I want to try to answer three questions this morning with regard to abortion:
- What is happening?
- Why is it happening?
- What should our response be?
1. What Is Happening?
When the American Medical Association was formed in 1847, abortion was commonly practiced "before quickening." But through the efforts of the AMA and anti-obscenity crusaders and (ironically) feminists, abortion became illegal every where in the U.S. by 1900. Abortions went underground or out of the country.
Laws and Statistics
The key reversal of this legal situation came on January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade made the following rulings:
- that no state may make laws regulating abortion during the first three months of pregnancy except to provide that they be done by licensed physicians;
- that laws regulating abortion between the third month and the time of viability are constitutional only in so far as they are aimed at safeguarding the health of mothers;
- that laws relating to the time from viability (6–6 1/2 months) until the end of the pregnancy may not prevent abortion if it is "to preserve the life or health of the mother";
- that the "health" of the mother includes "all
factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the
woman's age—relevant to the well-being of the
Then on July 1, 1976, the Court extended its original decision to affirm:
- that abortions may be performed on minor daughters without the
knowledge or consent of their parents, and
- that women (whether married or unmarried) may obtain abortions
without the knowledge or consent of the baby's father.
In effect, therefore, the law of our land today is that any abortion is legal in America until birth if the mother can give reason that the pregnancy or the child will be an excessive burden or stress on her well-being.
Since that ruling 14 years ago Thursday, about 20,000,000 babies have been aborted in America.
The Event Itself
That is the first answer to what is happening. The second answer moves from laws and statistics to the event itself. Here is an account taken from the Minneapolis Tribune (May 29, 1976) of a married woman who got an abortion at a Minneapolis clinic.
Though I would march myself into blisters for a woman's right to exercise the option of motherhood, I discovered there in the waiting room that I was not the modern woman I thought I was.
When my name was called, my body felt so heavy the nurse had to help me into the examining room. I waited for my husband to burst through the door and yell "Stop," but of course he didn't. I concentrated on three black spots in the acoustic ceiling until they grew in size to the shape of saucers, while the doctor swabbed my insides with antiseptic.
"You're going to feel a burning sensation now," he said, injecting Novocain into the neck of the womb. The pain was swift and severe, and I twisted to get away from him. He was hurting my baby, I reasoned, and the black saucers quivered in the air. "Stop," I cried, "Please stop." He shook his head, busy with his equipment. "It's too late to stop now," he said. "It'll just take a few more seconds."
What good sports we women are. And how obedient. Physically the pain passed even before the hum of the machine signals that the vacuuming of my uterus was completed, my baby sucked up like ashes after a cocktail party. Ten minutes start to finish. And I was back on the arm of the nurse.
There were 12 beds in the recovery room. Each one had a gaily flowered draw sheet and soft green or blue thermal blanket. It was all very feminine. Lying on these beds for an hour or more were the shocked victims of their sex life, their full wombs now stripped clean, their futures less encumbered.
Finally, then, it was time for me to leave . . . My husband was slumped in the waiting room, clutching single yellow rose wrapped in wet paper towel and stuffed into a Baggie.
We didn't talk all the way home . . .
My husband and I are back to planning our summer vacation now and his career switch.
It certainly does make more sense not to be having a baby right now—we say that to each other all the time. But I have this ghost now. A very little ghost that only appears when I'm seeing something beautiful, like the full moon on the ocean last weekend. And the baby waves at me. And I wave at the baby. "Of course, we have room," I cry to the ghost. "Of course, we do."
That is a second way to answer the question of what is happening in our culture. There is a third.
The Taking of a Human Life
Is this woman overly sentimental in seeing "a very little ghost" when she looks at something beautiful? Was her baby anything like a real person? Suppose she had missed one period and let it go. Then when the second passed she tested and discovered she was pregnant. By the time she goes to the clinic the baby is seven or eight weeks old. Here is a description of her baby from Dr. Paul Rockwell of Troy, NY:
Eleven years ago while giving an anesthetic for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy (at two months gestation) I was handed what I believed was the smallest living human ever seen . . . Within the sac was a tiny human male swimming extremely vigorously in the amniotic fluid . . . This tiny human was perfectly developed, with long, tapering fingers, feet and toes. It was almost transparent, as regards to the skin, and the delicate arteries and veins were prominent to the ends of the fingers.
The baby was extremely alive and swam about the sac approximately one time per second, with a natural swimmer's stroke.
