This article is a response to Rebecca Todd Peters on her new book Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice.
When I first read a commentary about this book, I was stunned – how can a woman claim to be preaching Christian ideals while simultaneously advocating for abortion? Even the title of the book didn’t sit well with me, intellectually or spiritually, but it did intrigue me. I decided to dive in and take a deeper look at what this Christian ethicist really was all about. Peters, who is also an ordained Presbyterian minister, starts off by saying that, “Women are continually asked to justify their abortions in response to a default assumption that abortion is morally wrong.”
Okay, so, as a woman who has chosen to spend the beginning of her career in the pro-life field because I was convicted a few years ago that being pro-life meant being pro-woman in every sense of the word, my jaw just about hit the floor reading that. I’d argue that the basis of Peter’s book, which has gained national attention, is non-concrete, vague, and shaky, because it’s based entirely on the idea of respective truths. The fact is – the moral law will appear to be nothing but oppressive to those who presume to make their own choices the moral baseline. Yet to talk of the act of exercising moral choice, while praising mere choice as morally valuable, is not to talk about morality at all, any more than pointing at a compass is to engage in orienting.
Abortion is morally wrong; I can’t wrap my head around how any part of that is up for debate, which is why I’ve committed my life to declaring THE TRUTH – not just a version of the truth. Abortion is morally wrong, and that simply is the Truth, with a capital “t.” Abortion is not a political issue, it’s not an issue of choice, and it’s not even an issue of women’s rights; this is where Peters and I deeply disagree. She goes on to write in her book: “The problem that we face in this country is our failure to trust women to act as rational, capable, responsible moral agents.” Again, let me just emphasize that being against abortion does not mean a lack of trust for women. Never has my pro-life stance been based around the idea that I don’t trust women to make decisions. Women were created to be fierce leaders, and they most definitely have the ability to make solid decisions. As a woman myself, I obviously trust women. My pro-life stance is based on something else entirely. Even if abortion were made easy or painless or even morally acceptable, it wouldn’t change the bottom line – abortion demeans humanity. The root of the issue of abortion has been so twisted into political agendas and feminism, that we are completely missing the point – abortion results from the deep misunderstanding of humanity and it’s an issue of the heart.
For Peters, the moral status of a fetus is an ethical and theological question that should be asked and answered by women themselves, not by legislators or judges. Her Christian ethic for abortion is not built on Scripture, but rather “a feminist theological perspective that affirms both the goodness and justice of God.” In other words, she’s not interested in telling us what God wants, other than to say that God wants justice, which, according to her, means moral agency for women. As a Christian, and one who aims to look more like Jesus in everything I do, I take great offense to this. The basis of my Christianity is not about my own moral agency, my desire to have power, or my want to look like a good “Christian” girl. My Christianity is based on the fact that God is so much bigger than I am, and I love and trust Him for wanting me and choosing me, despite my constant failures to love Him and my wandering heart. What drew me to Jesus wasn’t that my life was automatically perfect or that I gained some life-changing wisdom that I’d been seeking for years. What drew me to love Jesus and keeps me loving Him is that when I was at my absolute worst, when I absolutely could not clean myself up, He said: “I’ll take that one. That’s the one I want.” The cool thing is Jesus doesn’t just say that about me. Jesus says that about you, too.
As a Christian, like Peters, I pray for God’s will to be done in my life. What does that mean? God’s “will” means that He has control over everything, whether I’m okay with that in the moment or not. It means that anything I’m doing, any decision I make, that I love and Him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and then I freely go and give that love to other people. What does that love look like? It’s quite simple, really; loving others like Jesus loved me – giving myself up, sacrificing myself, and serving whole-heartedly. That’s what love looks like as a Christian. Anything less than that type of love is cheap, counterfeit, and surely not what Jesus gave His life for. Being able to see God’s will in our lives is a wonderful part of our Christian faith, and something that Peters should believe in as well.
Here’s the catch – if we pray God’s will to be done, we must accept that God’s will is not our will. That His plans are not our plans, and His ways are not our ways. Praying for God’s will was single handedly the second most dangerous prayer I’ve ever prayed. The first was when I prayed to be more like Jesus. Lord. Help me to think like Jesus. Act like Jesus. Love like Jesus. If we sincerely pray these prayers, we must accept the responsibility they bring. We must be prepared, no matter what the cost. And that means putting our trust in Him.
That’s where my Christianity differs from the Christianity Peter’s created as a platform for this book. My type of Christianity is not convenient, and it surely isn’t all about me. It’s about love. It’s about Jesus.
Peter’s goes on to say that, “Christian Scripture is completely silent on the topic of abortion.” FALSE – the Bible has a lot to say about humanity, personhood, and the value that God places on His children. The Bible is a love letter to us – the people that He didn’t need but desperately wanted – and in it we find many passages that describe who we were made to be and how our identity as God’s children should change the way we live. We are valued; thus we should value all human life, not just human life that is deemed to be worthy, based on someone’s opinion or a lack of ideal circumstances.
Another contributor to her book, Dr. Willie Parker, says that a “fetus may be human, but that does not make it a person.”
