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Behind the Headlines

The best way to address abortion is to overwhelm our culture with love.


I'd like to begin with a reading from John 8:2-11.

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Last week I began an occasional series on contemporary issues—one designed to address some of the more vexing topics of our day: racism, divorce, abortion, war, environmentalism, consumerism, homosexuality, living together.

Most of these are topics I'd actually rather avoid. In fact, I'd rather chew sand than weigh in on some of them. But, occasionally, we will focus on one of them because I not only think that is the right thing to do—if a pastor is unwilling to take a moral stand I'm not exactly sure who is supposed to[1]—but I also think it's the loving thing to do. We are moral beings, responsible for our actions, and we do not ever ultimately break God's laws as much as we break ourselves against them. Last week the topic was racism. Today, as we approach the 39th anniversary of the Roe verses Wade Supreme Court decision, it's abortion.

Before we get started, let me say that I realize the odds are very high that I am going to make some of you mad. I'm not anxious to do that, but I can't really worry about that too much either. What I do worry about is that some of you may be hurt by what I say.[2]

So let me start by noting that we are all in this. Me first. This is not my particular sin—and as a rich male with power it's not even a temptation. But we have all fallen short. We are all sinners. None of us keep God's standards. None of us are qualified to throw stones at someone else. My prayer has been that I can somehow follow Christ's brilliant example in John 8 and graciously call people to leave their life of sin without condemning them, and that in the body of Christ people find love and mercy.

Second, I know not everyone here will share my views,[3] and some of you may feel very passionate about your position. I've done my best to form mine both from Scripture—where we will turn in a moment—and also from the best thinking out there. I've been in full-time ministry for over twenty years, eight of those as a college pastor at a state school. When you are around lots of sexually active 20-year-olds this topic comes up. And so, years ago I started doing my homework on abortion, and I had conversations both with those who work at Planned Parenthood and those who worked at crisis pregnancy centers. With those who fiercely wanted to protect a woman's "right to choose" and those who counsel women suffering from post abortion related depression. In the last couple months, I've talked with women who've had abortions and men who've paid for them. I've spoken with those who work with high risk pregnancies and those who work in low income clinics. I've spoken with those who speak and write on this topic, either at the popular level or in an effort to shape law. I've worked hard to take an informed position.

Third, I know this topic is very personal for many of you. The literature suggests that during the last four decades somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of all pregnancies in this country have been terminated, and as many as 40 percent of American woman have had an abortion. If those numbers are even close to true, and there is no reason to think they've been inflated (if anything, they are probably low) then there are many here today who have terminated a pregnancy, and no one is more than one or two degrees removed. Therefore, I know this topic is personal and volatile and I am walking into a mine field.

I hope that what I say will influence those in the future to chosoe life, that it will push the church to show more mercy and love, and that those who have been hurt in some way around this topic will find healing.

The classic Christian position

Let me start with a basic overview of the classic Christian position, make a number of observations about this topic, and end with a few challenges to all of us. The classic[4] Christian position—that which is developed in the Bible and is uniformly embraced by the church into the 19th century—rolls out in five points.

First: Human life is sacred. In Genesis 1 we are told that we have been made in the image of God. In Jeremiah 1, Job 10, and Psalm 139, we are told that God formed us, knit us together in our mothers' wombs.[5] All of this implies that we have value independent of who we are or what we can do. There is a divine imprint on our souls that gives us significance whether we are wanted or not, whether we are adding value to the world or not. Infants, those who are disabled,[6] those who are debilitated by strokes or diseases like Alzheimer's and are now unable to function—those who have no "utilitarian value"—have value because God gave them value. Our worth does not have to be earned. Our value rests within us because God gave it to us.

Second: Children are a blessing. They are a gift from God. The psalmist says this. Jesus teaches this.[7] Additionally, we know this. To hold a baby is to marvel at their life and God's handiwork. (Granted, by the time they are in their teens, we wonder what it was exactly that we saw in them before.)

Third: We are expected to protect the weak. God has a special place in his heart for the poor and oppressed, for the widow and orphan, for the powerless, for those others exclude. This certainly includes the most helpless infants. And he calls us to give ourselves for them. We are to love them, even when it's not convenient. Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to say, "As we treat them, we treat him." Read Matthew 25.

Fourth: Abortion is wrong. It is not God's plan.[8] This is both an argument that flows out of the points I am listing now and others, such as "do not shed innocent blood." It is also one developed directly in Exodus 21:22. There we read:

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

The point is, an unborn child has the same legal rights as an adult.[9]

Fifth: The last point I make theologically—but one of the first points I make as a pastor—is that abortion is not an unforgivable sin. It is wrong. It is a sin. It is not a small matter. But God is bigger than our sin. We are not able to do anything that moves us beyond his love and grace. Like all other sin, we need to bring it to him and confess it and grieve our actions. And there, before him, we are forgiven.[10]

Let me pause here for just a second and emphasize this because, as with other sin, but perhaps even more here than with other issues, people make one of two mistakes:

They are either very casual—quick to claim forgiveness and move on in a way that suggests the gravity of what happened was not clear to them, and they may not be dealing with what is going on in their own heart.

Or, they think they are beyond the reach of God's forgiveness—somehow his love for guilty people is not applicable to them. They believe God can love and forgive others, but not them. My experience is that many women who have had abortions get stuck here.

