Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Canon and Culture on January 23, 2015.
The theological basis for asserting personhood at conception has been articulated at great length. Given that one of the Enemy’s central delights is murder (John 8:44), the defense of human life is altogether fitting and proper for Christians at a time when, minimally, 2,700 unborn children lose their lives each day within America’s borders.
The Bible teaches that all persons are created by God in His “image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26) and that such creation is initiated at conception. That personhood begins at conception is confirmed by science and vindicated by reason, at least if logic has any sustainable meaning.
The presupposition of this article, then, is that personhood is a gift of God; that life is His creation and possession; that its demolition within the womb is an affront to Him and cruelty to those He holds as precious (the unborn and their mothers); and that the need for compassionate, thoughtful, and effective Christian action to protect children within the womb and defend the well-being of the women who carry them should be incontestable for followers of Jesus.
This case for life is made in much abbreviated form not to diminish the profound significance of the case itself. Instead, since the great majority of the readers of this site are familiar with the essential arguments and can link to the sources provided above should they wish to explore them further, this brief overview sets the stage for a couple of consequent considerations:
Where does the pro-life movement stand on these wintry days in America, 2015? What can pro-life Christians anticipate in the months ahead?
Reasons for Celebration
First, let’s count our blessings: Over the past several years, proponents of protecting the unborn have won marked victories in states across the country. The pro-life movement is gaining steam among many sectors of the electorate, including women. As my colleagues Ken Blackwell and Arina Grossu have written,
Women’s interests were indeed delivered this year by the resounding pro-life election victories around the country, highlighted by the fact that five pro-life women beat their opponents decidedly. They are Elise Stefanik, New York Republican; Mia Love, Utah Republican and Mimi Walters, California Republican, in the House of Representatives, and (Joni) Ernst in the Senate, as previously mentioned. The empty “war on women” theme falls flat in the face of the reality that there will be more pro-life women serving in Congress than ever before in U.S. history.
The prospects for ongoing pro-life action are strong. At the national level, “For the first time since the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed in 2003, outlawing a late-term procedure, the antiabortion movement sees opportunity on Capitol Hill as the GOP prepares to take charge of the U.S. Senate,” Beth Reinhard reports in the Wall Street Journal. “At the top of the agenda: legislation that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later, pushing the legal boundaries set by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Activists on both sides of the debate are gearing up for a fight that will demonstrate the consequences of Republican gains in the 2014 election.”
“In terms of legislation, this just may be the most pro-life Congress Washington has ever seen,” writes Cortney O’Brien. “(Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have spearheaded former pro-life legislative efforts, as (have) representatives like Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). What’s more, an historic 21 pro-life women are now serving in Congress – and they’ve already shown that is more than just a number. On the very day the 114th Congress was sworn in, legislators re-introduced a significant piece of life saving legislation. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, HR 36, would ban abortions after 20 weeks, when unborn babies can feel pain. The lead sponsors of the bill are Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona (R-AZ) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) of Tennessee.”
Outside of Washington, states have realized substantial gains in pro-life efforts in recent years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “During the 2014 state legislative session, 15 states enacted 26 new abortion restrictions. Including these new provisions, states have adopted 231 new abortion restrictions since the 2010 midterm elections swept abortion opponents into power in state capitals across the country.”
These measures include such things as protecting pain-capable unborn children, informed consent and parental involvement laws, ultrasound legislation, banning web-cam abortions and prohibiting taxpayer-funded abortions.
The momentum in the states could well continue into 2015. As Paige Winfield Cunningham writes in Politico, “the GOP victories in the statehouses and governor’s mansions … are priming the ground for another round of legal restrictions on abortion.” Why? Because as RealClearPolitics says, “the GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers — the highest number in the history of the party. Republicans currently hold the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 24 states, while Democrats have that level of control in only seven.” In actual numbers, Republicans – meaning, overwhelmingly, pro-life officials – now have 31 of 50 governorships and more than 4,100 of the nation’s nearly 7,400 legislative seats.
Are Happy Days Here Again?
Recent history and current outlook militate for good cheer among pro-lifers in these opening days of 2015. And if in 2016 a pro-life President is elected, the prospects for dramatically reducing abortions and the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs through legislation, regulation and federal court appointments – most particularly, appointments to the Supreme Court – could produce a measure of success unknown to the movement since Roe’s pronouncement in 1973.
Such a vision is gratifying but more than a bit premature. As Russell Moore wrote recently, “We must have a realistic view about how ingrained the abortion-rights worldview is in our culture.” Spot-on: The culture of death has become entrenched in the American mind-set. Abortion-on-demand is more presumed than not throughout our society.
As a result, it is not unlikely that when the movement to abolish abortion makes such inroads that the availability of abortion becomes truly minimal, many men and women who know in their consciences abortion is wrong will be upset. Access to abortion-on-demand is, for some, like a “house idol” stored away in a basement closet. They pretend to disavow it (“Oh yeah, I’m pro-life, sure”) but in a moment of crisis revert to it. This will be disconcerting to many and angering to others – angering to the point of newly-aroused opposition.
This is but one reason why tolling the bell for elective abortion is untimely. What are others?
Tough and Recurrent Obstacles
As to Congress and the White House: No serious observer believes that enactment of federal pro-life legislation is going to be easy, or even likely. President Obama seems publically delighted by his possession of a veto pen. An unequivocating advocate of abortion-on-demand, the President is committed to vetoing congressional pro-life measures.