It is my opinion that if the lawmakers, and people realized that very vigorous life is present it is possible that abortion would be found more objectionable than euthanasia. (From an MCCL pamphlet, Their Lives—A Single Issue)
Contemporary medical technology gives every woman and man who is willing to look a clear picture what happens in abortion at every level. In this case it is the taking of this little life with arms and legs and fingers and toes and head and eyes and nose and a heart that has been beating for a month and a body not quite as long as your little finger, and crushes it or poisons it, or starves or in some other way takes away its life.
An Assault on the Unique Person-Forming Work of God
That is the third way of describing what is happening today. Let me give one more answer to this first question. Can we say anything from Scripture about what is happening when a life in the womb is aborted? Let me direct your consideration to two texts, one familiar and one perhaps not.
Thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb.
The least we can draw out of this text is that the formation of the life of a person in the womb is the work of God, and it is not merely a mechanical process but a work on the analogy of weaving or knitting: "Thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb." The life of the unborn is the knitting of God, and what he is knitting is a human being in his own image, unlike any other creature in the universe.
The other less known text is in the book of Job. Job is protesting that he has not rejected the plea of any of his servants, even though in that culture many thought that servants were non-persons and only property. The thing to watch for here is how Job argues.
13) If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me; 14) what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? 15) Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?
Verse 15 gives the reason why Job would be without excuse if he treated his servant as less than a human equal. The issue isn't really that one may have been born free and the other born in slavery. The issue goes back before birth. When Job and his servants were being fashioned in the womb, the key person at work was God—the same God, shaping both the fetus-Job and the fetus of his servants. It is irrelevant that Job's mother was probably a freedwoman and the mother of the servant was probably a bondwoman. Why? Because mothers are not the main nurturers and fashioners during the time of gestation—God is, the same God for both slave and free. That's the premise of Job's argument.
So both Psalm 139 and Job 31 emphasize God as the primary workman—nurturer, fashioner, knitter, Creator—in this time of gestation. Why is that important? It's important because God is the only One who can create personhood. Mothers and fathers can contribute some impersonal egg and some impersonal sperm, but only God creates independent personhood. So when the Scripture emphasizes that God is the main nurturer and shaper in the womb, it is stressing that what is happening in the womb is the unique work of God, namely, the making of a person. From the biblical point of view gestation is the unique work of God fashioning personhood.
We can argue till doomsday about when this little being becomes "a whole person." That argument will probably never be settled. But this we can say, I think, with great confidence: what is happening in the womb is a unique person-forming work of God, and only God knows how deeply and mysteriously the creation of personhood is woven into the making of a body. And therefore it is arbitrary and unwarranted to assume that at some point in the knitting together of this person its destruction is not an assault on the prerogatives of God the Creator. Let me say that again positively: the destruction of conceived human life—whether embryonic, fetal, or viable—is an assault on the unique person-forming work of God.
And therefore to the degree that we recognize even in fallen personhood a unique value, because of its potential to glorify God with conscious obedience and praise, to that degree will we shrink back with reverence and fear from assaulting or obstructing the divine work of God fashioning such a person in the womb.
So the fourth way of answering our first question is to say that what is going on in America today is by and large a cavalier, irreverent assault on the unique person-forming work of God. What God is knitting together into personhood, man is tearing asunder as something less significant than flesh and bones.
2. Why Is It Happening?
Now the second question is Why? Why is this happening with unprecedented frequency and flippancy in our day?
Because We Have Made a God of Self
One answer is given in James 4:2 (following the punctuation of the RSV and NASB):
You desire and do not have; so you kill.
Desire what? More financial security perhaps or more leisure or more education or more unrestrained teenage sex activity or more career options or the avoidance of a child who may be handicapped, or perhaps just less hassle for the next 18 years. We desire, and the desires may be good or bad.
But then comes the pregnancy—the beginning of a divine work of person-forming in the womb. And the result? The desires are threatened. We desire and then, because of the pregnancy, we cannot have. The child is going to cost money; or cramp our travel plans and our leisure; or keep us out of school; or hinder our career advancement; or consume thousands of hours with a possible handicap; and limit our freedom in a hundred ways for the next 18 years or more.
Now what? James says, "You desire and do not have; so you kill." We kill marriages and we kill unborn babies because they cut across our desires; they stand in the way of our unencumbered self-enhancement. And we live in a culture where self-enhancement and self-advancement is god. And if self-enhancement is god, then the One who is at work in the womb shaping a person in his own image is not God and the assault on his work is not sacrilegious, but obedience to the god of self.