If you find yourself in either camp I want to suggest that this is something you need to talk about with a wise, safe, loving friend or a counselor.

The current reality

As I noted, I did a lot of work on this message, and in the process I was reminded of some things and was struck by the way the debate has changed over the last twenty years.

I was reminded of how common a practice abortion is. Globally 30 million pregnancies are terminated every year.[11] The numbers are down a bit in this country, but there have been over one million abortions every year for the last 38 years.

Second, I was reminded of just how hostile the rhetoric is. Discussions on this topic are infrequently civil.[12] In a day when public discourse is often quite harsh, this topic seems to bring out the worst in almost everyone.[13]

Third, I was reminded that the arguments are somewhat secondary. Most people seem to have an opinion and then shop around for any line of thought that supports it. This is quite clear when you look at how tortured many of the arguments given in favor of abortion are. Today most constitutional scholars, including those who favor legalized abortion, concede that the Roe v. Wade decision overreached and was poorly argued.[14]

I contend that the moral arguments that are put forward do not work. In some cases they are so unsound and bizarre that they are hard to address.[15] When you read them, it is clear that people are not arriving at a pro-choice position on the basis of the arguments. Instead, they are looking for arguments to support their opinion.[16]

In terms of the way the debate has changed—and these points, along with many others, are developed in much greater detail in my notes—I was surprised by a handful of things:[17]

I was surprised that I did not run across much debate over when human life begins. This was a staple of the debate years ago. Today it is generally conceded that life begins at conception. The debate now is over when a child or a fetus has any rights.[18]

I was surprised that I did not hear much about the need to keep abortion legal in order to protect the life of the mother. It comes up occasionally, but it is now generally acknowledged that there are very few cases when a pregnancy has to be terminated to protect the life of the mother, in part because of the great advances made in neonatal care.[19]

I was surprised and pleased to hear that the pro-life side is interested in the mother—they don't merely want to prevent her from ending her pregnancy, disappearing after that. Today there are lots of people and groups willing to help women in crisis carry their babies to term, raise their children, help them with adoption. The pro-life movement has really raised its game on this front.[20]

I was also surprised to read discussions about the longer-term effects readily-available abortion has had on some countries. As you may know, birth control in general, but abortion in particular, has left much of Europe caving in upon itself. Many European countries have fallen below the sustainability line. In order for the population to remain stable, married couples need to have 2.11 children. But, there has been a fairly steep decline in the number of people who marry, and the average number of children born every year has also dropped. In fact, many countries have not only fallen below 2.11, they have fallen below 1.9—from which no country has ever reversed itself. Some have fallen below the 1.3 number, which demographers call the "death spiral."[21]

As I said, catching up on this topic was insightful. I was reminded of some things and learned some new things. In many ways, I learned more than I wanted to know.

A pastoral response

What else is there to know about this topic? What should I, as a pastor, being saying to you? Let me share five things:

First, men and women, there are no shortcuts when it comes to morals. Life ultimately works better when we follow God's counsel. It's always best to stop doing the wrong thing and do the right one, no matter how hard that is. Sin generally leads to more sin, and we end up in situations that move from bad to worse,[22] eventually arriving at a point where ending the life of our child can seem like the best option. God's plan is that sex is reserved for marriage, both because it leads to bonds that we should not make with those we are not going to spend the rest of our life with and because it often leads to babies. We should not act surprised when our actions have consequences, when sex leads to babies. This is clearly the intent of God's design and one of the reasons why we are supposed to be married before we start acting like we are married.

Second, everyone loses in an abortion. In every abortion a child dies, a woman is wounded, and the soul of a nation is diminished. People try to deny this, but those are the realities. It's obvious that the child loses. I would argue that the woman loses as well.[23] I stress this point because those who advocate for a woman's right to choose argue the opposite: they say that abortion rights are good for women. But the unintended consequences here do not favor women. Not only are the majority of those babies that are aborted female,[24] but legalized abortion has freed men to accept even less responsibility for a child-after all, if she decides to keep the baby that is her choice.[25] "I'll pay for an abortion but I am not paying to raise a child, and I'm not helping."[26]

Third, it is seldom about a choice. Sometimes it is. Some women use abortion as a form of birth control or choose not to carry a baby to term because it's not convenient. But when you look at the statistics, when you study who is having abortions, it is almost always those who are poor and scared. When you read what they say about why they aborted their child, most report that they do not have any other option. They say they are being forced by men, parents, or circumstances.

I spoke with a doctor who works at an inner city clinic. She said that abortion was just a symptom of a bigger problem and that most of the women she sees have one thing in common: a lack of self-worth. The pregnancy is often the direct result of that.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, who traveled the country interviewing women who had abortions, wrote:

The core reason I heard was, "I had an abortion because someone I loved told me to." Again and again, I learned that women had abortions because they felt abandoned, they felt isolated and afraid. As one woman said, "I felt like everyone would support me if I had an abortion, but if I had the baby I'd be alone …. I felt like I didn't have a choice. If only one person had stood by me, even a stranger, I would have had the baby."

Mathewes-Green continued, "No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg."[27] Desperate people do desperate things. We need to love and care for desperate people.

