Podcast: The Heart of the Abortion Debate (Scott Klusendorf)
This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.
Helping Christians Respond to Abortion
In this episode of The Crossway Podcast, Scott Klusendorf discusses abortion and the current state of the pro-life movement. He highlights the biggest mistakes pro-life people tend to make when discussing abortion, explains why be believes pictures of aborted children are important to see, and responds to some of the most common pro-choice arguments and slogans.
The Case for Life
The pro-life message can compete in the marketplace of ideas—provided Christians properly understand and articulate that message. This book helps pro-life Christians make a persuasive case for the lives of the unborn.
Subscribe: iTunes | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Castro | Pocket Casts | Castbox | Overcast | TuneIn | Player FM | Radio Public | RSS
If you like what you hear, consider leaving us a rating and review on iTunes, Spotify, etc. Positive ratings help us spread the word about the show!
Scott Klusendorf, thank you so much for joining us today on The Crossway Podcast.
Matt, great to be with you.
Responding to Planned Parenthood
So just the other day Planned Parenthood tweeted a statement that I would love to hear your response to. They wrote, “If we don’t control our bodies, we can’t be free, and we can’t be equal.” What would you say to that?
Well, that’s such an interesting statement, Matt, and what’s interesting about it is it’s basically sexist because what it says to women is, You can’t achieve equality with men unless you get a special surgery that will make you equal with men. I think the Christian worldview has a much better answer. Men and women complement one another. They are equal. They equally bear the image of God; thus they have equal intrinsic dignity. Whereas Planned Parenthood’s answer is you can’t achieve equality unless you get a special surgery, abortion, to have that equality. I like our worldview better.
The Question Planned Parenthood Tries to Avoid
What if they came back to you and said it’s not about getting the surgery per se? It’s about having freedom from the financial burden, the economic burden, the time burden of having to care for an unwanted pregnancy or unwanted child.
Well, notice this objection that they raise assumes the unborn are not human. I mean, we could make women more free to pursue their careers and pursue their own preferred lifestyles if we killed all their toddlers—toddlers are a huge drain on women. Teenagers are too, for that matter. So notice that this objection assumes the unborn aren’t human, and that’s precisely the question in this debate that Planned Parenthood tries to avoid. They don’t want to answer the question What is the unborn? They want to jump right to the question Can we kill the unborn?
Look, I’m vigorously pro-choice on women choosing their own husbands, choosing their own careers, choosing their own health care providers, choosing their own educational goals. I’m pro-choice on all of those things, Matt. But some things are wrong. Some choices are in fact evil, like intentionally killing an innocent human being simply because he’s in the way of something we want. We’ve got to answer the question What is the unborn? before we answer the question Can we kill them because they’re in the way of what we want?
A Scientific Understanding of When Human Life Begins
A lot of medical technology and even our scientific understanding of what’s going on in the womb has progressed since that monumental Supreme Court decision in 1973, Roe v. Wade. Can you summarize where we’re at in terms of our scientific understanding of the unborn and why you think it supports the pro-life cause?
There’s really no debate right now in the scientific community about when human life begins. And I’ll summarize in a sentence for you what the science of embryology says, and you can find this in embryology textbooks worldwide: from the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living, and whole human being. By distinct, I mean that you were separate from your mother. You had a separate DNA. You likely had a separate blood type. And at least half the time, you’ve got a separate gender. You’re living, because dead things don’t grow. And you’re a whole human being meaning the kind of thing you are is not in question, even though you have yet to mature. Now if someone questions this, my response is to say, How is it possible for two human parents to create offspring that isn’t human but later becomes so? They need to answer that question empirically, and it’s not going to be easy for them to do it.
So the first thing scientifically we need to make note of is that we are distinct, living, whole human beings. The real debate is happening philosophically. Once we establish the humanity of the unborn, which is really tough to deny scientifically, now the question becomes philosophic. Does each and every human being have an equal right to life, or do only some have it in virtue of some characteristic that may come and go in our lifetimes and that none of us share equally? And that philosophical question—Does each and every human being have an equal right to life?—is what is really driving the public policy debate right now. Look, the abortion debate is not about who loves women and who hates women. It’s not about choice. It’s not about privacy. It’s not about trusting women. It’s not about back-alley abortions. It’s not about forcing one’s religion. It’s about one question: Are the unborn one of us? Who counts as one of us? That’s the issue that’s under debate right now.