I read that statement, and honestly needed to take a step back from my computer screen and get a hold of my emotions. Pro-life apologist, Scott Klusendorf, gives a convicting argument to Dr. Parker’s statement when he argues that humanity is not based on a person’s size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency. In other words, who you are is not based on how much you can contribute, how well you perform, or how much you have to offer the wider society. If that were the case, my friends and family with disabilities and the children I love with special needs would be considered to be “less than” their peers because they aren’t as capable. A fetus is not any less human because he/she is the smallest they’ll ever be. The baby’s personhood is not up for debate morally OR scientifically.
The debate over human development actually shouldn’t be a debate at all. The science of embryology is just a testament to how God created us, and it really is a beautiful echoing of the Creation theology. God designed us to develop from within. We weren’t constructed; our bodies literally drive their own development. From the very beginning, you were a distinct human being. You didn’t evolve from a zygote, you were a zygote. You didn’t evolve from an embryo, you were an embryo. You weren’t just a clump of cells – you’ve always been a unique diploid organism with unique human DNA, 23 chromosomes from your mother and 23 chromosomes from your father. Those are innate parts of who you are, as a human – not as a clump of cells. Again, the arguments surrounding abortion don’t change the main issue – abortion demeans human life.
I staunchly disagree with Peter’s argument that abortion is legal and common, but public policy debate and policy decisions are still rooted in basic distrust of women. No, it isn’t – it’s rooted in the fact that abortion is murder. It has nothing to do with a lack of trust of women.
The logic behind that statement is the same as me asking, “Should we trust parents to kill a toddler?” The logical answer to that question is… “NO!” If you respond by saying “that’s different,” ask yourself – why? If killing a toddler is different than killing an unborn child, your argument is based on believing that unborn babies aren’t human. We don’t need to be clouding the real issue with other issues like “trust.” We have to get to the root, and the root of abortion is the definition of human life.
A writer I keep up with on social media, Emily Wilson, shares her heart on this issue, as a pregnant woman who has been carrying her son for the past 30 weeks. On her blog, she shares what her pregnancy experience has been like. Here’s an excerpt:
“Something interesting happened along the way of our journey. Once my son was big enough to begin showing himself to the world in my expanding belly, there has been a way people have looked at me and treated me that it like nothing I have yet experienced in my life.
People treat me as though I am carrying something sacred.
I have wished countless times that I could somehow capture the way people look at me. I receive daily, constant smiles from strangers simply because my belly speaks a reality without me saying a word. Beyond that, people have been willing to do anything for me. Sitting in the only spot of shade I could find on a hot day at my brother’s baseball game, a kind man walked up just to see if I needed anything. People ask me what I need all the time. People carry my bags, make exceptions for me to skip lines, and hold elevator doors longer when they’ve seen me coming. This “special treatment” has been wonderful, but something about it – my interactions with these hundreds of people – doesn’t add up with what I see our broader culture saying every day about what I am carrying.
I live in a country with a Senate that wouldn’t even pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. I live in a culture with an innumerable amount of celebrities, politicians, and the like, who champion Planned Parenthood – an organization that would happily dismember my son at any point if I walked over to them and gave them some money, because to them my sweet son is just a “fetus.” To them, killing my child would be lumped into my “reproductive rights,” because, as they say, it’s “my body, and my choice” to do what I want with it. And yet… just the other day, a young man in his twenties ringing me up at Trader Joe’s sweetly began our conversation with, “How’s your baby?” Beyond my special treatment, nobody once, in the thousands of people I have met, called my son a fetus. Nobody referred to him as a bunch of cells. Everyone always referred to him as my baby or my child – and each stranger has recognized his personhood. And I have realized one thousand times over…
I am living a startingly clear and firsthand testament to what humanity really knows and really believes.
Because there is a part of each of us, deep down in the depths our hearts, that knows we were all right where my son is right now…inches from the thrum of the heartbeat of our mother for many months. We may not have memories of it, but a part of us remembers when we were there. We cannot forget it. There is a part of our human hearts that simply cannot escape the reality that yes, each of us lived in the cozy darkness for that time when we grew …and each of us knows in the core of our being that we were as human then as we are now. Every single one of us.
No matter what people may say, I have seen it and I have known it well the past 29 weeks…anyone can shout and scream and push their agenda all they want about women controlling their “own” bodies and what a woman is actually holding inside of her body when she is pregnant. But I have come to see with clarity that when any of us stands before a pregnant woman – in that one-on-one, agenda-less, Facebook-less, stripped down to our foundational humanity encounter, we know what she holds.
We know she holds a human. We know she holds her child. We know she holds the future of the world.”
Emily Wilson speaks the truth of motherhood, personhood, and the pro-life movement beautifully. May we be a people who seek justice for the littlest people, because we know they are worth so much more.
To Peters, I pray that you come to see the value in not only the littlest people, but also the value of your own life. Life is about much more than justice, choice, and trust. Life is about figuring out it’s not all about you; may we be a people who truly believe there is a God so much greater than us, who wants the best for us, even if that story doesn’t go exactly how we think it will. May our trust be in Him alone.
Written by AFL Ministry Coordinator Sammie Franks