Abortion Law should be Compassionate
Saturday morning I opened my email to find this notification:
I don’t do Social Media from 12am Saturday to 12am Monday so I’m not sure what this is in reponse to, and honestly it doesn’t matter. I probably won’t be interacting with this person much further. I don’t usually go past the first page of notifications, which is why I suggest people DM me if they actually need to get my attention.
But this comment was almost certainly in response to something I posted or commented on Abortion. And as far as I can tell my thoughts on Abortion are not very appreciated by either side of the issue on Facebook, except for the people who actually know me and understand why I hold to my views. But “questions” like the one above represent how misguided the abolitionist cause has become in this country. That question, taken in its context, represents a refusal to learn from history. A refusal of Conservative (not Republican but true Conservative) wisdom. In other words the abolitionists are often indistinguishable from the pro abortion side in method and thinking.
The fundamental difference between left and right (philosophically speaking, do not read just DNC vs GOP) is that leftism is about socially engineered equality and the right is about organic natural harmony. Abortion is clearly compatible with leftism but not the right, but abolitionism has also always been a phenomenon of the left. Because leftism equates morality with law. Civil rights just are natural rights for the left. But the right recognizes that natural rights aren’t equivalent to human laws. This is why leftism struggles so much with the Old Testament. It either must embrace its ethics or reject them. This is seen on full display during the lead up to the US Civil War, see Mark Knoll’s “Civil War as a Theological Crisis”. But the right recognizes that what Paul argued in Galatians is always true: human law is a tutor not something real or absolute in itself.
And yes the Torah came from God but as a tutor not as absolute morality. Much could be said about this but suffice it to say that if the Torah was a complete moral guide in itself then it could not accomplish the task it is designed for: holiness and unity with God. It’s purpose was in shaping the soul of Israel not concretizing its culture. If it’s merely a list of dos and donts then Holiness is not particularly difficult to acquire or particularly virtuous. The goal of the Torah is flourishing. Psalm 119 could be pointed to by anyone who wants to claim that it is the morality of the Torah that makes it beautiful but this is a mistake. The Psalmist has seen the goodness of God’s wisdom revealed in the guidelines and guidance of the Torah. He sees that it’s outcomes are excellent and a guard against foolishness. In other words the example of the Torah is that laws are judged by their outcomes not their strictness.
And this is what the abolitionist misunderstands when they ask simple questions seeking simple answers. “Is murder wrong” is the equivalent of asking “Is a wrong thing wrong?” Murder means the wrongful, intentional, taking of a human life. In other words this person has answered their own question. And to them it’s obvious that this means human law must punish anyone connected to an abortion.
But the recognition that abortion is a form of murder tells us nothing about what should be done legally. Especially in a society where it is already a legal form of murder. Because despite the caricature many on the pro life side paint the pro abortion lobby isn’t motivated by hatred, which is the real cause and sin of murder. These people don’t hate babies or wake up every day trying to think of how they can mutilate them. That’s Kermit Gosnell, that’s not every pro abortion person out there. And while I agree that the principalities of darkness are the true agents of change behind western abortion practice, and that their motivations clearly are based in hatred, Paul makes clear that this spiritual struggle isn’t against flesh and blood. Just as “the first Whig was the devil” so the first true leftism was the radical revolution in heaven.
Planned Parenthood especially is extremely misguided about the purpose of human life itself. They have become wrapped up in a technocratic leftist worldview. They are driven by corporate greed and power. PP isn’t evil because they hate babies, PP is evil because they are trying to change human nature. They are trying to master and alter human teleology. Unborn (and sometimes just born) babies are the casualties in their war against God and the natural harmony of his creation. And to top it all off they’ve figured out a way to monetize this horrible enterprise.
The real problem with abortion isn’t murder, it’s that it creates a disordered society through empowering the belief that human autonomy and equality are the highest goods. Abortion on demand is the outcome of bad philosophy that has become ubiquitous in the west. Just calling it murder ignores the real problem in this society: an unconverted heart that equates freedom with the gospel. Jesus didn’t come to set sinners free for freedom’s sake. He wasn’t the forerunner to the enlightenment. He came to set us free from slavery in one kingdom so that we could be flourishing servants in another. Making the argument into a rights of the unborn vs the rights of women just plays further into this heterodox worldview. It isn’t about equality of rights, it’s about what is right. If it was merely a debate over rights then there is a technological solution: the end of pregnancy. Ending the relationship between sex and pregnancy, which is far less crazy today than it was when CS Lewis first wrote about in “The Abolition of Man”, will end the rights debate between baby and mom.
This is exactly why the first version of American Abolitionism failed. It equated freedom with the Gospel. But the real problem with American slavery was that it was racist. And racism can only truly be cured with the gospel. Instead these United States fought a war that perpetuated that racism for another 100 years and eventually led to the bizarre identity politics of today. In 1865 Orestes Bronson saw that “the the Union victory will…be interpreted as a victory in the interest of humanitarian democracy.”
Humanitarian democracy sounds nice but it’s a deeply anti Conservative philosophy. It’s essentially equatable to everything the contemporary American left stands for. And it is this tradition that the abolitionist embraces through what Brownson identified as the Lockean “sacred right of revolution”. This is completely antithetical to Conservativism and Christianity.