Bad Pro-Life Arguments
Yeah, but it seems like that’s often not the way the conversation is framed nor is it even the way that even people from the pro-life perspective often pursue it. The conversation seems to happen along the line of some of the other objections or arguments that you just mentioned.
Yeah, even on the pro-life side there can be a tendency to make very bad pro-life arguments. I’ll give you one. You’ll hear somebody say, Oh man, wouldn’t it be tragic if we found out in eternity that the baby that would have grown to be the doctor that cured cancer got aborted? Hey, just think of all the artists we’ve aborted: potential Beethovens. These are very bad pro-life arguments.
The pro-life argument is that it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being; abortion does that; therefore, it’s wrong. And we argue it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being regardless of his gifting. It doesn’t matter if he’s a Rhodes Scholar or a beach bum. It doesn’t matter if he can play twenty musical instruments or can’t carry a tune at all. We argue that each and every human being has intrinsic dignity simply because of whose image they bear. And to make these functionalist pro-life arguments, we’re buying the premise of the other side that says our true value is based on our performance, not our endowment. That’s when we are actually doing work for the other side, and we need to avoid those kinds of arguments.
Now of course the other side also makes bad arguments. They often simply assume the unborn aren’t human. I’ll just give you a classic example. Someone says to the pro-lifer, Why don’t you trust women to make their own personal decisions? Well Matt, maybe I do and maybe I don’t trust women to make their own personal decisions. How does that have anything to do with whether or not the unborn are human or whether or not it’s okay to intentionally kill them? Would anybody argue that we can kill toddlers in the name of trusting people to make their own personal decisions? Of course not. The only reason they argue that way on abortion is they assume the unborn aren’t human. So you’re right. People don’t want to talk about abortion. They don’t want to talk about the key philosophic and scientific questions in this debate, and that’s why, as pro-life Christians, we have to frame this debate for them. One of the most important tasks of the pro-life Christian is not to just begin spouting out answers. Rather, it’s to show our critics where the discussion really needs to go. We need to do what we call narrate the debate. Guide the discussion the right direction.
The Success of the Pro-Choice Side of the Argument
Yeah, it does seem to me like the pro-choice, pro-abortion side of the argument has really been quite successful and quite adept at framing the discussion along the lines that best serve their argument.
Well, one of the ways they’ve been successful that way is to basically take it out of the debate realm. Keep in mind what the abortion-choice side would like to do generally speaking. They would like to avoid having debates over who counts as one of us. Look, they know their history the way we know our history. You can’t begin to argue that a certain class of human beings could be set aside to be killed because of some accidental property like skin color, race, gender, or in this case with the unborn it’s their size, their level of development, their dependency. Every time the US—or any western nation for that matter—buys into that way of defining human value, atrocities follow because human worth then becomes totally subjective. It’s not based on anything objective. It becomes a matter of what those in power say matters, and that’s going to mean that might makes right in terms of human rights.
The Abortion Debate is Inherently Relgious
Earlier you mentioned that the dignity that all humans have comes from the fact that they are made in the image of their Creator. That’s an explicitly religious, if not explicitly Christian, argument to make. Is there a secular argument that you can make in support of the pro-life cause, or do you view the pro-life cause as fundamentally Christian?
Well, the bottom line is everybody in this debate is doing religion, Matt. Nobody escapes that. And one of the ways we narrate the debate for our critics is to point that out.
Let me explain what I mean by that. The pro-life side argues that each and every human being—regardless of their size, their level of development, their dependency needs—has an equal right to life simply because they’re human. The pro-abortion side argues: no, what matters is not being human but whether you can immediately function a certain way. For example, you must be immediately able to exercise desires or self-consciousness or self-awareness.
Now notice that both sides are using philosophical reflection to answer the question, What makes humans valuable in the first place? That is inherently a worldview question that is religious, so everybody at the end of the day is doing religion. However, I do believe pro-lifers can make a nonsectarian case that will resonate with the vast majority of Americans who don’t bother to go that deep when it comes to metaphysical questions about what makes us valuable in the first place.
