February 11, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, February 11, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Argument rejecting CDC's advice for women of childbearing age to abstain from alcohol a rejection of God's design
Sometimes, huge worldview issues appear in places where it is not expected, and that’s the case in an op-ed piece that ran just in recent days in the Los Angeles Times. It’s by Rebecca Kukla, the editorial headline asked a question,
“Should all women not on birth control give up drinking?”Show Full Transcript
It turns out this is a much bigger story than birth control or drinking. As Rebecca Kukla begins her article,
“The Centers for Disease Control instructs pregnant women to not drink alcohol, and those who ignore this advice are subject to social shaming.”
She then asked the question,
“Is the circle of shame about to get a lot bigger?”
Her article continues,
“Citing the dangers of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the Centers for Disease Control last week released an advisory that directs women of childbearing age to abstain from alcohol entirely unless they are on birth control. This recommendation, which unduly burdens women between the ages of about 15 and 44, is deeply troubling on both scientific and ethical grounds.”
Now when you see a lede like this, even a headline asking this kind of question, Christians need to understand that there is almost always more at stake than the immediate controversy. Rebecca Kukla is writing this article over against the advice of the American Medical Association, not because she has a particular issue with the advice on medical terms, but because she believes it, to use her words,
“…unduly burdens women of childbearing age.”
How does it unduly place a burden upon them? By placing the responsibility for the health of the unborn child on the mother rather than on the father. In her op-ed piece, she argues this:
“Even as the CDC cracks down on potentially pregnant women, it offers no parallel recommendations for expectant fathers.”
Later she writes,
“The specific targeting of women’s alcohol consumption — and especially the scientifically unsupported prohibition of any alcohol consumption — is rooted in the belief that mothers have more responsibility for fetal health than fathers, and that women cannot be trusted to regulate their alcohol intake appropriately in light of realistic risk data.”
“What’s more,” she writes, “by extending its no-alcohol advisory to all women of childbearing age unless they are on birth control, the CDC is sending the message that women are in effect always poised for pregnancy, and should subjugate their desires to the maximization of their healthy-baby-making capacities.”
Now this article and the argument that drives it would be of interest to Christians trying to think on the basis of a Christian worldview even if the article appeared in some kind of fringe publication out on the edge of the culture. But this article appeared in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, one of the papers with widest circulation in the United States, and not only a wide circulation, but a very wide influence. In other words, Christians looking at the placement of this article have to understand this is not considered to be a fringe argument by the editors of the Los Angeles Times, and what we need to note here is that the author of the article, Rebecca Kukla, isn’t at all shy from saying exactly what she’s thinking. She says that it is an unfair burden on women that they are presumed to have a greater responsibility for the health of their unborn child than would be an expectant father. She also goes on to argue that it’s simply unfair to address women, especially of childbearing age, with any moral responsibility about the health of the potential unborn child. She says that is simply an imposition because it falls unfairly on women rather than on men. That is a straightforward argument right in the pages of the Los Angeles Times. Later in the article, she makes this argument,
“While asking pregnant women to cut out routine activities “just to be safe” may seem reasonable, taken to its full conclusion this would be completely paralyzing. Almost every food, product and activity poses some risk to fetuses. Getting into a car when pregnant, for instance, is almost certainly more dangerous than having a glass of wine. Besides,”
she says—and this is one of the most important sentences in her essay—
“…alcohol consumption isn’t that frivolous; in asking women to abstain, we are excluding them from a wide variety of social rituals, community spaces and events.”
She then concludes,
“This isn’t the first time the CDC has suggested that women’s needs are secondary to that of their possible future children.”
Actually, when looking at this article by Rebecca Kukla, she argues rather explicitly that women shouldn’t be overly concerned with the health of their actual unborn children, not just potential unborn children. Now here’s where we need to step back and understand that as important as the alcohol issue is, that isn’t what’s front-and-center in the article. Now it is a very important angle, especially when Kukla argues that alcohol consumption isn’t that frivolous. In other words, it’s really not fair to ask women to forego alcohol since she says in doing so,
“We are excluding them from a wide variety of social rituals, community spaces and events.”
