Abortion and the Value of Human Life, Part IV (Conclusion)
(a series of articles by Vicar Eric Phillips, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Spring 2013)
In the past three articles, I have made two kinds of arguments in this column. The first kind is simply logical, and forms a chain that can be summarized as follows:
1) In the legalization of abortion on demand, our culture has denied that human life has intrinsic worth, and moved all that value over to human personhood, that is, the ability of human beings to recognize themselves as persons, have relationships, and build their own identity.
2) This position cannot explain why born babies should be protected by the law, at least until they begin to show signs of psychological personhood.
3) Therefore babies (up to about one year old at least) are protected by our laws only because their parents (and to a lesser degree, society in general) value them and treat them as persons.
The second kind is theological, and forms this complementary chain:
1) By creating us in His image, God has granted human life intrinsic value of the highest kind.
2) This fact explains why human beings, both bom and unborn, are protected by God’s Law, as the Law of Moses testifies.
3) And even before parents start viewing their fetal children as persons, God Himself relates to them personally. The parental act might just be subjective projection, but God’s actions define reality.
The biggest problem we encounter in this area today is that the second chain, the one derived from Scripture, does not seem conclusive to most of the people we would like to persuade-either because they don’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word, or because they haven’t come to grips with what it says on the subject of abortion-and maybe don’t want to, for fear of having to admit that our society (and quite likely friends and family members of theirs) could be implicated in something so heinous. Without the divine authority of the second chain to add decisive weight, the first chain dangles inconclusively, like a thought experiment designed to stimulate discussion in a Freshman-level philosophy class. Maybe infants really don’t have any more of a right to life than fetuses do? Maybe that’s okay as long as society respects the feelings of the parents? But what if the parents want to leave their babies in a dumpster? The Romans allowed that kind of behavior, why don’t we? Is it just cultural baggage left over from the bygone days when Western Civilization was avowedly Christian? Is infanticide really evil or just yucky? Maybe if I ask these questions long enough, I’ll get tired of thinking about it before I manage to arrive at any grim conclusions?
And the conclusions are grim, too horrible to bear thinking on. What kind of moral high ground does our culture have over the Nazis, if abortion is objectively the same great sin as the Holocaust? The mass-murder of unwanted but innocent human beings? On a much larger scale, no less? To quote Lady Macbeth, “I am in blood steeped so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as going o’er” (3.4.136-7). That’s our situation too, in this nation and in most nations of today’s world. To stop, to go back, would be to admit the unthinkable. People in that situation can be hard to persuade.
So what can we do? What should we do? First, forgive and love the poor women and men who have been betrayed by a government that refuses to stop them from destroying their own offspring. It’s murder in the eyes of God, but the state, which has the divinely-assigned job of preventing such things, has told them otherwise. When government protects the weak from the unjust self-interest of the strong, it serves the would-be perpetrators as much as it does their potential victims, because it steps in with coercion when reason fails, and saves them from incurring great guilt. But when it undercuts Conscience and the Law of God, it lays a trap for them instead. “It can’t be that bad if it’s legal. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself.” In the throes of a personal crisis, it is possible to rationalize even things you never thought you could. We’re all sinners. We all do this to one extent or another, right? One of the jobs of the Law, the main job performed by government, is to provide a curb that keeps enraged, enflamed, or distressed souls from flying off into the ditch-and the American guardrail has a gaping hole on this turn.
Second, do what you can as a private citizen to fix that problem. Speak to those who will listen-gently and humbly as far as their persons are concerned (you are a fellow sinner), honestly as far as the issue is concerned (for their own sakes and those of the unborn); and see what you can do as a member of the Electorate, because especially in a Democracy, “We the People” all share responsibility for what our government does and fails to do.
Third, pray for our nation, that God will grant America the grace of repentance, the clarity to see this great injustice for what it is and somehow to repudiate it. The task is enormous, and it is hard to feel hopeful, but that was once the case with the institution of slavery, too, and when you pray you are addressing the One Who can change hearts in ways the best arguments and the greatest orators will never be able to. May God grant it!