So for those people we can argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings, and we can argue philosophically that there’s no essential difference between the embryos they once were and the adults they are today that would justify killing them back then. Differences of size, level of development, environment (meaning where we’re located), and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying we could kill them then but not now. Now notice in that defense I didn’t give any Bible verses. I didn’t cite any church traditions. I simply laid out an argument that there’s no essential difference between the embryo you were and the adult you are today that would justify killing you back then. And that will resonate with large numbers of Americans.
The Problem with the “Safe, Legal, and Rare” Approach to Abortion
So we’ve moved far past the notion—it almost seems antiquated now--that was often even promoted by the pro-choice, pro-abortion side of things, that abortions, while necessary, should be safe, legal, and rare. Often political people would say that line. Others who were supporting abortion would often say that as well. And yet now a public celebration of abortion is becoming more and more common. Do you see that trend? And if so, why do you think that’s happening? Why have we societally moved away from the “safe, legal, and rare” idea to the idea that we need to celebrate this?
Two things have happened. The first is the “safe, legal, and rare” approach backfired badly on the abortion-choice crowd. And the reason it backfired is it raised an obvious question. Why should abortion be safe, legal, and rare? More specifically, why should it be rare? If it’s morally neutral, and there’s nothing wrong with it, who cares how many abortions there are? So in essence, that sound bite they threw out there that really began, I think with Bill Clinton’s candidacy in 1992, backfired on the pro-choice crowd because now they had to answer the question, Why should abortion be rare? And even some of their own authors raised this. Authors like Katha Pollitt, who said, Listen, let’s quit apologizing for abortion. Let’s quit trying to make excuses for it. Instead, let’s make the point that vacuuming out your uterus is no different morally than vacuuming out your house. So why are we apologizing, saying it ought to be rare? And she’s making a good point. If abortion is not morally problematic, who cares how many you have?
The second reason why I think you’re seeing them take a more unapologetic approach to abortion is that, culturally and politically, the pro-life movement may be in a position (and I say may, I don’t want to overstate here) to do serious damage to the abortion license for the first time since Roe v. Wade. And what I mean by that is it’s possible that even now there are enough votes on the federal courts, and specifically the Supreme Court, to seriously gut Roe v. Wade.
Just to be clear about what Roe v. Wade was: Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton stated that during the first three months of pregnancy, the state may not restrict abortion at all. During the second trimester of pregnancy, meaning months four through six, the state may only regulate abortion to guarantee safety for the mother. Then in the final trimester the state may (notice the word is may, not must) protect the unborn if and only if those proposed protections do not interfere with the mother’s health. Well, in Doe v. Bolton, the court then defined health so broadly you could drive a Mack truck through it: psychological health, economic health, family health—all count as a health reason justifying a late term abortion.
So now what we have, given the court has been reconfigured by the Trump administration, you now have states stepping up and saying “Let’s test this. Let’s see what we can do. So you have states like Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, and others passing laws that basically say you can’t have an abortion after a fetal heartbeat, or you can’t have an abortion after a certain place in the pregnancy. Now these are not outright bans on abortion because I’m not sure that anybody thinks we’ve got the ability to pull that off at the federal courts at this point. But if you succeed in gutting Roe v. Wade, that’s going to do serious damage to the other side. The other side knows it and the reason why you’re hearing them unapologetically promote abortion is they’re trying to rally their base.
Scott Klusendorf’s Involvement in the Pro-Life Cause
Yeah, I want to return to some of the responses we’re seeing from the pro-choice side of things in a minute, but before we get there, how did you first get involved in a serious way in the pro-life cause?
I had always been pro-life, Matt, but when I was thirty years old, I was an associate pastor at a church in southern California, and if you had asked me at that time, “Are you pro-life?” I would have said yes. But my pro-life advocacy basically amounted to once a year, I’d go down to the local pregnancy center banquet, give an obligatory donation, and pretty much think I’d done my duty. In 1990 though, the local pregnancy center director encouraged me to attend a breakfast for pastors. She said, “Listen, we’re going to have a pastors’ breakfast. We hope for a good crowd. And we’ve got a speaker coming that I think you’re really going to like, and I think you’ll enjoy what he has to say.” And I thought “Alright, sure, I’ll go.” So I showed up that Saturday morning in November of 1990 at a fairly large church in southern California, and I saw four other colleagues there with their wives. The audience couldn’t have been more than 15 people. And thankfully despite that dismal turnout, the speaker Greg Cunningham, who used to be in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, he had worked in the Reagan and Bush administrations in the Justice and Educational Departments, laid out a case for the pro-life view. And I thought, “I really like this guy. He doesn’t hurt the brain to listen to. He’s intelligent. He’s systematic. He’s thorough. He’s careful in his approach. But then he did something that changed my life. He showed an eight-minute video depicting abortion.
