As a slew of recent abortion laws - both for and against - make national headlines, legal and political strategies that have been in the works for years are now being revealed. In New York, the strategy to be consistent with the “it is not a human being until it is born” position and go ahead and allow near-birth abortions has been brought to light. In Alabama, the strategy to be consistent with the “human life begins at conception and all such lives are worthy of protection” has also been brought to light.
Those who defend abortion are willing to push the limits of Roe v. Wade’s cover as their appetites for autonomy and even bloodshed have only increased since 1973. Those who defend life from the moment of conception are willing to try to recall Roe v. Wade’s cover as their disgust with a nation that tolerates premeditated murder is finally at the brink.
Clearly, in the wake of this recent movement, there is momentum and need to revisit the issue in the Supreme Court. And just as the Supreme Court’s endorsement of slavery with Dred Scott v. Sanford was later overruled by the 14th Amendment, so too is the hope that the unborn can be granted explicit equal protection to end the reign of Roe. The current political reality is that the only way forward is for states to explicitly reject Roe (preferably both in law and in the execution of that law), push the limits of the 10th amendment, and revisit the issue at the highest court of the land. That there is a rush to do so with a titular conservative majority on the court is to be expected, but recent rulings should give conservatives pause.
Surrounding that work are a handful of considerations and critical issues to try to make sense of this momentum. These will be the main questions that we not only need to answer now, but need to answer for all times and places. For not unlike slavery, our nation seems utterly divided on a moral, social, political and religious issue that gets to the very heart of what it is to be human, good, and united. While abortion may not lead to an armed civil war, it does reveal the polarized worldviews that Americans possess which other Americans consider repulsive.
Rather than try to poetically link those issues in essay form, I’m going to list issues that these laws should help us to understand.
1. Does the incremental approach work? Well, did it work with slavery? Should the call have been to treat slaves better or to end slavery? Likewise, should the call be to kill fewer human beings or to stop the practice altogether? Some argue that it is a compromise to value a 13-week-old fetus more than a 7-week-old fetus by protecting one by the law and not the other. If we believe life begins at conception, it should be protected from that moment. Anything less is a compromise that will be used against us. And I agree with that argument.
The track record of success for the incremental approach speaks for itself: 60+ million abortions since 1973. Every pro-life state politician should be pushing laws like the Alabama law to offer pro-choicers no quarter at all and to be consistent with what we say about life, it’s beginning, and it’s inherent value.
2. On the rape and incest exceptions. I can set my watch to how long it takes a young person to bring up the rape and incest exceptions when I am doing ministry on this subject. I ask, “If I granted those exceptions, would you agree with me on the 99% of all the other abortions?” They never do. Obviously, this is an extremely sensitive subject that merits all the love we can show a victim of violence. And yet, the principle has already been established that human life begins at conception. How it begins is not an adequate reason to end it.
But I want to bring up a tactical or strategic difficulty with the exception. How can it be proven? There is not always evidence of rape or incest. Would a proper rape kit be required or would an accusation be enough? What prevents false allegations? Is there a time limit to when an accusation can be made or can a woman decide that she wants to abort her 8-month baby because she is not having second thoughts? The practical questions alone should make us rethink rape and incest exceptions and champion Alabama’s law.
3. Even a reversal of Roe will not end abortions. Overruling Roe in and of itself would not—without a Constitutional amendment—end abortion in America. It would merely become a states’ rights issue. Some states would allow abortion up to birth - and maybe after birth. Others would restrict it completely. But we would remain a nation of divided states and if nations are judged by God for abortion, then our nation would remain under His judgement.
4. Changes in law are great. But this is, and always will be, a hearts and minds issue. The obvious goal for the pro-life community is legal prohibition. As it should be. But for even the legal victory of prohibition to hold, many more Americans will need to come to see abortion for what it is. More than that, they will need to see that we can have no consistent understanding of justice so long as small people are victimized by abortion. Churches (see below) have much more work to do to be the primary place where hearts and minds are changed and molded against abortion.
5. There are prior beliefs to being pro-life. To be pro-life almost always follows a series of other convictions, and we would be foolish to believe that we can achieve lasting change without those prior beliefs being adhered to. The beliefs that God exists, He has made his will known, and that human beings are made in God’s image are three that quickly come to mind. Sure, someone can oppose abortion without those beliefs. But if someone does not hold to those beliefs, the likelihood of their being pro-life is quite low. There is a reason that most who oppose abortion are Christian and you can assume that most unbelievers are pro-choice, perhaps radically so. So, again, the work to end abortion includes a lot of work before we even get to the arguments.
6. There are pro-life beliefs beyond abortion. Abortion as an act is only a part of the “culture of death” that we should lament. The next target are those outside of the womb who cannot defend themselves: the disabled, the elderly, etc. To be pro-life is about more than just seeking to end legal abortion. It should cause you to consider your stance on contraception and certainly the culture of free love that dominates Hollywood. It is part of a larger worldview that is open to life, diversity, and people who are not like us. It is an issue that highlights our inconsistencies in our moral and judicial thought.
To oppose abortion is really to imbibe a way of life that trusts God in the face of difficulty and even suffering. For many proponents of abortion, abortion is necessary because they possess no answer to hardship other than eliminating the problem. That is more than an endorsement of just abortion. It is a completely hopeless way to see the world.