The Standard May 12, 2022
Over time, a good government carefully crafts legislation to create a reasonable balance between freedom for its people and protection for them. In a civil society, we simply cannot do whatever we please with our bodies at any given time in any given place. In the United States we highly value freedom, but have on the books many necessary restrictions to keep us from harming each other. We take particular care to protect the most vulnerable among us- the very young, the elderly and those with special needs. Some federal and state restrictions actually have less to do with us hurting others and more about safeguarding ourselves.
For example, New Hampshire and American Samoa are the only state and territory in the nation without a seat belt law for adults. Other than the medical care and debt that could result after an automobile accident, us not wearing seat belts basically jeopardizes only our personal health. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories have some form of child safety seat law.
The federal Controlled Substances Act provides a unified legal framework to regulate certain drugs that are deemed to pose a risk of abuse and dependence. The CSA may apply to drugs that are medical or recreational, legally or illicitly distributed. In the U.S. we are not free to indulge our bodies with every available drug, even as adults. All states prohibit providing alcohol to persons under the age of 21, although some make limited exceptions.
Each state as well as Washington, D.C. enforces their own requirements for vaccinations for children who attend public schools. As adults some of us are perfectly willing to cooperate with the government urging us to get vaccinated, while others are not.
Different states have different ages of consent for sexual activity. There are federal restrictions regarding using the bodies of minors under the age of 18 in pornography. Prostitution is illegal across the U.S. except in some rural counties in Nevada. Every state has laws prohibiting people from community indecent exposure or public lewdness.
Each of us can analyze how much local, state and federal control we believe is reasonable for what we do with our own bodies. Between us we hold any number of different ideas about how best to protect freedom while safeguarding human life.
In order for the current abortion discussion to move in a helpful direction, we must stop talking past each other. Screaming “baby killer” in front of an abortion clinic or shouting “my body, my choice” on the steps of the Supreme Court likely will do little to engage meaningful conversation. A crucial aspect of the dialogue has got to be our view of when human life begins. Does it begin with the embryo at conception, when a fetal heartbeat is first detected, when the fetus is viable, usually at around 24 weeks of gestation, or when the baby naturally enters the world?
Certainly, we should expect a person with moral convictions who believes human life is sacred and that a pregnant woman is carrying a developing baby to stand up for the protection of that preborn life. For that person to do anything else would be wildly unethical. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (James 4:17)
On the other hand, we should note that someone who believes a fetus is not a developing baby is not going to understand a plea to protect what they do not view as human life. This does not mean we should not ask appropriate, important questions. How do we decide when human life begins? What is the moral and medical difference between a developing baby one week prior to natural delivery versus a baby one week after birth, for example? Would it be better for abortion to be rare or unlimited? Legally, is killing a pregnant woman ending one life or more?
Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, is recognized widely as the most influential living philosopher. As a utilitarian, he believes the only important moral question is whether something reduces suffering and/or increases happiness for the largest number of people. He is an atheist who does not believe in the sanctity of human life but that a human infant lacks personhood, since it is not rational, autonomous or self-conscious. If given the ability to save only one, an adult chimpanzee or a human infant, Singer says we might be morally obligated to rescue the life of the chimp. In Singer’s mind, parents choosing infanticide of disabled newborns or girls with China’s One Child policy is fine if they conclude this will make them happier. He sees this as a logical conclusion of allowing abortion.
As Christians we believe in the sanctity of human life because, being created in God’s image, we each are intrinsically and uniquely valuable. Jesus showed us and taught us that our love for our neighbors should know no bounds. We should continue to support foster care, adoption, quality public education, school feeding programs, etc. and help destigmatize giving up a baby for adoption, while standing up peacefully for what we believe about the right to life. Let us listen and engage empathetically with those from all perspectives of this issue, understanding that it is a heart-wrenching topic for many.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)