Friday, April 17, 2015

Personhood

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you (Psalm 139: 13-18).

I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding a woman’s right to choose which, for those who may not know, is the euphemism for abortion in American politics. My friend made two points which have become standard in the argument of those on the left who advocate for unrestricted access to abortion. He told me that, regardless of the validity of my argument, I have no right to tell any woman how to manage her body; those decisions are between her and her doctor. He also said, after hearing my views on the subject, that it was simply my opinion and he respected it, but my opinion is no more certain or valid than the one of a person who supports “a woman’s right to choose.”

This argument is not uncommon. Anyone who follows the news regularly has certainly seen Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul sparring with Democrat National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz over this very issue. Reporters asked Senator Paul, who is pro-life, whether or not he supported making exceptions to his anti-abortion stance for cases where the mother 1) had been raped, 2) had been the victim of incest, or 3) was in danger of death if she carried the baby to term. Senator Paul did something that most pro-life Republicans are too spineless to do. He told the media to ask Debbie Wasserman-Schultz if she was ok with aborting a seven pound baby that was just about to be born. “Ask Debbie when she’s willing to protect life,” Senator Paul replied. “When you get an answer from Debbie, come back to me” (Bradner 2015).
In an emailed statement Debbie did respond:

Here's an answer. I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul (Bradner 2015).

Of course, what Debbie is actually saying in her response, is that, yes, she is ok with aborting a seven pound baby that’s just ready to be born. So, if a woman and her doctor decide to abort the woman’s baby 10 seconds before it’s delivered, Debbie is fine with that because it’s a woman’s right to choose. Evidentially, the baby is not a person and has no rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Senator Paul, however, in his statement gets to the real point of the entire debate. When are you willing to protect life? Unlike the “right” to abortion discovered by the Supreme Court in the penumbra of the U.S. Constitution, the duty of the government to protect the life and property of its citizens is explicitly enumerated. It is actually the duty of the government to protect the civil rights of its citizens. When we stop setting up straw man arguments about rape babies and coat hanger abortions we begin to see what the real issue is in the debate regarding “reproductive rights.” When does life begin?

If that thing inside a woman is not a human being, from a legal standpoint, it doesn’t matter what you do with it. Abort it, carry it to term, what is the difference? The People, through their elected representatives should be free to make any law they like if this is the case. If, however, that thing is a human being, it has civil rights given to it by God and protected by the U.S. Constitution. There is no third option.

The post-modern mind does not deal in terms of absolutes, however. There is no black and white, Right vs. Wrong or, God forbid, Good vs. Evil. There is only opinion, experience, and emotion. No one person can say that any other person’s opinion, based on their personal experience and guided by their emotions, is wrong. To do so would be intolerant and unloving…unless, of course, you are dealing with a conservative Christian. Those people are just racist, sexist, bigoted homophobes.

My objections to abortion begin in my gut. Before any religious, moral, or ethical questions are taken into account, the practice is disturbing. It is disturbing to me because it is, like a lot of other disturbing things are - destructive. Forget about when the baby becomes a human being for just a moment. You cannot deny that abortion destroys something, and that “something” is alive, and is meant by God, or nature, or evolution to, at the very least, become like me and you. To destroy that "thing" is, right off the bat, distasteful to me.

It isn't like a tumor that is destructive to the body and is removed. Destroying the tumor, in that case would be a constructive act. Also, that tumor isn’t going to grow up and eventually want me to send it to college. Being what it is, the idea of abortion is also contrary to how I have prepared myself for my own life in this world. I have spent my young adulthood getting myself ready to do constructive things. Being a teacher builds up society by passing knowledge along to another generation. Music, among other things, enriches the cultural landscape. Even being a policeman is constructive, in that we enforce the laws that give defined borders to our society, and help keep it from breaking down. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m predisposed to revulsion of things destructive, and abortion is, to me, the ultimate destructiveness – destroying life before it even has a chance. War, killing, even capital punishment, are all distasteful, though can sometimes be justified. I have a difficult time with the destruction of what my conscience tells me is life, using what seems to me to be selfish or false justifications. Anyway, that is where my opposition to abortion begins.

Most importantly, however, God’s Word calls what is created in the womb life.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Moses wrote in Leviticus 17:11, "For the life of a creature is in the blood..." Taken literally, that would mean that a fetus isn't "alive" until about 21 days after conception, when it develops a rudimentary cardiovascular system and, for all intents and purposes, its own blood supply (Delp n.d.). If this is the case, something like the morning after pill cannot be objected to from the standpoint that it is destroying life, though it is still distasteful to me. However, to paraphrase Martin Luther, it is never safe act against your conscience[1]. Right now, my own personal Jiminy Cricket is still screaming the words to Psalm 139 in my head:

"Your [God's] eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16).

