Palm Springs, California, is the scene of spring break madness for thousands of West Coast college students. During Holy Week of 1989 police had their hands full dealing with drunkenness, nudity, and unrelenting revelry. More than 1,000 students were arrested before order was restored in that desert community.
Meanwhile, 110 miles away in Los Angeles an equal number of people also found themselves in jail. Not for drinking or carousing; these were praying, singing Christians crusading against the loss of babies through abortion.
Is there any matter of morality that so divides society as abortion? Many consider it to be the greatest moral issue of our time. The Adventist Church must come to terms with it.
Right from the start I want to affirm the sincerity I've met on both sides of the abortion debate, both within and outside the church. It grieves me when otherwise reasonable and pleasant people of either persuasion insist upon denigrating those of different convictions.
This controversy escapes simple solutions. Thoughtful Christians value life as God's sacred gift, but they also treasure religious liberty, with its freedom of conscience. No wonder many find them selves torn between pro-life and pro-choice. Can we possibly have it both ways? That is, can we be both pro-life and pro-choice? I think you will see that we can, in a quiet, thoughtful spirit of Christian understanding.
The abortive lifestyle
There's more here than first meets the mind. Abortion involves more than an act of terminating pregnancy; it has be come the preferred lifestyle for many in our society the way they cope with any problem that comes their way. Is there trouble at school? Don't bother to study harder, just abort your education. That's the take-it-easy attitude we have today. Are you having problems at work? Quit abort your job. Has holy wedlock become unhappy deadlock? Divorce abort your vows. Are you faltering in your Christian experience? Take the easy way out and abort your relationship with Jesus.
You see, abortion is often an attempt to escape the consequences of one's actions. Those who regard abortion as a form of belated birth control belie a truth of Scripture so clearly taught from Genesis to Revelation: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption" (Gal. 6:7, 8).*
There can be no doubt about it; the Bible says we will reap what we sow. But abortion as birth control attempts to es cape this fundamental fact of life by stopping a human heart from beating.
Consider the case of a popular, fun-loving teenager who belonged to a church I once served as pastor. Let's call her Jennifer. Her pursuit of happiness got her pregnant. The solution seemed simple enough to her overindulgent parents: get their little girl off the hook (and save their reputation) with an abortion. Why should the family have to suffer through a disruptive and embarrassing pregnancy?
Getting an abortion is always a traumatic event in itself a reality that es capes many pro-life activists. The fact remains, however, that the instant cancellation of pregnancy appears to provide the quickest, easiest route back to normalcy. That's why Jennifer and her parents opted for it.
Unfortunately, having aborted her problem, Jennifer never learned her lesson. Next summer she got pregnant again. And again after that. Four abortions be fore the age of 21, believe it or not. Somewhere along the way she stopped attending church. When I arrived as her new pastor, she had already aborted Christianity with its restrictive standards.
I wonder what would have happened if Jennifer had not attempted to escape reality with that first abortion. Nine months of pregnancy would have been tough, but that trauma might have taught her one of life's most important lessons: we must bear the consequences of our actions.
The value system of our society is in shambles. Think about it. Suppose it were a little dolphin swimming around in the pregnant mother's womb. You can be sure that Hollywood's save-the-dolphin protesters would furiously defend its right to life. But the same activists who are so militant about preserving every dolphin in the ocean don't show equal concern for humanity in the womb.
It seems strange, doesn't it? Such is the religion of secular humanism.
Christianity, on the other hand, values life as a gift from God. The bottom line for us, then, is whether a preborn child is really alive. If it is a living human being, we must ask the question: What has that baby done to deserve death?
Viability and personhood
I know what some of you are thinking. You believe that a preborn baby isn't really alive because it doesn't have the breath of life. In reality, a baby in the womb is just as much a consumer of oxygen as anyone else. Yes, mother's help is needed to process that life-sustaining air, but many adults undergoing surgery also need help breathing. Without that respirator they would die. Do they cease being human beings during their operation because they cannot breathe on their own?
Even after a baby is born and can begin breathing, it still isn't fully "viable," that is, capable of living on its own. It can't feed itself, support itself financially, or even roll over in its crib. Obviously, viability has nothing to do with personhood.
