Thank you for this very helpful and constructive interview where practical ideas blended with huge empathy for both sides of the conversation. The scenarios that were raised in discussion have certainly helped to focus my empathy in deeper ways. I really appreciated the practical ways to support women and children in these scenarios. Some great ideas regarding how churches can support single parents, as well as move the focus more into long term support for pregnancies arising from challenging situations. I’m encouraged to pray more about what I can do personally, and also get ready for anyone who comes my way who needs help.
I really appreciated this conversation, thank you both! Some things I found super-helpful were:
…noting the place of men in this conversation – I always felt it was disingenuous for this to be a women-only conversation. That seems to take pregnancy and childbirth out of its social context. Men, as co-creators with women, absolutely need to be involved! They should neither be pushed out as if they have nothing to do with it nor should he be allowed to abdicate the responsibility he has toward the woman he’s with.
…noting the power of imagination – It seems to me that some pro-abortion narratives are often founded on the notion that pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing are akin to suffering. You can choose it, if you wish, but no one has the right to impose this suffering on you against your wishes. Therefore, it’s difficult not for me to feel utterly devoid of compassion and downright cruel when taking an alternate view in response to, say, a story like this (from The New Yorker):
Nikki Zite is an ob-gyn in Knoxville, where an arsonist burned down the local Planned Parenthood clinic on New Year’s Eve. Zite told me about one of her patients, a mother who had a terminal health condition and who elected to have an abortion. “The pregnancy was not going to kill her, but it would accelerate her death,” Zite said. “She and her husband and her physician reached out to me because she had decided that she did not want to bring a child into the world when she was going to die shortly, and also because she wanted to be around as long as possible for her current children.” It is difficult to imagine even a hard-line pro-lifer quibbling with a dying mother’s wishes for herself and her family. Yet her dilemma may not count as a “medical emergency” under Tennessee’s trigger ban.
–Jessica Winter, “What the “Life of the Mother” Might Mean in a Post-Roe America”, May 12, 2022.
I never wish to “quibble with a dying mother”. I know pregnancy can be hard. I know childbirth can be traumatic. I know childrearing can be an expensive, all-consuming 24-7 endeavor. At any point along the way, there can be times of excruciating suffering and pain. But I don’t want these realities to choke out vital discussions about the nature of life and soul and humanity.
For I tend to see it as a discussion (albeit a high-stakes one) about “creative control”. Do humans have the ‘right’ to terminate an embryo or fetus in much the same way one would terminate an idea or a work project? When does the baby become its own entity…gain separate soul-status? At conception? When it becomes viable to live outside the womb? When it’s birthed? When it’s wanted?? It can be difficult to get a grasp on the point of separation because what is parenthood (particularly motherhood!) but a decades-long process of nurture and separation. Indeed, nurture for separation.
Thank you Kathleen, that’s encouraging to hear. I don’t want to displace women from the conversation! Or the babies! And yet, we need to have a truthful and holistic understanding of this issue.
Because men are involved, I think that is another pointer to the reality that life begins at conception.
This is why some men have expressed incredible remorse that they have pressured women into having abortions. They now reckon with how old their son or daughter would be, they see the price they asked a woman to pay, and they wish they could go back and change what they did.
Other men feel great sorrow that, though wanted a child, it was aborted against their wishes. They carry sobering pain, that they did not have the opportunity to become a father for this boy or girl.
It’s also why I believe child support payments, when needed, should begin from conception. Absolutely! That is the point when, biologically, there is another human who needs to be cared for.
Another voice that I think is important to hear is that of abortion survivors. More babies survive attempted abortions than we hear about. Focus on the Family did a moving interview with 2 female survivors in 2019 where they shared the stories of their birth mothers and abortion procedures that failed. Both mothers were teen pregnancies with family putting pressure on them to abort. The voices of these survivors are powerful in reminding us that these are human lives, with meaning and purpose.
There’s some resources on Focus on the Family’s website to get age appropriate conversations going for families about abortion. I think this is another constructive way for the church to become more proactive in helping mothers with unwanted pregnancies or difficult situations. If conversations are happening in the home, people will be more proactive and prepared to step up and support pregnant women.
I’ve not actually connected these two things before, so thank you for giving something for me to think about!
Something that I’ve wondered about recently is whether there’s value in addressing the concept of “potential human life” (to use the phrasing of Roe) in these conversations. I think this is what I was contemplating when I wrote my above post noting “creative control” and separate personhood. A very mainstream line of logic connects “life” with individual “viability”. Meaning, an embryo won’t be considered a person, but a lifeless part of the body because, on its own, it is not much of anything – namely, it can’t survive.
So how can one make the case that it’s not just ‘potential’ human life in the germinal and embryonic phases, but human life that has value…life that is worth protecting or seeing through a pregnancy?
Yea, that’s the critical question. Here are some ideas from Randy Alcorn that I’ve found helpful:
Medical textbooks and scientific reference works consistently agree that human life begins at conception.
Something nonhuman does not become human by getting older and bigger; whatever is human must be human from the beginning.
Personhood is properly defined by membership in the human species, not by stage of development within that species.
Someone’s helplessness or dependency should motivate us to protect her, not to destroy her.
“Freedom to choose” is too vague for meaningful discussion; we must always ask, “Freedom to choose what ?”