So, for the time being, I will err on the side of safety - life begins at conception. 

To maintain, as is suggested by some in the abortion rights movement, that a baby’s personhood is contingent upon whether or not the mother wishes to have a baby, is absurd and threatens the rights of all Americans. The fact that one’s personhood is not contingent upon how one is viewed by another should be self-explanatory.

A woman who walks into an abortion clinic to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is exercising her right to privacy in making decisions about her reproductive health with her doctor. However, if that same woman is attacked while on her way to the clinic, is robbed and beaten and miscarries as a result, the attacker can – and most likely will – be charged with homicide of an unborn child. Surely, even to the obtuse progressive mind, this must cause some cognitive dissonance.

In the two scenarios given above, there is no difference in either the baby’s status before death, or its ultimate end; only the means of arriving at that end – the termination of the pregnancy – is different. In one case the state allows for the “termination” without restriction, or sanction against the mother or doctor simply because she wishes for the pregnancy to end. In the other, the state prosecutes in order seek justice for the unlawful killing of one human being by another – the definition of homicide. If people can fall in and out of the category of “person,” then no one’s rights are guaranteed. That means that there is some arbitrary, man-made standard of what constitutes personhood. If that is the case, that also means that whatever group happens to be in authority at any given time can redefine what it means to be a person to fit their goals.

Peter Singer, attempting to take the words of the Athanasian Creed and twist them to aid his anti-Christian argument, cites the early Christian fathers by calling a person a being with a rational substance[2]. In an MSNBC interview Dr. Singer said the following:

It’s never been the meaning of a person that it was simply biologically a living member of the species Homo sapiens. If you look at the origin of the term it comes from a Latin persona, meaning a mask worn by actors in a play; and then it became a role, and it was used in early Christian theology, actually, in the doctrine of the Trinity. Three persons in one, right? So, God the Father, the Holy Ghost, and then Jesus, right? So obviously you don’t have to be human to be a person, in that sense. And the early Christian theologians thought that a person is a being with a rational substance. So the idea of rationality, in some way, comes into it [personhood]. And I would say, therefore, that the best sense of a person is a being with some awareness, some rational awareness of who they are existing beyond simply the physical organism (Singer 2011).

When the host pointed out to Dr. Singer that this definition would likely exclude four month-old-babies from being people, he agreed.

Well, possibly. I don’t think it’s problematic to say that a four-month-old baby is not actually a person; I think that’s simply true. Now, that doesn’t determine what the law ought to be. You might say that the law should say from birth on, everybody counts legally as if they were a person…that’s distinct from the question of which beings are persons (Singer 2011).

I just don’t understand where he gets that “ought” from. Sure you might say that. Others, however, might say that the law should say you only count legally as a person from age five years and up, or that you cease to be a person when you are no longer a productive member of society…or if you are a Jew…or a homosexual…or who knows? They might say this unless, of course, there is some objective standard. Either people have rights, or they don’t. Either personhood exists, or it doesn’t. Either an unborn baby is a person, or it isn’t; how we answer these questions will determine what kind of society we will have.

Abortion takes the life of another person. Being sinful human beings we do not like the mirror of God’s Law being held to our faces to show us our sin. We are self-centered and seek to justify our selfish actions any way we can that does not involve acknowledging our sin, and repenting of that sin. We will even try to talk ourselves out of what we know – that the living but unborn are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception. Thanks be to God Almighty, who by the death of His Son Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord and Savior, has overcome sin and death, and graciously offers us all forgiveness for all our sins through faith in Him.

Works Cited

Bradner, Eric. "Rand Paul: Grill Dems about abortion, too." CNN. April 9, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/08/politics/rand-paul-abortion-democrats/ (accessed April 17, 2015).

Delp, Valorie. "Empryonic Stage of Fetal Development." Love To Know. http://pregnancy.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Embryo_Fetal_Development. (accessed April 17, 2015).

"Luther at the Imperial Diet of Worms 1521." A Mighty Fortress is Our God: Martin Luther. March 3, 2003. http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html (accessed April 17, 2015).

Singer, Dr. Peter, interview by Chris Hayes. The Battle Over Women's Bodies (November 6, 2011).

"The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church." The Three Ecumenical or Universal Creeds. September 2008. http://bookofconcord.org/creeds.php (accessed April 17, 2015).






[1] Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen (Luther's Conscience Quote 2003).

[2] Excerpt from the Athanasian Creed regarding Christ: Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ (BOC: Ecumenical Creeds 2008).