Consider also the elderly and severely handicapped who cannot live on their own. Does that mean they aren't real people? This type of thinking gave birth to Hitler's "final solution." The Nazis considered helpless members of society to be expendable "useless eaters." Some thoughtful minds ponder the staggering cost of more than 25 million unborn lives and worry whether a new holocaust is happening right here in America.
Do you find that hard to believe? The truth is that an preborn baby has all the indications of humanity well within the first trimester of life. He or she has a perfectly formed body with organs functioning. About the 21st day after conception even before the mother may know she is pregnant the heart of her baby is already pumping blood. Unborn babies have amazing capabilities that medical science is just now beginning to appreciate. They already have their own personalities. They can recognize the voice of their mothers, who in turn are bonded to that life within the womb. When a mother violates the unwritten law of maternal instinct by aborting her baby, no wonder she often feels nagging guilt.
Seeking to make abortion easy for the mother, pro-choice advocates go to great lengths in denying that a human being is being killed. For example, one church policy statement on abortion refers to it as the "interruption" of pregnancy as if John Wilkes Booth merely "interrupted" the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.
We can argue back and forth about exactly when life begins, but the burden of proof belongs to those who would invade the womb and terminate that life.
Obviously a short trip down the birth canal does not convert a depersonalized fetus into a human being—life must begin sometime beforehand. Some point to the passing of one trimester to another, but there is no magical transformation from one division of time to the next. The most natural, logical position is that life begins at conception. From that instant onward until adulthood there is continuous growth and maturing.
Stop and think about what is called a fetus. If it does not have life, then why does it have a beating heart? And if it isn't a human being, what kind of being is it? If it isn't a child, why is it sucking its thumb?
Here's something else to consider. If unborn babies are not living beings, where was Jesus while Mary was pregnant? Did He cease to exist for nine months? We don't have to guess. Scripture says that the virgin Mary was "with child of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:18). Did you see that? The eternal Lord was a real, living child inside the womb of Mary!
The Bible in a number of places refers to unborn babies as people. We see this when Christ's aunt Elizabeth met His mother Mary: "And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41).
According to the Bible, what Elizabeth carried inside her womb was a baby! Not a mass of developing fetal tissue, but a bouncing baby boy. In the light of both biological and scriptural evidence, can we possibly escape the conviction that abortion terminates human life? And what right do we have to stop that precious beating heart?
Scripture explicitly defends the rights of preborn babies. If an assailant in Old Testament times struck a woman and caused her to give birth prematurely, he was fined. But if that unborn life was lost, the sentence was death: "You shall appoint as a penalty life for life" (Ex. 21:23, NASB).1
To many atheists and agnostics, an unborn baby is just fetal tissue evolving in the womb a symbol of the evolutionary process. Such a denial of life that God has granted violates the sixth commandment. Also the fourth. The Sabbath commandment requires respect for created life. Abortion, by sabotaging God's life in the womb, undermines the Sabbath.
Abortion actually treats the unborn baby as the moral equivalent of a tumor. Discard "it" as you please, no questions asked. How sad. Feminists of the radical type warn, "Get your hands off my body!" Well, if God has seen fit to grant life to those babies in the womb, shouldn't we get our hands off their little bodies? Jesus said of Himself: "The Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it" (John 5:21, NIV). He also declared: "I hold the keys of death" (Rev. 1:18, NIV). The act of abortion overrides what might be God's will for that baby, giving humans the prerogative of determining life or death. You see, then, that abortion actually makes mere mortals play the role of God. It therefore receives its authority from the one who said "Ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5, KJV). Is it possible that those who defend abortion, well-meaning though they may be, actually promote the work of the devil? Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!
I think you will agree that there's quite a powerful case for being pro-life, but what about the other side of the coin? What about human choice can we be pro-choice as well as pro-life? Certainly, as long as we understand that women make that choice at the time of sexual intercourse. If the woman willingly engages in sex that results in conception, hasn't she already exercised her freedom of choice?
There is no such thing as unlimited freedom of choice. Personal freedom can not violate another person's rights. In other words, your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. And a woman's right over her body ends where her baby's body begins. Just because that helpless preborn baby can't defend itself doesn't mean it has no rights.