Fourth, it's not helpful to frame this discussion in terms of rights. It depends on who we are talking to. We need to speak the language of our culture,[28] and those who do not believe the Bible are not interested in what it has to say and are certainly not willing to submit to it. As Christians we need to see that there are problems with discussions about rights.[29] For starters, they only lead to a fight over whose rights win. They pit the rights of the unborn against the rights of women—which is the wrong way to think about this.[30] Second, it suggests that the solutions will be legal, which I do not think is ultimately true. And third, it can imply that what's legal is moral, which is not always the case.[31]

More significantly, this is not a good way for Christians to think. I realize this may be news to some of you, but we don't really have rights. We do in one sense. But we are disciples. We are called to serve, to love others, to die to self, to pick up our cross, and to follow Christ's example. Jesus doesn't talk about rights.[32] He doesn't talk about his rights or our rights. In fact, we read that Christ gave up his rights in order to suffer for us.[33]

A number of years ago Dr. Will Willimon, who was the Chaplain at Duke University at the time, made one of his typical provocative statements. He was on a panel discussion about academic freedom and whether or not professors needed tenure. Willimon said that after listening to all the arguments he didn't find any of them very compelling, so when he was called on he announced that he didn't believe in academic freedom at all. Because, he said, "I'm a Christian. A disciple. A bond servant. My master made himself a slave. I'm supposed to do the same. I have no rights. And I'm just selfish enough to not want anyone else to have them either."

At times I'm never entirely sure if Willimon is exaggerating to make a point, but I think he was spot on with this comment. As followers of Christ, we sign up for this upside-down approach to life. We agree that it's better to give than to receive; it's better to serve than to be served; and the first will be last. We do not sign up for rights, we sign up for responsibilities. We sign up to care for others.

Like I suggested at the beginning, somehow we need to be more like Jesus when he protected the woman caught in adultery from the self-righteous conservatives, even as he called on her to leave her life of sin.

Fifth, we need to lead with love. We are going to have to overwhelm the culture with loving care. I am thankful for those who run for office or work in the courts. We desperately need thoughtful people in those spots. Our goal as citizens needs to be that everyone is "protected in law and cared for in life."[34] But this is not ultimately a legal issue, and it will not ultimately turn with a legal solution. If Roe was overturned tomorrow it would go to the states. There would be fifty debates going on.[35] And just as significantly, the law would not do much to change the demand. What we need is to see people's hearts change, and that is not going to happen through the courts.[36]

When you read the stories about those who've changed their positions, you find that it's almost never about the arguments. It's because people love them. In fact, in a fascinating book entitled Won by Love, Gary Thomas tells the story of how Jane Roe—her real name is Norma McCorvey, but she was the one named in the case; she was "Roe" in Roe v. Wade—had a change of heart. Years after the court case she was operating an abortion clinic in Dallas, when she is befriended by a young girl whose mom was pro-life. They became Norma's friends when few others would, and over time—by their love and care for her—they won her over. Not long after Jane Roe (Norma McCarvey) came to faith in Christ because the young girl kept inviting her to church, she changed her views about abortion and went from one of the most celebrated advocates for it to one of the harshest critics of the practice. This story is repeated over and over.[37] Few are won over by arguments. Many more are won over by love.[38]


So what do we do?

We repent for our own actions and inactions. One way or the other, it feels to me like we all have responsibility on this issue. At the very least we have failed to protect the weak. That is wrong.[39] if an Old Testament prophet showed up today, my sense is that abortion would be at the top of his list.

We work very hard to be a church to which people "run to" not "run from" when they are in trouble.[40] Girls and young women need to feel like they will be cared for and loved, not shamed, if they find themselves single and pregnant.

We continue to celebrate adoption—those women who carry their babies to term and create adoption plans for them and those who welcome those babies into their family. The same can be said about foster care and Safe Families. This is front line work, hard but very helpful.

We continue to work for just laws because good laws make a difference. We look for opportunities to speak out for life. We communicate the value of people wherever we can, starting with making the case to our own children.

And we lead with love. We help wherever we can. We love both moms and kids. We especially help those within our church family who end up surprised by a pregnancy, scared and unsure how they are going to manage life.[41]

I believe that in the end this is one of those issues where the tide will turn and future generations will ask this penetrating question: Where were you when this was going on? Because I believe in the end truth always wins. So cultures either get on the side of truth or they fall.[42] One day abortion will be recognized as evil. May we do what we can now to hurry that day along.

1 We are expected to understand God's standards and to do what we can to uphold them. Many now claim that there are no rules - that every way is just as good as every other way. That is simply not true. There are absolutes. There is right and wrong. God gave us the Law - the Ten Commandments and a series of additional rules and codes - for our own good. He made us. He made the world. He knows how it works. He knows what is ultimately best. That is not always quickly obvious. The wrong path often works well for a while. And in the world in which we live - where politicians seldom think past the next election, business people seldom think past the next quarter's earnings and traders seldom think past the next few minutes - that is all some people pay attention to. But we are going to live forever. And we need to look at many of these issues in light of that.

2 Both Christ Church and Sheri and I have given money to crisis pregnancy centers and to unwed moms who wanted to carry their babies to term. And on one occasion - when a local hospital announced that it was changing its policy and would start to do abortions, I marched in protest. But that was a long time ago. I have not said much about abortion during the time I've been here. There are several reasons: 1) The topic seldom comes up in the text; 2) much of what is written is political and legal not theological; 3) it is difficult for an affluent white male to speak against abortion - which tends to affect poor women (especially minorities) - without appearing sanctimonious; but the key reason I have not said more is 4) as a pastor, I know many people who have had abortions, and I do not want to add to their pain and remorse.