Now keep that in mind when I bring to light something else that’s actually very essential here, and that’s our understanding of how abortion became legal in the United States, the legal reasoning behind the Roe v. Wade decision. That legal reasoning was based upon what is actually almost exactly the same argument. The legal argument in so many ways driving the Roe v. Wade decision was the argument that if women did not have access to abortion, they would be unduly burdened in a way that men are not by the fact that they could become pregnant and then would have to continue that pregnancy if they could not abort it, and that would set them back professionally. And that’s exactly what we need to see is the parallel argument that is being made here. We might put it another way. The only way an argument like this can be made with a straight face in the black-and-white print of the Los Angeles Times is because we are on the other side of Roe v. Wade where that argument not only gained traction, but actually, though a divided court ruled, led to a decision that legalized abortion-on-demand in this country.
But we also need to recognize that something even more basic is at stake here. There is a basic rejection implicit—no explicit—in this article of the fact that there is any meaningful distinction between men and women that is indicated by pregnancy and the role of women in terms of human reproduction. Now one of the things we need to note is that no previous generation of human beings would ever have made this argument with a straight face. This is an argument that only makes sense in very recent times in an incredibly confused culture. But as much as Rebecca Kukla tries to press her case that there should be no distinction between men and women, or even mothers and fathers when it comes to prenatal care and the care of the unborn child, the reality is there is a basic distinction between men and women not only in human reproduction, but especially here, and that is the fact that no actual biological male can give birth to a child.
The Christian worldview reminds us that this distinction between men and women is not some kind of biological accident traceable to something like evolution and its claims, but rather it is a part of God’s creative activity and design from the beginning. And this means that our understanding of the moral responsibility, and indeed the honor that is due to mothers, is tied to the fact that women do, mothers explicitly do have a particular responsibility when it comes to the health and well-being not only of the unborn child, but of all children. What we see here is in one sense a war on common sense. Rebecca Kukla must understand that when she says that even the advice from the CDC would make sense to most people at face value. She then brings a radical feminist argument and it comes down to this, that it’s unfair to burden women with a particular responsibility for prenatal care and for the health of their unborn children. But as much as her argument is at war with common sense, not to mention with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, Christians have to understand it’s actually at war with something far more foundational and more basic, and that is God’s purpose in creation and his glory in creation and his intention for human good and human flourishing in the very structures of the creation that he made and declared to be good.
At the end of the day this is a basic conflict with the structures of creation that God has made. It is a basic rebellion against God’s authority in creation and it won’t be limited to rejecting the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and it won’t be limited to the particular responsibility of women to their unborn children, actual or according to her article, merely potential. What we’re witnessing in this article is not only the meltdown of a common sense morality; it’s not only a rejection of medical advice; it is at the end a rejection of God’s authority in creation. So at the end of the day a headline like this takes us back not just to medicine nor just to the Centers for Disease Control, but to God’s purpose in creation. That’s where Christians always have to start.
Attempts to change vocabulary around alcohol abuse remove moral responsibility
Next, this leads to another recent story, but this one appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe. The headline in this article:
“A Struggle to Rewrite the Language of Addiction.”
As you can see, it has a logical tie to the story in the Los Angeles Times that preceded. Felice Freyer writing for the Boston Globe writes about the attempt to try to come up with a new moral vocabulary that avoids the words “abuse” or “addiction” or anything tied to them when it comes to alcohol or to drug use. As he writes,
“Advocates seek to excise language that blames or disparages the patient and replace it with medical terms free of judgment. They assert that commonly used words — ‘junkie,’ ‘abuser,’ even ‘substance abuse’ and ‘addict’ — can discourage people from seeking help, induce health professionals to treat patients harshly, and exacerbate the stigma that bedevils people suffering from drug addiction.”
The article cites Dr. Barbara Herbert who is the chapter president for the American Society of Addiction Medicine in Massachusetts. She said,
“The biggest thing we trade in is hope. Our biggest enemy is hopelessness. That’s why I think language matters a lot.”
