January 21, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, January 21, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
57,762,169: The number of abortions performed in the United States since Roe v. Wade
The number is stark: 57,762,169. That is through the end of last year—the number of legal abortions in America since the Roe v. Wade decision 43 years ago tomorrow on January 22, 1973. That was one of the darkest days in American history, and ever since then America has been at war over abortion. We’re now talking about four decades and more. When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, the Court’s majority attempted to put an end to the abortion question. That’s actually what they thought they were doing. To the contrary, that decision has enlarged and revealed the great moral divide that runs through the center of our culture.
Most Americans actually are probably pretty much unaware of the actual contours of the abortion debate as it emerged in the early 1970s. Going back to 1973, the primary opposition to legal abortion came from the Roman Catholic Church; Evangelicals in the pro-life movement joined later. Until the late 1970s and the awakening of the evangelical conscience on abortion, most Evangelicals didn’t want to talk about the issue, considering it to be an issue for other people in other places. Roe v. Wade changed all of that legally in 1973 ruling that in all 50 states abortion on demand, as it has been called, must be considered a woman’s right. The decision was demanded by and later championed by feminists as one of the great feminist victories. The leaders of that movement claimed, and continue to claim, that the availability of abortion on demand is necessary in order for women to be equal with men with respect to the absence of pregnancy as an obstacle to career advancement.Show Full Transcript
Furthermore, the moral logic of Roe v. Wade was a thunderous affirmation of the idea of personal autonomy that had already taken ahold of the American mind. As the decision made all too clear, “rights talk” had displaced what had been seen as a higher concern for right versus wrong. We also need to go back to 1973 and recognize this was a bipartisan problem. As a matter fact, tapes released just a couple of years ago by the Richard Nixon presidential library revealed that President Nixon, who had been considered generally opposed to abortion, told aides in his office in the White House on January 23, 1973—that’s the day after the decision was handed down—that abortion was justified in certain cases, such as interracial pregnancies. The president’s words are appalling and absolutely chilling. President Nixon said,
“There are times when abortion is necessary. I know that—when you have a black and a white.”
The president’s words, chilling as they are, are also a general reflection of the moral logic shared by millions of Americans in that day. And they point to something that supporters of abortion rights will not bring to your attention, and that is the links between the abortion-rights argument and arguments that are deeply steeped in racism, going all the way back to Margaret Sanger, who was one of the major figures in the eugenics movement that followed the motto “more children from the fit and less from the unfit.” There was no doubt in the early 20th century to whom Margaret Sanger was referring when she spoke of “more children from the fit and less from the unfit.”
Sanger and others argued very openly that abortion and other means of birth control were necessary in order to limit the number of undesirable children. Lest you think that logic has disappeared, you should consider an interview that was conducted in the year 2009 with one of the liberal figures on the United States Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She had been a major feminist attorney, arguing for abortion rights before her confirmation to the Supreme Court; and furthermore, she also made comments in this magazine interview that sound hauntingly like those of Margaret Sanger. She spoke back to her surprise when the Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment in the year 1980—that’s the amendment by which Congress limited the use of taxpayer money to pay for abortion. And then Justice Ginsburg said,
“Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of, so that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.”
That is a sitting justice of the Supreme Court of United States who spoke of growth in populations that “we don’t want to have too many of.” Now I can’t read this Supreme Court Justice’s mind in terms of these comments, but however the comments are to be construed, they are deeply chilling and they are deeply revealing of the fact that abortion has from the very beginning been seen as an instrument of public policy to make sure that there are not too many children that we don’t want more of. And that makes every single unborn child in every single womb in America a potential target for a search-and-destroy mission in order to end that life before it can be born.
I refer back to the number—that is 57,762,169. The population of the United States is just over 300 million. We’re talking about virtually one out of six Americans in terms of the current population. We’re talking about a scale of mass murder in the womb that defies our moral imagination. And that gets to the issue of the American conscience, where is the American conscience now on this issue? The good news is that 43 years after Roe v. Wade we have moved the meter at least a bit in terms of the fact that the inhabitant of the womb is increasingly recognized to be a child and also a person. That’s very, very important. But we also need to note that we haven’t moved that moral meter far enough, because there are not a sufficient number of Americans who support the actual kinds of legislation, or will elect the actual legislators who would bring about an end to abortion on demand. The basic answer to that question, where is America’s conscience on the issue of abortion now, leads to the conclusion that the American conscience is confused, and confused in a very dangerous and deadly manner.