3 Abortion is one of the flagship issues of our day. It trumps all others. Indeed, groups you might not expect to be friendly with each other often are if they are on the same side of the abortion debate. For example, Playboy - a clearly-identified enemy of feminism in the 70s because of its exploitative images - is now viewed as an ally of feminism because it is such an enthusiastic defender of abortion.

4 I use the term "classic" here not only because it's the view most people associate with the church, but also because it reflects the consistent teaching of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant leaders until the 19th century. The writings of the Early Church were uniform in their opposition to abortion: The Didache (c. 100 A.D.) explicitly condemns abortion (phthora); Clement of Alexandria condemned those who used abortifacient drugs to destroy what God had created; Tertullian, Augustine and Jerome agreed that even though the exact moment that a human acquired a soul was unknown, that abortion was wrong (Jerome called it parricide - the killing of a near relative); St. Basil regarded all abortion as homicide; Calvin called it "unnatural" and "abominable." In the 1960s Mainline Protestant churches began to call for more liberal abortion laws. In recent years some - the United Methodist and Southern Baptists to name two - have returned to more conservative positions. Note: It is important to note that while the church has been against abortion, it has not been equated with murder. Few have suggested that the mother is guilty of a crime and many are willing to make an exception in cases involving rape and incest. Neither position would hold if an abortion was viewed as murder. In Head and Heart: American Christianities, Gary Willis goes one step further and argues that not even Roman Catholics - who have maintained a more consistent anti-abortion position than Protestants - have been consistent in viewing the fetus as a person, for if they had, "late term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person - calling for baptism and burial." (Anthony M. Joseph, Abortion and America's Past, published in The City, Winter 2009, Vol. II, Issue 3, Dennis Di Mauro, Life Sentences, Touchstone, March 2009, p. 39 and Martin Marty, Gary Willis On the Abortion Question, Sightings, 10/08/07.)

5 Genesis 1:26; Jeremiah 1:5, Job 10:8 and Psalm 139:13-16

6 Robin Jones wrote a short story about her interaction with a young woman with Down's Syndrome that challenges the idea that our value is tied to our rationality or utility. "She stood a short distance from her guardian at the park this afternoon, her distinctive features revealing that although her body blossomed into young adulthood, her mind would always remain a child's. / My children ran and jumped and sifted sand through perfect, coordinated fingers. Caught up in fighting over a shovel, they didn't notice when the wind changed. But she did. A wild autumn wind spinning leaves into amber flurries. / I called to my boisterous son and jostled my daughter. Time to go. Mom still has lots to do today. My rosy-cheeked boy stood tall, watching with wide-eyed fascination, the gyrating dance of the Down's syndrome girl as she scooped up leaves and showered herself with a twirling rain of autumn jubilation. / With each twist and hop she sang deep, earthly grunts ~ a canticle of praise meant for the One whose breath causes the leaves to tremble from the trees. /Hurry up! Let's go! Seat belts on? I started the car. In the rearview mirror I studied her one more time through my misty eyes. And then the tears came. Not tears of pity for her ~ the tears are for me. For I am far too sophisticated to publicly shout praises to my Creator. / I am whole and intelligent and normal, and so I weep because I will never know the severe mercy that frees such a child and bids her come dance in the autumn leaves." (Robin Jones, Autumn Dance)

7 Psalm 127, Mark 10; Luke 17, et al.

8 There are several passages typically referenced when the case is being made against abortion: Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:22-25, Psalm 139:13-16 and Luke 1:41-42. The Exodus passage is not entirely clear, but it is generally believed that "gives birth prematurely" refers to a live birth. So, if the baby is born alive but prematurely the offender must pay a fine. However, if something worse happens to the baby or the woman then retributive justice applies - life for life, etc. So the baby and the woman are assigned equal value. In the Luke passage the term that is used to refer to John in the womb (brephos) is later used to refer to Jesus in the manger.

9 This passage is occasionally mistranslated and used to argue for an abortion. See Greg Koukl, What Exodus 21:22 Says About Abortion, Stand to Reason web site.

10 In I Timothy 1:15f Paul writes, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. In other words, if Christ would forgive Paul - who hated him and had his followers killed because they were following Christ - then he could forgive anyone. He drives that point home even more when he tells the Romans that, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:13)

11 About one-third of those are in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

12 Those in the middle do not say much. Those who have a microphone tend to have strong views and tend to demonize the other side. As Martin Marty has noted, neither "Abortion is Murder" nor "Keep Your Laws Off My Body," bumper stickers are an invitation to dialogue. (Note: It is worth pausing to consider the comments of those who argue against civility. In an editorial on President Obama's speech at Notre Dame, Anthony Esolen had the following to say to Obama's suggestion that both sides stop "demonizing" each other. "What kind of moral philosophy is this? Courtesy of debate implies nothing about who is right and who is wrong. Worse, what looks like courtesy is sometimes only moral tepidity; and a plea for courtesy is sometimes just an a priori denial of the rights of one side to plead its case most truly and forcefully. Should the West in the time of Hitler have treated the madman with more courtesy? Was it not at fault for failing to show him, as soon as possible and as forcefully as possible, for the demon he was? And does this plea not ring hollow, anyway, from someone who has supported using racketeering laws against abortion protesters, and whose allies are attempting to compel their opponents to provide abortion services against the dictates of their conscience?" Anthony Esolen, Notre Madame et el President, Touchstone, July/Aug. 2009, p. 4.

