I remember when I first learned of American slavery. I was just a child, but I prayed that if ever an injustice such as that were again legalized in my lifetime and in my country that I would be among those who had the wisdom to see its criminality, and the courage to speak against it. I remember shortly thereafter learning about abortion.
So long as abortion exists as a legal right, I consider it my duty to speak against it. Particularly because its victims are two-fold, both the women who are deceived into choosing it, and the children who are sacrificed at its altar. If our justice system insists on siding with the voices of those who proclaim a limited view of personhood and exclusion to any human being, I will always push back. And I believe you should too.
In the words of John Wesley in Thoughts on American Slavery:
If therefore you have any regard to justice (to say nothing of mercy nor of the revealed law of God) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature.
Or in words applicable to abortion: give life to whom life is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature.
So long as life is legally being denied to an entire people group in our country, I’ll keep talking about it. It’s certainly not easy to talk about, controversy is never something that makes me excited, but, “be wary of living a life governed by the fear of controversy. It may drive you to hypocritical behaviors (John Piper).” It’s easy to talk about our love for those everyone agrees upon being of value and deserving defense, but it would be hypocritical to claim I care about the refugee, or the abused woman, while keeping silent about an entire group who is being denied life.
At the time that slavery was accepted, the abolitionists were not exactly a popular group. Their continual insistence that people face the gruesomeness of slavery, and to legally undo it, was met with hostility and apathy. But they saw the wrong, and they refused silence.
Often people are quick to be insulted by the comparison of abortion to slavery, but I think perhaps the insult is due to its accuracy. I would argue that the two are not only akin, but identical in their root ethos. Certainly they manifest differently. They are two different beasts, but their hearts beat the same rhythm.
How was it possible for slaveowners to justify the atrocity of buying, selling, and abusing human beings? They convinced themselves, and the culture, that they were not their equals, black people had not obtained the full measure of personhood that deserved freedom. They were partial persons, and thus rightfully the property of those who were fully persons based on their defined criterion, namely: whiteness.
How do we justify the murder of human beings in the womb? We convince women, and the culture, that the unborn are not our equals, they are not persons, and thus rightfully the property of those who are fully persons based on their defined criteria, namely: autonomy and reason.
The concept of personhood is one that has had a long history, and it is littered with injustice. When personhood is argued as something separate from being human it always ends with bloodshed. It is always used by one group to hold power over another, to justify oppression, exploitation, abuse, and murder. It is always used as a way to exclude. To create a concept of personhood that is distinct from being human is always to create subjective and superficial criteria that allows one group to call themselves persons, while excluding others. For slaveholders it was race, for Nazis it was Germanness and submission to the ethos of the Third Reich, for Chauvinists it is sex, and for abortion advocates it is autonomy and reason. Contrary to what all these groups like to argue, personhood is not a scientific concept, as Nancy Pearcey writes,
to be biologically human is a scientific fact. But to be a person is an ethical concept, defined by what we value.
-Love Thy Body
For those who advocate abortion, they value autonomy and reason. The problem with creating these criteria for personhood is that it is not only unjust, it is also illogical. If we take it to its logical conclusion the entire foundation of our sense of human rights crumbles. If a human is only a person based on their autonomy and reason, then logically, smarter people ought to have more rights; toddlers, who are dependent on adults for their survival, are less deserving of life than 20-somethings; a human in a wheel chair is unequal to a human who can walk; we should look at our grandparents and think we are better than them. There would have to be some golden age of personhood wherein we would arrive as full persons and deserving of all rights because we are at our peak autonomy and reason, but prior to that point we would deserve less rights, and as we age our rights would diminish as our autonomy slipped away and our minds deteriorated. People would be like used cars, depreciating over time. The heroic concept of rescuing women, elderly, and children first would be absurd, on a sinking ship we ought to save those with the highest IQ and the greatest physical strength.
If this sounds preposterous to you, it should. It is not only ridiculous, it is demonic. It produces nothing but a culture that oppresses the weak, exploits those who ought to be protected, and allows those in greater power to justify whatever they like to the detriment of those who are excluded based on whatever criteria is chosen at the time. We did this with race during slavery, we’re using autonomy and reason now. They’re different gods, but they’re no less destructive. C.S. Lewis wrote his essay, The Poison of Subjectivism, as a warning against this kind of thinking. He was warning against Nazi Germany, but it applies to slavery and abortion too,
a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective can lead us only to ruin.
Most of us, including most abortion advocates themselves, operate in a way that claims the vulnerable ought to be defended. We instinctively seek to protect those we recognize as weaker than ourselves. When I hear a noise in my house that suggests an intruder, my first thought is not, I have more autonomy than my children and therefore my life has more value so I should leave them to their fate and save myself. No, I think, how can I protect these children who cannot protect themselves? We label those who assert their dominance due to strength and intelligence as “bullies”. So how is it that we are at the same time allowing the legal intentional killing of the most vulnerable group among us? It is because we have believed the lie that they are not persons because they do not fit the current criteria decided by those in power. Yet it is a criteria we don’t even live by, because we instinctively understand it to be evil to stratify human value. It is the worst kind of intellectual schizophrenia.
The ethos of abortion advocates is poison, excluding humans from their most basic rights. Those of us who have been given this most basic right owe it to those from whom it is being stolen to speak up. Especially if we call ourselves Christians. More than anyone we should understand the inherent value that human beings have:
A Christian concept of personhood depends not on what we can do but on who I am–that I am created in the image of God, and that God has called me into existence and continues to know and love me
Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body
Personhood is inextricably linked to being human. Every single human is valuable and deserves life because they are human, period. This is the only position that is inclusive, logical and just. Until our law reflects that we ought not rest.
Personhood is the heart of abortion, however, there are a number of red herring arguments that float around, lots of misinformation and myth. While it always comes back to personhood, some of these points are still worth addressing and myths are worth dispelling. I will be writing a series targeted to addressing these in hopes of bolstering up those who consider themselves pro-life, but perhaps feel unprepared defend their position, and maybe to help those who are undecided to see that being pro-life is the most reasonable, compassionate, just, and pro-woman position to hold (and defend). Stick around, and feel free to send (via my Facebook Page’s messenger) requests or inquiries on this topic (so long as they are in a spirit of kindness and learning).
In the meantime, speak for those who have no voices.