12.09.2008

Abortion, Part 4: Why Abortion Is A Deal Breaker


The original question that got this series kicked off (well over a month ago—I really am sorry it has taken me so long) was, “What makes abortion a deal breaker as opposed to the other moral issues?

I’m really just now getting around to answering that question, but in order to really do it justice, I thought it was necessary to first lay some groundwork about what I believe abortion really is, and about how I vote.

To succinctly sum up what we’ve discussed so far, I firmly believe that life begins at conception, and that abortion is, therefore, nothing less than the taking of an innocent human life. I realize that some people disagree with me on this, but in order to reach the conclusion that an unborn infant isn’t a human being, I think you have to reject Scripture, science and logic.

Having established (at least, in my mind) exactly what abortion is, the next question is how that should affect our voting behavior. Abortion is a moral issue, and when it comes to voting I think moral issues are the most important, but as we discussed in the last post, there are a bunch of moral issues.

Neither major party lines up perfectly with my views on the many different moral issues, which should leave me gridlocked, unable to decide how I should vote—unless one issue overrides all the others. And that brings us to this post.

So why does abortion trump other issues?

The Severity of Abortion

To start off, I’m going to ask you to attempt to do something which is actually quite difficult.

I said in an earlier post that abortion is an important issue because it is either the equivalent of brushing off skin cells, or it is the equivalent of shooting your next door neighbor. Since I believe that human life begins at conception, I think it is the latter.

And yet, here’s the scary part: while I can intellectually equate abortion with killing a next door neighbor, emotionally, even to me, it doesn’t seem as bad. Why is that?

It’s because of the culture we live in. Our values, our opinions, the way we look at things are all tremendously influenced by the culture that surrounds us. For a moment (and this is the difficult part), I want you to try to step outside of that culture.

Step outside of the word fetus. It’s a word which really just means baby. An unborn, human baby, with a beating heart, and a world of potential. It’s a word that our culture likes because it sounds so scientific, and because it helps us avoid the annoying problem of granting personal rights to the object in question.

Step outside of the word abortion. It’s a word which really just means murder1. It is the act of intentionally ending a human life. It’s another word that we like because it sounds so clean and clinical—it becomes just a medical procedure from which any question of morality is removed.

These words are euphemisms. Toss them aside.

Now think about the procedure. The methods differ significantly2, but really, the same thing happens each time—a mother goes to see a doctor for the purpose of ending the life of the child she is carrying inside her.

Two lives enter the doctor’s office, but only one leaves. A baby has been killed.

That’s what abortion is. No other issue exceeds the severity of abortion. It’s a matter of life and death.

The Magnitude of Abortion

You may argue that there are other “matters of life and death,” and you’d be right—but all of them pale in comparison to the damage to human life caused by abortion. I’ll apologize in advance for all the statistics, but sometimes numbers really do tell the tale.

First of all, consider that there are 17,000 murders each year in the United States3. That may seem like a large figure, until you compare it to the number of U.S. abortions each year—approximately 1,200,0004.

That’s the equivalent of the Holocaust every five years—and we’re legally doing it to our own children.

Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, over 48,000,000 infants have lost their lives via abortion in the United States. That’s roughly equal to the combined total populations of the states of California and Illinois, or the population of Texas two times over.

Those are staggering numbers. However, I don’t think you can fully grasp the magnitude of abortion (I know I didn’t) until you compare it with the other leading causes of child deaths worldwide (these are yearly totals):
  • Number of children who die of HIV/AIDS: 290,0005
  • Number of children who die of easily preventable diseases: 8,000,0006
  • Number of children who die of hunger and malnutrition: 6,000,0007
  • Number of children who die as a result of war: 2,000,0008
  • Number of children who die of abuse or neglect (widely considered under-reported): 53,0009
  • Number of abortions: 45,000,00010
It isn’t even close—abortion kills far more children each year than all the other main causes combined.

There may be other issues that are literally a matter of life and death, but none of them even approaches the scale that abortion is on. No other issue matches the magnitude of abortion. It is the great evil of our time.

A Historical Perspective: Slavery

My basic premise—the notion that one particular issue can be more important than all others—is derided by a lot of people as being inherently flawed. However, when you look through the lens of history at the issue of slavery, I think it’s clear that the premise is perfectly sound—sometimes an evil can be so widespread and prevalent that it dims other issues by comparison.

It took a Civil War, but eventually, we got the slavery issue right, and looking back with our 21st century eyes, it’s hard for us to imagine that people could have ever justified it in the first place.

