The following is Part 12 of an open letter to Colonel Vaughn Doner and a critique of his 2012 book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Throughout the series, I address Colonel Doner in the second person, “you.” This book review is part of a series examining Christian Postmodernism.
Dear Colonel Doner,
One of my greatest concerns about your book is the way you treat the abortion issue. You cite C. Everett Koop, who was Reagan’s Surgeon General in the 1980s, as saying that if the pro-life movement had only been willing to compromise in the early 1970s, we could have had a law that provided restrictions on abortion for only the exceptions of rape incest, danger to the life and health of the mother or gross birth defects in the child. Since these account for only 3 percent of all abortions, Koop argued that we missed a chance to abolish 97 percent of all abortion – most of which are for convenience or economic reasons. Then you blame pro-lifers who hold to their “principles” for the deaths of millions of babies.
While Koop’s math works on a practical level, the former surgeon general is not a good legal scholar. All states, even states such as Hawaii that already had very liberal abortion laws prior to Roe v. Wade, had to rewrite their state statues to accommodate the twin Supreme Court decisions that were handed down on January 22, 1973. The way that state laws are written now have to conform to Doe v. Bolton, the companion decision to Roe, which was issued on the same day. While many people know that Roe legalized abortion in the first trimester and in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life and health of the mother, they do not understand that Doe made any abortion legal for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy.
Doe essentially grants that in any abortion – even late-term abortion up until the day of birth – the decision is between “the woman and her physician.”
… [The] right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the district court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
With Doe v. Bolton, the access to abortion on demand was extended to all 50 states at any time during the pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. With any “state restriction,” the exception clause “danger to the life and health of the mother” is always required. In some states, to justify late term abortions, the doctor has to examine the woman and get a signed affidavit of a concurring opinion from another doctor. That’s just good medical ethics even when the law does not require it. However, that can be done on the day of the procedure. So all a mother in an eight-and-a half-month pregnancy has to do is tell her doctor she is thinking about suicide or that she is having mental health problems due to her pregnancy and it automatically becomes legally justified. In fact, many late term abortionists tell their patients to say this.
Essentially, Doe took the first trimester “right of privacy” argument in Roe v. Wade and applied it right up to the last day of pregnancy. Subsequent court decisions have established that a state can pass some restrictions and additional requirements for abortionists. They can make an abortion doctor jump through hoops and suspend his license if he violates the state medical code. For example, we have an abortionist here in Orlando, Florida, James Scott Pendergraft, who knows that he is protected under Doe when he does illegal late term abortions in an outpatient facility, which is in violation of Florida law. He might have his license suspended or even revoked, but there is no way he is going to jail for abortion as long as another physician is involved in doing the procedure. To date he has had his license suspended four times. He still operates five abortion mills in Florida by managing the business and employing a cadre of doctors willing to do late term abortions.
Medical boards always act on behalf of the state. Criminal courts usually don’t get involved in these medical matters unless a criminal law is concerned. Doctors don’t go to jail for malpractice. The board issues reprimands, suspends or revokes licenses, etc. They may also be sued in a civil court. Abortion is never prosecuted as murder even when the restrictions are ignored because our laws do not recognize the Personhood of the unborn child. Neither do the parents who wantonly murder a late term baby suffer any legal ramifications even if the abortion is done in violation of the law. So in reality “restrictions” on abortion are meaningless under Roe and Doe.
Further, I don’t understand the point of Koop’s statement. Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion was illegal in 35 states and legal yet restricted in some way in 15 states. What Roe and Doe did was to remove all restrictions on abortion in all 50 states. Koop seems to be advocating the legalization of some abortion in all 50 states in order to protect the 97 percent.
The fallacy of this argument is that whenever the state legislates that a mother has a right to kill her baby for some reason, it undermines the basis of the sanctity of life argument. All human beings are persons with the God-given right to life from the beginning of biological development until natural death. The sanctity of life is a moral truth simply because these children are created in the image of God. Once that truth is denied for any reason, then every reason becomes a valid justification for taking a life at any stage of the pregnancy.
You also mention Hillary Clinton as a wonderful example of how we can come together on the abortion issue. In her entire career, Hillary once said that she personally “hated abortion.” More recently she said, “I for one respect those who believe with all their heart and conscience that there are no circumstances under which abortion should be available.”
