June 9, 2019
In September 1774, a group of men representing 12 of the original 13 colonies met in Philadelphia to discuss human rights. These colonial leaders believed their rights as Englishmen were being abused. They addressed their grievances to King George III of England, who only responded with more political abuses.
So, in May 1775, this group met again, this time represented by all the colonies. Known as the Second Continental Congress, it lasted well into 1776. You’re familiar with this part of U.S. history, because it was on July 4 the Declaration of Independence was signed. That document, among others, set the course of this nation’s character: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And so, it would be a nation always concerned with the rights of its citizens. For example, later those states would not sign the newly-formed US Constitution until after the Bill of Rights was added. As Americans, we look back and applaud our ancestors for their wisdom and courage.
As a result, freedom and personal rights were written into our national DNA – we are the land of the free, home of the brave. We hold personal freedom and rights above all else. But my questions this morning are these – are there times human rights and freedoms cease? Or, are we always free to do whatever we want, whenever we want, regardless of another’s rights, or moral rightness? Said another way, can my rights trump another’s rights?
You see, we then we roll the clock forward almost 200 years, to January 22, 1973. Another group of people met, this time in Washington, to discuss human rights. The group was the Supreme Court, and the conclusion at which they arrived has gone down in history as the Roe vs. Wade. That decision, as well another, Doe vs. Bolton, made later that same year required that abortion be:
- Number one, legal for any woman, regardless of her age.
- And number two, legal for any reason during the first seven months of pregnancy and for virtually any reason thereafter.
And so again, my question is, does a woman’s right over her own body, supersede the rights of the body within? There are lots of questions about that – philosophical, medical, religious, political questions as to the body within. Does he or she have rights? Is the body a person? Is the body self-conscious? Is the body viable?
There are many Americans who do not look back and applaud the spurious wisdom and courage of that 1973 decision. You see, since then, there have been at least 61,000,000 babies aborted in America. That is almost one-fifth of our current population. It is more than the combined populations of Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. It is more than the combined total of every American life given in every war this country has ever fought, from the American Revolution to the Iraq Wars – wars presumably fought protecting our freedoms and rights – or the freedoms and rights of others. Last Thursday, we celebrated the 75thanniversary of D-Day, when 4400 soldiers lost their lives on the shores of Normandy. Today, since 1973, we have averaged aborting almost that many children every day. Today, as a result of that infamous decision, about one in five pregnancies end in abortion.
There is some good news. After annual abortions in the US hit a high of 1.4 million in 1990, the number has gone down almost every year since – the last year we have stats, 2015, just over 600,000, the fewest number of abortions in this country since 1973. But that’s just lots of incomprehensible numbers, right? Lots of babies. Chances are, you’ve discussed the topic of abortion many times in your life. Those discussions have likely ranged from:
- When does life really begin?
- More recently, when is the fetus a person?
- What about abortion in the cases of incest or rape?
- What if the mother’s life is in danger?
- What if the child will be handicapped?
These have been hashed and rehashed over the past 46 years. I do not intend to rehash all the arguments yet one more time. But, given current events and The Elephant in the Room series we’re doing (review), I wanted to address the issue today. Because, you’ve probably noticed abortion rights have flared up significantly over the past few months – on almost every news outlet and social media page. If you don’t know:
- This year, nine states have passed laws significantly limiting abortion in their states. None of those laws are yet in effect, given pending litigation. It is expected at least one of these cases will make it to the Supreme Court who will reconsider Roe v. Wade – that is, if they agree to hear it.
- The restrictions passed range from:
- No abortions at all.
- No abortions after 6-8 weeks – the so-called heartbeat law.
- No abortions after 18-22 weeks, approaching viability.
- Exceptions are allowed in some of those states for cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s health is endangered.
- The most restrictive law was passed in Alabama, where all abortions are outlawed unless the mother’s health is at risk.
- North Carolina is not one of the nine states. In fact, our legislature recently passed a law requiring babies still alive after an abortion be given medical attention – in other words, preserve the life. However, our governor vetoed the bill.
I want you to think carefully and critically about that. It’s called a botched abortion. The baby comes out, still alive. The question is, what to do with the baby. For decades, the child has been left to die. But now, some are fighting for the life of that child. Pro-choice people, those on the left, are arguing for the baby to die – by the way, in violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Think with me – the purpose of an abortion presumably has been to terminate a pregnancy. That is actually accomplished in a so-called botched abortion. Three events terminate a pregnancy – a miscarriage, an abortion, or a birth. So the pregnancy has been terminated – success – the women’s rights over her body have been preserved. But that’s not enough – now, allow the child to die. In other words, true colors are exposed. The ultimate aim of abortion is not to terminate a pregnancy, but to terminate a life. Robert P. George of Princeton University recently wrote:
“So to claim that there is a right to abortion is not merely to say that a woman has the right to ‘terminate the pregnancy’ (or even ‘control her own body’); it is to claim that she is entitled to order the killing of the baby—to order the performance of an act on the child’s body, to end her life, to make her dead.
