I recently had the opportunity to teach three classes at a local Christian High School. I was asked to come in and talk about the pro-life / pro-choice debate in our country, so I began by reading Mary Elizabeth Williams’ recent article for Salon.com entitled, “So What If Abortion Ends Life?” The article was a wake-up call for most of these students, even though they had been well prepared as Christian Case Makers. Over the past several weeks, their instructor, none other than Sean McDowell, had been effectively preparing them to make a case for the pro-life position. They were more than adequately prepared to argue that life begins at conception, and they were well versed in the SLED strategy popularized by Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute. But after reading Williams’ article, it was clear that the battleground on the abortion issue is beginning to shift, and this shift is going to cause us to rethink our approach to the debate.
Williams accepts (and even argues) that life begins at conception, yet she is still pro-choice. In fact, she makes the following statements:
“I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.”
“Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal.”
“I can say anecdotally that I’m a mom who loved the lives she incubated from the moment she peed on those sticks, and is also now well over 40 and in an experimental drug trial. If by some random fluke I learned today I was pregnant, you bet your ass I’d have an abortion. I’d have the World’s Greatest Abortion.”
“I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.”
I may be wrong, but I believe that Williams is articulating the new and growing pro-choice position. She seems to acknowledge that the pro-life arguments (like the strategy embodied in the SLED paradigm) are effective and reasonable. In fact, she articulates the SLED model as though she was a pro-life advocate! But she argues that some lives are simply worth sacrificing. She’s right, and unless we help her understand which lives can be justifiably sacrificed, we won’t have a voice in this debate. The battle ground may shift for the next generation from arguing that life begins at conception to articulating the nature of justifiable homicide.
As Christians, we believe that murder is wrong (Exodus 20:13); but the Bible clearly distinguishes between murder and killing. The scriptures teach us that an accidental killing is not murder (see Exodus 21:12-13 and Numbers 35:22-25) and they also provide for important exceptions related to justifiable killings. A killing performed in self-defense, for example, is not considered to be a murder (see Exodus 22:2). In addition, a killing performed in an attempt to save the life of an innocent person is not murder (see Exodus 2:11-12 and Genesis 14:14-16). These two exceptions, a killing performed to protect one’s own life and a killing performed to protect the life of an innocent, are not merely Biblical exceptions; they are accepted as exceptions by the non-believing culture as well. In California, penal code sections 187, 196 and 197 affirm justifiable killing in these two situations. Every state in the Union has laws such as these; yes there are times when a life must be sacrificed, but we need to help people like Mary Elizabeth Williams understand when the situation is appropriate.
Williams would have us lower the bar on justifiable homicide significantly. Read her comments carefully:
“A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”
As a law-abiding American and a Christian, I agree that there are times when we are justified in taking the life of a human (even a fetal human); but only when that life threatens the life of an innocent person (like the mother whose life is at risk if she continues the pregnancy). Although this is a tragically sad circumstance, we do have legal and Biblical justification. But Williams and others like her want more than this; they want to be able to take human life when the only thing threatened is the “circumstance” of the mother. In other words, pro-choice advocates want homicides to be justified over nothing more than matters of convenience. 87-92% of the abortions performed in America are simply a matter of social, economic or emotional expediency:
“I’m not ready for a baby. The timing is wrong for me.”
“I can’t afford a baby now.”
“I already have finished having the children I planned on having. I have other people depending on me; my children are grown.”
“I don’t want to be a single mother. I am having relationship problems.”
“I don’t feel mature enough to raise a child. I feel too young.”
“This child would interfere with my education or career plans.”
“My husband (or partner) wants me to have an abortion.”
“My parents want me to have an abortion.”
“I don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant.”
These are the real reasons women take the lives of fetal humans, according to their own explanations at the time of their abortions. Only 4% of women who have abortions offer that some physical problem with their health is motivating them; none are required to present a doctor’s diagnosis and some choose this category because they are simply experiencing morning sickness.
I admire the clarity of Williams’ thinking related to the humanity of fetal humans. Now it’s time for her to think clearly about what justifies the homicides of these same humans. Surely the justifications cannot be anything less than what we already accept for justifiable homicide in this country. I’m simply in favor of enforcing the law as it stands in this matter, and I hope others recognize the wisdom of these homicide statutes as well. The discussion of what justifies a killing may be the future battleground of the abortion debate.