Well, those who are committed to the Christian worldview will be in fundamental agreement with Dr. Herbert about that last point that language does matter a lot. What we call something is very, very important. This goes back to our fundamental dependence upon Scripture, upon Scripture’s definition of terms, what Scripture identifies, for example, sin to be—even using the word sin. And when we’re looking at an article like this, we need to recognize that one symptom of the cultural confusion, of the worldview confusion all around us is the fact that you’ve got a debate now over what in the world to use as the language for the abuse of certain substances or the addiction to them when you aren’t now supposed to use the words “abuse” or “addiction.”
Furthermore, it turns out that this problem is deeper legally and culturally speaking than many might imagine. As the article says,
“It doesn’t help that the reviled terms ‘substance abuse’ and ‘drug abuse’ are embedded in the well-recognized titles of government agencies, nonprofits, and scientific journals. Or that a phrase such as ‘person with a substance use disorder’ — often suggested as an alternative to ‘addict’ or ‘drug abuser’ — is both cumbersome and vague.”
The bottom line in this article is that it demonstrates the effort to try to change something by renaming it. In this it is a particular effort to destigmatize addiction and drug abuse by getting rid of the terminology in trying to come up with something that makes the individual a victim rather than a perpetrator of the problem. It is a straightforward effort, as the article makes clear, to remove personal responsibility from the entire picture of substance abuse and addiction, and that’s the problem. The issue here is that if there is personal responsibility, then anything that can be defined as abuse is then to be understood as something that is morally wrong, something for which the individual has to take some responsibility.
Many of the authorities cited in this article want to argue that that prevents some people from coming forward or from dealing healthfully with their challenges. But the article then goes on to make the issue far worse, and one of the things that’s most interesting in the article is it never actually comes up with a way to solve the problem that it presents. Let’s say for a moment that we are determined to try to remove the words abuse and addiction. What in the world would we come up with as a substitute? It turns out, even those behind the article and those behind the arguments aren’t able to come up with anything that actually makes sense that gets to a problem that isn’t in some way tied to moral responsibility and individual responsibility.
One of the things Christians need to recognize is that addiction problems like this are more widespread than many of us would want to admit. And furthermore, we also understand that many people find themselves in particular now with issues of prescription drugs, finding themselves in a position of dependence or even addiction when that wasn’t originally the plan, that wasn’t the intention from the beginning. But that points to something that Christians have to understand from a biblical worldview, and that is that in a fallen world even good things can be turned into evil purposes and even drugs that might alleviate pain in certain circumstances and thus be fully welcomed from the Christian worldview may well become issues of dependency, whether intended or not.
But the one thing the Christian worldview will not allow us to remove is the issue of moral responsibility. That moral responsibility may be complex; it may be shared between moral agents, between an individual and many others. It may be shared with the larger society. But there still is the inescapable issue of moral responsibility. And one of the things we need to note here is that there is actually no way to deal straightforwardly with this problem if we do not name the problem for what it is.
This article also demonstrates the circles we often run ourselves into when we try to think ourselves cleverly out of a problem like this while trying to deny moral responsibility. For instance, one of the problems that comes up in the article is that many of the people calling for the relinquishing of terms such as addiction and abuse have to make their arguments in scientific journals that have in their title the words addiction and/or abuse. One of the proposals is to change the name of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But as the article indicates, any such change would require an act of Congress. But it’s not just that, any such change would require some plausible proposal of what new name might serve better, and the reality is apparently no one is coming up with a better name. To its credit, the Boston Globe and its reporter do acknowledge authorities who understand the problem and who are resistant to the effort to try to rebrand substance abuse and addiction. For example, the article cites Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the Drug Abuse Agency, who
“…tried that more than a decade ago, proposing “the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction.” When that effort failed, Volkow moved on and today has more urgent priorities.”
Also, she said—this is very important—
“She doesn’t object to the word ‘abuse,’ finding it useful in distinguishing a severe disorder from milder conditions. Volkow said she agrees with efforts to avoid derogatory terms but urges precision and clarity in choosing replacements.”