“Of course, clearheaded and candid abortion advocates acknowledge this. They admit that the ‘right’ they believe in is no mere right to be free of an unwanted pregnancy. It is the right not to be a mother, not to have a living child out there in the world—the right, to state the matter bluntly, to a dead fetus.”
I want you to know as a church we are opposed, medically, ethically, politically, legally, philosophically, and biblically to abortion. But, since I’m not a doctor, politician, lawyer, or philosopher, I will confine my thoughts to the latter – the biblical reasons we stand for life.
And I would like to approach the topic from the vantage point of two, fundamental and biblical human rights. That is, after all, what the discussion is about – certain, inalienable, human rights. R. C. Sproul in his book on abortion (Abortion, A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue) wrote as he reviewed the emotional issues on both sides of the discussion, “A further issue complicates the matter – one that many Americans consider the most fundamental democratic right of all: the right to freedom of choice. Perhaps the most frequently stated sentiment of those caught in the middle of the abortion debate goes like this: ‘I would not choose to have an abortion myself, but I would not force my view on someone else.’ The right to one’s opinion is a sacred belief in United States tradition.”
I however will seek to prove the right to life as the most basic of all human rights. The right to life – remember, we have been granted “certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So, what does the Bible say about life – specifically the right to life of the unborn?
Before we look at that, you need to understand the basic point of disagreement between those in favor of abortion and those against abortion (pro-choice and pro-life) lies in the definition of personhood. Dr. Paul Fowler in his book, Abortion, Toward an Evangelical Consensus, says “personhood is the crux of the matter.”
You see, when this issue really came to the forefront back in the 60’s, the pro-abortion platform used to refer to the fetus as a blob, an unwanted mass of tissue, a parasite. These terms tended to dehumanize the unborn child and served to soothe troubled consciences. But they have been forced to abandon that position, because medical science has solidly proven human life begins at conception. As I understand it, the question of when life begins, is really not an issue for debate anymore – it is generally agreed life begins at conception.
So now, the crux of the matter is this – is the unborn child a person? Okay, so it’s alive, but is it a person? Is it fully human? The landmark Roe v. Wade decision paved the way for abortion by saying that constitutional law, equally available to all, did not need to protect those who are not “persons in the whole sense,” i.e., the unborn. The unbelieving world would have us believe there are three criteria for determining personhood. All, or at least one of which should be met before something can be called a person:
- First is the physical criteria. This view holds life is not fully human until a certain stage of physical development is reached. And of course, guess when that is? When the infant has the ability to survive outside the womb.
Interestingly, this argument goes further to center around the health of the person: forty-six chromosomes must be present in each cell, developing normally, to qualify for personhood. Thus, birth defects supposedly render an organism, not a baby, but an organism unable to live a meaningful life, and places too much burden on society.
Nobel Prize winning biologist Francis Crick even once argued we should wait until children are at least two days old before we legally declare them persons. By that time, we will be able to certify they are physically healthy.
- The second criteria imposed is the social criteria. The belief is that interaction with other human beings on a non-biological level is necessary in order to be a person – such capacities as love, self-consciousness, and the ability to relate and communicate with others. If a child has not reached a certain maturity level in such relationships, that child is not yet a person. One leading geneticist believes a child is only set apart from the rest of the animal world when he or she can participate in a “meaningful, cognitive interaction with his mother and with the rest of society.” Does that come at six weeks, or six months, or two years?
- Finally, the third is the mental criteria. This is the most popular. Unless the individual demonstrates some degree of reason, volition, or self-awareness, he or she is not a human being. So for example, Joseph Fletcher once argued an individual is not a person unless he or she has an I.Q. of at least 40. Obviously, he says, a fetus or newborn child cannot even take the test, so does not qualify as a person.
What’s this all about? You might say, “I don’t get this.” First, you need to remember this whole argument is about rights – human rights, particularly that of the woman. And so, if they can strip away personhood from the fetus, then they are not denying another human being his or her rights.
And secondly, let me read to you again from Dr. Fowler’s book, “It would be hard, if not impossible, to live with yourself if you knew you were responsible for killing innocent people. But pro-choice advocates seem to believe they are not killing people. According to their logic, the unborn are non-persons, merely ‘potential’ persons in the process of developing to persons in the full sense of that term.” That brings us back to the question, is an unborn child a person? What does the Bible say? I would argue he or she is a person on the following four premises:
- Number one, man and woman are created in the image of God. We talked about this last week. From the very beginning, humankind was different from the animal world. In Genesis 1, on the sixth day of creation, after God had made everything else, He said, “‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Humankind is not just a different kind of animal life – it is different altogether. We were made in the image of God.
This, by far, is one of the most important arguments against abortion and for personhood. How exactly is man made in the image of God? One way upon which all theologians agree is it is an inherent or intrinsic image passed on from one generation to the next. It is not something we earn or develop. It is something that is ours by nature of creation. It is not ours based on something we do. It is received at conception. In the words of one author, “It matters not if an individual is young or old, handicapped or perfectly formed, weak or strong, poor or rich, black or white or yellow or red. The life of every person is of value to God and should be to us.” We are God’s image bearers, given at conception.