A new poll out from Marist tells us that as the 43rd anniversary of Roe arrives, a strong majority of Americans, including a majority of those who consider themselves pro-abortion or pro-choice, support substantial abortion restrictions. This gets to another issue that most Americans simply do not recognize. America is in so many ways an outlier on the issue of abortion. Even though some European countries legalized abortion long before the United States, almost all of those European countries do not allow abortion after a fairly early stage of pregnancy. And yet in the United States, efforts to achieve the kinds of restrictions that are common, even in other modern secular Western democracies, have met with tremendous resistance from the pro-abortion movement and their allies, particularly groups such as Planned Parenthood.
The poll released by Marist echoes polls that have been taken by others, including Pew and Gallup and other major organizations, showing that the majority of Americans do support restrictions on abortion. They do not support abortion on demand. That is what was demanded in terms of Roe v. Wade, that a woman have a right to abortion at any point for any reason in the entirety of her pregnancy—for any reason or for no reason at all. The Marist poll found that,
“More than 8 in 10 Americans (81 percent) would restrict abortion to — at most — the first three months of pregnancy. This includes 82 percent of women polled and nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of pro-choice supporters.”
Now that underlines the very point of the confusion of the American conscience; and so we have a majority of Americans in one year who will say they support a pro-choice position, then you will have a majority of Americans in the following year who will say they do support a pro-life position. It all comes down to how the issue is framed and whether or not the focus is on the personhood of that unborn child. That’s where we must direct our attention in terms of the American conscience, not just to abstract arguments for and against supposed rights, but rather to the identity of the inhabitants of the womb, that is a human child, a human being at a stage of development at which every single one of us also was at one point in development. We are talking about an unborn child made in the image of God.
America's cognitive dissonance on abortion reveals deep moral confusion
Emma Green, writing at The Atlantic just in recent days, points out that there are some very interesting issues of moral confusion reflected even in the arguments used by those who supposedly and actually support abortion, at least in terms of public policy.
She refers in two recent articles at The Atlantic to what she calls “cognitive dissonance,” and she talks about the fact that the language used by those who deny the personhood of the child is often not very consistent. As a matter of fact, she refers to one very lengthy defense of abortion in which he points out that the woman who had the abortion spoke about her child. Well, as Emma Green understands, you can’t have it both ways. Either the inhabitant of the womb is a child or it is a nonperson; it cannot be both. What Emma Green very helpfully points to here is the fact that even those who legally and perhaps even philosophically want to deny the personhood of the child, they can’t even avoid using the word child, which is the very point. The inhabitant of the womb is a child, is a human child, is one of us, is part of the human community, is a fellow human being made in the image of God.
With the Supreme Court set soon to have oral arguments in the Texas case on abortion, it’s very interesting that Emma Green also points to an amicus brief that was filed by the Whole Women’s Health Center, and that is on behalf of abortion rights and it includes 110 women, actually 112 women, in the legal profession who have exercised, according to the brief, their constitutional right to an abortion, and they are filing this brief on behalf of the petitioners, that is the pro-abortion position. But as Emma Green at The Atlantic points out,
“This document is remarkable for a number of reasons. It represents the perspectives of people who are trained in the law, but who are also personally familiar with what it means to get an abortion. It rejects the idea that women should feel shame about having an abortion; these stories are serious, straightforward, and unapologetic.”
Later in the article Emma Green writes,
“This difficult toggle—between abstract notions of justice and personal ethical questions—also might explain why the language used to talk about abortion often seems so awkward. For example: At least two of the women attorneys who shared their stories in this Supreme Court brief referred to the fetuses they terminated as ‘my child.’”
