September 29, 2020

Beyond the bizarre and the arbitrary: How I became pro-life

“Doctors should not be aborting fetuses at a stage at which another doctor “operating under a different set of instructions” could give that same baby a reasonable chance of leading a full and healthy life.”
Charlotte Edwardes, undercover reporter for the London Telegraph, who revealed how the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the U.K.’s largest abortion provider, was circumventing late-term abortion laws in that country by sending women to a Spanish clinic that falsely certifies that every woman who comes to the clinic is in grave danger.

Ahh…the world has finally caught up with me 🙂 Here’s the story.

I was somewhere in the later stages of my liberalism, maybe about 1985, when I went to Boston the first time. While I never toured a hospital while I was there, I was around the medical centers several times. Plenty impressive. And somewhere in the neighborhood, I saw a “Women’s Clinic.” A clinic where abortions were performed. This pairing of technologies and decisions made an impression on me.

The Southern Baptist moderates I identified with at that time didn’t talk about abortion. They talked about women’s rights, children growing up in poverty, overpopulation, no government interference in family “planning,” and all that sort of thing. I had started to be uncomfortable with the lack of serious engagement with the topic back in seminary when my ethics professor took us on an exegetical excursion into texts that- in his opinion- taught that the fetus wasn’t considered a “person” until it arrived and breathed on its own. I knew that infant mortality affected the way ancient cultures looked at children, but the plain texts I knew applied were unanimous that the child was a person in God’s sight as long as God had ever known anything of their existence.

One of my youth group kids asked our pastor to preach on abortion….and he refused. I never forgot that. I was hardly a pro-lifer, but it struck me that the pro-choice people I knew really couldn’t talk about “the procedure.” Why?

So it was in that frame of mind that I first thought of the high irony before me in the medical district in Boston. On one block, a clinic where a woman could abort and dispose of a fetus for less than $500. At the other end of the block, a world class hospital where that same fetus- deemed “premature”- would have millions of dollars of technology and personnel going furiously to work to preserve its life. What was the difference? A few days of time or some set of physical characteristics? Some clear ethical boundary between human and not human? No….the difference was nothing more than the attitude of human beings, and that attitude was arbitrary and pragmatic, not ethical or Biblical.

This sort of ethical contradiction drove me to the position my friend eric rigney has long advocated. If you really, truly don’t know, then err on the side of caution. In other words, if there really is a two-sided discussion of humanity and viability, then err on the side of preserving humanity and promoting life, not on the side of the right to terminate.

Ever since that visit to Boston, I have effectively used this illustration with students when discussing abortion. They get it. It is common sense, and doesn’t need a lot of sophistication to understand. I amplify it with the observation that many states that allow this kind of bizarre choice also punish people for cruelty to cats, puppies and baby eagles. Clearly, we have a culture in confusion, and one doesn’t need to be a Ph.d in ethics to see that we have technologically outrun our wisdom about moral matters. In such an instance, the safe and prudent place to be is a conservative, pro-life position.