The Supreme Court will hear arguments today over a Mississippi law that bans abortion after fifteen weeks. The case is seen as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. According to the Associated Press, “both sides are telling the Supreme Court there’s no middle ground” in this conflict: “The justices can either reaffirm the constitutional right to an abortion or wipe it away altogether.”
Even if the court overturns Roe, this would not make abortion illegal in the US. Rather, as Mississippi’s attorney general notes, such a decision would return the issue to the states where citizens can “act on hard issues through the men and women they elect and can hold accountable at the ballot box.” Pro-life and pro-abortion advocates have been preparing for such a day for years.
Twenty-two states have passed laws that would outright ban or severely limit access to abortion in the event Roe is overturned. Fourteen other states have passed laws that would explicitly protect the right to abortion. The issue would be contested largely on partisan lines, since a supermajority of Democrats support keeping abortion legal while conservative Republicans favor making it illegal. Since the court’s ruling is not likely until next June, it will undoubtedly play a significant role in the midterm elections next fall.
If you have been reading my work over the years, you know that I passionately support the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. I explore this complex issue in a white paper on our website and in chapter-length discussions in three books: Between Compromise and Courage: The Choice Every Christian Must Make, 7 Critical Issues: The State of Our Nation, and How Does God See America?
However, I can state my position in two phrases: Abortion takes a human life and therefore abortion should be illegal. Today and tomorrow, I will make the case succinctly for the first phrase; on Friday, we’ll consider the second. Even if you agree with me, what follows may help you explain our position more persuasively to others.
“You formed my inward parts”
The Bible clearly and consistently teaches that life begins at conception.
For example, David thanked God that he “formed my inward parts” and “knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). God “knew” the prophet Jeremiah before he “formed” him “in the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5). The Bible describes children before and after their birth using precisely the same terms (cf. Luke 1:44; 2:16; 2 Timothy 3:15). It also requires us to defend the innocent (Exodus 23:7).
However, biblical truth regarding life is obviously unpersuasive for those who do not affirm the Bible as truth. One can also argue that a secular government should not legislate morality based solely on religious principles. Just as Christians would not want the government to adopt Muslim polygamy laws, many resist the legal enforcement of biblical moral truth.
Adultery is clearly unbiblical (Exodus 20:14). In fact, Scripture warns that “he who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32). However, adultery is not for this reason illegal in the US. The same is true of pornography (cf. Matthew 5:27–28) and, tragically, same-sex marriage today (cf. Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10).
“The obsolete science behind Roe v. Wade“
For those who are unpersuaded by biblical truth on this issue, what does the science say? More than ever before.
In 1973, Justice Harry Blackmun asserted in Roe, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”
That was then—this is now.
A diagnostic radiologist named Grazie Pozo Christie recently published a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “The Obsolete Science Behind Roe v. Wade.” She explains that ultrasound technology was in its infancy in the 1970s. However, today’s three-dimensional imaging technology makes clear “the liveliness and humanity of babies at fifteen weeks of gestation—the age at which Mississippi proposes to protect them from elective termination.”
She describes their major organs as “formed and functioning,” their sex as “easy to discern,” their heart as “fully formed,” their fetal spine as “a marvel of intricacy,” and their face as clear “in all its detail.” She summarizes: “Clearly human, clearly alive, no longer mysteriously hidden from the eyes and knowledge of man, they ask us to consider them not disposable nonhumans but valuable members of our human family.”
“It is a human being in its own right”
The standard human embryology textbook The Developing Human Being now states: “Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell—a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” When 5,502 academic biologists from 1,058 academic institutions were recently surveyed, 95 percent affirmed the view that a human’s life begins at fertilization.
Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, a famous French geneticist who discovered the cause of Down syndrome, stated: “To accept the fact that, after fertilization has taken place, a new human has come into being, is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention. It is plain, experimental evidence.”
From the moment of conception, the preborn baby is human and completely distinguishable from all other living organisms, possessing all forty-six human chromosomes, able to develop only into a human being. Every abortion performed in the US is performed on a being so fully formed that its heart is beating and its brain activity can be measured on an EEG machine.
Theologian Karl Barth’s statement is clear and compelling: “The embryo has its own autonomy, its own brain, its own nervous system, its own blood circulation. If its life is affected by that of the mother, it also affects hers. It can have its own illnesses in which the mother has no part. Conversely, it may be quite healthy even though the mother is seriously ill. It may die while the mother continues to live. It may also continue to live after its mother’s death and be eventually saved by a timely operation on her dead body. In short, it is a human being in its own right” (Church Dogmatics 3.4.416).
The personal question
Tomorrow we’ll take up secular arguments on this issue. For today, please join me in praying for the Lord to guide the justices as they consider this crucial issue. Ask the Spirit to lead those defending life before the court. Pray that you and I would be advocates not just for birth but for life and eternal life for every person we influence.
And be encouraged: God is on his throne. His kingdom is advancing around the world. I believe he is using the abortion issue to galvanize his people to engage our broken culture with servant hearts, passionate sacrifice, and full dependence on his Spirit.
How is he calling you to advocate for life today?