Yet interestingly, the issues of slavery and abortion bear striking similarities.

Consider that in both cases, the suffering of the victims was allowed on the basis that they were considered to be sub-human. This thinking was furthered by the use of words like slave and fetus.

In both cases, the victims were treated as the property of others, without rights of their own.

In both cases, an evil practice was justified because of its economic benefit. Slavery was the backbone of Southern economy, considered by many to be a necessary evil. Similarly, proponents of abortion often describe it as a necessary evil, sometimes the “only option” for impoverished mothers.

And in both cases, good but misguided people made the mistake of refusing to condemn the unacceptable behavior of others. Slavery continued for as long as it did because too many people who would never consider owning a slave themselves refused to take that “right” away from others. Think about the typical Pro-Choice bumper stickers and protest signs you see and translate them to the slavery issue: “Opposed to slavery? Don’t buy one!” It seems ludicrous to us today, but until we as a culture can realize that with abortion—as with slavery—humans are being denied basic human rights, such flawed thinking will continue.

One last similarity between the two issues that I’ll mention is that the road to abolition was a long and tough one, with many setbacks. Sometimes I grow very discouraged about the state of abortion in America. I think that laws and opinions will never be changed, and that most politicians (even Pro-Life politicians) don’t really care about changing them.

But on my better, more optimistic days, I believe that some day, long after abortion has been outlawed, we’ll look back as a culture and shake our heads in shame at what we once allowed (as we now look back at slavery).

Conclusion

This is the reality of our world: currently, U.S. law allows mothers to legally kill their own children via abortion. It happens 1.2 million times each year, or once every 26 seconds. Worldwide, abortions kill more children each year than all the other leading causes combined.

The original question was, Why is abortion a deal breaker?” In all humility and sincerity, my response is, “How could it not be?




1 In a few instances, I guess you could argue that abortion isn’t exactly murder. For example, if the life of the mother was endangered, then maybe it would be self-defense. Or in the case of a woman who had been raped, maybe her emotional state would lessen the charges. But these are exceptions which just help to prove the general rule that abortion is murder.
2 Sometimes drugs are taken which kill the infant, other times the tiny growing child is sucked out of the mother via syringe, sometimes harmful chemicals are injected into the amniotic fluid, and sometimes the baby’s head is crushed and then manually removed. See more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion#Abortion_methods
3 http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm
4 http://www.nrlc.org/ABORTION/facts/abortionstats.html
5 http://www.unicef.org/aids/
6 Easily preventable diseases includes things like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis A & B, yellow fever, mumps, malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections, etc. (Source: The Lancet).
7 http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2005/1000151/index.html
8 http://www.unicef.org
9 http://www.unicef.org/sowc06/
10 http://www.wpro.who.int/sites/rph/data/abortion.htm

Thanks to Jonathan Reinhardt for help with many of the statistics and their sources.

8 comments:

Jared Dockery 12/9/08, 4:06 PM  

Well done, Luke. Very well done.

lookinferlearnin 12/9/08, 4:20 PM  

Excellent!!!

Luke 12/10/08, 12:54 PM  

Jared,

Thanks.

Luke 12/10/08, 12:55 PM  

lookinferlearnin,

Welcome to the blog. Thanks for reading and for the compliment!

Alex 12/12/08, 12:05 AM  

Luke,
I apologize that I have not commented on any other portion of this very enlightening series until now. I appreciate very much your dedication to your conscience, your morals, and the guidance of the Spirit.

I should preface what I am about to say: I despite abortion. It is a heinous, dark practice that I would never endorse. I completely understand why this makes or breaks the deal for you.

Having said that, I wish I could possess the optimism you have. Even if abortion is outlawed, the practice will continue, in alleys if not in clinics. Slavery is more easily policed than abortion, which is why it even could be abolished. I will rejoice the day that abortion becomes a violation of the law, but I cannot help but think that that day is distant if not impossible.

Here is my point, which I believe you would agree with: Christians should seek to influence people first, not policy. The best way to end abortion is to convince others, especially its supporters, of abortion's terrible nature, not rally for forceful, blanket legislation.

[I apologize if this at all echoes earlier comments--I did not check.]

It is a terribly difficult issue to address, but you have done so with eloquence. Thank you again for your extensive thoughts.

Luke 12/12/08, 10:45 AM  

Alex,

Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I’ll respond to your two points separately, although the responses will probably overlap somewhat:

Even if abortion is outlawed, the practice will continue, in alleys if not in clinics.

