Is the Pro-Life Position Inconsistent?

When it comes to the abortion debate, the two sides are typically labeled as pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-life people believe that unborn babies should be protected. Pro-choice people believe that women should have the choice to end the pregnancy through abortion. While the exact issues in the debate change from time to time, the pro-life and pro-choice perspectives remain at the core of the debate.

While not all Christians agree on these issues, there has historically been a connection between Christians and the pro-life position. This is because Christians believe that all human beings are created in the image of God and that this includes unborn children. We believe that babies, even when they are still in their mother’s wombs, are worthy of protection. I believe that this is the right and biblical perspective on the issue. While I think Christians can disagree on how exactly to address the issue of abortion, I think all Christians should be pro-life.

But is there an inconsistency to the pro-life position? Many claim that there is an inconsistency by saying that many “pro-life” people don’t oppose the death penalty, war, or gun ownership. This leads us to an important question: If we are pro-life when it comes to unborn babies, do we then need to be pro-life on questions related to war, capital punishment, self-defense, and end-of-life issues?

A Question of Terms

Before giving a more substantive response to the question of consistency, I think it is worth noting that part of the question relates to the terms that are used in the abortion debate. We call ourselves pro-life or pro-choice. It is certainly true that many pro-life people are not pro-life in a comprehensive sense.

Many of us believe that the death penalty (which tragic) is permissible. Many of us believe that there is an appropriate time for war and for self-defense. In other words, we don’t believe that there is never an appropriate time to kill. In that sense, it could be said that we are not consistently pro-life.

But this critique quickly breaks down when we put the shoe on the other foot and examine the pro-choice position. We could ask a pro-choice person, “Do you think a man should be able to rape a woman?” The answer would certainly be no. In that case, the person is not pro-choice.

The person does not think that a man should have the bodily autonomy that would allow him to take his body and use it to rape a woman. Presumably, pro-choice people also don’t believe we should be able to choose to steal from grocery stores or choose to beat our children or choose to drive while under the influence of alcohol. The pro-choice position is far from consistent.

So, in order to have a productive discussion, I think we all need to recognize that the term pro-life typically means that a person opposes abortion and that the term pro-choice typically means that a person thinks abortion should be an available option. Very few of us are pro-life in every circumstance, and even less of us are pro-choice in every circumstance.

Is Killing Ever Permissible?

Despite the fact that some criticize the pro-life position as inconsistent simply as a cheap attack, a legitimate question remains. Do the principles that lead Christians to oppose abortion also lead us to oppose all killings in every circumstance? In order to sort this out, we need to examine what beliefs lead us to oppose abortion.

The Christian beliefs that would lead us to oppose abortion are basically three-fold. First of all, we believe that human beings are created in the image of God and are therefore profoundly valuable. Second of all, we believe that unborn children are human beings created in the image of God.

We see this in many passages, including Luke 1, where we see an unborn John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb upon the appearance of Mary who is carrying in her body the unborn Jesus. Third of all, we believe that God cares deeply for those who are vulnerable and therefore we are called to reflect this concern. Unborn babies are certainly vulnerable, and therefore we seek to protect and care for them.

Do these three beliefs, then, lead us to oppose all killing of human beings?

Let’s use the example of the death penalty. And let’s suppose, for the sake of this example, that the person on death row is guilty of murder. Is the person on death row someone who bears the image of God? Certainly. This should give us pause. It is no small thing to take the life of a person created in the image of God. For some, this would be enough to rule out the death penalty altogether.

But let’s ask a second question: Is the person on death row a vulnerable person who is in need of protection? In a sense, we would have to say yes. He is in danger of having the state take his life. But this vulnerability came not as the result of someone committing evil against him, but of him committing evil against someone else.

It could hardly be argued that a murderer on death row is a good parallel to an unborn child under threat of abortion. One is under threat of death because he committed a horrific crime. The other is under threat of death because, through no fault of his own, he is unwanted and he poses (most commonly) a threat to the convenience of his mother.

In other words, there is no inherent inconsistency if a person says that an innocent unborn baby should not be killed by his mother, but that a convicted murderer can be killed by the state.

To add to this, throughout the Old Testament we see the death penalty frequently employed by God’s people, often at the command of God. In fact, the original basis of the death penalty in Genesis 9:6 connects it to a high value of the image of God: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

In other words, capital punishment is sanctioned not because human beings are being discarded, but because they are being valued. It stands not on a belief that human beings aren’t created in God’s image, but a belief that they are!

Should the value of human life lead us to abolish the death penalty? Seemingly, no. But it should make us very slow to employ it, and it should cause us grief whenever we do so. Should the value of human life lead us to be pacifists and oppose all war? Seemingly, no.