13 Those in favor of abortion rights - i.e., Pro-Choice, Pro-freedom, advocates of reproductive rights - never refer to a baby, they talk about an embryo or a fetus, which is always an "it," whereas those against abortion - alternately, Pro-Life or Anti-Abortion - refer to the baby as a he or she. In an interesting discussion of the policies of the New York Times, Kenneth Woodward, noted that in their coverage of the Partial Birth Abortion legislation they seldom referred to partial birth abortions. Instead, they discussed the legislation that was being promoted by "opponents of reproductive rights."(First Things, Jan. 2006, p. 73).

14 It is generally agreed that Roe was "a bad constitutional decision." That is, even those who appreciate the outcome agree that it was a bad decision because: 1) The court overreached; 2) the line or argument was "misty." Stephen Carter writes, "Thirty years later, it is more apparent than ever that the real trouble with Roe v Wade is what constitutional scholar John Hart Ely recognized the summer after the decision was handed down: the problem, wrote Professor Ely, is not that the case is bad constitutional law but that 'it is not constitutional law at all and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.'" Joseph Bottum concurs, noting, "Here's one simple and interesting measure: There is hardly a single law professor of real weight or seriousness who will claim anymore that Roe v. Wade was good constitutional reasoning. Oh, they'll suggest that it's settled doctrine, made weighty by the generations of women that have placed reliance on it, and they'll argue that the rest of case law has bent itself so far to accommodate Roe and its progeny that we cannot undo it without major damage to the legal system. But as late as 1990 the law schools were filled with senior academics ready to defend the legal reasoning of Roe purely on its own terms. And today, twenty years later, there are next to none. (Stephen L. Carter, Roe v. Judicial Sense, Christianity Today, July 2003, p. 64.; Joseph Bottum, The Public Square, First Things, Aug/Sept 2010, p. 5). In addition to Roe v. Wade there are a number of other laws that seem poorly reasoned, for example: 1) In many states a 16 year old girl needs her parent's permission to have her ears pierced, but not to have an abortion; 2) the safety standards for abortion clinics are lower than they are for every other medical clinic; 3) it is unlawful to destroy the egg of a bald eagle but not to destroy the egg of a human.

15 In a tongue-in-cheek effort to point out the curious logic of the pro-choice position, Robert P. George writes, "I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in a sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go so far as to support mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even nonjudgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity - not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately pro-choice. (Killing Abortionists: A Symposium, Dec. 1994) More generally I find it telling that: 1) the pro-choice side works diligently to keep people from knowing exactly what an abortion is. (Babies are not referred to as babies, but as: tissue, the product of conception, a mass of cells, etc.; and 2) that they work to suppress studies on the long-term effects of abortion. I also find it odd that: 1) there are laws protecting a baby outside the womb but not inside it - that is, the very same baby - at exactly the same stage of gestation - is protected if born but unprotected if inside its mother's womb; 2) an unborn child has certain legal rights (e.g., the right to inherit property) but not the right to be born; 3) that pro-choice champions name their highest honor after Margaret Sanger - a celebrated racist. To quote Patrick Reardon, "there is something delirious about the pro-choice position, something downright pathological, and it is very important that we do not mistake that nightmarish context for normalcy. I am serious. Contending with pro-choice arguments is like entering a haunted house, like being trapped in a scene from Kafka or Poe … Afterwards, a bit of downtime may be required, to allow one to recover equilibrium, rationality, and bright good sense." (Reardon, The Not-So-Good Samaritans: Aristotle, the Preservation of Families and Duties of the State, Touchstone, April 2003, p. 38). Finally, it is worth noting the limits of logic in this debate. Many will concede that the arguments for abortion are very thin. In Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History (Carolina Academic Press), Joseph W. Dellapenna - who favors "unlimited choice early in pregnancy" and "carefully tailored" restrictions thereafter, spends 1,300 pages showing that much of the current liberal orthodoxy on abortion is "a philosophical and historical house of cards." He goes on to argue that the liberalization of abortion grew out of three trends: 1) the gradual economic and social independence of women; 2) developments in medical technology that made abortion less dangerous to the pregnant woman; and 3) the abandonment of legal safeguards that had protected the unborn child for centuries. (See Michael M. Uhlmann, Supreme Confusion, First Things, June/July 2007, p. 45f).

