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Many observers thought the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court would end the public debate over abortion rights. The issue had been legally settled, it was thought. Subsequent history has proven otherwise. The question of abortion remains as controversial as ever. Nothing close to a consensus has emerged. Polls confirm that public opinion is polarized.

Given the current state of the debate and the cultural influence of the pro-abortion lobby, it’s imperative that Christians from all walks of life—not only those involved in politics—express their pro-life convictions in a consistent, confident, and intelligent fashion. This is no time to back down. We must be ready to give cogent responses to the common charges leveled against the pro-life position.

Before we explore those responses, two points need to be established. First, we should recognize that there’s no serious dispute about whether the Bible and Christian tradition reflect a pro-life stance. Scripture teaches that all human beings are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; 9:6; James 3:9) and that the taking of human life, apart from divinely sanctioned exceptions, is not merely immoral but criminal (Ex. 20:13; Mark 10:19; Rom. 13:9). Furthermore, multiple biblical texts indicate that human life begins at the point of conception (Job 31:15; Pss. 51:5–6; 139:13–16; Jer. 1:5). For these reasons, there has been a consensus among Christians throughout history that abortion is a grave sin. Only in the last half-century, under pressure from a post-Christian culture, has there been any challenge to this consensus.

Second, if we’re to respond effectively to the arguments for abortion rights, we must be crystal clear about the fundamental issue in the debate, the crucial question upon which the entire controversy hangs: What does a pregnant woman have inside her womb? What exactly are we talking about when we refer to the “embryo” or the “fetus”? The correct answer: a human being—one at an early stage of development, to be sure, but a human being nonetheless. We’re talking about a new member of the human race, a full-fledged member of the human community, with all the rights possessed by any other member of the human race. Once this point is grasped, it becomes relatively easy to see why most of the common arguments for abortion rights fail. They either deny this basic fact or fail to reckon with it. That’s precisely why we must keep this crucial question at the center of the discussion.

The baby is an individual human with a genetic identity distinct from his or her mother and all her body parts. A mother’s rights do not include the freedom to kill her own child.

With these preliminary points established, let’s now consider how we might answer some common objections.

Pro-lifers are anti-science. Our first response should be to ask, What is it exactly about the pro-life position that conflicts with established science? No cogent answer is likely to be forthcoming. The biological facts about human reproduction are well established and entirely consistent with pro-life arguments. The scientific literature is unanimous in affirming that human life begins at the point of conception, when male and female gametes combine to form a new organism with its own set of chromosomes. The embryo is alive, human, and genetically distinct from his or her parents: it is a new human individual, male or female, at the earliest stages of life.

It is sometimes thought that the pro-life view is unscientific because it assumes that the human embryo has an immaterial soul, a claim that cannot be proven scientifically. The Bible certainly affirms that humans have a soul as well as a body (Matt. 10:28). But pro-life arguments don’t depend on any such assumption. It is enough to recognize that a new human life begins at conception.

A fetus isn’t a person until it develops a brain and becomes conscious. Brains and consciousness don’t appear overnight. They develop gradually over many months and even beyond the point of birth. There’s no determinate point at which one can say, “Now it’s a person!” Moreover, consciousness isn’t necessary for personhood; for example, a comatose patient is still a person with full human rights.

Pro-life arguments are religious, but religion should be kept out of public policy. On the contrary, the pro-life case doesn’t have to rely on religious premises. Consider this argument: (1) It is immoral to intentionally take an innocent human life. (2) Abortion intentionally takes an innocent human life. (3) Therefore, abortion is immoral. Someone with no religious convictions could find such an argument persuasive. Indeed, the existence of several atheist pro-life groups shows how misguided this objection is.

I’m personally pro-life, but we shouldn’t impose our moral views on others. The superficiality of this stance can be illustrated by applying the same principle to other matters of basic justice. For instance: “I’m personally against infanticide, but we shouldn’t impose our moral views on others.” Everyone thinks that some practices are so immoral and destructive that they ought to be prohibited by law. The question is whether abortion is one of those practices.