“Otherwise”—and this is really crucial—“Otherwise,” she said “you end up in a world of grayness, where it’s very, very difficult to communicate.”
Well, that is exactly the point. We can very quickly end up in a world of grayness where it’s very, very difficult to communicate. Christians need to remember that that’s why we need the explicit moral language that makes the world make sense, because it is authentic and real and it names the problem for what it is, and that’s where Christians also have to recognize that we’re not competent for this, which is another reason why we are so dependent upon Scripture to give a name, a proper name, a true name, to the human problem that is sin and to all of its manifestations. And that’s where Christians have to recognize our fundamental dependence upon Scripture, a dependence that extends to naming our problem for what it is.
Crisis pregnancy centers challenge law that forces them to be complicit in the culture of death
Next, yesterday’s New York Times had another story that is related to our consideration, this having to do with pregnancy. Erik Eckholm reports for the New York Times with a headline,
“Pregnancy Clinics Fight for Right to Deny Abortion Information.”
The story is datelined from El Cajon, California, and we’ve talked about this issue before. The California state government by its General Assembly and its Governor signed into law a law that requires crisis pregnancy centers and other pro-life ministries to give those women who come into those centers information on how they can obtain a legal abortion. Now before we go any further, we need to recognize that that is a violation of the very purpose of which these ministries were created, and it is furthermore a violation of the First Amendment rights of these California citizens, pro-life citizens, to articulate their own moral convictions on abortion without being forced, coerced by the government to be complicit in the culture of death and in the abortion industry by directing women to local abortion clinics.
Erik Eckholm’s story in the New York Times is about several of these clinics that are now suing to protect their First Amendment freedoms, and also to alert people to the fact the government is coercing these pro-life ministries into articulating an argument about the availability of abortion and then actually directing women to abortion clinics. As he writes,
“Many states are passing restrictions that could force abortion clinics to close, a tactic under scrutiny in a major Supreme Court case to be argued next month. Here in California, it is the abortion opponents who are seeking to block a law — one adopted by a liberal state government to offset what officials call the misleading advice dispensed by pregnancy centers.”
Now, here you have a worldview conflict that comes down to the fact that just as Eckholm said, it was a liberal state government that is trying to force not only the availability of abortion, but is trying to put crisis pregnancy centers out of business. Behind this legislation is not only the government of California, but groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America. The Deputy Attorney General Anthony Hakl said,
“The interest of the state is compelling — that is to ensure women’s access to a complete range of reproductive health services.”
Now before you let that go, let’s go back to the fact that, as we have seen in so many horrible cases recently, you have abortion being packaged as “reproductive health services.” We saw that on the part of Planned Parenthood; now you see on the part of a Deputy Attorney General of the state of California. As Eckholm reports, on Tuesday of this week, one more federal district court judge turned down the effort by the clinics to gain a preliminary injunction over against the law. But as you might suspect, there is more here than first meets the eye, and in this case, there is more here than actually meets the pages of the New York Times. The New York Times article concludes with these words,
“The court battles appear likely to continue over the next year. The legal groups representing the centers, which also include the Pacific Justice Institute and the American Center for Law and Justice, vow to pursue the issue to the Supreme Court.”
Then these words,
“Things may come to a head sooner. The office of Kamala D. Harris, the California attorney general, who strongly supports the law, would not comment on enforcement. But NARAL Pro-Choice California said that it plans to monitor compliance and urge city and county lawyers to act.”
What’s not stated in that final paragraph is the fact that Kamala Harris is a leading candidate to replace Senator Barbara Boxer in the United States Senate. From a worldview perspective, one of the most chilling but yet revealing issues in the story is that in the state of California and in some other regions the United States as well, it is considered to be a winning political strategy for a Democratic candidate for the Senate to go after crisis pregnancy centers. The state of California has not only put itself in support of abortion, but is actually putting itself in opposition to crisis pregnancy centers. But just consider this, in this light, a government that is supposedly of the people, by the people and for the people is clearly not for unborn people.