Matt, I had never seen abortion. And I watched that video, that gruesome imagery on the screen. And I wept, and I thought How am I any different than the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan who passed by on the other side of the road? I say I oppose this, but I’m not lifting a finger to stop it. And to make a long story short, within six months, with the blessing of the church I was at, I resigned my associate pastor’s position and struck out on my own trying to figure out, How can I teach Christians how to make a case for the pro-life view? So here we are thirty years later almost.
Is it Ever Appropriate to Use Graphic Images of Aborted Babies to Defend the Pro-Life Position?
Well that raises actually a very interesting and pretty controversial issue and that being the effectiveness, the value, the appropriateness of using graphic images of aborted babies as a tool or as a strategy for defending a pro-life position. So I wonder if you have any thoughts on that and particularly how you would respond to people who might argue that using pictures like that can be more harmful than helpful to the cause?
Pro-lifers tend to make one of two mistakes with disturbing visual aids. They either use them poorly, which is to say they spring them on unsuspecting audiences with no warning, no preparation, no context, and then people understandably get upset. The other mistake they make is they don’t use the pictures at all. There’s actually a third way, and that is to use the pictures wisely, and that’s what we try to do at Life Training Institute. So for example, before any presentation of visual content, we tell the audience what’s in it. We invite them to look away. The particular clip we use is fifty-five seconds long, so it’s not overly burdensome for someone to look away. And then we also preface our intro to the pictures with a clear presentation of the gospel and how Christ is there to forgive and how Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place. He stood as our substitute, was condemned in our place, and God accepted Christ’s sacrifice for the sin of abortion, and he proved that by raising Jesus from the dead three days later. And not only that, for those who trust in Jesus, God the Father isn’t their judge anymore. He’s their dad, and he adopts them into his family. We give that good news. We set the context. Then when we show the visuals, we don’t get pushback. Nobody complains. How can they? We were very careful in how we did it.
But I would also point out on the larger scale of things I’m hard-pressed to think of any successful social-reform campaign in the last 160 years that didn’t involve disturbing imagery to convey truths to a culture that the culture wanted to ignore. I’m thinking back to the early 1860s. Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist, went to Abraham Lincoln and said Mr. President, your arguments on behalf of the slave and the slave’s humanity are stellar. They’re tight. They’re irrefutable, and guess what, almost nobody cares. What the public needs right now is not just your arguments—which you need to keep giving—but the public also needs thunder. They need to have the moral conscience of the nation pressed upon them. And Lincoln got it. And shortly thereafter you started seeing the pictures after the Battle of Antietam of slaves with big scars running down their backs where they had been beaten and whipped. You saw other disturbing primitive photos beginning to emerge right as photography emerged. And these images helped change the discourse on the Civil War and helped change the war from being a war of states to a war of human rights. And the same is true with the civil rights movement. Disturbing images of African American men being lynched changed the way the nation thought about this issue. And the same is true with abortion. There are millions of Americans who will continue to think of it as a mere preference issue like choosing chocolate ice cream over vanilla until they see it in pictures.
Is the Comparison between the History of Slavery and Abortion Appropriate?
Yeah, you kind of drew that comparison to the history of slavery and racism in the US, and that is something that many pro-life people will do. They’ll compare it to a modern-day type of slavery, an atrocity on that same scale. Do you think that’s appropriate? Is that a helpful comparison to make?