So then how should we approach abortion? The antebellum abolitionist method didn’t work. It was couched in post millennialism that led to anti catholic bigotry which eventually morphed into the liberal anti religious bigotry we see today. The Republican Party of Lincoln’s day equated slavery and Catholicism as the twin despotisms that the nation needed to purify itself from, see David Goldfield’s “America Aflame . America is not the Kingdom of God. It does not need to be purified. It can’t be purified in the way the abolitionists wanted.
But YOU can be purified. And so can your particular gathering of Jesus disciples. Beyond that you have no control or influence. Moral proximity is what matters for the Christian and the Conservative. The Good Samaritan saw what was right in front of him and took care of it. Jesus healed those who were brought to him. If we are active in our communities through faith there will be things to do. And it’s obvious that moral proximity has been expanded by technology so it isn’t always as obvious what our true responsibilities are.
But what is obvious, what is necessarily true, is that the unborn belong to God. Every single one of them. He knows them, he holds them, and he loves them more than any of us ever could. We do what we can but abolition is not our God. This is why the abolitionist movements are always inherently disordered. They worship abolition.
The Facebook post that started this essay was probably a response to Jeff Leach’s killing of the recent Texas abortion bill. This bill would have been an attempt to nullify Federal “law” regarding abortion. That in itself makes it important because nullification is supposed to be one of the ways the States can check the Federal government. Most people think that the south tried to practice nullification but that’s false, see Thomas E. Woods’ “Nullification”. The anti slave states tried to nullify slavery through not observing the fugitive slave laws that required the free states to return the slaves. This was tyrannical and violated the free exercise clause of the first amendment. By siding with the so called “property” rights of the slave owners the Federal government violated the freedom of conscience for the free states.
Therefore nullification is relevant to almost every culture war issue of our time. If the states had more autonomy there would be more cultural harmony over issues like gay marriage and abortion. But when the Supreme Court can simply inviolate any law passed by a state and the states have no check on the Federal government there is no ability for genuine communities to govern themselves.
I don’t know all the ins and outs of this failed Texas abortion bill but I haven’t seen much serious analysis from people on Facebook besides calling for Leach’s head on a platter, mostly metaphorical. If we try to take his actions in good faith then it seems as if Leach is uncomfortable with the bill’s insistence that mothers who seek abortions be punished. He hasn’t done a good job explaining himself but my guess is his thinking on this issue plays out similarly to the war on drugs, or prostitution.
Generally we have punished people who seek out prostitution, or make the practice possible, but not the prostitutes themselves. And many think that this should have been the same approach to the war on drugs. Again I’m not an expert but the logic is that by criminalizing the whole process we make it harder to stop. Because the addicts stay addicts and by essentially criminalizing addiction we prevented them from becoming allies to help the authorities bust sellers.
Apparently this approach didn’t work with the underage sex trade. It wasn’t until the people who sought out underage porn were also criminalized that anything was really accomplished.
The upshot is that these issues are complicated. If abortion is made illegal in Texas there will be a massive fight probably ending at the US Supreme Court and in all likelihood it won’t end the way we want it to. Ironically enough because of Brett Kavanaugh. So the question becomes why punish the mothers?
If it’s as a deterrent will it really be more effective than simply making abortion illegal? Maybe. But if the price for that possibility is that the law doesn’t get passed at all then clearly it’s not worth it.
Making abortion, the way it’s currently practiced, illegal should be the goal. And I see no advantage to punishing the mothers. Grief sticken women who have procured an abortion will have no motivation to come forward or testify against the illegal abortionists. And there’s simply no way that this part of the law will make it easier to pass or withstand the scrutiny of the courts, which is surely its destiny.
True justice will only come from God, and no one will escape it. If the mothers need to be punished God will do so, and has already done so in the sacrifice of his son. This is why the Christian should never approach legal questions with “justice anxiety”. When humans try to accomplish justice through punishment they rarely accomplish anything. Punishing the abortionists should be enough. Our approach to human law is always to assume the worst, to try to figure out what the unintended consequences of a law might be. The desire to punish mothers seems like it is pregnant with problems.
Abortion law as practiced prior to the radical revolution of Roe v Wade was based in compassion. Many on the pro life side are not motivated by compassion and virtuous societal shaping. Instead they are out for blood, seeking a French Revolution or Nuremberg style redress of wrongs. So many babies have been lost in this culture war and the desire for retribution is understandable. But wise victors are generous towards a defeated foe. It was this lack of magnamity after WWI that directly led to WWII and far greater evils. But we aren’t “victors” yet and imposing unnecessarily harsh conditions preemptively simply prolongs the culture war unnecessarily.
The situation can always get worse. We are not nearly pessisimitic enough about the left’s dedication to their dogma of abortion rights. We must be guided by the hope that God is always in control and the problems of each age exist so that the Church can fulfill its destiny of trampling over the gates of hell. But this looks different with every problem and every generation. And we cannot trample those gates if we embrace the methods of the kingdom they guard. We do not fight fire with fire. We fight fire with water. The waters of baptism and the waters that baptize our eyes when we witness injustice should guide us towards true peace.
Peace in the womb cannot be accomplished without peace in ourselves. God is in charge. Not the president, not the congress, not the courts. We always work for what we know is right but if we do this without wisdom and love our causes are lost before they begin.