By Joel Settecase / 16-minute read
Last updated: June 1, 2019.*
With the spate of new legislation severely limiting access to abortion, the debate between those in favor of the practice and those in opposition to it has never been more intense. Christians need to be able to speak clearly about abortion and answer certain key questions about these new laws. In this article we examine the Alabama law which outlawed abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
In an article datelined from this morning, May 15, 2019, the “Sun,” a British news website (along with many other news sources) is reporting that the state of Alabama is very close to outlawing abortion after six weeks of gestation. The bill, currently trending on Twitter as the #AlabamaAbortionBan, passed the legislature and, at the time of this writing, is on Governor Kay Ivey’s desk, who is expected to sign it into law [update: by the time I finished writing this piece, she had signed it].
The law, which threatens life imprisonment for doctors who perform abortions, will mark a watershed moment for the pro-life movement and a major advancement for the rights of pre-born Alabama children. Many Christians and conservatives are understandably celebrating this new law—understandably so because it marks a milestone of an achievement for a pro-life movement that has steadily intensified since SCOTUS’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. However, there are many on the political, religious and ideological left who are not celebrating.
Debate between the right and left about the Alabama bill has ranged from cordial and respectful to all-out mudslinging. Much of the debate has centered on the passage of the law itself, but the law has served as an occasion for both sides to revisit more fundamental questions about human nature, religion and the relationship of both to political policy.
This afternoon I had a conversation about the Alabama bill with a law student from the UK, and our discussion wound through questions of constitutionality, morality, and the proper relationship of religious conviction to legislation.
Our debate was sparked by a tweet from Charlie Kirk, president of Turning Point USA, who said,
Facts:— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) May 15, 2019
By the time an unborn child is:
18 DAYS: A Baby’s heart beats
42 DAYS: Brain waves detected
52 DAYS: A baby hiccups and yawns
8 WEEKS: All organs function
9 WEEKS: Has fingerprints
10 WEEKS: Can feel pain
12 WEEKS: Can smile
So why do we allow brutal late term abortion?
I tweeted out a reply, and that reply (which has since become my most liked-and-retweeted ever) initiated my debate with my new unbelieving friend. I will share how I answered Charlie Kirk’s tweet at the end of this article. First, however, let us look at several questions arising from my discussion, that I believe Christians need to be prepared to answer.
1. Is the law unconstitutional? Does it violate the Bill of Rights?
My interlocutor asserted that this law, if based on Christian principles, contradicts the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. Is that true? Well, for starters, the Bill of Rights was for the federal Constitution, not for states, so it would not apply here [edit: someone on Twitter pointed out that Article 6 contains the Supremacy Clause making the Constitution the “supreme law of the land.” While this is true, the Framers’ intention for the Bill of Rights was not to put any restrictions on the states whatsoever, and jurisprudence prior to the Civil War reflected that, as this article and this article explain. Importantly, most states already had their own bills of rights.]
Anyway, this law is not the establishment of a state religion in any sense. Even if legislators are acting on the basis of their religious convictions, that is a far cry from the establishment of a state religion and could not possibly be prohibited by the Constitution or any other law. In fact, due to the fact that every person on earth, and legislators are no exception, operates out of a worldview, it is a given that their worldviews, religious or otherwise, would impact their drafting of this bill.
Wait a minute—what about the Fourth Amendment? It is true that the Roe v. Wade supposedly discovered the right to an abortion in the “right to privacy” in the Fourth Amendment. Yet even the slightest investigation reveals that this right was invented out of whole cloth; the right of a mother to kill her unborn child cannot even be imagined to have been in the minds of the Framers when they ratified the Fourth Amendment. Abortion, as the killing of a innocent child (which, again, I elaborate on below), already contradicts laws against murder by taking away the child’s right to life.
Furthermore, as someone else on Twitter pointed out,
It's already illegal: The Preamble states: "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". The Constitution states: "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty" TOGETHER: Our Posterity (those unborn yet) have a right to life.— LarPro (@LPrososki) May 15, 2019
So the Alabama law is far from being unconstitutional.
2. Is this law un-American, given that America is a secular state?
Who says America is a secular state?
