Sanctity of Human Life
This Sunday is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition, this month marks the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that opened the door for legalized abortion in the United States. At this time each year, Southern Baptists and other pro-life organizations take a moment to reflect on the tragedy of abortion in our society.
Roe v. Wade is one of the few Supreme Court decisions that most Americans know by name. While many of the more famous decisions represent crucial moments in American history for the rights of the oppressed (Brown v. Board of Education, etc.), Roe v. Wade stands as a blight on American history for the resulting carnage of the abortion industry since January 22, 1973.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 22% of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. Eighteen percent of women who have abortions are teenagers, and more than half are in their 20s. Between 1973 and 2008 (the most recent year for reported statistics), nearly 50 million legal abortions have taken place. In 2008 alone, there were 1.21 million abortions.
The Guttmacher Institute also reports some of the reasons for abortion, stating:
The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.
The number of abortions in the United States is staggering—50 million in 39 years. These are 50 million lives that were ended. These were 50 million individual persons whose opportunity to develop, live, and thrive was taken from them all in the name of a right to privacy.
In an interesting turn of events on the political spectrum, the Guttmacher Institute reports that states enacted more provisions restricting abortion in 2011 than in any other year. Ninety-two legal provisions placing some level of restriction on abortion access were implemented in 24 states. These restrictions include waiting periods, limitation on insurance coverage, and the requirement to show an ultrasound before an abortion. In Texas, a law was passed requiring that doctors shows patients a sonogram of their unborn babies prior to performing an abortion. Even though opponents are challenging the law in court, a federal appeals court ruled that the law can be enforced while facing further legal challenges.
Perhaps the most fundamental issue in the abortion debate is the question of personhood. Proponents of abortion rights often define personhood in an operational sense, whereby an individual human being is a “person” when he can perform specific functions. These functions typically include conscious awareness of surroundings, reasoning, communication, and self-awareness. The problem with this type of definition is that it not only denies personhood to the unborn, but it also denies personhood to infants, those severely incapacitated by injury or disease, and some individuals at the end of life. By such standards, those individuals could be eliminated because they are not “persons.”
In contrast, personhood is best understood in a substantive sense. In this type of definition, personhood is granted based on the existence of human life. If human life exists, then personhood is established. From a theological standpoint, we can view personhood as an extension of the imago Dei (Genesis 1:26–27). Therefore, since all humans are created in the image of God, then all humans are persons. Since new human life begins at conception, personhood is present from the earliest stages of life.
As we reflect on the sanctity of life, consider the following verses. In Genesis 1:26–27, God declares,
Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Jeremiah 1:5 states,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.
In Psalm 139:15-16, David writes,
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
May we treasure life in the womb and work to show how these tiniest individuals are persons—made in the image of God.
Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States,” August 2011.
Guttmacher Institute, “States Enact Record Number of Abortion Restrictions in 2011,” January 5, 2012.
Chris Tomlinson, “Texas abortion law can be enforced, court rules,” Star-Telegram, January 10, 2012.
For more study on the issue of abortion, the following resources are helpful:
“Issues at a Glance: Life,” Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, www.erlc.com/life
Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010)