A Child Is Not Chattel

One of the common hopes and repeated phrases around the pro-life movement is that “abortion will become as unthinkable as slavery.” I long for such a day.

The only problem is that the elements that made slavery possible are still thinkable now. We see it in how people behave toward children, particularly unborn children.

Consider the legal issues around Baby S., the little girl who God miraculously placed into a loving Christian family after her disabilities were discovered during a surrogate pregnancy for parents who decided they didn’t want her.

When her surrogate mother could not be bullied into an abortion, a lawyer for the genetic father reminded her that she had signed a contract. The lawyer made clear what that meant:

“You are obligated to terminate this pregnancy immediately,” wrote Douglas Fishman, an attorney in West Hartford, Connecticut. . . .

Fishman reminded Kelley that she’d signed a contract, agreeing to “abortion in case of severe fetus abnormality.” The contract did not define what constituted such an abnormality.

Kelley was in breach of contract, he wrote, and if she did not abort, the parents would sue her to get back the fees they’d already paid her — around $8,000 — plus all of the medical expenses and legal fees. (Elizabeth Cohen, Surrogate Offered $10,000 to Abort Baby, March 6, 2013)

In essence, this lawyer was arguing that the couple paying for the pregnancy could legally coerce the surrogate to abort that child because of a contract. If she refused, monetary damages would be sought. The unborn child had no rights at all.

Regardless of how one feels about surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, or even abortion, there isn’t a great deal of “choice” being offered in the scenario above. It is entirely about who has the right to do what to whom — including forcibly ending the life of a child against the wishes of the woman carrying the child.

Is this not the essence of slavery — one person asserting they can own another human being’s life through a contract?

We Must Get This Right

The church cannot expect governments or legal systems to get this right. From Dred Scott v. Sanford to Buck v. Bell to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has egregiously erred, asserting that the powerful have legal rights that cause permanent harm to the weak. God will hold those justices to account for this evil they affirmed.

The church cannot expect the educational systems to get this right. Eugenics was born in American and British universities long before it was expressed in the killing camps of Nazi Germany. Equally vile is the assertion being discussed in academic and medical journals that unborn children are not actually persons — an argument that is now being extended even to children already born.

The church cannot expect the medical establishment to get this right. Too often parents feel the pressure from doctors and nurses to end a pregnancy when a disability is discovered. Pray that God would raise up hundreds of medical professionals who default to caring for the mother and child, rather than pretending to care for the mother by destroying the child.

The church, those of us trusting in Jesus, we must get it right:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:3–5)

Church, please, do not let the language of law or property guide how we think of the children God gives us. Children — all children in every circumstance from every part of the world of every color and ethnicity and physical or cognitive ability — are not chattel. Children are not chattel. They are rewards and blessings from our gracious heavenly Father, for his glory and for our eternal good.

John Knight is Director of Donor Partnerships at Desiring God. He is married to Dianne and together they parent their four children: Paul, Hannah, Daniel, and Johnny. Paul lives with multiple disabilities including blindness, autism, cognitive impairments and a seizure disorder. John blogs on issues of disability, the Bible, and the church at The Works of God.