It can be if we explain it. It’s not if we don’t. What we need to do is make sure people understand that the worldview issues are the same. Go back to slavery for example. The debate was over who counts as one of us. In other words, as Lincoln would say to Douglass when he would debate Douglass on slavery (not Frederick Douglass the abolitionist, but Stephen Douglass, the pro-slavery attorney). Lincoln would say to Stephen Douglass, Do the rights that are discussed in the Declaration of Independence apply to the slave as they do each of us? The natural rights that accrue to a man simply because he’s human? Of course, Douglass argued no. Lincoln argued yes. Lincoln’s point was that you’re going to have a house divided when the nation cannot decide who counts as one of us.
And that same debate is happening today with the unborn. Do they count as one of us? So it’s perfectly appropriate to draw the parallels and say the underlying philosophical worldview is the same. We can do that without minimizing one atrocity versus another. But I don’t, for example, say to people, Well, if you oppose slavery, and you think that was bad, abortion’s even worse. That’s going to turn people off. But if you point out that the worldview considerations are identical, and we’re having a discussion at a deep philosophical level about who counts as one of us, then I think the parallels are appropriate.
Responding to Common Pro-Choice Statements
I wonder if you can respond to the following statements I’m going to read that are often succinct pro-choice arguments. I wonder if you can respond to them in a sentence or two, so pretty quick responses. But these are things that I think a lot of us hear, whether from people we know, friends or family members, neighbors who are pro-choice, but certainly in the culture more generally. So I’ll read through each of them, and I’d love for you to respond fairly shortly to each. So the first would be: abortion is healthcare.
Abortion is not healthcare because pregnancy is not a disease, and unborn children are not tumors. With disease, we’re treating something that harms the body. The woman’s body was designed to handle pregnancy. It wasn’t designed to handle tumors. So the parallel is completely inappropriate.
Do Pro-Life People Just Want to Control Women’s Bodies?
Here’s the second one: Pro-life people just want to control women’s bodies.
Pro-life people want to prevent the intentional killing of innocent human beings. Why should we assume that the unborn is part of the mother’s body? If that’s true, that means the pregnant mother has four arms, four eyes, four legs, and other things that make it really interesting. So I think that objection is one of the easiest to dispatch.
Must Pro-Life People Take Responsibility for Everything Wrong with Society?
Pro-life people care more about children before birth than after birth.
Maybe we do, and maybe we don’t. But how does my alleged unwillingness to care for a child after he is born justify an abortionist intentionally killing him before he is born? This is crazy. Does anyone ever go to the American Cancer Society and say, “How come you only care about one disease: cancer? What are you doing about heart attacks? What are you doing about diabetes? What are you doing about Crohn’s disease? It simply doesn’t follow that because pro-lifers oppose the intentional killing of innocent human beings that we therefore must take responsibility for everything wrong with society.
Would it Be Dangerous to Make Abortion Illegal?
Making abortion illegal will lead to a huge increase in dangerous back-alley abortions.
All pro-lifers mourn the loss of any woman who dies from an abortion, legal or illegal. But notice what this assumes about the unborn. It assumes the unborn are not human because otherwise what you’re arguing, Matt, is that because some humans will die attempting to kill others, the state ought to make it safe and legal for them to do it. But why should the law be faulted for making it more risky for one human to intentionally kill another completely innocent one? This is absurd reasoning. And then statistically we know, as I outline in The Case for Life that these claims of five to ten thousand women a year dying from illegal abortion are completely made up out of thin air, and I cite in the book, not pro-life sources for saying that, but pro-abortion sources who say the threat from illegal abortion was vastly overstated and sold to a sympathetic press.
Arguments Don’t Have Gender
Last one, you’re a man, and therefore you have no right to speak on the issue of abortion, which concerns a woman and her body and her child.
Well, if no man can speak on abortion, we need to reverse Roe v. Wade because it was decided by nine men. But that aside, arguments don’t have gender. People do. And by the way pro-life arguments that are advanced by men are identical to the pro-life arguments advanced by women. You have to argue your case. You have to refute an argument. It doesn’t do to attack someone personally. That’s a fallacy we call the ad hominem fallacy.
Grounding Principles for Pro-Life People
Even pro-life people often will allow for exceptions when it comes to their stance on abortion in the cases of rape and incest, even if those are extremely rare. Pregnancies resulting from those are pretty rare, all things considered. Do you think that’s a reasonable exception to make even if it was viewed as kind of a compromise to some extent? Or do you think it’s important to hold the line and just be anti-abortion across the board?
