It has been more than a biblical generation since the infamous Roe v. Wade case, and abortion continues to be a hot issue. I am most grateful to what might be called the traditional pro-lifers, for keeping this issue alive for all these years. And I am also grateful for a rising tide of impatience among younger pro-lifers. All of this is to the good, provided we remember what the actual issue is, provided we remember what is actually at stake.
The Pro-Life Position
Abortion occurs whenever an unborn human life is deliberately ended. Human life begins at the moment of conception, and should be protected by the full force of the law from that moment on. This includes, obviously, protecting third-trimester children in the womb from a pair of forceps or a saline injection, but it also protects a young image-bearer of God, who is currently bearing that image with a total of four cells.
And a consistent pro-life position does not make any exceptions for “rape or incest.” In cases of rape or incest, one or both of the parents have sinned grievously, but it makes no sense to punish the resulting child with death because of the crime of the father, say. In cases of rape, there are two innocent victims, and one criminal perpetrator. This logic wants to execute one of the victims for the crime of the father. Moreover, they demand that we call this logic of theirs the “compassionate” option.
Politicians who say they are pro-life “except in cases of rape or incest” are politicians who are revealing that they do not understand the first thing about this issue. Their stand is hopelessly contradictory. The same goes for those who approve of abortion up to the moment of birth, but who are horrified by “infanticide” ten minutes after birth. They are saying you can kill the baby at 10:45 when it is located here, but not at 10:55 when it is located there. What’s wrong with you people?
So here is the end goal of all consistent pro-lifers. Human abortion must be abolished—period, end, full stop. As we make our way toward that goal, we will do so by increments, and we will receive help and aid along the way from inconsistent pro-lifers, for which I am most grateful. But we shouldn’t ever be deterred from our final goal, not even by inconsistencies on our own side.
The heartbeat bills are another example. Praise God for them, but if you think the battle will be over once all fifty states have passed heartbeat bills, you are not paying attention to the basic nature of the controversy. Once we have passed the heartbeat bill, we will be back for the next round, proposing our pre-heartbeat bills.
Never confuse a particular battlefield for the entire war.
A War of Definition
So what is the entire war? What is the true nature of our conflict?
I have repeatedly urged us all to remember that our modern culture wars are battles over the dictionary. Who has the authority to define who is who and what is what? What is racism? What is poverty? What is justice? What is a boy? What is a girl? And foundationally, right at the heart of it all, what is a person?
For Christians, a human person is someone who bears the image of God, and that image-bearing begins the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg. For secularists, indebted as they are to the existentialists, existence precedes essence. In other words, what we actually are is what we choose to become, and the raw material that receives the imprint of this choice is just matter in motion. A four-celled cluster, even though genetically human, does not have the capacity to exercise choice, and so must give way to the one who does—that one being the mother who has decided to kill the child.
Thus, within a secular framework, an entity can be genetically human, and yet not considered a person. A person, they say, is worthy of legal protection, but personhood is a status that can be denied . . . or, come to think of it, revoked.
I said just above that the mother makes that decision, but this is not the full picture. Mothers who make such a decision are doing so because of another set of decisions.
The God You Follow
When you decide upon a god, you are deciding upon a god to follow. You do what your god says, becoming more and more like him in the process. When a nation decides upon a god, they are determining who they will follow. So as time progresses, the laws do the same thing—they begin to reflect the character of the god of the system.
“And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word” (1 Kings 18:21).
In the modern secular state, the god we follow is Demos, the people. And this is where a very great contrast can be seen. This is the heart of all our cultural conflicts. Secularists follow Demos, and Christians follow Christ. These are rival systems, and they cannot be reconciled to one another.
Christians follow Jehovah, revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Jehovah is holy and Jehovah is immutable, unchanging. Immutable holiness, in other words. Consequently, the laws that Christians propose are also holy, and they do not change or shift from generation to generation, or from election to election. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Christians can fail to meet their standard, but we do not have a shifting standard.
But what is Demos like? Compared at these two points, Demos is unholy, and Demos is shifting and fickle. God is immutable, but man is preeminently mutable. God is holy, holy, holy, but man is unholy and corrupt, thrice unholy.
And this is why, if Demos is god, relativism follows. And if relativism is the case, then anything goes, including the worst and most despicable forms of absolutism.
What Pro-Choice Really Means
So how does our fickle and unholy selfishness translate into law?
I said earlier than the small cluster of human cells can’t choose, and so must give way to the one who can choose, that being the mother. But what about an abortion that occurs in the seventh month of pregnancy? A child that age can try to choose, and can shrink from pain, and can try to evade the forceps. But what he cannot do is make his choices stand, because he is weak and vulnerable. He is not absolutely powerless, but he is certainly relatively powerless. He does not have enough power to make his choices stick. But he has choices. Lame choices, but choices.
And yet our modern pro-choice advocates continue to support taking the life of such a child, even though that child can register discomfort, pain, dislike, and so on. Such a set of choices need not be respected because the entity making them is powerless to stop the imposition of a superior will.
So then, it is not a contrast of those with choices and those who make no choices at all. It is a simple matter of power. Those who can successfully impose their will have the authority to do so. Might makes right.
We see that Demos has now determined that it is legal to take the life of an unborn child because that unborn child is powerless to stop you. But Demos is a rotten sinner, and Demos can change his mind, and frequently has. A new-born infant is also powerless to stop you. An elderly, incontinent woman with Alzheimer’s, taking up a bed at the retirement center—she too is powerless to stop you. And we have already seen that humanity and personhood are detachable, logically distinct. They need not remain united together, especially if keeping them together is costing us a boatload of money.
The principle expands, almost on its own. The Jews in Warsaw were powerless to stop what happened to them. Slaves on the Middle Passage were powerless to stop that iniquitous traffic. Remember that Demos is unholy, and Demos reserves the right to change at any time. And we decided to follow him.
This is why I would suggest to pro-lifers that we stop talking about the sanctity of human life. Human life is not the standard; human life is what the standard protects. The standard is the holy will of a holy God, whose word never changes or alters to suit out whims. We need to recover a sense of the sanctity of God’s law, and the consequent dignity of human life. If we make human life the standard, we are slipping into the lexical world of Demos—and then one of the things we lose is the ability to protect innocent human life.
Without God’s law/word overarching us, all we are is a random collection of bits of protoplasm. Babies come to a point where their hearts start beating, but the same thing happens to gestational rats. Heartbeats are not the standard, pain-capability is not the standard, the misbehavior of one or more of the parents is not the standard, and the sex of the child is not the standard. The standard is what Moses brought down off the mountain, tablets still smoking, and with the backdrop behind him being the top of the mountain on fire. If you doubt what I say, read the accounts in Exodus. If you still doubt it, look at pictures of the real Mount Sinai (in Saudi Arabia, not Egypt). The top of that mountain is blackened to this day.
That law is the standard. It is a holy standard, and it cannot be reconciled with secular democracy.
Secular democracy is bloodthirsty. Unbelieving cultures have always practiced human sacrifice, including child sacrifice, and ours has been no exception. I said earlier that the end goal of all consistent pro-lifers is the abolition of human abortion. But we need to understand what is entailed in having this as our goal. Human abortion is the blood sacrament of the secularists, and there is no way to abolish human abortion without simultaneously overthrowing the secular order.
Not only is it a small price to pay, it would be better to say that it is no price to pay. This is the way out. This is liberation. This is the way out of the house of bondage. This is the grace of God. He is good, and so His law is good. He is immutable, and so His law is always good.