16 And in some cases, they fabricate evidence to support their views. Prior to Roe v Wade one of the arguments used in favor of legalizing abortion was that thousands of women were dying from back-alley abortions. Indeed, the head of one of the major pro-abortion organizations in the US claims that in 1972 there were one million illegal abortions and that 5,000 - 10,000 women died. We do not have accurate records for any one of a number of reasons, however, it's worth noting that: 1) the National Center for Health Statistics (a government agency) presented numbers that suggest that the number of women who died from illegal abortions from 1940 forward. A significant drop occurred in 1950s when Penicillin became available to control infections. At that point 250 women died from illegal abortions. By 1972 the number was down to 39, and it did not decrease after Roe v Wade made abortion legal; 2) In Aborting America, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who testified on behalf of legalizing abortion, wrote that they used the number of 5,000 - 10, 000 even though they knew it was totally false. (B. Nathanson, Aborting America, Doubleday, 1979, p. 193); other countries also claim high number of deaths from illegal abortions, but these numbers do not stand up to review - e.g., on June 18, 1989 CNN reported that there were 6 million illegal abortions each year in Brazil and that 400,000 women die. But the UN Demographic Yearbook for 1988 lists only 40,000 deaths for women between the ages of 15 and 44 - and this is for all causes of death! (Dr. J.C. Willkie, Why Can't We Love them Both? Chapter 27).

17 There was a fourth surprise that I did not list in the sermon - that is, the growing support of Singer's views. Most people think that abortion is a bad thing. That is, even those who want to keep it legal want to see the number of abortions go down. But there are some who express no qualms about it at all. It is like knee surgery. You do not want to have knee surgery because you don't want to have bad knees. But if there is a problem you have surgery. There is nothing wrong with having knee surgery. It is not a moral issue. For that matter, you can have as many knee surgeries as you need. Many of those in the second camp, knowingly or otherwise, subscribe to the views put forward by Princeton Ethicist Peter Singer, who not only advocates late term abortions but also infanticide and euthanasia. Singer regularly makes the news for his rather outlandish statements. He argues that: 1) some animals should have more rights than some people - and that to think otherwise is to be a speciesist,"; 2) it is morally acceptable to kill a child up to a certain number of days after its birth (he has suggested 40); 3) he would have his own parents killed if their quality of life diminished too much. Those who are familiar with his views - which argue that "the capacity to suffer is the vital characteristic" that gives a being rights - note that he is ruthlessly consistent where others are not. Indeed, Singer expresses confusion when abortion advocates disagree with his views, because, "there is no sharp distinction between the fetus and the newborn baby." If you are interested you can find much about Singer and his views in the popular media, often more around euthanasia than abortion, but some on abortion. I will simply make two other notes: 1) I said that most people are against abortion - i.e. even those who want to keep it legal want to see it be rare. There is a radical fringe that seems to actually view abortion as a good thing. Katherine Ragsdale, the president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge and an active participant in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, gave a speech in which she celebrated the "blessings of abortion" and compared medical personnel who refused to perform abortions with pacifists entering the military or animal rights activists who conduct medical research. And British writer Virginia Ironside, who said that she would be the first to smother a child who was suffering, "any good mother would," called abortion a "moral and unselfish act." (First Things, Jan. 2011, p. 67. 2) Many who favor abortion are "gradualists" - that is, they believe that the further along the path towards being born a fetus has progressed, the more protection from being destroyed it should receive." Christopher Raczor and others point out the challenges of this view, noting that while late term abortions may be worse than early term abortions, early term abortions are also wrong. (Mary Eberstadt, "Pro-Animal, Pro-Life," First Things, June/July 2009, p. 15ff, and "Peter Singer: OK to Kill Disabled Babies," Sept. 22, 2006, Christopher Kaczor, "Equal Rights, Equal Wrongs," First Things, Aug/Sept. 2011, p. 21f."

18 Those who wish to keep abortion legal used to argue that it's not human life until some point. And they still do. Papers like The New York Times are careful to never refer to a baby as a baby until it's born. It is a fetus, or tissue. It makes me aware that in certain papers you read about heroic efforts to keep an unborn Panda "baby" alive in one article, and in the very next you read about the unborn "fetus" living in a woman.

19 Twenty years ago, children born at 28 weeks had very little chance of surviving. Today, 90% of those born at 28 weeks do survive, and fifty percent of those born at 24 weeks survive. This means that when a pregnancy is placing a mother at risk the child can be born earlier and survive.

20 Today professionalized services exist to care for women who agree to carry their baby to term. (It's worth noting that free care centers designed to support pregnant women were established eight years before the Roe ruling.)

21 Putin has said that the number one threat facing Russia in the future will be their inability to defend their borders because they will not have enough soldiers to staff the military. And China's one child policy has led to selective abortions (girls are aborted because the couple wants a son) that has lead to dangerous imbalances. The ratio of boys to girls is normally 105 to 100. The ratio in India is 112 to 100. In China it's 121 to 100, with some Chinese cities at 150 to 100. Thanks to India and China the world's ratios are now off - they are 107 to 100. And, because women have a "civilizing effect" on men, this imbalance is more troubling than you might imagine. A report prepared by the Institute of Child Health at University College in London and Zhejiang Normal University, noted that "the large cohorts of surplus males in China presently reaching adulthood are predominantly of low socioeconomic class, and concerns have been expressed that their lack of marriageability, and consequent marginalization in society, may lead to anti-social behavior and violence, threatening societal stability and security." The study noted that 94% of unmarried Chinese between the ages of 28 and 49 are male, and 97% of them have not graduated from high school. (See: Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and "Consequences of a World Full of Men, and People and Population," Touchstone, Nov. 2006, p. 59).

22 We see this in other ways. Lies lead to more lies. Sin leads to more sin. When we jump the tracks we get in trouble. We end up asking questions like, "How can we get rid of this child we do not want?" and are unable to see that we should be asking, "What is wrong with me for not wanting this child?"