Because the Ruler of This World Is a Murderer
Why has abortion on demand reached such awesome proportions in our land? Because beneath all the rhetoric it is the agenda of Satan, who, according to Jesus, has been a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). The apostle Paul said that when we love the world and follow its desires, we are following the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2–3).
Many of you know Steve Calvin, a physician with a specialization in obstetrics. He was a member of our church until he took an appointment in Tucson at the University of Arizona along side his involvement in a Hispanic HMO and a Crisis Pregnancy Center. He is an articulate opponent of abortion-on-demand.
He wrote me a letter a couple years ago and said,
To better know the opposition I checked out the book ____________ by ____________ (1983), the premier text on the medical, social and logistical aspects of this grisly business. After two days of reading and analysis . . . I'm convinced we are dealing here with forces of spiritual darkness that enslave men's minds.
Because We Do Not Submit to God or Resist Satan
And so James counsels us in verse 7,
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
A heart that is deeply submitted to God no matter what, and reverences his Word and his work above all worldly self-enhancement, will find the grace (as verse 6 says: "he gives more grace!") not only to conquer the frustrated desires that lead to killing, but also to be transformed with a new set of desires that find true and everlasting joy in submission to the one and only true God who speaks with authority in the Bible, and always for our good.
So the answer to the second question, why abortion abounds is that men and women are not submitted to their Creator but instead have made self-enhancement their god, have fallen in step with the ruler of this world, and so are willing to destroy virtually anything that stands in their way of unencumbered self-advancement.
3. What Should Our Response Be?
The final question is what should our response be?
I will mention five kinds of things.
Submit Yourselves to God
First, submit yourselves to God. Draw near to him. Live by the power of his grace. Let him shape your desires rather than the world and the feisty, self-centered temperament of our culture. Let your life and your mouth bear witness to the real delights of knowing and trusting and obeying and being shaped and guided by the Creator of all things who loved us and gave himself for us. Be a Christian—and a visible and audible one. The world needs you so badly.
Pray Earnestly and Regularly
Second, pray earnestly and regularly for awakening in the churches that will spill over in city-wide and nation-wide and world-wide evangelization of the lost and reformation of life.
Use Your Imagination to See Abortion for What It Is
Third, use your imagination to see what abortion really is! Fight against the kind of social stupor that gripped Nazi Germany—the feeling that the problem is so huge and so horrendous and so out of our control that I just can't be wrong to let it be. Use your imagination to see and feel what is really happening behind those sterile clinic doors.
If you could see each little handiwork of God and what it looks like when it is being crushed or poisoned or starved, you would say, this can't be happening. Civilized people do not do this! The children will not be saved and God's work will not be reverenced without an act of sustained sympathetic imagination. Otherwise it is out of sight, out of mind—just like Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen, and Auschwitz. It just couldn't be happening. And so we act as if it isn't.
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, "Behold, we did not know this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your souls know it, and will he not requite man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:10–12)
Support Alternatives to Abortion
Fourth, support alternatives to abortion with your money and time and prayers. I refer you to the New Life Homes Crisis Pregnancy Center sponsored by the Greater Minneapolis Association of Evangelicals, and the table that they will have in the hallway after and between the services (phone: 920.1006).
Press for Legal Protection for the Unborn
Finally, use your democratic privileges of free speech and representation and demonstration to press for legal protection for the unborn.
One of the strongest arguments against legal enactments to protect the unborn is the claim that legal constraints without widespread social consensus is tyranny. And there is no widespread social consensus regarding the personhood of the unborn.
The argument loses much of its force when applied to the historical situation of slaves in this country. On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court, in Dred Scott vs. Stanford, ruled that no act of Congress or territorial legislature could make laws banning slavery. The fundamental argument was that slaves are not free and equal persons but the property of their masters.
The ruling is analogous to Roe vs. Wade because today no state may make a law banning abortion to protect the unborn. The argument is similar: basically because the unborn are at the sovereign disposal of their mothers and do not have personal standing in their own right.
There was no consensus in this country on the personhood and rights of salves. We were split down the middle. But the issue was so fundamental that the states went to war, and in the end the Lincoln administration overturned the Dred Scott decision. And today, 130 years later, we look back with amazing consensus and marvel at the blindness of our forefathers.
May we not dare to believe that by the grace of God and the perseverance of his people in prayer and piety and political pressure there could emerge in the coming decades a consensus for life, and that the 21st century could look back on our generation with the same dismay that we have looking back on the slave laws of this land and on the concentration camps of World War II. Nationwide reformation has happened before—with Wilberforce in England and Lincoln in America. It can happen again. May God help us!