Friday, August 24, 2012

The Pro-Life Mask

Todd Akin recently accomplished something that I had always considered impossible.  With his odd attempt to explain that abortion is not morally acceptable even if a woman has been raped, Rep. Akin convinced me that abortion rights advocates may have been right all along.

Not that they have been right that abortion should be legal.  The Word of God teaches us that, from the very moment of conception, we are fully human, fully human sinners in need of Christ's forgiveness and fully clothed in the dignity that God commands must be given to all the descendants of Adam and Eve.  And this Biblical teaching that life begins at conception is scientifically echoed in the fact that, at the moment of conception, you find unique human DNA that is alive, cells that are growing, dividing, developing into tissue and organs and systems.  If this "glob of cells" were just a part of the mother's body, she would certainly be as free to dispose of it as if it were her appendix.  But it is not her body.  It is the body of another human being.  It is a life which cannot justifiably be taken.  And to take that life is a murderous act.

So they have not been right in defending abortion.  Rather, abortion rights advocates have been right in their contention that pro-life advocates simply want to control women.  Todd Akin, or rather the response from many pro-life politicians and personalities to his comments, convinced me of this.

Mitt Romney's campaign, for example, made sure to reassert that the GOP nominee does not oppose abortion in the cases of rape or incest.  The media also was quick to point out how out of touch with mainstream America Akin's opposition to abortion in cases of rape is, citing that only 17% of Americans believe that abortion should be outlawed in all circumstances, a much lower figure than the fifty-ish percent of people who identify themselves as somewhere on the pro-life spectrum.

Obviously rape is a deplorable act, a dehumanizing crime that continues striking with psychological violence long after the physical violence has concluded.  And, at the risk of disagreeing with Jacob the Patriarch, I believe that the Shechemites got what they deserved when Simeon and Levi put them to the sword in defense of their sister. But, in spite of all that, what are Gov. Romney and other pro-life voices trying to say when they reaffirm that they don't oppose abortion in cases of rape?

Surely they're not saying life begins at conception except when a woman is raped, in which case life only begins if a raped woman wants that life to have begun.  Such a position would be as scientifically indefensible as Rep. Akin's belief that a woman's ovaries have a built in Star Wars Missile Defense Shield in the event of rape.  Rather, what pro-life voices are saying when they affirm the rape exception is this woman should get a pass on having to carry this child to term because getting pregnant wasn't her fault.

And, in saying that, what are they also saying?  But all those other women chose to sleep with their husbands, their boyfriends, their drunken hookup partners, and they should have to take responsibility for their actions.  They agreed to participate in marital relations or fornication or adultery, so they should have to face the consequences of the decisions they made willingly.

So these voices don't oppose abortion out of a genuine respect for unborn life.  They don't believe that this living, growing, developing thing within a mother's womb deserves the same dignity and protection that you and I deserve, regardless of how conception occurred.  No, instead, these voices simply want women to act like grownups, to be responsible enough to pay the piper when their actions come back to bite them in the uterus.

And I'm afraid this mindset is exactly what abortion rights voices have been condemning.  You don't have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body, before sex or after.  This has been the pro-choice mantra for quite some time.  And the more that pro-life voices make exceptions for rape and incest, the more they reveal that their pro-life convictions are not governed by a desire to protect unborn children, but by a desire to judge sexually active parents.  The more that pro-life voices give their consent to the murder of unborn children conceived in rape, the more they reveal that the only thing distinguishing them from a president who doesn't want his daughters punished with a baby is that they're fine with that form of punishment, as long as the girl deserves it.

But we don't oppose abortion because women should have to lie in the beds they've fornicated in.  We don't oppose abortion out of judgment.  We oppose it out of mercy, out of the desire to defend the weakest among us, to protect those who have no strength or power or influence.  We oppose abortion because a human's life begins at conception, and because, from that very moment, he deserves the same rights that you and I have, both the right to live in safety as a citizen of this nation, and the right to hear the saving Word of God that gives peace to those who were at war with God from the moment egg and sperm first combined.

So please pray.  Pray that Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals may see that we have no greater treasure than the lives of those who haven't even made a bump in their mother's bellies yet and that we have no greater duty than to defend their existence.  Pray that God may soon provide doctors a way of taking children out of the wombs of mothers who would otherwise have them aborted and into the wombs of mothers who will cherish and love them and weep tears of joy on the days they are born.  And pray that those who have picketed outside of abortion clinics and those who have utilized the services inside may both turn from their sins and trust in the saving blood of Jesus Christ that never runs dry.


Roger Peters said...

Well said.

Daniel Bergquist said...

I don't think that the desire to protect life and the expectation women act like grownups and take responsibility for their actions (out of respect for that life) are mutually exclusive. I don't think that's what you meant to say, but I could see some coming away from this post thinking that.

I do, however, think you might have hit on an underlying Ayn Rand mind set of those who support the rape exception though. An excellent catch.

Jay said...