Oh absolutely it will. And in that sense, the comparison with slavery breaks down, as it is a lot easier to tell if someone has a slave than if they have an abortion. But two counterpoints to that…

(1) Outlawing abortion would absolutely, undoubtedly decrease the number of abortions drastically.

Consider:

-If abortion clinics were closed, the availability of abortions would decrease severely. It’s fundamental: when the availability of a service or product is substantially diminished, consumption of that service or product will diminish as well.

-There’s a different level of desperation between going to a clinic for a safe and standard medical procedure and having a dangerous abortion in a “back alley.” If clinics were closed, many people would still resort to illegal abortions, but not all would be willing to stoop to that level.

-Just the act of making abortion illegal would change perception of it (especially over time). People who had never even considered it as a moral issue before (“It’s just a medical procedure…it’s safe, it’s legal, what’s the problem?”) would suddenly be confronted with it’s illegality and why it had been made so.

-Somewhat related to the last point, but if you were to make abortion illegal and punish people who had them, that would act as a deterrent for some people. It’s certainly not a mature moral stance, but the truth of the world is that some people refrain from doing bad things because of the consequences they would face if they did them.

If abortion was made illegal, abortions would continue, but the number of abortions would decrease, and probably by a very substantial margin. And since we’re talking about human lives, any sort of decrease would make it worthwhile.

(2) The argument that abortion shouldn’t be outlawed because it won’t end all abortions is a fundamentally flawed one (I realize you weren’t making that argument, but were just stating a fact, but some people do make that argument so I wanted to respond to it).

Consider that despite the fact that murder is illegal and has been for a really long time, murders still happen. It’s lamentable that they do, but we do the best we can at preventing them and we punish those who break the law and commit murder anyway.

The laws against murder haven’t eliminated it as a social evil, but no one with a shred of sanity thinks that, for that reason, we should get rid of our murder laws.

Christians should seek to influence people first, not policy. The best way to end abortion is to convince others, especially its supporters, of abortion's terrible nature, not rally for forceful, blanket legislation.

I certainly agree with this, but with some qualification.

I firmly believe that if American society as a whole became convinced that an unborn infant was fully human, the practice of abortion would effectively come to an end. That’s why I spent so much time at the start of this series establishing the humanity of an unborn infant—not because I think my insignificant blog posts will change anyone’s opinion, but because the discussion on abortion has to start there—until you get people to see an unborn infant’s humanity, they’re never going to agree on abortion no matter what the laws say.

But I think this is idealistic talk. The reality is that some people simply disagree about the humanity of unborn infants, and that’s where the “forceful, blanket legislation” comes in.

Consider the slavery issue again. If you could have gotten the most passionate, eloquent abolitionist to sit down with every Southern slave owner, he probably could’ve convinced some of them that slavery was wrong, but he wouldn’t have been able to convince them all.

So what do you do? Just continue to try to convince people while humans are being owned by other humans, or, do what you can to end the practice legally and change people’s opinions along the way?

I think the second option is the better one, and history bears that out—it’s been 145 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and there are surely some nut jobs out there who think that slavery is okay, but our culture as a whole certainly does not.

Should Christians try to influence people before policy? Absolutely they should.

But at the same time, does God want us to use all our avenues to influence people for good, including our political/legal power? Absolutely He does.

Will 10/12/12, 10:10 AM  

Slavery still exists in America today. We just call it human trafficking or some other gussied-up term. That doesn't mean that it wasn't worth it to get rid of legalized slavery because some people still practice it.

What gets me is that half of pregnancies today are unplanned. If there was a good way (that people actually followed) to prevent these unplanned pregnancies, the abomination that is abortion would probably go down.

My wife, who is a primary care provider, constantly has women who come in that are surprised they are pregnant. The visit usually goes like this:

"I don't feel well and I have been sick in the morning."

"Could you be pregnant?"

"No."

"Are you sexually active?"

"No."

"When was the last time you had sex?"

"Last week."

"Did you use contraception?"

"Nope."

When 30 year-old women don't understand what what factors lead to a human life being created or play, for lack of a better term, reproductive russian roulette, we have a problem.

Luke Dockery 10/15/12, 2:10 PM  

Will,

“Slavery still exists in America today. We just call it human trafficking or some other gussied-up term. That doesn't mean that it wasn't worth it to get rid of legalized slavery because some people still practice it.”

Good point, and amen.

When 30 year-old women don't understand what what factors lead to a human life being created or play, for lack of a better term, reproductive russian roulette, we have a problem.

For sure. I don't quite know how to fix this.

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