- Premise number two, the child is known by God before his or her birth.
There are a number of Scriptures to prove this point – people God knew before they were born. Of course, the first one who comes to mind is Jesus Himself. Talk about an unplanned pregnancy. In all those modern Joseph and Mary stories, what if Joseph pressured Mary to have an abortion?
In Luke 1:31, the angel Gabriel speaking to Mary said, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.” Later, when Mary visited her pregnant cousinElizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth leapt for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. Even a prenatal John the Baptist knew who prenatal Jesus was. You say, but that was Jesus. Fine, let me give you some more:
- In Genesis 25, we’re told God knew Jacob and Esau before they were born.
- In Judges 13, God knew Samson before he was born.
- In Jeremiah 1:5, we read these words of God to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”
- Paul said in Galatians 1:15, “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace…” He was set apart in his mother’s womb.
Finally, Psalm 139, we read these words of David:
13For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.
15My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
17How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
What an intimate knowledge God has of the unborn. And so maybe, to paraphrase John Stott, the issue of personhood is not self-awareness, but God-awareness. But, you say, that was God. He knows everything. Of course He knew Jesus and Paul and David and Samson before they were born. Are we to assume He didn’t know any of the 61,000,000 over the past 46 years?
- Premise number three, the child has purpose before birth. This is related to our second premise, so I’ll touch it briefly. If you go on in those passages we just read, you’ll find that God had a purpose for each person:
- Luke 1:32-33 says of Jesus, “32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
- In Genesis 25, God said of Jacob and Esau that the older would serve the younger.
- In Judges 13, we’re told that Samson would deliver the Israelites from the Philistines.
- The passage in Jeremiah said that he would be a prophet to the nations.
- And in Galatians 1, Paul was chosen to preach Jesus among the Gentiles.
The point is God not only knows people before they’re born, He has a purpose for their lives. An often told yet poignant illustration serves here:
One doctor said to another, “About the termination of a pregnancy, I want your opinion. If the father is syphilitic and the mother has tuberculosis, and the first child was born blind, the second died, the third was born deaf and mute, and the fourth had TB, what would you do?” The doctor replied, “I would terminate the pregnancy.” The first doctor said, “Then you would have aborted Beethoven.”
- The fourth premise relates specifically to the right to life and it is this: the death of an unborn child was cause for punishment in the Scripture.
The passage is found in Exodus 21, some pretty strong words. For sake of time, let me summarize their content. The text says if two men are fighting, and they hit a pregnant woman causing her to give birth prematurely some actions are to be taken. If there is no serious injury to the child, then the man is only to be fined. But, if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life. The point is, killing a child in the womb was considered murder. Do you know that we have laws on the books that say if you kill a pregnant woman, you are charged with two counts of murder. Help me understand that.
Those four premises I believe prove life is viable at conception and should be protected, and valued. And I want you to know that I’ve barely touched the arguments that could be offered. Further, I’ve spent a lot of time on that this morning, because I want you to understand how God – and the Scripture – views the unborn child. But now, by way of conclusion, I want us to consider that second fundamental right.
It is the right to forgiveness. You say, what does that have to do with abortion? Everything. You see, statistics show that one in four persons who have abortions are professing, evangelical believers. I have absolutely no doubt there are many in this room who have been touched by the pain of abortion. Maybe you’ve had one. Maybe as a man you’ve encouraged a girlfriend or a wife to have one. Maybe you have a family member or a close friend who had an abortion. And through the course of time, you’ve become convinced abortion is wrong. And this morning only reminded you of that. What do you do?
I want to tell you there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ. It is not an inherent or an intrinsic right, like the right to physical life. But it is a right granted by the finished work of Christ on the cross. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” He died for all sins, and all sinners, even the worst of them, Paul tells us. And remember, Paul didn’t kill unborn babies, he killed believers. But he found forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God offers grace and forgiveness to you this morning, freely.
Maybe though, this morning, you know you’ve been forgiven – you’re already a Christian. You know I John 1:9, you’ve quoted it a thousand times to yourself, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But after months, even years of finding forgiveness, you still struggle with the guilt of the act. In fact, today’s message has only served to open a wound that remains right under the surface of your emotions. I want to encourage you today that you’re not alone. We love you, we forgive you, and we pray for you.
Finally, the last thing I say is this. If you find yourself with an unplanned pregnancy, and you don’t know what to do, let us help. We have the Hope Pregnancy Resource Center in this community – and the Executive Director, Molly Petrey, goes to our church. Many of the staff go to our church. They, and we will walk with you, I promise.
And we also have a ministry called Chosen Ministry. It is an adoption ministry, and I spoke with its director, one of our elders, Mike Kimbro, this week. If you have a child through an unplanned pregnancy, we will adopt the child. We will love the child. And we will walk with you.