Smart people ask the stupidest questions. Honest ignorance has nothing on bad-faith intelligence. For example, see Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times article titled, “Er, Can I Ask a Few Questions About Abortion?” Predictably, the column was not a genuine effort at understanding Christian opposition to abortion, but a rhetorical show for a pro-abortion audience.
Kristof asserted that pro-life Christians do not really understand their faith, so they have been suckered into anti-abortion absolutism that is biblically unfounded and historically anomalous. Kristof apparently got his church history from a largely debunked article in Politico that claimed that the rise of the religious right was, you guessed it, really all about racism.
Kristof Misses the Point
The quality of his questions is on par with his grasp of church history. He wonders: “Why do so many see fervent opposition to any abortion as a religious dictate when the Bible never directly discusses abortion?” Well, the Bible also does not specifically prohibit bludgeoning New York Times columnists to death with their own keyboards, but that, like the deliberate destruction of human lives in utero, is included within the general commandment not to commit murder.
Kristof tries to evade this obvious point by citing Exodus 21:22 as the passage “most relevant to abortion,” and he interprets it to suggest that “the Bible treats a fetal life as less than a human life.” The passage, however, is about the legal consequences of accidental injury to a pregnant woman and her child, not about the morality of elective abortion. Furthermore, even the scholar Kristof consulted told him the verse might not imply what he thinks it does because the “original Hebrew is ambiguous.”
Kristof’s effort to score a debater’s point thus makes him miss what is remarkable about the entire passage, which is that in the brutal ancient world, the laws of Moses gave legal protection to the weakest and most vulnerable, such as slaves and the unborn. That the penalties established for accidental injury to the unborn could, on one interpretation, have been harsher does not prove, or even suggest, that Christians should acquiesce to a regime of abortion on demand now.
The Bible Has Much to Say About Human Life
That we still live under such an abortion regime provides the answer to Kristof’s next question: “Why the obsessive focus on abortion today when Christian thought for most of the last two millenniums was not deeply concerned with the topic?” Had Kristof read more, he would know that the Christian tradition has always condemned abortion. If we are more focused on it now, it is because it is legally being committed on an industrial scale even as we can see the humanity of the human fetus. We have the ultrasound pictures on our fridges and Facebook feeds to prove it.
These images are a vivid reminder of the humanity of the unborn. Contra Kristof, this humanity is not called into question by the fact that very early miscarriages might be unnoticed and therefore unwept. Furthermore, many millions of us have grieved over the known loss of a child to miscarriage. In this, we recognize the absolute value of each person, which is present from the very beginning of human life.
The Bible attests to this shared humanity. Those who are genuinely curious about what scripture says about human life in utero should take the approaching season of Advent as an opportunity to read Luke’s account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’
Like the unborn John the Baptist, Christians recognize and honor Mary as the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Jesus’ divine nature was already present as he physically developed in Mary’s womb. This doctrine is affirmed by many ancient sources, including Ambrose of Milan’s great Advent hymn, “Veni Redemptor Gentium” (“Savior of the Nations, Come”).
If Christ’s divinity was fully present in the womb, then so must his humanity have been. Thus, to deny the humanity of the unborn is to embrace a heresy about Jesus.
Abortion Pulls Us Closer to Hell
Worse still, abortion is, in an existential sense, a choice for hell. Violently closing oneself off to the needs of the other when the other is most vulnerable and needy is the epitome of the closing of the soul that constitutes hell. What we do to the least of these, we do to Christ.
Circumstance might mitigate the full knowledge of this choice to kill, but the intellectual defenders of abortion have no such excuse. Attempts to define the unborn as outside of the family of human persons only compound the guilt of turning away from our primordial responsibility to the need of the other. These justifications for abortion are a literal inversion of the injunction that ethics is prior to ontology, which is to say that our responsibility to act rightly precedes our attempted philosophical definitions of the world. The abortion defenders arguing that the unborn are inhuman reverse this in an attempt to use ontology to dictate to our responsibilities, rather than allowing our moral responsibilities to govern us.
This evil is why abortion on demand has not made anything better. All the problems that abortion advocates promised it would solve, such as child abuse and poverty, are still with us, and often worse. This is because elective abortion makes us worse.
From this perspective, Kristof’s query, “If the aim is to reduce abortions, why not treat the issue as a matter of public health?” is an evasion of our responsibility. Although we should work toward and rejoice over reductions in the abortion rate, we must also strive to end our wicked regime of abortion on demand.
Christians may reasonably disagree over a great many issues of public policy — from tax rates to welfare programs to gun control to environmental protections and much more — but we must all reject the Democratic Party’s extremist platform of unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortion on demand. Given the enormity of our abortion regime, it is hard, if not impossible, to justify support for those dedicated to maintaining it, regardless of the other issues in play.
Simply put, the “compassionate way of life” that Kristof urges is incompatible with support for a legal regime that allows developing human life to be destroyed on demand. Kristof knows this, as he has sometimes written admiringly of the charitable works of conservative Christians. Were he operating in good faith, he might have learned something by asking good-faith questions of them. These lessons might begin with the truth that Christ does not want the least among us torn limb from limb.