But it should make us hesitant about war and prepared to explore all other options beforehand. Should the value of human life lead us to support gun control? Not necessarily. But it should lead us to seek to be open to any solution or legislation that will better protect human beings created in the image of God.

How Do We Live More Consistently?

I don’t believe it is inconsistent to oppose abortion and yet still support the death penalty, serve in the military, or own a gun. I do believe, however, that it is always worthwhile for us to examine ourselves to see if we are being consistent with our beliefs. I personally don’t see questions about gun ownership, war, or the death penalty to be significant threats to being consistent with our opposition to abortion. The threat I see is our overall attitude toward children in our culture and our churches.

If we are going to oppose abortion, then we are saying that children are worth the inconvenience they bring. This means that we should be anxious to spend time with our children. This means that we should place value on stay-at-home moms instead of shaming them for not being part of the workforce. This means that we should be slow to complain about children in restaurants and airplanes and movie theaters. Children are inconvenient. But we believe that they are so valuable that they are worth the inconvenience.

If we oppose abortion, we should also be in favor of married couples having children, even having them in their twenties instead of waiting until they’ve been able to cross a bunch of things off their “bucket list.” We should support couples who choose to have many children instead of looking at them as if they were behaving oddly.

If we oppose abortion, then we should be joyful about any children in our Sunday worship services. And if a baby begins to cry in a worship service, we should offer help and support instead of offering dirty looks. Children are a gift to families, and they are a gift to churches.

If we oppose abortion, then we should prioritize the care, nurturing, and discipleship of our own children. They are gifts from God and the time we spend with them is of greater value than time that we spend on almost anything else.

In my opinion, it is often a smokescreen when critics of the pro-life movement claim that it is inconsistent. But we would all do well to take the critiques as an opportunity to live even more consistent with the belief that children are a gift from God and are worthy of protection and attention.

By |2018-11-13T14:41:34+00:00November 13th, 2018|Categories: LBF Church, Podcast|Tags: , , , , , , |3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Karen Phillips November 16, 2018 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    How do you feel about abortions when the life of the mother is at risk, in case of incest, in case of rape, or when the baby has no viable means of survival outside the womb? When I hear the argument that Christians aren’t consistent, it’s usually because pro life does not take the above into consideration. They seem to argue everything in black-and-white. The argument of inconsistencies of Christians and pro life is because a lot of Christians don’t seem to support birth control, food stamps, or social welfare programs. Once the baby is born, there does not seem to be support for the baby and that is another reason for the perceived inconsistencies.
    Another perceived inconsistency with pro life and Christians is when so many Christians stated they did not want refugees coming into this country. If all life is worthy of protection, why would you let a young Syrian child drown or starve running from war, or a young family starve from lack of food or fleeing violence in Central America?
    These are the questions my non-Christians friends ask me as a Christian. Could you address those?

    • Dan Franklin
      Dan Franklin November 27, 2018 at 11:21 am - Reply

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks for being willing to engage with this. I’ll look to talk through your points and I welcome any further response.

      As a big picture, the pro-life position is simply that it is immoral to kill unborn babies. They are human beings who are worthy of protection from violence.

      Most pro-life people, including me, believe that there is an exception in the case of the mother’s life being in danger. In that case, the mother finds herself in the horrible position of being told that both she and her baby will both die if she does not abort the baby. This is very different than someone killing a baby because the baby brings inconveniences. In the case of the mother’s life being in danger it is more like a rock climber being tethered to another rock climber who becomes unconscious and is about to pull both of them to their death. The rock climber who is conscious is not committing murder if he cuts the rope so that he survives. It is obviously a terrible situation, but it is one that most pro-life people see as different than the norm. In fact, it is only a tiny percentage of abortions that involve danger to the mother, or incest and rape. I believe these objections are often smoke screens that get away from the real issue. The bottom line is that well over 90% of abortions are done for reasons of convenience.

      As for rape and incest, those are both obviously horrible situations that are the result of abuse and sin. No woman should have those things done to her. They are horrible, and those who commits those acts of sin should be imprisoned. But it is a separate question when we then ask if it is permissible to kill an unborn child in these cases. The child is not guilty of the crime. Why is the life of a baby born under those circumstances less valuable than one born to a happy couple? I don’t believe these should be exceptions because my key question concerns the right of the child not to be killed. I think all unborn babies should have that right (with the exception of the life of the mother).

