattered congregations of the United Church of Christ.

Regnerus includes a table with the numbers and makes some observations:

So what do the numbers say? The table above displays the share of each group who either “agree” or “strongly agree” with the seven statements listed above. At a glance, there is a pretty obvious fissure between Christians who do and do not oppose same-sex marriage. More than seven times as many of the latter think pornography is OK. Three times as many back cohabiting as a good idea, six times as many are OK with no-strings-attached sex, five times as many think adultery could be permissible, thirteen times as many have no issue with polyamorous relationships, and six times as many support abortion rights. The closest the two come together is over the wisdom of a married couple staying together at all costs (except in cases of abuse).

Churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage look very much like the country as a whole—the population average (visible in the third column). That answers my original question. What would a pro-SSM Christian sexual morality look like? The national average—the norm—that’s what.

He concludes:

Churchgoers who oppose same-sex marriage sense that they are out of step with the rest of the nation about sex and relationships. (The numbers above reinforce that.) And Christians who favor legalizing same-sex marriage often remain embattled with those who oppose it, and yet sense that their own views on sexuality still lag behind those gay and lesbian Christians from whom they’ve have become convinced of the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. That, too, is true. Gay and lesbian Christians, in turn, have much in common with gay and lesbian non-Christians—their social circles often overlap. The sexual norms of the former are not as permissive as the latter, but are still well above the national average in permissiveness. The latter likely constitutes a reference group for gay and lesbian Christians (together with heterosexual Christians with whom they are in fellowship).

The full article is worth your time, and you can find it here.

_________________________

Mark Regnerus, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Marriage Future,” The Public Discourse, August 11, 2014.