23 One of the little discussed points about abortion is that it appears to be unfairly hurting minority populations. While only 13 percent of this country is African American, 39 percent of abortions are performed on African American mothers. Several different data points are worth noting here: 1) Dr. Martin Luther King's niece refers to abortion as "Black Genocide:" 2) Michael Novak has argued that the black population would be 35% larger than it is without abortion; 3) Terrell Clemmons notes that Margaret Sanger was an "open racist and eugenicist" who wanted to use abortion to rid the world of "human weeds," starting with "the Negro population." (Terrell Clemmons, "Wages for Sin," Salvo, Winter 2010, p. 60); 4) Lila Rose notes that 80 percent of Planned Parenthood's abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods. (Lila Rose, "Fight for Life," First Things, Oct. 2010, Vol. 54, No. 206, p. 15f.); and 5) Clenard H. Childress states that "the most dangerous place for an African American to be is in the womb of his or her African American mother." (Clenard H. Childress Jr., "ProLife's Next Movement," Christianity Today, Oct. 2009, p. 56.

24 This is easy to see in China, which now has hundreds of thousands of more men than women because girl babies were much more frequently aborted. The same is true in India and in the United States.

25 In Her Choice, Her Problem, Richard Stith writes, "Easy access to abortion has increased expectation and frequency of sexual intercourse (including unprotected intercourse) among young people, making it more difficult for a woman to deny herself to a man without losing him, thus increasing pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. (See, for instance, Jonathan Klick and Thomas Stratmann's 2003 study, "The Effect of Abortion Legalization on Sexual Behavior" in the Journal of Legal Studies). Furthermore, if a woman attempts to choose birth instead of abortion, she may well find the child's father pushing the other way, and refusing to take any responsibility for the child if she chooses to keep it." Stith argues that others - family, friends, employers, etc - may also less help for a young woman who chooses to keep the child because if she chose to go through with the pregnancy then she must have reasoned that she could take care of the child on her own. (Richard Stith, Her Choice, Her Problem: How Abortion Empowers Men, First Things, Aug/Sept 2009, p. 7f).

26 There are several different ways to argue that abortion is harmful to women. 1) There is clear evidence that many women regret the procedure. Dr. Theresa Burke, the founder of Rachel's Vineyard - a care program for women suffering from post abortion depression - and the author of Forbidden Grief, notes that sixty to seventy percent of women who undergo abortion have a negative opinion of the procedure. Burke believes that increased levels of depression, eating disorders, suicide, and self-destructive behaviors among women in the last thirty years, are at least party linked to this. In August of 2008, the Justice Foundation released a statement by 100 scientists, physicians, and mental health professionals stating that "Significant numbers of women suffer serious physical, mental, and psychological trauma as a result of an abortion." The US Supreme Court cited the Justice Foundation's Amicus Brief when upholding the ban on Partial Birth Abortions. Likewise, a 2008 article in the Journal of Psychiatric Research noted that, "Abortion was found to be related to an increased risk for a variety of mental health problems (panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, major depression with and without hierarchy), and substance abuse disorders after statistical controls were instituted for a wide range of personal, situational, and demographic variables." And a 2006 report in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence reports that teens who abort were five times more likely to seek subsequent help for psychological and emotional problems than teens who carried their pregnancies to term. (Terrell Clemmons, Roe v. Wade: Pro Choice Clearly Harms Those It Claims to Help, Salvo, Issue 10, Autumn 2009, p. 18ff. As an aside, it's interesting to note how Lorena Bobbitt's defense was covered by the media years ago. Bobbitt was found not guilty as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, incurred because John Wayne Bobbitt had forced her to have an abortion. The attack on her husband occurred nearly three years to the date of her abortion. (Mary Walsh, Healing Pain, A Book Review of Forbidden Grief, by Theresa Burke, Ph.D., Touchstone, Jan/Feb 2003, p. 53.)

27 Terrell Clemmons, Roe v Women: Pro Choice Clearly Harms Those It Claims to Help, Salvo, Autumn, 2009, p. 21.

28 In today's pluralistic culture we cannot expect others - nor our government - to accept the authority of the Bible. Our rationale must make sense to others.

29 It also suggests that the way forward will come through the courts, and I am not only not persuaded that this is true, but worry that it makes those who oppose abortion look like every other interest group that turns to the courts to demand their way.

30 I would argue that when rights conflict - such as when "the right to not be pregnant" conflicts with the right to not be killed - justice demands that we give place to the greater right, - i.e., the one that does the least harm. The Pro-Choice side frames the discussion differently, arguing that the rights of a woman to control her own body supersede the rights of a "mindless collection of cells."

31 We need to contend that the State cannot decriminalize abortion because the act is criminal by its very nature.

32 The discussion of rights is explored a bit in Reardon's article, "The Not-So-Good Samaritans." There he writes: Truth to tell, the very notion of rights within a family strikes me as rather cumbersome, obtrusive, and distracting. I wonder, do any of us, within the family, even have rights? Well, I suppose we do, but not, I think, in a sense immediately significant. Families are constituted and held together, rather, by needs, affections, and responsibilities, not rights. I cannot picture what rights are involved when meals are cooked and floors mopped and garbage taken out to the curb. These are simply things that need to be done, and we do them out of love, and the business of the family is to decide who will be responsible for doing them. Families, that is to say, have needs, affections, and responsibilities.