The state shouldn’t legislate morality. This objection is as misguided as the previous one. All legislation is motivated and justified on the basis of moral principles. Doesn’t the state legislate against murder, sexual assault, theft, and libel? Not every immoral action should be illegal. But shouldn’t any intentional killing of an innocent human be prohibited by law?

The state should take a neutral stance. Some argue that the government shouldn’t take sides in this debate, but that’s clearly impossible in practice. While abortion is legal, the government is implicitly taking a “pro-choice” position. Should the state adopt a neutral stance toward infanticide and slavery as well? Should the government protect people’s freedom to kill their toddlers and keep slaves if they so choose?

Abortion rights is a gender-equality issue. The argument here is that the consequences of conception are far more burdensome for women than for men. Men can walk away from a pregnancy; women can’t. Therefore, to level the field, women should be free to end their pregnancies at any time. While the premise of the argument is true, it doesn’t follow that abortion is a morally acceptable way of removing the disparity between men and women. The argument completely ignores the moral rights of a third party in the situation—the child in the mother’s womb—and it could be easily extended to justify infanticide.

Women have absolute rights over their bodies. While all people have certain rights over their own bodies, the false assumption is that a baby is merely a body part of its mother, like one of her limbs or organs. That’s biologically confused. The baby is an individual human with a genetic identity distinct from his or her mother and all her body parts. The unborn child is attached to the mother and dependent on her for life, but the fetus isn’t a part of his or her mother. A mother’s rights do not include the freedom to kill her own child.

It’s imperative that Christians from all walks of life express their pro-life convictions in a consistent, confident, and intelligent fashion.

Abortion is a women’s issue. Men have no right to speak about it. Clearly, the issue of abortion affects women in ways that don’t apply to men. But as one writer has quipped, “Arguments don’t have genders.” If the pro-life argument is sound, it’s sound regardless of who makes it. In any case, men do have a real stake in the issue. Fathers are no less invested in the lives of their unborn children than mothers. Every man, like every woman, was once an unborn child whose mother chose not to abort.

What about cases of rape and incest? There are unquestionably difficult cases that must be handled with sensitivity and compassion. No woman should have to bear such a burden alone. Nevertheless, one immoral act cannot justify another. That a child was conceived through a heinous sin does not negate that child’s right to life. Sacrificing the innocent would only add to the inhumanity and injustice.

What about cases where the mother’s life is at risk? Pro-life advocates argue that in such situations, which are extremely rare, we are permitted to take action necessary to save the life of the mother or the child, even if that results (tragically) in the death of the other. When such action is taken, the death is an unavoidable yet unintended consequence of the life-saving action for the mother or child. That’s a consistently pro-life position, and it provides no justification whatsoever for abortion on demand.

If pro-lifers care so much about unwanted babies, why don’t they adopt them? Of course, many pro-lifers do just that. But the objection here is morally confused. If abortion is itself an immoral act, the immediate moral obligation is for a child’s parents not to kill it. No one else incurs a moral obligation to raise a child simply because the parents don’t want to do it. What would we think of a nineteenth-century slaveowner who argued, “If abolitionists care so much about slaves, why don’t they offer to work on the plantations instead?”

Pro-lifers are hypocrites because they don’t lobby the government on other human rights issues. Even if true, this is an ad hominem objection that evades the fundamental moral issue. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that pro-lifers do neglect other pressing matters of justice. Would it follow that the pro-life position is wrong? Would it follow that human life doesn’t begin at the point of conception after all? Not in the least.

In conclusion, let me recommend a fourfold strategy for responding to criticisms of the pro-life cause.

1. Keep the crucial question of the nature of the unborn at the center of the discussion.

2. Expose the false assumptions behind the objections.

3. Illustrate the moral confusion of pro-abortion arguments by showing how the same reasoning could be used to justify infanticide, slavery, and other atrocities.

4. Pray that the Lord will open minds and hearts to hear our words and to recognize the true horror of abortion.

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