I agree that life begins at conception ... and that there should not be exceptions for rape. I think what Mr. Akin's "legitimate rape" comment was directed towards those who want to use the rape clause in abortion laws to abort the result of a consensual act and relationship that could not be aborted under laws governing abortions in non rape cases. In other words, do not yell rape weeks or months after consensual relationship has run a muck or one has second thoughts about their fornicating/adulterous act.

Rebecca Mueller said...

Did any of you ever pause to think that the word and entymology of the word conception in David's famed Psalm does not match up with the scientific word of conception, and thus should not be felt to be equivalent?? Conception is usually more of a cerebral word "Since the day you mother thought of your existence, God knew you." This also parellels the similar paradigms of words conceive and know, which is appropriate in Hebrew poetry.

To think that unique DNA makes a group of cells individuls is to say that cancer should have its own right to share the body of the one it is invading.

I do not portend to know when that collection of cells becomes its own person (it is of course always alive), but it is laughable to think that the scientific definition of conception, a process that was only described in the last century, is what was in David's mind when he wrote his poem.

I believe ending the life of a person for the sake of convenience of another is wrong.

To me this argument has really always only existed of 2 questions:
At what point does a fetus have rights of its own (which should reflect when it is felt to have a personhood)?
And when, if ever, are we willing to submit those rights to the will or livelihood of the mother?

I think understanding the science and development of what is going on within the fetus can offer guidance to question #1, though in reality we may never know and some may always want to err on the side of caution. But to insist we KNOW when personhood begins based on faulty beliefs in science and a handful of verses that use a word echoed in science (while having entirely different meanings) seems elementary. Far more elementary than the minds writing and responding to this article seem capable of.

Robert E. Waters said...

I disagree with nothing you have said.

However, one percent of abortions are performed because a pregnancy has resulted from rape. Given the choice between 99% of abortions being prevented and the status quo, I'll take the 99%.

It's not right to abort children conceived as a result of rape. But the status quo is even less right.

James Kellerman said...

Rebecca Mueller's argument is a classic demonstration of why one shouldn't do exegesis exclusively from an English translation and why it is even worse to try to determine a word's meaning by importing one possible meaning (from an English[!] dictionary, no less) and making it the normative meaning for a particular passage, even though the context begs to be understood otherwise.

David uses two Hebrew words that are clearly parallel: "Behold in iniquity CHOLALTI and in sin my mother YECHMATHNI." CHOLAL is a polal of CH-I-L ("to be born"), the passive of the polel form (which means "to give birth"). Thus, even if one knew little Hebrew, one would expect the verb YECHMATHNI to be about something other than mere reflection upon ideas. Context demands it. And that is the case, as any Hebrew dictionary makes clear. The verb Y-CH-M has as its root meaning (the Qal form), "to be on rut" or "to be in heat"; see Genesis 30:38-39 for an example of its use. The verb is mostly used in the Piel, though, where it has the same meaning (as is often the case with the Qal and the Piel), as can be seen in Genesis 30:41 and 31:10. In Psalm 51 the suggested translation is "become pregnant in sexual ardor," and that makes sense. Nowhere does Y-CH-M ever have the meaning "think about someone's existence."

But Rebecca believes that "conceive" can only mean "have in one's thoughts." Not so. Of course, as any educated person can remember from their Latin class, the English "conceive" is from the Latin "concipere," which originally meant to grab hold of something physically. Of course, such phrases as "concipit Iris aquas" from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Another well attested meaning from Latin antiquity is "to become pregnant," since the seed was thought of as physically laying hold of the womb. For a Latin example, see "Persea, quem pluvio Danae conceperat auro," also from the Metamorphoses. Yes, it can also have the more metaphorical meaning of "conceiving an idea," but that is because pregnancy and childbirth are an ancient metaphor for learning. You remember, of course, when you read Socrates that he described himself as a "midwife of ideas" and used the whole conception/birth metaphor to describe the learning process, right?

As any English dictionary will show, the biological meaning of "conceive" (i.e., "to become pregnant") is well attested in modern usage, even if it is not the exclusive meaning of the word. But to choose to ignore the biological meaning of the word in favor of a more abstract meaning, when the context (the parallel structure of the verse) would call for the biological meaning to be understood, is nothing short of folly. And a quick glance at the Hebrew would confirm as much.

James Kellerman said...

I should have added that people knew about how babies were conceived long before a century and a half ago. They knew that babies were the result of sexual intercourse. They knew the gestation period was 9 months for a human. (In fact, they had long engagement periods to make sure that the bride-to-be wasn't carrying someone else's child.) Thus, the ancient Hebrews (and just about every other culture) knew that babies didn't come about merely because "the mother thought about the child's existence" and poof! a baby popped out shortly thereafter. They knew about conception and pregnancy in all the ways that mattered, just as Mendel was able to describe genetics accurately even though he knew nothing of DNA.

If anything, modern science has confirmed the point of the Psalmist that human beings are unique individuals from the very beginning. Unlike the Hebrews, the Greeks and the Romans (and those who followed them for centuries) assumed that the mother did nothing more than supply the womb (like fertile soil) while each child owed its existence to the father's seed. Modern science, of course, has shown that the embryo bears DNA from both parents but has DNA unique unto itself.