I’ve also heard it said that if ‘viability’ is the standard for personhood, then it appears that logical consistency could lead us to a pro-choice position for younger children, as they cannot survive on their own. It also could lead to advocacy for euthanasia rather than nursing homes; again, once an elderly or disabled person is no longer ‘viable’ without significant support from others, they would lose their personhood and right to life.
Thanks for these thoughts! And thank you for indulging me in my attempts to grasp some fundamental philosophic concepts. I’m hoping it will allow myself and others to have more in-depth conversations!
I appreciate these definitions of “human” and “person”. Would y’all say they could be used interchangeably?
Here are some of my lines of thought coming off this… A human is a person. Therefore, there is no such thing as a non-person human. Per the above reasoning, humans do not develop into persons. We are persons even if, throughout our lives we develop in the agency of our personhood. That is, we develop in how we relate to our personhood.
But is there such thing as a non-human person? We refer to each member of the Trinity as a “person”, and God is not human. Albeit, God is the personal source of humanity. So, does God only grant personhood to humans? Perhaps that what it means to be “in the image of God”…?
As for “viability”, I also agree, and I was thinking very similar thoughts about the implications for young children as well as the elderly or infirm. But really, is there anyone who can survive in true isolation? Are we not, by nature, dependent creatures, in need of support? Albeit, in varying degrees at various times…
100% agree. I think this such an important question, as it gets at the heart of the issue. What is it that one is choosing when the decision is termination? What is one choosing when one chooses to see a pregnancy through? The answers will vary according to person and situation, but this question, if not already, needs to be a part of the conversation!
Yes, I think that’s at the center of the debate. There are various proposals for how some humans are non-persons and are therefore not deserving of human rights.
I think there are secular arguments to respond to this. For instance, we can point to many human rights atrocities and note that, in each case, the violence was legitimated by defining the other human beings as non-persons. This should, perhaps, give us pause to deny personhood to the youngest members of the human species.
Theologically, however, we have very strong reasons to see every human being as intrinsically valuable. For instance, David Gushee writes,
God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ elevates the human worth and dignity not just of the one man, Jesus of Nazareth; not just of the woman who carried him, Mary, or the followers who believe in him, the church, but every human being everywhere on the planet at any time in human history. The incarnation elevates human dignity both retrospectively and prospectively. It elevates the dignity of every human being at every stage of existence, in part because the arc of Jesus’ own life included every stage of existence, from conception to death and even resurrection, which is our own destiny in Christ.
He goes on to argue:
The cross serves as a resource for life’s sanctity when it functions to ground and motivate compassionate concern and intervention on behalf of all those who suffer. That concern can be sharpened and extended in appropriate ways if it is taken to focus on those whose victimization occurs at the hands of the state, who are victims of unjust legal processes and suffer humiliation, abuse and torture or death. In other words, Christ’s innocent suffering and death leads to concern about the violation of life’s sanctity by those who hold political power and use it to oppress and abuse and degrade.
And, of course, there are many other theological reasons to value each human being. For instance, we are called to love our neighbors, not redefine them as non-persons, so as not to warrant our care.
A stirring thought. This debate can rage and be quite philosophical, but if we let it, it does open us up to our vulnerability, doesn’t it? Instead of seeking to control our environment, what if we responded to other human beings with our own weakness, dependence, and efforts to love?
Yes, a corporation can have status as a U.S. person.
The concept of personhood, as used in the constitution and other legal context, refers to an individual’s social or legal status. So then, a nonperson is one without legal status.
The unfortunate reality is that the humanity of the unborn child has not been granted personhood. At least not a person separate and distinct from the mother’s will. That is why an abuser that causes the death of an unborn baby can be convicted of homicide, while a doctor performing an abortion is not guilty of the same. At least not legally. Before God is a different matter altogether.
Imagine the ramifications if the unborn child was granted the status of person.
I should add that I love how the conversation has focused on recognizing the humanity of not only the child but also those morally blind to the actions they are doing. @Carson I really appreciate how you connected that line from Amazing Grace. Such a beautiful reality to acknowledge.
My focus on the person status of a human was to help clarify the terms used. While we recognize three persons of the Trinity, none of them have legal status as a person.
@chris thank you so much for bringing in the legal dimension of the personhood. I had forgotten that corporations have “person-status” under our law. In jurisprudence, is that so that they can be held accountable to the law?
That last statement is one of the cruxes for me. The laws of our society say that an unborn child can only have legal protection as a “person” if it’s wanted. So it reduces personhood to a status conferred by a human, contingent upon human will. That doesn’t seem like very sound reasoning to me. There has to be more to personhood than that, even if, legally speaking, that’s all that is recognized. Or is “personhood” only a legal status or designation?
Another question I’m sitting with is, Does seeing the pregnancy through prolong and or intensify the horror/trauma? Is requiring someone to do something against their will malevolence?
What springs to mind is the horrific story out of Indiana, where a 9 year-old girl (now 10) was sexually abused (i.e. r*ped) on more than one occasion by a man, and eventually became pregnant by him. Her mother took her to a clinic to get abortion-by-medication. My heart absolutely breaks for this girl, and I am disgusted by and angry at this man (and anyone else who may have been party to it) for violating her in such a way. In such a situation, I find it very easy to reason along these lines – Just end it. Don’t make her go through with that. Be compassionate. Don’t prolong her agony.
So, I guess, what I’m back to wrestling with is how can a pro-life vision be a compassionate, just vision for all involved. How can we advocate for a hard thing in a world where the easier thing is usually seen as the best thing?