Emma Green then gets right to the point,
“There’s some degree of cognitive dissonance in these phrasings: ‘My child’ is a way of talking about a person, an entity that can think and has a moral identity. But that’s the opposite of the argument that this brief is making—it’s not a moral issue, these women are saying. It’s a health issue, and a lifestyle issue, and a career issue. The vocabulary seems to fall short of that.”
It’s not just the vocabulary. It’s the moral meaning. Once we make clear that abortion is the killing of a human life inside the womb at some stage of development, the inevitable question arises; it can’t disappear. It certainly can’t disappear in the age in which it has become routine to tape up on the refrigerator the ultrasound images of little brothers and sisters. The personhood of the child in the womb and the fact that it is a child is increasingly difficult even for our morally confused society to deny.
Abortion remains central issue in 2016 presidential election for Christians
Next, looking at the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in this upcoming Supreme Court case reminds us of the importance of the presidential election in 2016 when it comes to the abortion issue—not so much because the president is likely to be directly involved in legislation on the abortion issue as much as in the appointment of justices who will sit on the United States Supreme Court. The 2016 races at this point is a maelstrom of confusion in terms of both parties; both the Democrats and the Republicans right now have a nomination that is to some extent up for grabs. But this much is clear, and it’s already inevitable: whoever gains the Democratic nomination is going to be an abortion-rights supporter, and given the trajectory of that party, an even more radical abortion-rights supporter, than we have likely seen in the past. On the other hand, it is almost unthinkable that the Republican Party could at this point nominate a person who does not hold to a pro-life position; but interestingly, looking at at least some of the leading Republican candidates, they have not always held to a consistently pro-life position. But the bottom line of the party platforms will be clear. The Democratic Party platform will not only be pro-abortion, it will be radically so, calling for tax support for abortion, and the Republican Party’s platform is going be very clearly pro-life. That is because the alignment of those two parties actually now, to a tremendous extent, mirrors the great divide over abortion itself. Abortion’s not the only issue that constitutes that divide, but it is the longest and most intensely urgent moral issue that makes the divide so visible.
But it’s interesting that among the secular press, the big question actually has to do with where the Democratic candidate stands, specifically on some of the very technical issues of abortion rights that they are contending for. For example, you have Rolling Stone magazine’s reporter Jesse Berney writing an absolutely must-read article entitled,
“Why Do They Refuse to Ask About Abortion at the Democratic Debates?”
“The assumption that all the Democratic candidates will act the same way to protect reproductive rights is wrong.”
He points out that in the Democratic debates heretofore, the question that hasn’t been asked is the question of abortion. The Democratic candidates have not been put on the spot to say exactly where they stand on the issue in terms of whether or not they would expect the taxpayer to pay for abortion, how they would extend the Affordable Care Act to issues of abortion, and many other considerations. Berney writes,
“This is an urgent crisis. And the assumption that this issue is settled, and that all the Democratic candidates will act the same way as president to protect reproductive rights, is simply wrong.”
Berney makes his position and that of Rolling Stone magazine very clear, not only is the magazine pro-abortion, but it is demanding taxpayer payment for abortion. Writing on the issue of abortion and the great moral divide that is growing even wider in the American conscience on the issue of abortion, William McGurn writes the Main Street column at the Wall Street Journal on what he calls,
“Hillary’s Sisterhood With Planned Parenthood.”
Now, looking back at the 2008 and 2012 elections, it was observed by many that candidate, and later president, Barack Obama was the most radically pro-choice or pro-abortion national candidate in either party’s history. But it looks like the Democratic Party on this issue is swerving even further left so that Hillary Clinton will have to move even further to the left of Barack Obama on this issue. And it also appears that she is. But as I said, the most interesting thing here is what has changed between not so much 2008 and 2016, but 1992 and 2016. Because it was in 1992 that Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States, and he defined his position on abortion as wanting abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. He called for abortion to be a legal right and he defended Roe v. Wade, but he also, in those very words, used the word “rare,” believing, as he at least said, that abortion should be a rare event. Let me remind you of that number of over 57 million abortions. Abortion is not a rare event, and now Hillary Clinton is running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. And as McGurn writes,
“This campaign she has cast aside her husband’s formula on abortion—‘safe, legal and rare’—that she herself ran on in the past. Gone is the moderating nuance of yesteryear: reducing the number of abortions, finding ‘common ground’ with pro-lifers, even, in her first campaign for the Senate in 2000, how she would be OK with a limit on partial-birth or late-term abortions so long as it didn’t threaten the life of the mother.”