33 Read Phil 2:5-11.

34 See Ryan T. Anderson's article, Protected in Law, Cared for in Life, First Things, Aug/Sept. 2011, p. 41.

35 "Contrary to established opinion, the disagreement is not, at root, a legal one … None of the various legal outcomes will settle the dispute or even ease the tensions between these two groups, because the abortion controversy is in its nature a cultural controversy. No matter what happens in courts and legislatures, the abortion issue will not disappear until we somehow reach a greater consensus with respect to the standards of justice and goodness our communities will abide by." What Americans Really Think About Abortion, James Davidson Hunter, First Things, June/July 1992.

36 In January of 2005 President Bush spoke at a prolife rally. In his speech he endorsed their goal of making abortion illegal. But said that it was not likely to be achieved anytime soon. And he added that, "a true culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts." In the opening editorial of the Feb. 22nd, 2005 issues of the Christian Century, this point was reaffirmed by pointing out that Belgian and Dutch women have fewer abortions (7 per 1,000) even though it is legal than women in Peru, Brazil, Chile and Columbia (50 per 1,000) - where it is illegal. (Abortion: Facing Facts, The Christian Century, Feb. 22, 2005, p. 5).

37 While commenting on Jane Roe, it is worth also noting that Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a co-founder of NARAL (the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Rights Action League, which later become the National Abortion Rights Action League and then NARAL Pro-Choice America) and who not only testified on behalf of abortion rights in the Roe v Wade case but also later carried out or supervised 75,000 abortions, is now vigorously opposed to abortion. Nathanson changed his mind after watching an abortion via ultrasound, which is the second reason people change their minds. (Clemmons, Salvo, p. 60). (Some change their minds because they are loved. Others change their minds once they fully understand just what an abortion is).

38 It's worth noting that those who change from a Pro-Life position to a Pro-Choice one generally do so because they - or their daughter - get in trouble. Those who change from Pro-Choice to Pro-Life do so either because they have an abortion (or learn more about it) or because they are loved and cared for by someone on the prolife side. (Gary Thomas is the co-author with Norma McCovey of Won by Love, the story of Norma's conversion. It is published by Thomas Nelson.

39 The minimum purpose of the law is to protect the weak from violence. "To our great grandchildren it will be obvious that this was the civil-rights challenge of our time, and we will be judged for our response. If we are not moved when people kill children, nothing will ever move us." Frederica Mathews-Green, "The Abortion Debate is Over," Christianity Today, Dec. 1999, p. 86.

40 The Guttenberg Institute reports that 18 percent of women having abortions identify as evangelicals. Others report that the cars of women arriving at abortion clinics often have "Bibles in the front seat" and "religious bumper stickers on the back."

41 We actually take a vow to do this. When people join the church we accept them into our lives and pledge to walk alongside them. These vows are not a mere formality. That is what it means to be part of a church family.

42 There is some indication that we are headed in that direction. In recent years the number of people who identify themselves as prolife has gone up, especially among the young. Jennifer Senior, a pro-choice advocate, notes that "The youngest generation of voters - those between the ages of 18 and 29, and therefore most likely to need an abortion - is the most pro-life to come along since the generation born during the Great Depression." (First Things, April 2010, p. 71). It is not entirely clear why this is happening. Some - e.g., Nancy Cohen of the LA Times - believe the word Pro-Life is a nicer word than Pro-Choice. She now advocates that the Pro-Choice camp change their name to Pro-Freedom. Others - those on the Pro-Life position - feel that a key factor has been the Internet, which offers unfiltered pictures of babies in various stages of development and also of various types of abortions. Whatever the reasons, the trend is a source of great consternation among those who favor abortion rights. Both Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe and activist Gloria Feldt are very concerned about the fact that movies (Juno, Knocked Up, Waitress and Bella) often portray the decision to keep a baby in a positive light and that, "Social liberals are backing off on the idea that it's possible to have an abortion and not be ruined by it." First Things (May 2008, p. 78)

Mike Woodruff is senior pastor of Christ Church Lake Forest in Lake Forest, Illinois.

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Editor's Note: We normally do not include footnotes in our sermons, but Woodruff's endnotes provide some excellent resource material for further study and thinking on this subject.

The Story Behind the Sermon (By Mike Woodruff)

It's been a long time since I've dreaded preaching on a topic as much as I did this one. It's not that I feared the comments of those who disagreed with my position; it's that I feared hurting those who already live with shame and regret. In light of the risk, I worked hard to write a message that could stand up against criticism and to write a message I could preach to the woman who has had an abortion and has felt shamed by the church. (I also asked a number of people to read over a couple early drafts and help me strike the right tone.)

The response was a bit surprising: 1) I was surprised by how much email this sermon generated; 2) I was surprised by how many women who had had abortions (or men who had paid for them) thanked me for speaking out on the topic; 3) I was sobered by how many not only pulled me aside to tell me—confess really—that they had or recommended an abortion, but by how many of them said something like, "Next Tuesday it will be 38 years since the worst decision of my life."

I will not speak on this topic frequently, but I believe it's critical for pastors to take a public stand on this issue, and to do so with the right blend of conviction and grace.


I. The classic Christian position

II. The current reality

III. A pastoral response