“Church, we must remember that God isn’t calling us to just hate abortion. He’s calling us to value the life of a baby. God isn’t calling us to simply make abortion illegal. He’s calling us to make abortion unthinkable . . . .” (Christians, Being Anti-abortion Doesn’t Make You Prolife, by Dale Partridge, www.relearnchurch.org)
“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” Psalm 127:3
January is “Sanctity of Human Life” month. There is probably no more controversial or divisive issue confronting society than abortion. The subject of abortion has been a political hot-button issue in every election since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Roe v. Wade was a landmark legal decision issued on January 22, 1973, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute banning abortion, effectively legalizing the procedure across the United States. The court held that a woman’s right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The landmark decision has been controversial and since the 1973 ruling, every nominee to the Supreme Court has been scrutinized over their views concerning abortion. In 1987 Robert Bork, a well-qualified and credentialed jurist and law professor, was attacked vehementlybecause of his position concerning abortion and his disagreement with the Roe v. Wade decision. The most recent nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of sexual assault by those who sought to derail his appointment to the court. Ultimately the charges could not be substantiated, and he was appointed to the bench. I believe it would be fair to say that, at least in part, the politicization of the nominating process to the court made this a tactic to derail him from the court due to his judicial philosophy as an originalist, a philosophy opponents feared would lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
A variety of states have recently passed statutes regarding abortion. Some have attempted to make abortion less restrictive. On June 12, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, signed the Illinois Reproductive Health Act into law, “making Illinois the most progressive state in the nation for women’s reproductive rights,” according to his celebration of the event on Twitter. The law “ensures that women’s rights in Illinois do not hinge on the fate of Roe v. Wade or the whims of an increasingly conservative Supreme Court,” he wrote. “In this state, women will always have the right to reproductive health care.” The new law removes restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy and nullifies criminal penalties for physicians who perform lateterm abortions. It repeals Illinois’ partial birth ban, and it expands insurance coverage for abortion and contraception.
Other states have passed laws making abortion more restrictive. Democratic governor John Bel Edwards signed into law a measure that makes nearly all abortions in his state illegal once fetal cardiac activity is detected, adding Louisiana to the list of mainly Southern states that signaled the desire to overturn decades of abortion policy in the United States over the course of just a few weeks this spring. Louisiana joins five other states – Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky – that passed “fetal heartbeat laws” in 2019 which, if upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, would essentially outlaw abortion after six to eight weeks.
Nationally abortion rates have been reaching historic lows, and significant percentages of Americans continue to express support for restrictions on abortion as pregnancies approach fetal viability. Abortion statistics are gathered primarily by two sources: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Guttmacher Institute. Both the CDC and Guttmacher show significant reductions in the numbers of abortions performed in the United States. The total number of abortions since Roe v. Wade stands at 60,942,033 (numbers reported by Guttmacher Institute 1973-2014).
From 1980 to 1993 over 1.5 million babies were aborted each year, 28,000 aborted each week, 165 babies aborted each hour. To help put this in perspective, in all of our nation’s wars since the Revolutionary War, approximately 1.3 million citizens have been killed.
Why is abortion an important topic for the church to address?
Human life is sacred. The creation account records “And God said, let us make man in our own image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:2627). Human life is sacred, and innocent human life must be protected at all costs.The scriptures speak of the unborn in terms of full personhood. Psalm 139:13-16: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Job 3:3: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
Luke 1:41-44: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
Personhood. Only human beings are spoken of as “persons.” Personhood is part of the very essence of spiritual existence. Dr. Jack Cottrell once said: “ . . . [the] most important implication of personhood is this: we have an innate capacity for a personal relationship with God. We are spiritually equipped to know God and to enter into communion with Him. This inherent capacity is what makes human life human and different from all other life” (Jack Cottrell, 1982 Cincinnati Christian Seminary Class notes, Biblical Ethical Issues).
The quality of personhood belongs to a one-week old baby just as it does to a 30-year-old man or woman. The unborn child is not qualitatively different from the adult. We do not acquire personhood; we are persons by our very nature. From the moment of conception, human life exists and is in the very image of God.
The sixth commandment. The sixth commandment is best translated “You shall not commit murder” (Exodus 20:13). Some translations, such as the King James, read “You shall not kill.” However, the Hebrew word ratsakh refers to murder, or the deliberate taking of an innocent human life. Abortion is the deliberate taking of an innocent human life.
The bible does not prohibit all killing. God instituted capital punishment because of the sacredness of innocent human life. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6). The guilty person that sheds innocent human blood shall by humans have their lives taken from them. The use of the word humans in the latter part of the verse should be taken to mean government. Why was capital punishment imposed? To protect the innocent and punish the guilty – because of the sacredness of human life.
Pope John Paul II wrote: “When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a tyrannical decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless of human beings? (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae (1995), no.70, 71.).
Earlier, in 1989, Pope John Paul II wrote “At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will. . . . For us abortion is of overriding concern because it negates two of our most fundamental moral imperatives: respect for innocent life, and preferential concern for the weak and defenseless” (Resolution on Abortion, 1989).
The role of the state in protecting innocent human life and punishing evildoers. The Apostle Paul addressed the role of the government in Romans 13. He wrote: “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience” (Romans 13:4-5).
A quick glance at this passage shows that legitimate government authority exists to protect the innocent and punish those who commit evil. Government is “God’s servant for your good.” If you obey the legitimate laws of government, you have no reason to live in fear. But, if you “do wrong” you should be afraid of government because it is God’s servant that bears the sword of wrath. Of all places that government has a duty to its citizens, it is in protecting innocent human life.
What does all this mean for us? With abortion being such a divisive and polarizing issue, how can we build bridges to those who support abortion or who have had an abortion? How can the church address the issue and stand for the sanctity of life?
- Lower the tone of rhetoric. With more than sixty million abortions since Roe v. Wade we should expect people to be sitting in our pews on Sundays that have had abortions. I would avoid using words or phrases like “abortion is murder” to guilt or shame them but would speak of God’s great grace and offer of forgiveness for every sin. Many are so overcome with guilt and shame they need to hear the gospel that liberates them and sets them free.
- Value the lives of children in your church and lift them up as God’s beloved.
- Befriend, love, and support that pregnant teen/woman through her time of pregnancy. Give her a shower and provide her love and the necessary support to care for her baby. Let her know that while she is afraid or confused, perhaps under the judgment of parents or community, that you will walk through this journey with her.
- Promote adoption. Many couples that are unable to have children desire to adopt. Adoption can be a legitimate option for a woman that fears she cannot afford to give birth or raise a child.
- Provide financial assistance for prenatal care, hospital delivery, formula, diapers, and childcare.
- Address sexual issues in the church with honesty and openness. Boys, girls, men and women are sexual beings and scriptures speak about sexual issues. They are already thinking about sex, viewing pornography, and experimenting with sex – speak to this issue with a clear clarion call of God’s ideal design for human sexuality.
- Set healthy boundaries for yourself and help others set healthy sexual boundaries. On a date, in the back seat of an automobile is not the best time to be trying to set healthy boundaries.
- Offer struggling couples relationship counseling or opportunity to attend a marriage seminar.
- Be engaged in the political process and vote.
- Be an advocate for life. Volunteer at your crisis pregnancy center.
- Financially support ministries that are on the front line fighting for life.
You may think of many other practical ways to promote a culture of life and love. What is the value of one human life?
Building bridges of love and understanding,