It also remains to be seen how diligent the new Congress will be in its pro-life efforts. Some Members of Congress whose hearts are in the right place when it comes to abortion fail to work energetically for life once elected. They vote for pro-life and pro-family measures but never speak-out on them or lead in promoting pro-life bills.
Sometimes there are valid reasons for this; for example, in a marginal congressional district, is it not better to have a “silent partner” who will vote to protect unborn children while saying little publically than an avid pro-abortion advocate who will help lead efforts to quash right-to-life initiatives?
However, sometimes prudence can be a thin mask for political cowardice or simple disinterest. “Put not your trust in princes,” warns the Psalmist (146:3). That sage counsel is still poignant. The pro-life movement should watch closely to see if those who made pro-life professions during the last election are true to them during their time in Congress, in state legislatures and in governors’ offices.
As to the courts: The President has now had six years to appoint federal judges who (it might well be assumed) support his commitment to unrestricted access to abortion on demand. They will hold their seats, a good number of them, for decades to come. While their rulings ultimately can be overturned by the Supreme Court, that body historically has shown no inclination to correct the nation’s fundamental abortion laws (Roe v. Wade, Doe. V. Bolton). While this could change if, in the next several years, a pro-life President appoints Justices prepared to embed the sanctity of life into federal law, this outcome is by no means guaranteed.
As they have shown regarding state marriage laws, federal judges are no respecter of elections. Defeat for pro-life measures awaits on the benches of those jurists whose allegiance to the culture of death is undeterred by their elective allies’ demise at the ballot box. Twenty states now have same-sex “marriage” due to federal court decisions. Elections matter, not least because of who the winners appoint to the federal and state benches.
On the culture: As Dr. Moore noted in the article cited above, “It’s easy to identify as ‘pro-life’ when one sees nothing really at stake … A feminist leader once said that most Americans are pro-life with three exceptions: rape, incest, and ‘my situation.’ When the teenage daughter is pregnant, the theory is abandoned and bloodthirsty pragmatism rules. I fear this feminist is all too right.”
While many principled believers and people of conscience will live by their profession even at great personal cost, the history of the church and history generally show that when things strike close to home, professed conviction often flees. Thomas Paine never would have warned of “summer soldiers” had belief in liberty universally animated General Washington’s infantrymen to remain in the Continental Army.
To put meat on contemporary bones, consider this example: Your daughter is about to start college and finds herself pregnant. Her ability to be in school in the fall will be delayed if she carries the baby to term, and adoption seems too painful of an alternative. So, while you don’t condone abortion, you care too much about your daughter’s happiness and future not to support or even encourage her decision to terminate her pregnancy.
This is all self-deceptive rubbish, but is sadly not atypical of the kinds of responses family crises can generate. Morality and rationality too often are boxed-up and hidden when emotion and sentiment triumph over them. Human nature, being what it is, will take the lesser, weaker, easier course much too often – which is why foreclosure of the abortion-on-demand culture will threaten those who secretly prefer it. We in the pro-life movement need to consider seriously how to prepare such persons for the day when the culture of life is legally preponderant.
In tandem with this, court decisions have animated sexual behaviors that many Americans have come to value. Sex without consequences, grounded in the Left’s conceit that radical personal autonomy is the final and supreme moral good, is now engrained in myriad American hearts. As George Mason University law professor Helen Alvare’ has written, “the Supreme Court’s abortion opinions very likely have contributed to current cultural mindsets and practices regarding relationships and parenting. These exhibit strongly the acceptance of the notion that sexual activity, partner commitment, and parenting are quite separate matters.”
Two centuries before Professor Alvare’, Paul the Apostle wrote that law is a teacher (Galatians 3:24). What our law demands and allows it thus fosters in the behavior of those it governs. A dramatic shift in abortion law, while needed and welcome, will produce social disruption. That’s pretty much unavoidable.
As to the political Left: Purveyors of the notion of enduring political triumph are selling a false product (and often seem to be deceiving themselves). Should the pro-life movement succeed in ending Roe’s grip over law, culture and personal conduct, our opponents will not just shrug and go home. They will retrench, recalibrate – and fight.
In other words, the idea of permanent victory in the battle for life is illusory. There will never be a time when vigilance in defense of life is unnecessary. To maintain the victory we seek once it is won means that watchfulness and quick action will always be in season.
When in the midst of a battle, it is hard to envision how to keep winning once the immediate fight is won, especially when the current battle is widespread and complex. But if social conservatives really want not just political victories but a shift in the cultural mindset such that abortion-on-demand will become as anathema as slavery, we need to think hard about what we can do to keep changing hearts and minds as we wage our present war against anti-natalism and human indignity and, once victory is achieved, how to sustain it indefinitely.
Does any of this mean pro-life advocates should decelerate our efforts? Not at all. But it does mean we need to expand the reach of our arguments about the dignity of human sexual intimacy as something reserved for two-gender, life-long marriage and the dangers of sex outside of the marital covenant. Education, persuasion, political activism and Godly prayer must always be our companions in this effort.
Triumph, Failure and Faithfulness
Outcomes matter. Consider Paul’s approach to the ministry of the Gospel:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:24-27)
Those of us who campaign for the lives of the unborn and the protection of their mothers from a predatory abortion industry need to be shrewd even as we are compassionate. We want to win on Capitol Hill and in the state legislatures, in governors’ offices and in the federal courts – and in the court of public opinion.
But whether or not our tally of wins exceeds that of our losses, we press on: Our duty, regardless of outcomes, is to stand faithfully for the most vulnerable and endangered persons in our midst, the unborn, and for the well-being of their mothers. The glory of God and the dignity of those He has crowned with honor calls us to no less.