“The new Mrs. Clinton has moved to the absolutist position of the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.”
Instead of Bill Clinton’s formula of safe, legal, and rare, McGurn says that Hillary Clinton’s formula is,
“Safe, legal, unlimited—and federally subsidized.”
As McGurn later writes,
“It’s hard to overstate how extreme Mrs. Clinton’s new position is.”
He goes on to point out what the Marist poll pointed out, and that is that most Americans do not hold any such radically pro-abortion position. But the point is that the secular elites do, and they are the ones dominating in terms of the Democratic Party’s policy formation. The point here is not so much partisan as it is moral. We are talking about two parties that actually represent two moral positions, and the one thing that Christians always have to understand is that the moral positions come first. That is, the argument for and against abortion comes prior to the existence of any political party, not only in terms of importance, but in terms of how Christians have to think about this. Our concern is to uphold the dignity and sanctity of every single human life, and we should desperately hope for an America where every candidate for president and both major political parties would honor the sanctity and dignity of human life and would contend for it at every stage of development under every condition.
Sadly, tragically, that is not the case. But this points to the fact that our moral responsibility in a Republic always comes down to a political responsibility as well. Christians have no way to avoid this responsibility, not especially when we are thinking about the eve of the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and when we remember that number 57,762,169. So as the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade comes tomorrow, one of the saddest anniversaries in American history, our first responsibility as Christians is to think biblically, to make certain that we understand that abortion is not just some moral issue among other moral issues. It is one of the most fundamental issues we can consider. We are talking about whether or not every single human being is indeed a human being to be recognized as made in the image of God—that life protected and considered sacred, not because of the individual, but because of the God who made that individual, every single individual in his image.
We also have to understand that the secular worldview eventually can offer nothing better than an idea of personhood on the cheap, a personhood that somehow was rooted in a secular—merely secular—consideration of what it means to achieve humanity. Here’s one of the most important issues Christians need to remember. We do not achieve humanity. Humanity, personhood, is the gift of the Creator who made us. There is no intelligence we have to reach, there are no qualifications we have to meet, there are no conditions that have to be satisfied for every single human being to be recognized as fully human and fully an image bearer of God. This is one of the reasons that the abortion issue in America has increasingly paralleled the theological divide in this country—inevitably so. Because if you do not hold to a biblical understanding of personhood, then inevitably, you’re going to negotiate away, or at least you will give away, your defenses against such negotiation when it comes to issues of human rights and human dignity. Eventually you will adopt some kind of sliding scale of humans who deserve to live more than others. Or perhaps it’s just easy to say out of sight, out of mind. The inhabitant of the womb is safely out of the moral scope of most Americans day-to-day.
But our Christian responsibility is not just to rightly understand the issue and rightly to present the biblical worldview understanding of human personhood and of the sanctity of human life, but is rather to move to responsible action in defense of all human life. And that means the defense of the defenseless, in particular the defense of those who are defenseless in the womb. And that means that Christians need to take very seriously our responsibility to preach on the sanctity of human life, to teach the sanctity of human life, to affirm it in every way, to extend that to public policy, to make that a meaningful consideration when we go into the voting booth—not just meaningful, but primary—to make very clear that we hold an expectation that a righteous government will uphold human rights and human dignity, and that would include the unborn and furthermore, those at the end-of-life and at every stage of life who were under threat. And then we also have to understand that, thankfully, there are so many Christians who have established wonderful pro-life ministries, counseling centers for women and other ministries that are contending for the sanctity of human life where it matters most, sometimes right on the street where counseling can take place that will mean the difference between life and death for some inhabitant of the womb. But that’s where Christians understand that before we talk about America’s conscience on abortion, we had better make sure our conscience on the abortion issue is clear.