No, America was not founded as a theocracy. However, neither was it founded on secularism. Secular values could not provide a basis for the unalienable rights liberties protected in our founding documents. Such language conveys a belief in absolute moral values, which are impossible from a purely secular starting point.
Rather, the United States of America was founded on values based on Christian presuppositions. Today, to the extent that we have drifted from those foundational values, we can perhaps be best described as late-Christian or post-Christian. This does not change the fact of where we began.
Our American legal system was established based on a long tradition of English Common Law, which had been shaped by Christianity for centuries. Similarly, it was codified in a milieu in which the biblical worldview, or something very close to it, was accepted by a majority of Americans.
Today we are running on the fumes of our Christian heritage. You can see this if you pause and observe all the Americans bandying about absolute moral judgments about concepts such as (for example) human rights (As I write this, #WomensRightsAreHumanRights is trending on Twitter.) Universal human rights and absolute morality come straight from the pages of Scripture and emphatically cannot rise from any kind of pure, godless Secularism.
The United States is not yet fully secular, though it seems to be heading that way and there are many ideological zealots pushing hard in that direction. I might also add, however, that there are many Christians who want to see the opposite happen: the winning of America for the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
3. Is this law unscientific?
At one point my interlocutor asserted that the Alabama law was wrongly influenced by religion rather than science. Of course this claim presumes to pit science and religion against one another. More on that in a minute.
First of all, the idea that science can provide a basis for moral reasoning or legislation is false and is bound up with Scientism, the flawed worldview that enthrones science as the arbiter of all knowledge.
Science can tell you what is, but not what “ought” to be. There is nothing in science that says that a woman should be able to kill her child. On the contrary, science can and does show that the unborn child is human. However, science on its own cannot ascribe moral dignity to that unborn child. The right to life cannot be discovered in a test tube. The converse is also true: science on its own cannot strip a child of any rights or dignity. When it comes to morality, empirical science is necessarily silent.
As for the idea that science is in opposition to Scripture, quite the opposite turns out to be true. As I have written about elsewhere, science actually depends on God.
4. Does it open the door for other religions to impose their religious legal frameworks, such as Muslims and Sharia Law?
Whereas the Alabama pro-life law is in accordance with existing law (against murder) and within the broad Christian worldview consensus undergirding our legal and constitutional system, Sharia controverts these. As a 2005 article from American Thinker details, Sharia calls for such atrocities as the amputation of thieves’ hands, crucifixion for robbers, capital punishment for criticizing Sharia or Islam, and enslavement. All these directly oppose our American legal system, originally based, as it is, on Biblical teaching.
As a side note, while biblical Christianity provides the strongest defense against Sharia, Secularism as an ideology provides no basis for morally condemning of any of Sharia’s outrageous laws, because Secularism has no higher authority to appeal to than the will of the people, expressed in the actions of whoever happens to wield power at any given time. It is hard to see how that gives a defense against the takeover of Sharia. Rather it welcomes such a takeover!
5. Does it unjustly (mis)represent non-Christian Alabamians?
This law extends the protections of Alabamians already on the books, by prohibiting unborn Alabamians from being unjustly killed after six weeks of gestation.
Any law that protects a right necessarily limits a liberty. This is true whether the law is rooted in Christian values or not.
For example, the right of one man not to have his wallet stolen impinges the liberty of a thief to steal it. In the same way, protecting the right to life of the unborn child impinges the liberty of his mother (or anyone else) to kill him. Yet this protection is no more invasive or misrepresentative of non-Christian views than any law prohibiting murder. Again, we must reiterate: abortion is murder. Prohibiting abortion is only a religious issue insofar as prohibiting murder of any kind is a religious issue.
6. Does the Bible really teach that life begins at conception, anyway?
We certainly get that impression from Exodus 21:22-25, in which the Lord requires punishment for injuring a pre-born baby and death for killing one.
Then there is Psalm 139:13, in which King David sings of how God knit him together in his mother’s womb. Notice it was him that was being knit. The “fetus” in the womb did not become David at some point after he was formed. Rather it was David himself who was being formed. This means that there is an ontological continuation—a unity of being—between David the Psalmist and David the fetus. And how far back in prenatal development does that unity stretch?