It depends on whether we’re talking about the advancement of pro-life legislation or your grounding principles as a pro-lifer. So let’s first talk about the grounding principles. If you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life, then how one got conceived is irrelevant to their right to life and to their value. In other words, hardship doesn’t justify homicide. If the unborn are human beings, killing them because of the sin of their father would be an egregious moral wrong. And we can’t just kill innocent human beings because it will make us feel better.
At the legislative level however, the question often comes up, “Well, what do we do? What if we have the votes to pass a bill that would ban 97% of abortions but would still leave them open for rape cases? Are we obliged to hold to our principles, or can we go ahead and support that bill without compromise?“ And my answer is this: your job as a pro-life lawmaker, or voter for that matter, is to advance the good and limit the evil insofar as possible in any given election cycle. So if I have an opportunity to outlaw 97% of all abortions, I will go ahead and take that opportunity. Now I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to keep going for the other 3% to protect those children. But in going for the 97% I’m not compromising because I’m not saying it’s okay to kill those children. I am saying I can save 97%. I’ll do that right now, and I’ll get the rest later. Now someone will say Aren’t you deciding which babies live and which die? No, I’m not at all. In fact the federal courts have already decided that no unborn children have a right to life. I’m not the one compromising. The other side is compromising. They just lost 97% of the abortions they wanted to do. So I’m going to promote the good and limit the evil insofar as possible. That’s my job as a pro-life Christian.
The Best Pro-Choice Argument
So what would you say is the best pro-choice argument that you’ve encountered? Not that it’s something that you obviously don’t feel is decisive for the pro-choice cause, but what is the best pro-choice argument in your opinion?
By best, I’m going to distinguish between those that resonate with the population at large because the population at large isn’t thinking seriously about this issue. And those that are truly academically formal arguments that present a challenge to our view. Let me deal with the formal argument that I think is probably the most impressive, at least that I’ve seen. And that would be David Boonin’s “desire argument.” David Boonin is a philosopher at the University of Colorado. He’s written a book called A Defense of Abortion. He’s a likeable guy. In fact, David Boonin would rather sit down with pro-lifers and have an intelligent conversation with them than he would deal with the street activists from Planned Parenthood. He hasn’t got a lot of patience for street activists.
But what he likes about pro-lifers is they’re thoughtful. So here’s Boonin’s position: you and I are identical to the embryos and fetuses we once were. We weren’t blobs of tissue back then. That was us. However, just because we’re identical to the embryos and fetuses we once were, it doesn’t follow we had the same right to life then as we do now. And what gives us our right to life is not our standing as human beings which he doesn’t question. Rather, what gives us our right to life is that we can immediately exercise desires, and until you can immediately exercise desires, if you’re killed through abortion, you’re not really being robbed of anything that you want. Therefore abortion, though maybe regrettable, maybe in some cases something we wouldn’t want to promote, it’s at least morally permissable.
What I like about his argument is at least he’s engaging the question we need to answer, which is, “What makes humans valuable in the first place?“ He’s not dodging that question. He’s jumping into it head on. So I appreciate that. However, I find his argument problematic. First of all, why is having desires value-giving in the first place? He simply asserts this. He needs to argue for it. Why is that decisive and not say, having a belly button that points out rather than in?
Secondly, his view proves too much. It not only justifies killing the fetus up until what he would claim is week 28–32 when he would say the fetus develops desires, the reality is that his view would allow the killing of newborns because newborns don’t have desires. Well, how do I know that? Well, in order to have desires, you have to have belief in judgment. You have to believe something is the case and then analyze it and say it could be better a different way. Newborns are not capable of that. I’m not even sure that one-year-olds are. So his argument ends up proving more than he wants it to.
The third problem with it is it results in savage inequality. If having an immediately exercisable desire is what gives me a right to life, and you have more of that than I do, then your right to life is greater than mine, and you can take human equality and throw it on the ash heap of history. And then too, I think it’s subject to very devastating counter examples. Frank Beckwith gives a good one; he says, Imagine if a scientist surgically alters the brain of a developing fetus so it never desires anything. And then when the child reaches age five, he is killed so his body parts can be implanted into the bodies of those suffering from illness. Now under Boonin’s worldview, would it be wrong to kill that child? Now Boonin would say yes, but I don’t think he can say yes without borrowing from our worldview that says that what really gives us our value is not our immediately exercisable desires. Rather, it’s having a human nature. And that child, that human child, has a human nature from the moment he begins to exist. Human parents produce human offspring. I think our worldview can account for the wrongness of killing that five-year-old. I don’t think Boonin’s can.