But how does this work in public policy? As president, Bill Clinton twice vetoed a ban on partial-birth abortions. Clinton spoke about making abortion “safe, legal and rare” in his campaign, but never took one step to accomplish that – except for the “legal” part, that is. Should it be heartening that his wife “respects those who believe with all their hearts and conscience” that he is a child murderer?
Killing My Half of the Dog
When we look at polls, we see consistently that about half of Americans see themselves as pro-life, while the vast majority, in some polls higher than 80 percent, believe that abortion ought to be restricted in some way. So why is abortion legal in all 50 states for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy? Consider the following dialog in Mark Twain’s short novel, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson:
“I wish I owned half of that dog.”
“Why?” somebody asked.
“Because I would kill my half.”
The group searched his face with curiosity, with anxiety even, but found no light there, no expression that they could read. They fell away from him as from something uncanny, and went into privacy to discuss him. One said:
“’Pears to be a fool.”
“’Pears?” said another. “Is, I reckon you better say.”
Twain goes on to describe how the villagers, not being sophisticated enough to understand dry humor, soon decided that a man who did not understand that to kill half a dog would be death to the entire animal was too simple-minded to be useful as a lawyer. The joke that opens up the novel and gives the young lawyer his nickname, “Pudd’nhead,” also serves as a metaphor to describe the central conflict of the story.
A slave woman named Roxy is only 1/16 black, and her son Valet de Chambre, referred to as “Chambers,” is 1/32 black. After a scare in which her master threatens to sell her “down the river,” Roxana switches her son with the master’s boy. This is possible due to the death in childbirth of the white baby’s mother, which made Roxy the caretaker of two infant boys of about the same age. Roxy’s son, Chambers, looks as white as his counterpart, Tom. However, by saving her own child from ever being sold down the river, she condemns another child to a life of slavery. Twain uses situational irony in the novel to comment on the institution of slavery, which in some states took the form of laws forcing a person into lifelong slavery if he was born with just 1/32 African heritage.
To all intents and purposes Roxy was as white as anybody, but the one sixteenth of her which was black outvoted the other fifteen parts and made her a negro. She was a slave, and salable as such. Her child was thirty-one parts white, and he, too, was a slave, and by a fiction of law and custom a negro…. The heir of two centuries of unatoned insult and outrage.
Twain is using reducto ad absurdum to point out that slavery based on ethnic background or color is wrong in all circumstances. In the South, this law was known as the “One-Drop Rule,” meaning that a single drop of “African blood” made a person a black and therefore could be enslaved.
Abraham Lincoln also used similar arguments against Stephen Douglas to refute the natural right to own a slave. He argued that if the standard was color, then a lighter man ought to have the right to enslave a darker man. If the standard was intelligence, then a smarter man ought to have the right to enslave a less intelligent man, and so on.
In the same way, if the right to life argument has to do with how many days we have been on this earth, then an older person ought to have more value than a younger one – until they get too old and sick, that is, and their value decreases. It would be an outrage for a state to have a law saying that an unborn baby at three months gestation is a legal person with the right to life, but a fetus at two months and 29 days is a non-person. This way of thinking neglects an important question. If abortion is wrong – even if wrong only after a certain day of gestation – then why is it wrong?
The Common Ground Booby Trap
People who seriously say they are pro-life with “exceptions” are fools, as Twain says, but those who make and enforce our laws cannot be afforded the luxury to allow for child murder only in the “hard cases” as C. Everett Koop advocated. To do so will always cheapen human life far beyond what they intended. Once the proverbial camel’s nose is halfway into the tent, the whole camel soon follows.
Similarly, you say that abortion rights advocates and pro-life advocates ought to try to find common ground.
We ought to agree that decreasing the number of abortions would be desirable…. The longer a pregnancy progresses, the more morally problematic an abortion becomes.
What is undesirable about abortion that we would want to have less? Why are third trimester abortions more problematic than second trimester abortions? – Why are second abortions more problematic than first trimester abortions? By what standard are you saying that a more developed fetus has a greater right to life? And for whom is late term abortion problematic? It is certainly not problematic for politicians who get campaign contributions from Planned Parenthood. Then state legislator Barack Obama even opposed an Illinois law that would have protected babies born alive after a botched abortion. It certainly has not cost him any elections.
