In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10.10).
In a victory for the Pro-Life cause, our governor recently signed into law House Bill 2, making it illegal to perform an abortion in Texas after the 20th week of pregnancy, at which point studies have conclusively demonstrated that a baby can feel pain and has cognitive functioning developed enough to recognize her mother’s voice. The bill also subjects abortion facilities to the same standards and regulatory oversight to which other outpatient surgical facilities are subject. It further requires that abortions be performed by qualified physicians with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility. Predictably, there has been a range of criticism of this bill from the proponents of abortion.
First let me say that I recognize that there are a range of opinions on this issue. I also recognize that this range of opinions is likely represented among you who are listening to me. That’s fine. I have no desire to castigate anyone who does not share my views on this or any matter. But neither will I pretend, as many Christians do, that there is no definitive CHRISTIAN position on the matter. Christianity is about a form of life that is in harmony with reality. And just as there may be a range of opinions about whether your car’s brakes are functioning as they should be, so likewise certain opinions within that range might be more or less in harmony with the facts of the matter, and therefore some opinions might pose a greater or lesser threat to your bodily safety. The matter at hand is like that – only, as it were, more so. After all, Jesus said: “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Matthew 10.28).
Drawing on the witness of the Gospel of Life and of Scripture generally, Christians consistently and from the very beginning defended the lives of the unborn. And this defense falls under the rubric of the Christian’s recognition of the superlative and God-given dignity, beauty, and inviolability of EVERY human life, from conception to natural death. To take just one of many early examples, the Christian apologist Athenagoras, writing about the middle of the 100’s AD, wrote of the Christian opposition to ALL forms of killing, including abortion and infanticide, which was widely-practiced and tolerated in classical antiquity; as well as the Christian opposition to the death penalty. Athenagoras said:
“How, then, when we do not even look on [at public executions], lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it. But we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason, and not ruling over it.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.147)
It should be clear that while some may question the Christian teaching that the unborn have an inviolable right to life, it cannot be questioned that this is, in fact, the Christian teaching – and that it always has been.
Other proponents of less restrictive access to abortion will point to the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, popularly believed to be the basis for the “separation of church and state.” They will argue that the government shouldn’t be taking sides in theological or philosophical debates, but should consign itself to “science.” Many Christians, I have noticed, are in this camp. They will say things like, “While I am myself opposed to abortion, I don’t want to impose my views on others,” or “I don’t think the government should legislate morality,” or “the government should only base laws on science – not on philosophy or theology.”
But consider this: the government cannot help but take sides in philosophical and theological debates. One of the most fundamental duties of the government is to defend the lives of its citizens. But in order to do that, the government must first determine what constitutes a “life.” But the question, “What is life?” is not one that can be answered by the natural sciences. You cannot get out a microscope, run some numbers, and come up with an answer to the question “What is life?”. The answer to the question “What is life?” can only come from philosophy and theology. But in order for the government to recognize that you are alive and that therefore your life is something it is obliged to defend, the government must somehow answer the philosophical-theological question of what it means to be alive.
Christianity and its elder sibling, Judaism, have always recognized the sanctity of EVERY human life – regardless of its age, stage of development, gender, race, debility, or any other thing else. The Church teaches that…
“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” (CCC 2258, quoting “Donum Vitae”)
Even in legitimate acts of self-defense or the defense of others, which can be not only a right but a grave duty, such as when a father defends his family from marauders, or a when a nation defends her citizens from an invading enemy – even then, the death of the aggressor is a secondary and unfortunate effect of the primary aim of the action, which can only be the defense and preservation of human life.
The right of every person to life is the right on which every other human right hangs; and the right to life derives from the relationship that obtains between every person and her Creator, and it is only because the right to life comes from God himself that it is inalienable – that it cannot be legitimately abrogated by any individual person or any earthly authority:
“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.
“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined….” (CCC 2273, quoting “Donum Vitae”)
I will conclude with two points. Jesus said: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10.10). The Gospel we preach is the Gospel of Life. We proclaim life and freedom and dignity for ALL PEOPLE. Our duty as Christians is to bear witness to the alienable rights of ALL PEOPLE to life – and our duty as Christians is to behave personally and to work politically such that we affirm, promote, and defend EVERY PERSON’S right to life. And while the recent events at the Texas State House may have been a step in the right direction, we have yet left the rights of the youngest and most vulnerable persons among us unrecognized and unprotected – those younger than 20 weeks.
And lastly, in our advocacy for life, we must remember that “all people” means ALL PEOPLE – not least mothers who have lost children to the scourge of abortion, and among them not least those who were conned or pressured or coerced into it by husbands, boyfriends, or parents; mothers whose “choice” was therefore anything but free. A number of people down through the years have shared with me their experiences with abortion, and a common theme running through each story, and informing each tragic choice, is FEAR. We have to do better – as Christians, as Texans, as Americans – to affirm the lives of mothers and to promote their dignity. And especially mothers who are victims of abuse, or of straightened circumstances of whatever kind. And maybe more than anything else, we should celebrate a class of mothers who are seldom discussed: those who have chosen life in the face of poverty, abuse, rape, fear, and all kinds of adversity and evil. To my mind there can be no choice more life-affirming than theirs, and I can think of no class of people more heroic than these almost universally uncelebrated mothers.
The Lord said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,” (Deuteronomy 30.19).
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.