The Biggest Mistake Pro-Life People Make
So what do you think is the biggest mistake that pro-life people make when trying to engage this issue? We’ve talked a little bit about bad arguments that can often be trotted out in support of the pro-life cause, but are there any other mistakes or even counter-productive things that you see that are kind of common among pro-life people?
There’s a big one right now that’s resurfaced that troubles me greatly, Matt. And we have large numbers of pro-life leaders on our side who buy the premise of our critics. Our critics say, “Well, if you’re really pro-life, what are you doing about the immigration crisis? What are you doing about the opioid crisis? What are you doing about foster care? What are you doing about the refugee crisis?” So these leaders have started publishing articles entitled “The Opioid Crisis is a Pro-Life Issue,” “Immigration is a Pro-Life issue,” “Gun Control is a Pro-Life Issue,” and the list goes on and on. But here’s the problem with that. Suppose we did everything our critics are demanding of us. We took up every cause under the sun. Not only would that bankrupt the pro-life movement. We have thinly spread resources anyway. But even if we did all that, would our critics suddenly become pro-life on abortion? Never! There’s no way they would. This is all a big smoke screen. And as I said earlier: how does it follow that because pro-lifers oppose the intentional killing of an innocent human being, we have to take on all these other issues? That is just plain nuts. Pro-lifers have got to keep the main thing the main thing. We are about opposing the intentional killing of human beings in the womb. Now as Christians, Matt, we will care about a lot of issues. As a Christian and a member of a local body of believers in my local church, I am supporting things like crisis pregnancy care, racial reconciliation in my community, other things, a host of other issues. But it doesn’t follow that the operational objectives of the pro-life movement have to be broad. And that’s a huge mistake that our side is doing right now.
Protecting the Right to Life for All People
I think there’s an implicit charge of hypocrisy that the pro-life movement claims to be about supporting justice and the right to life that all humans have, and then they don’t seem concerned about protecting that right to life for people in other stages of life or other challenging situations, so to me, that’s the issue behind it. The implicit critique is that there’s a hypocrisy that maybe calls into question the real motives behind the pro-life movement.
Well, let’s say we were hypocrites. Does that defeat our argument that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being; abortion does that, therefore it’s wrong? No! All it does is show we’re inconsistent in the way we live out our argument. But that wouldn’t refute our syllogism. But that aside, I don’t believe we are hypocrites. Nobody would say to a Christian daycare ministry that opened up a daycare center in downtown Philadelphia after school and said to the world, We’ll take kids from 3–5 pm after school every day, but only if they’re elementary age—to give their mothers a chance to get home and get supper going. Nobody would go to that daycare ministry and say Why aren’t you open 24/7? What are you doing about gang violence? And what about older kids in the city? How come you only care about elementary kids, and how come you only care for them from 3–5 pm, and you don’t care for them the rest of the day? Nobody would make that argument. But they come to us and they say that because we oppose the intentional killing of these innocent human beings in the womb, we’re hypocrites if we don’t take care of all life and all problems in life.
The Future of the Pro-Life Cause
Are you overall encouraged by the thought of the next generation of young people growing up and getting into more and more important influential leadership positions in our society? Are you encouraged by what you see there for the future of the pro-life cause, or are you maybe a little bit pessimistic or nervous about what might happen?
That’s a great question, and I’m going to be honest. I don’t know. On one hand, the students we are able to reach with pro-life training respond favorably, and they take it and many of them use it in a way that is profound. On the other hand, look what we’re up against. Every major academic institution outside of a few Christian institutions that are faithful to the gospel is caving into a very leftist worldview that promotes things like abortion. The media is pro-abortion. Our politicians, the ones that get the most microphone space, are pro-abortion. We are dealing with fifty years of a culture that has come to see abortion as mainstream. Now, that can be turned over because as we know, racial segregation was considered settled law, and we changed that. But it does mean we have an uphill battle, and I’m not seeing our churches pick up the pro-life issue and say, We’re going to commit to training our people to make a God-centered, God-glorifying case for the pro-life view in the public square. If they mention abortion, it tends to be just on the biblical side of, Hey, all humans have value because they bear God’s image. We’re thankful they say that, but they really need to go further and equip their people to engage in the public square. Otherwise, I don’t know how we win this.