You also make a statement that appears on the surface to be common sense.
No one should be pressured into having an abortion.
Does that mean that China’s one-child policy is murderous? And if so, by what standard do we judge them?
On May 30, 20 local Chinese officials dragged 23-yr-old pregnant mother Feng Jianmei from her home and held her three days for a 40,000 yuan ($6250) ransom before killing her seven-month-old baby en utero by lethal injection and delivering her tiny corpse after family failed to come up with the cash.
Feng and her husband Deng Jiayuan had failed to complete the proper paperwork required for rural families to have a second child. They already had a six-yr-old daughter.
On June 11 photographs taken by Feng’s cousin of Feng next to her murdered baby appeared on the Internet, with International outrage ensuing. This video news report alleges the photo itself was posted by Family Planning Officials, perhaps as a “warning” to other families of what happens when families do not comply with the law.
President Obama has refused to condemn China’s One-Child forced abortion/sterilization policy and to immediately cut off funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which helps facilitate China’s horrific family planning program. Both Presidents Obama and Clinton reinstated funding to UNFPA after Presidents G.W. Bush and Reagan cut it off. Under Obama’s watch the U.S. has given $145 million to UNFPA, and he has requested another $47 million in his 2012 budget (JillStanek.com).
Why is this incident that took place in China so horrific to American sensibilities if abortion is also legal here? And why do we suppose, if abortion is legal and the unborn do not have the rights of Persons, that coerced sterilization and abortion is not an option in the future to control the growth of our own population?
Yet another suggestion for achieving “common ground” is the following.
If an abortion occurs, it should be safe.
This begs the question: Safe for whom?
Everyone knows that abortion is not safe for the unborn child. But abortion will never be safe for the mother, neither physically, psychologically nor spiritually. When an abortionist in Melbourne, Florida, William Philip Egherman, was investigated by the Agency for Health Care Administration, they noted that although a string of women suffered complications after abortion, including several with perforated uteruses, they determined that “Perforation of the uterus is a known and common complication of abortion.” Additionally, they determined that was is not malpractice because the doctor “acted timely and properly when he realized that the perforation might have occurred.”
We have irrefutable confirmation of what pro-lifers have been telling abortion-minded mothers for years – that abortion is not safe. When this is coupled with the fact that the vast majority of abortions are elective in nature, that is, not needed to save the life or protect the health of the mother, one has to wonder what other type of outpatient surgery carries this risk and receives this degree of “constitutional” protection? We also have to wonder if illegal abortions would not be safer, since a doctor who injured women then could be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Biblical Law the Basis of Reform Movements
Finally, on abortion and every other social issue, we have to face the fact that only a biblical law ethic can accomplish true reform. You give many examples of this as you list several important historical reforms, such as the treatment of women in civil society; the first pro-life “rescue” movement in ancient times in which babies were rescued from being abandoned by their parents in defiance of Roman law; the abolition of slavery and child labor in England and America; universal suffrage and the Civil Rights movement.
While it is true that many non-Christians and less than orthodox Christians joined in these movements, and while it is true that there were even some Christians who opposed reform, each of these you list presupposes a biblical law ethic. Specifically, each reform movement presupposed a high view of the sanctity of life – a view that is lacking (as you rightly point) out in pagan cultures and even to a degree in Muslim nations that supposedly accept the Bible as inspired writ. Only a Christian interpretation of the Bible has brought about these advances in civilization. This is true precisely because Christians understand that Scripture did not originate with any man’s interpretation, but by the Holy Spirit.
The last chapter of the book deals with building common ground. I will be the first to say that we ought to build bridges where they may be built. However, the philosophy of postmodernism cannot accomplish this goal. R.J. Rushdoony pointed out that there is something in Christians that makes them want to win.
We have a magnificent calling. I don’t believe God programmed us for defeat. I know that some of my premillennial friends in the ministry feel a little bit out of sorts because of our stress on victory. They say, “It has an unfortunate appeal for our people. They don’t like to be losers.” As amils or premils, they feel that they are on the losing side. And you talk about victory and it has a real tug on their heart-strings. They like the idea. And they should. I believe that the impulse in all their being is God-given. We are a people called to victory not defeat. “This is the victory,” the Apostle John tells us, “even our faith” (1 John 5:4).