Part 2 of the Christian Response to Abortion: We are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

There is a human tendency to worship the works of our hands, to see moral and political and social progress as a human achievement. We worship our heritage, we worship human leaders, we worship our ideals. What we forget is how frail we human beings are, how readily we fall into selfish, hurtful, and wicked ways, and how frequently the good we do and the good we intend is mixed with evil motives and evil consequences. There is a song by Rich Mullins called “We are Not as Strong as We Think We Are” which beautifully captures the tragic beauty of our human condition:

We are frail
We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage.
And with these our hells and our heavens,
So few inches apart,
We must be awfully small,
And not as strong as we think we are.

The United States is celebrating the election of the first black president. Truly, this is something we can rejoice in, that in this country, the color of a man’s skin does not keep him from the nation’s highest office. What was wonderful about Barack Obama’s inauguration speech was that his triumph was a qualified by the fact that this nation still has so much work to do, and so much collective guilt that we have to atone for, both for what we have done domestically and abroad. As we welcome President Obama, our own rejoicing must be limited at this realization–that we, collectively, still bear the guilt of so much inhumanity, and that this human success, as with all our human success, is one which is interwoven with so much evil. The past racism of this country, and the racism that still exists, reveal something about humanity that is very much relevant to the Christian response to abortion.

13% of American women are black, yet 35% of abortions are procured by black women. The majority of Planned Parenthood clinics are still located in neighborhoods constituted by predominantly black and Hispanic populations. Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece and outspoken opponent of abortion, has argued that racism and abortion are connected.

Abortion and racism are both symptoms of a fundamental human error. The error is thinking that when someone stands in the way of our wants, we can justify getting that person out of our lives. Abortion and racism stem from the same poisonous root, selfishness. We create the deceptions that the other person is less important, less worthy, less human. We are all fully human. When we face this truth, there is no justification for treating those who look different than us as lesser beings. If we simply treat other people the way we’d like to be treated, racism, abortion, and other forms of inhumanity will be things of the past.

The founder of Planned Parenthood herself was an outspoken advocate of eugenics, claiming that the sterilization of the ‘unfit’ would be the salvation of the American citizen. “The most serious charge that can be brought against modern ‘benevolence,’” Sanger argued in her work “The Function of Sterilization,” “is that it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents. These are the most dangerous elements in the world community, the most devastating curse on human progress and expression.”

Margaret Sanger thought that human beings could be divided into the fit and the unfit. This is the same mentality that exists behind racist agendas. What she and so many others fail to realize is that we are all unfit, that we are all frail, that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, capable of amazing achievements and at the same time, terrifying horrors. We purchase peace with toilsome wars, we secure luxury by enslaving others, we expiate our sins by sending scapegoats out into the desert. Our triumphs and successes and victories never go without causalities.

One often hears the objection to the effort to outlaw abortion, “what about pregnancies that result from incest or rape or spousal abuse?” The assumption it is somehow inhuman to force an innocent woman to carry a child she is not responsible for. We assume it is better to terminate the pregnancy than to bring a child conceived in sin into the world. But we are all conceived in sin indicated by the fact that we bear our morality with us. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you (4:7-12)

Rich Mullins puts it simpler: our heavens and our hells are always only inches apart.

What must keep in mind when we debate abortion is that we are always feeble and vulnerable and utterly dependent creatures. The child we see in the womb is our own reflection. To say that the child in the womb is liable to death is to condemn us all to death. No amount of inconvenience should lead us to treat any part of God’s creation, especially His frail, feeble image, with murderous contempt. And likewise, no amount of human mercy can change what abortion fundamentally is–a rebellious assertion of our will over God’s will. We, who are “dust and ashes,” cannot rely on our own plans, our own good intentions, and our own solutions. As Stanley Hauerwas writes, “We are able to have children because our hope is in God, who makes it possible to do the absurd thing of having children. In a world of such terrible injustice, in a world of such terrible misery, in a world that may well be about the killing of our children, having children is an extraordinary act of faith and hope. But as Christians we can have a hope in God that urges us to welcome children. When that happens, it is an extraordinary testimony of faith.”

Augustine writes in his Confessions, “Aware of our own infirmity we are moved to compassion to help the indigent, assisting them in the same ways as we would wish to be helped if we were in the same distress-and not only in easy ways, like ‘the grass bearing seed’ but with the protection and aid given with a resolute determination like ‘the tree bearing fruit.’ This means such kindness as rescuing a person suffering injustice from the hand of the powerful and providing the shelter of protection by the mighty force of just judgment” (285). Our acts of mercies, in other words, are always grounded in the realization that we need mercy, and the realization that “we are awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.”


9 comments so far

  1. rick on

    I’m glad word is getting out about Planned Parenthood being racist, and from the getgo. I’ve posted three articles on the history and purpose of Planned Parenthood on my blog, not that I am telling anyone something they should not already know, but to be an additional voice added to the many. We can not have enough pro-life blogs telling the truth.


