Third, sometimes late-term abortions proceed by inducing labor so that the expecting mother delivers her baby. In such cases, a separate and specific act of killing the baby in utero is generally deemed necessary by abortionists to avoid the possibility of a live birth. While induced labor abortions are considered legally risky in the United States due to protections for babies surviving an attempted abortion, such abortions are reportedly very common in Nordic countries. Either way, the practice of performing a special act to kill the baby in utero before labor is induced so that there is no possibility of a live birth demonstrates that the intent of induced abortion is not to terminate a pregnancy but to kill the baby developing in the womb.
Abortion can be defined, therefore, as any act that intends to terminate a pregnancy so that the baby in utero does not survive. It is an intentional act of killing.
Image of God
The recently deceased MIT philosophy professor Judith Jarvis Thomson is quite clear about this in her seminal essay “A Defense of Abortion” (published in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1973, the year of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade). Morally, she argues, many abortions amount to little more than a woman’s declining to maintain an unwelcome intruder in her home. In this case, the unwelcome intruder is the unwanted child she is carrying, and the home is her womb. By declining to maintain her baby, she is removing necessary life support, and Thomson acknowledges that this is tantamount to killing the baby.
Strikingly, she argues that abortion in these cases is permissible even if we allow that the baby has an equal right to life as the mother or anyone else. While every human being has a right to life, she reasons, no human being has a right to demand such large sacrifices from another person as are often involved in pregnancy.
If [a set of parents] have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they do not simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child who comes into existence have a special responsibility for it. They may wish to assume responsibility for it, or they may wish not to. And I am suggesting that if assuming responsibility for it would require large sacrifices, then they may refuse.
While a “Good Samaritan would not refuse,” she writes, a mother is not morally obligated to be a Good Samaritan, just a “Minimally Decent Samaritan.” When contraceptive precautions are taken but a pregnancy occurs anyway, then the child may be properly regarded as an unwanted and unwelcome intruder whose right to life does not equate with a right to demand from its mother the kinds of sacrifices pregnancy often entails.
Such is the dehumanizing moral order envisioned by Thomson and implied by every other attempt to justify the act of killing (or declining to maintain) an unborn child. Where Scripture asserts that all human life is to be protected because “God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6), arguments attempting to justify abortion assert that some human life does need not be protected. Some human life—unwanted and unwelcome human beings—can be regarded as intruders whose right to life need not move us to be Good Samaritans, not even to our own children.
Question 136 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?” The answer that follows begins by asserting that “all taking away of the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense” are impermissible, and adds “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life.” Abortion, as defined by Thomson, is the intentional act of depriving another human being—a baby in utero—of the necessary means of the preservation of his or her life. It is an act of killing a human being in violation of the sixth commandment, and like every other form of injustice, it dehumanizes all people everywhere.
Scripture regards the unborn as fully and wonderfully human from conception (e.g., Ex. 21:22–25; Pss. 51:5; 139:13–16; Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:35–45). Nature also clearly attests that conception is the beginning of life of each individual human being. Yet even if the witness of Scripture and nature were ambiguous, it is difficult to see how we could be justified to pull the trigger that terminates a human life in the womb unless we can positively identify our target and be sure we are doing no harm. This is the first principle of medical ethics and hunter safety courses alike.
What, then, are we to do? We are to love others as we want to be loved. That is what it means to be pro-life in the way that Scripture is pro-life. Let me illustrate what I mean with two specific ways we can overcome abortion through acts of loving our neighbor just as the Good Samaritan loved the man left half-dead in the ditch.
The first way is to present a clear witness to the fact that abortion is sin. Here’s the kind of thing I have in mind: I had a friend who had gotten his girlfriend pregnant when they were seniors in high school. They had agreed that she would have an abortion, though he was less sure of the move than she was. Still, he paid for it, went with her to the clinic, and attended the post-abortion counseling session where they were told what she should expect and were assured that they had done nothing wrong.