But what about pregnancies from rape and incest? Such cases deserve special consideration since the mother never had opportunity to exercise her legitimate free choice. Why should she be forced to face the consequences of someone else's crime? Because of this, many who normally oppose abortion approve such an option in cases of forced pregnancy. Since the mother was impregnated without her choice, wouldn't she have the right to defend herself against that intrusion? Why must she reap what she didn't sow?
And what about performing an abortion to save the life of the mother? Such cases are relatively rare, but occasionally doctors find themselves faced with the terrible dilemma of deciding whether mother or child should live. In such situations abortion is the only way to preserve life, which is our object of concern here.
At this point we must venture into an especially delicate area. What if the unborn baby is genetically crippled? Often in such cases the mother's body deals with the crisis by causing a miscarriage. But suppose God sees fit to let the baby develop—who are we to decide whether its quality of life is worth the trouble of coping with a handicap? Many handicapped people enjoy profoundly fulfilling lives.
I know we are tiptoeing through some delicate and controversial questions here. A strong case can be made that life is so sacred that no human has the right to choose abortion under any circumstances. Some answers don't come easy, but while we debate what to do in cases of rape, incest, genetic disability, and saving the life of the mother, let's do something now about the vast majority of abortions in which a healthy mother rids herself of a healthy baby that exists by her own free choice. We could immediately relieve society of the burden of more than 95 percent of its abortions. Having accomplished that, we could continue to discuss the ethics of abortion in those other situations.
Well, those are my convictions about abortion. I wish you could know how I have agonized over this article. Having been a pastor, I know something of the anguish women suffer when they consider an abortion. They need compassion, not condemnation, whatever they decide to do. And if they do make the courageous choice of preserving that life within them, the crisis isn't over it has only just begun. They need help in bringing their babies into the world and pulling their own lives back together. The church has a solemn responsibility to stand by their side.
An Adventist layperson in California, George Lawson, has launched Loving Options, a ministry for women in crisis pregnancy. Qualified Christian professionals volunteer their time at the clinic, offering counseling and medical services to pregnant women willing to consider other options than abortion for their pregnancy.2 I wish Loving Options would have been there 11 years ago to help Jennifer, that troubled teenager in the church I pastored. Along with medical services and other assistance, they would have provided spiritual encouragement. She would have heard from them some thing like this:
"Jennifer, please understand that God loves you despite your mistakes. He has a special plan for your life and for the life of that little baby inside you. You might not be able to provide a home for your baby, but many childless couples are praying every night before an empty bassinet. By entrusting your baby to their care, you can turn your own nightmare into the fulfillment of their dreams.
"Perhaps you feel guilty about the abortions you've already had. Just con fess your sin to Jesus and claim His gift of forgiveness. Actually, we are all guilty of sin and deserving of death. The Bible says that all of us, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. But thank God, at the cross He laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all.
"Yes, Jennifer, Jesus paid the full price of our salvation. Now we can stand clean before God, just as if we had never done anything wrong. Just as if we've always done everything perfectly! And the Lord not only forgives us and counts us perfect; He also gives us anew life free from sinful, hurtful relationships."
I wish I could report that Jennifer came back to Jesus and the church. That would be a nice way to end the story. She didn't quite make her decision, but at least she learned at last that aborting her problems isn't the way to solve them.
* Unless otherwise noted, scriptural passages in this article are from the New King James Version.
1. Defenders of abortion attempt to prove from Exodus 21 that the fetus in the womb is inferior to human life. I believe that an unbiased analysis of the Hebrew text proves otherwise. Evidence for this is in the preceding article by Ron du Preez, "The Fetus in Biblical Law." If one disagrees with this interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25, the fact remains that we cannot determine personhood by whether or not the death penalty exists for killing that life. Notice a verse immediately preceding our passage (verse 20), in which someone who kills a slave is not put to death but merely punished. Nobody in today's society would deny that a slave is a human being yet the Bible doesn't enforce the death penalty for killing a slave.
2. Loving Options is a nonprofit crisis pregnancy ministry. Their newsletter is available by contacting them at 24769 Redlands Blvd., Suite E, San Bemardino, CA 92408.