According to Psalm 51:5, it stretches all the way back to the point of conception. In that verse, David says, “I was sinful when my mother conceived me.” At the exact moment of conception, that newly conceived life was the same David who would grow up to become king of Israel. So then, the biblical teaching is clear: a person’s life begins at conception.
7. “So what?”
As Jeff Durbin has masterfully shown, any attempt to establish moral duties without a direct appeal to the absolute authority of God can be refuted simply by asking “so what?” This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but Kirk’s tweet, which conveys so well the personhood of the unborn child, does not tell us, “so what?” In other words, anyone could ask, “Alright, so it’s a person in there—a little girl. So what? Why can’t I kill her?” As repulsive as that question is, Kirk’s tweet, and other mere appeals to the fact of the personhood of the unborn, do not go far enough.
The “So what” question needs a response from a higher authority than emotion or empirical observation. Absolute moral claims must come from an absolute moral authority. The Bible, as the very word of God Almighty, is that authority. The Bible says that murder is absolutely wrong. Murder is the unjust killing of an innocent person. Abortion, therefore is murder, and according to the absolute moral authority of Scripture, abortion is sinful.
This is the clear teaching of Scripture, but it is also clearly seen by any 4D ultrasound, in which anyone can see the (adorable) little one performing all the actions Kirk lists in his tweet.
Now back to Charlie Kirk’s original question
So why, as Kirk asked, are “brutal late term abortions” allowed? Why are any abortions allowed? The answer is in Genesis 1:27 and Romans 1:21. In the former verse, we read that God created man, both male and female, in his image. As descendants of the first man and women, human infants therefore carry that divine image. In the latter verse, we read, "Though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened."
There is the answer. People sinfully, wrongfully, immorally reject and suppress the glory and the grace of God. Part of that rejection manifests itself in the denial of God’s image in humanity—even the hatred of that image. The Romans passage continues to talk about how those who suppress the worship of God turn and worship animals instead; one has to wonder if this explains why some of those with the most cavalier attitudes toward unborn, image-bearing human children are simultaneously the most ardently in favor of animal rights, even the supposed rights of the Gypsy Moth.
Sin is a serious issue
Before abortion is a sin against the unborn child, it is first a sin against God. This realization comes with bad news, but also good news. The bad news is that all sin brings upon the sinner God’s righteous condemnation and judgment. The same Bible that so clearly condemns abortion also clearly depicts eternal hell as the destiny of those who die in their sin, who leave this world without being reconciled to God.
Now for the good news, which is the ultimate good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The same Bible that condemns sin also promises the hope of forgiveness and salvation. This hope is promised to every person who will turn from sin and receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. Jesus, who is both God and the one truly innocent man to ever live, was brutally killed, taking the punishment of his people.
Jesus came to us in all our sin and brutality, our selfishness, our suppression and rejection of God’s truth; he took that sin upon himself. He did this in order that any sinner coming to him in repentance and faith will be completely forgiven and receive eternal life. No sinner and no sin is beyond the power of Jesus Christ to forgive, and that includes abortion and anything else. In fact every individual who has come to Christ Jesus in repentance and faith has done so acknowledging the weight and shame of their sin before God. This means that there is absolutely no room for pride or arrogance on the part of Christians. We may not ever view ourselves as more deserving of God’s love and forgiveness than anyone else; nor may we view any of our fellow sinners as beyond the possible reach of God’s love and forgiveness (recalling that we ourselves were lost in our own sin before Jesus saved us).
Even this article is written in the prayerful hope that someone will read it and, along with being convicted over his own sin (whether abortion or something else), would come to true faith in Jesus.
Abortion is a theological issue
Abortion is therefore not merely a constitutional issue or a scientific one, or a political one. It is not less than these, but it is more than these.
Abortion is first and foremost a theological issue. It is one that must be addressed by Christians standing firmly on God’s word as the foundation of all truth, confidently rooted in the biblical worldview. The Alabama law was not the first opportunity for Christians to defend biblical truth, and it undoubtedly will not be the last. Let us pray that the next one, whatever it may be, finds us prepared.
*Corrected to say it was the Fourth Amendment, not the 14th, where the Supreme Court claimed to find the right to abortion in the supposed right to privacy.