      As for the other concerns about social programs, I don’t think there is any inconsistency. This is a matter of people differing on their opinions about the best solutions to problems. Some will conclude that government assistance and welfare are a good solution. Others disagree and think that the better solution is to have family, churches, and communities come alongside the families and the babies. Believing in limited government is certainly not in conflict with believing that unborn babies should not be killed. And the truth is that many Christians adopt children, and many Christians provide practical assistance to mothers and babies. In fact, Christians are typically (by percentage) the most generous people in our culture. I don’t see any inconsistency here.

      And I would make the same point about the refugee issues. First of all, I would be slow to conclude what most Christians believe about the refugee issues because there are a variety of opinions and I don’t see one dominant Christian opinion. That said, I think there is a leap in logic in your reasoning. Suppose a man with a machine gun was about to shoot 20 homeless people. You run up to him and tell him that he should not do this. His reply is, “Well, are you willing to open up your house and feed them, clothe them, house them, and find them all well-paying jobs? Because if not, then who are you to tell me not to kill them?” I personally want our country (and us are private citizens) to act in response to the needs of all kinds of people, including refugees. But if a Christian says, “I don’t think our country is obligated to take in these particular refugees,” this is not inconsistent with them saying, “I don’t think people should be able to kill unborn babies.” No one is saying, “We should not be able to kill unborn babies, but killing refugees is fine.” I think part of the issue with refugees is a practical one. I don’t know any Christian who says, “Who cares? Let them starve.” But it is not as simple as just deciding to find homes for all refugees. Just as each of us would have limited resources if we opened our homes to refugees, our nation also has limited resources. We are not arguing about the choice between killing the refugees and welcoming them. We are arguing about (1) if it is our obligation as a nation to open our doors to any person who wants to come in and (2) what is the best way to help people who are in need. With abortion there is no real debate about what is best for the baby. It is better not to be killed than to be killed.

      Part of the witness of the Christian church is to name evil things as evil things. If aborting babies is an evil thing, we should say that it is. The presence of other evil things in the world does not make abortion less evil.

      As I said before, I would welcome further conversation on this. I know that the questions you raised are common objections, and I think they point to the idea that our concern about unborn babies is part of the outflow of our overall concern for all people created in God’s image. Thanks so much for your comment and your questions.

  2. Karen Phillips December 12, 2018 at 11:12 am - Reply

    Pastor Dan,
    Thank you for your response. I would like a little more clarification. You say: “As a big picture, the pro-life position is simply that it is immoral to kill unborn babies. They are human beings who are worthy of protection from violence.” If it’s not hypocritical, why isn’t there a movement among Christians to make sure women get affordable birth control and access to the morning after pill instead of trying to block them? These two methods are not killing babies but preventing them. When those methods are blocked, there are more babies born into homes that cannot adequately feed and support them. In the case of rape and incest, why not make the morning after pill available so the woman doesn’t have to carry the baby and give birth? A report in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that from 2000 to 2014, maternal mortality rates in the US increased 27%. In Texas the rate doubled between 2010 to 2012. Even when they survive the pregnancy (and they want to give the baby up for adoption), the mother’s body and health has changed dramatically. You are asking a woman who has been sexually abused to go through something she doesn’t have to if she is given the pill in a timely manner. Would you agree that the abortion rate declines when women are given access to affordable birth control and the morning after pill? Isn’t that what we all want?

    Regarding government programs, you stated “…the better solution is to have family, churches, and communities come alongside the families and the babies.” If a woman doesn’t have family and moves into a new community and was raped, you would expect the churches and the community to help her take care of this child? What if it is a poor community and they do not have affordable childcare facilities for her to be able to work? What if she doesn’t belong to a church? Should only churchgoers be able to get help? Where exactly should our taxpayer money go if it’s not to help those among us that need it the most? I would rather pay more taxes to make sure children have three good meals a day than give tax breaks to the wealthy or fund wars in other countries.

    War in other countries is what brings us to your next point about refugees. Many believe it is the US’s foreign policy that created the refugee crisis in Central America. Still others believe our foreign policy is responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis (https://www.christianpost.com/news/us-world-leaders-are-responsible-for-syrian-refugee-crisis-says-defying-isis-author-johnnie-moore.html) In answer to your question, yes I would bring those 20 people into my home instead of having someone kill them. I would eat less, work more, sell items, do anything so those people would not be killed. Even more so since our government had a hand in making them refugees. How is an unborn child in America more important than a toddler in Syria or Central America? Either way, I don’t think Jesus would want me to turn my back on refugees. As a Christian and a third generation American, I believe it is our duty to take care of those less fortunate. That is why I can’t explain to my atheist friends why some Christians want to stop affordable birth control and the morning after pill (thereby reducing abortions); why they resist the government helping struggling people with food, childcare, and rental assistance; deny help to refugees (that we helped create); and why they advocate for the death penalty.

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