  2. michael on

    Hey Beth,
    One issue I think that you should include is the death penalty. A lot of people who are Pro-Life are also in favor of the death penalty. I am Pro-Choice and I support the death penalty, but I’m surprised that so many Pro-Life people support capital punishment.

  3. everydaythomist on

    And I should write about war and handgun laws and palliative care and poverty and universal healthcare . . . the list goes on and on. I’m not denying that there are other injustices out there. I’m just writing about one specifically. When people talk and write about the war in Iraq, do you tell them, “yeah, that’s an injustice but you should also write about trade barriers and immigration laws so that you have a ‘consistent ethic?'” No, you let them write about Iraq because that is a discrete issue just as abortion is a discrete issue.

    On the other hand, I think that racism is a link that ties the two issues together. A higher percentage of black people are executed, and a higher percentage of black women have abortions. I do think you could argue convincingly that these two issues of justice illustrate how far we have to go as a nation to move past our racist roots.

  4. Mike on

    Beth, trade barriers and immigration laws are not really connected to the Iraq War. But abortion and the death penalty are directly connected because they are examples of when people are okay to end life, or what I call, potential life of a fetus. The reason this is a more important question is because of the lack of unity between conservatives on the death penalty.

  5. everydaythomist on

    My point was that trade barriers and immigration laws and the Iraq war all come under the larger rubric of state-sponsored injustice. There are lots of different instances where we take life–euthanasia, self-defense, killing non-combatants in military battles, sniping a military general in wartime. Different forms of killing fall under different forms of injustice and so from an ethical perspective, we often treat these forms of killing differently. Some forms of killing we say are contextually justified, like killing an attacker in self-defense. Other forms of killing we would say are never justified, like killing non-combatants in wartime.

    My blog post is about lack of unity among Christians on the issue of abortion. I do think that all instances of taking life are important, but abortion is particularly important because of the scale–over a million a year. State-sponsored killing in the form of capital punishment doesn’t get close to that.

  6. Mike on

    Okay back to a topic that you brought up. Black people having abortions. It may be linked to poverty percentages, which also is tied to likelihood of people being sexually active at a younger age. But blacks getting abortions is NOT racism. People who have abortions choose to. The only argument that would support it being racist would be 1. if the KKK was forcing pregnant blacks to go to abortion clinics or 2. if abortion doctors were discouraging whites from having abortions in the clinic and not encouraging blacks to change their minds. The levels of blacks having abortions cannot be blamed on whites. Just like I cannot call the NBA anti-semitic for having so few Jews in the NBA. The only people I can blame for that are Jews for not pushing their kids to do better in basketball.

  7. everydaythomist on

    Michael, People who have abortions don’t always make a free choice. A lot of times they are coerced, like Alveda King who has been very outspoken about the link between racism and abortion. Black men coerce women to have abortions, but I think that the white culture does as well, and that is where I would say that the link between abortion and racism is. I think that it is very likely that white doctors would be more likely to push a black woman towards having an abortion, especially if she was poor and single, than they would a white woman. I think that our culture sees black women having babies as a drain on the welfare system and as a potential menace to society because those black kids grow up and get involved in crime which threatens whites very much.

    I am fully convinced that racial motives are still very powerful in this country. We have a black president, yes. But schools are still overwhelmingly segregated. Neighborhoods are still overwhelmingly segregated. Blacks are poorer than whites, and in worse jobs than whites, and less healthy than whites. A CNN poll a few years ago claimed that blacks are more than twice as likely than whites to see racism as a major problem.

    I think when we see that black women are three times as likely than white women to have an abortion, even though a higher percentage of black women are pro-life, we need to ask what the reason is, and if this is really a sign that the black community is flourishing. I would bet not. I would bet that black women are having abortions because (as you say) they are poorer, they don’t have as many family supports, they have bad access to health care and not enough access to good contraception (and the education to use it) and that they are getting coerced into having abortions by a white culture that doesn’t want more black babies.

  8. rick on

    Two things: We must remember that one of Margaret Sanger’s (founder of Planned Parenthood), purpose was to purify the race through eugenics. There is plenty of postings on the blog giving the history of Margaret Sanger’s purpose in great detail. I have re-posted the history of this on my blog. African-Americans would probably equal Hispanics in population rather than trail them due to black abortions.
    The second thing I want to discuss is Capital Punishment. Executing one for a capital crime is not punishment—it is to rid society of a dangerous person. I believe God gives government the right to protect the citizens by executing those who are a danger to society. Those who release a criminal from prison who kills again, are themselves guilty of complicity of the crime. Capital punishment has nothing to do with the culture of death that not only provided the death penalty for being born poor or black, but which also provides for euthanasia.

  9. charles on

    …we are all frail, that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, capable of amazing achievements and at the same time, terrifying horrors. We purchase peace with toilsome wars, we secure luxury by enslaving others, we expiate our sins by sending scapegoats out into the desert. Our triumphs and successes and victories never go without causalities.” Wonderful summation of human nature — of who we are.

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