The Importance of Churches Engaging in the Pro-Life Issue
Why don’t you think they do that?
I think many pastors, Matt, are more worried about the fallout from talking about this issue than they are conveying biblical truth. I can’t give you percentages, but we come up against this all the time. Pastors will say things like, I talk about this issue, I could turn people off from the gospel. If I talk about this issue, I might distract people from the gospel. If I talk about this issue, I’m going to hurt men and women who have maybe had an experience with abortion, and I’ve got those people in my church, and I don’t want to go there and lay a guilt trip on them. I want to spare them that guilt trip. Of course the problem with that last objection is, when we’re silent about abortion, we’re not sparing post-abortion men and women guilt, we’re sparing them healing because unconfessed sin has them out of full fellowship with Christ. As for turning people off, I have to politely disagree with the pastor who would say that. I think it’s just the opposite. When Christians present a compelling, careful, thought-out case for the pro-life view, and the non-Christian hears that case, the non-Christian thinks If Christians have something intelligent to say on this issue, maybe they deserve a second look. I think it helps our case rather than turns people away. As for being a distraction to the gospel, do we or do we not believe in the Great Commission? The Great Commission is clear. We’re told to go make disciples. What does it mean to go make disciples? It means to teach people everything that Christ has commanded. One of those commands is we’re not to shed innocent blood. Abortion is the shedding of innocent blood. Therefore, abortion has a relationship to the Great Commission responsibilities of the local church. And we aren’t distracting people from that commission by talking about abortion; we’re integrating it.
Looking Back on The Case for Life
So you published The Case for Life, your book on this topic, ten years ago, I believe. As you look back on that book, is there anything in your own thinking about this topic and about how to best engage with people on this difficult issue that you’ve learned in the last decade?
The good news is there’s nothing I have to take back that I’m aware of. No wrong statements that need to be corrected, at least that I’m aware of. I think what I would do is add a section on those that come right out and say Hey, let’s go ahead and do post-birth abortions. Let’s go ahead and not feel too badly about infanticide. After all, if the newborn can’t function with self-awareness any more than the fetus can, why not kill both? I think I would add a chapter addressing that. I think I would also add a chapter about the threats that we face from the inside right now of certain so-called pro-life leaders that want to redefine the pro-life mission away from saving children in the womb to taking on a host of other issues. That is something that I see as a severe threat, and I would want to include that in a future edition. And I might simplify the syllogism a little bit that I put forth in the book. It’s not bad the way it is, but I think I would go real simple and I would state it this way:
Premise 1: It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Premise 2: Abortion does that.
Conclusion: Therefore abortion is wrong.”
So I would more tweak the book than do any kind of massive rewrite. I don’t think it needs a massive rewrite by any means.
Well Scott, thank you for taking some time to talk with us today about this important topic and for all the work you do day in and day out for decades now to support children in the womb and their right to life.
Thank you, Matt, and thanks to Crossway for publishing my book. It’s just been a joy to have a partnership with you.
Popular Articles in This Series
Podcast: A Christian Doctor’s Guide to Thinking about Coronavirus (Bob Cutillo, MD)
A Christian doctor discusses the current coronavirus pandemic, explaining what's currently happening in the US and around the world and offering perspective on how we should think about this virus.
Podcast: Are Christians Obligated to Give 10%? (Sam Storms)
What does the Bible teaches about tithing? Are Christians still obligated to give 10% of their income today?
Podcast: Help! I Hate My Job (Jim Hamilton)
Jim Hamilton discusses what to do when you hate your job, offering encouragement for those frustrated in their work and explaining the difference between a job and a vocation.
Podcast: Calvinism 101 (Kevin DeYoung)
What are the five points of Calvinism really about and how can we believe them, while maintaining gracious humility towards others who don't?