by John Frame
[Originally published in The New Community, the newsletter of Community Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Jan. 1976]
It seems that the national discussion of life and death has turned from abortion to euthanasia. The Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion seems to have settled that matter, and now all attention is focussed on Karen Quinlan’s “right to die.” Yet in my view the Quinlan case ought to make us take a second look at abortion. Judge Robert Muir’s lower court decision rejecting Quinlan’s alleged right to die does restrict the current trend in judicial and legislative acts toward a looser view of life. It is hard to reconcile the lower court’s rejection of Quinlan’s alleged right to die with the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit abortion. If Quinlan’s life, which is hardly as human in potential as that of a fetus, must be preserved, then how can we justify the virtual slaughter of unborn children taking place today? Yet, if a higher court rules that Quinlan may be allowed to die because she has no hope of recovery, we should still ask about all those unborn children, most of whom have unlimited “hope of recovery,” but are put to death at their mothers’ request.
What is the difference between Karen Quinlan and an unborn baby? The above argument suggests that she has even less right to life than an unborn. On the other side is the argument that while a dying person is unquestionably a human being, an unborn child is only a collection of cells, a part of his mother’s body. But medical people, including those favoring abortion, seem generally to concede that unborn children are living and human; further, they are independent human lives, in the sense that their chromosome make-up and overall physical functioning is distinctive. They depend on their mothers only for nourishment and oxygen; even adults depend on their environment for those. Most would concede that the unborn child is living, human and independent and therefore he is a human being. Only God could give information on this subject transcending these medical opinions; and the Bible uniformly speaks of unborn children as human beings (Psalm 139:13-16; Luke 1:41-44). Moral wickedness, a clearly personal quality, begins at conception according to David in Psalm 51:5. Even the accidental destruction of an unborn child is a crime in the eyes of God (Ex. 21:22-25).
When we must choose between the life of the mother and that of the child, we face a hard decision. Sometimes, the unborn child has no more hope of a healthy life than Karen Quinlan: ought the parents or society to subsidize extraordinary measures to bring such a child into the world and to maintain its sheer existence? Even granting the basic personhood of the unborn child, there are hard questions to be answered in reconciling apparently conflicting claims. The rights, responsibilities, needs and concerns of mother, father, child, doctor, civil law, and above all God himself, must be rightly assessed.
Yet in the modern discussion, it sometimes seems as though the above considerations are really irrelevant. Those who still discuss the personhood of the unborn child and the reconciliation of apparently conflicting claims are mostly those who have some appreciation for the Christian tradition. Those who set the terms of the national debate, namely the radical feminists, see the issue in an entirely different perspective. Their approach is distinctive, not in that they deny the personhood of the fetus, but in that the question seems to them not worth discussion. Their rhetoric and reasoning seem to suggest that if the unborn child is a person, it does not matter: whatever the fetus is, the important fact is that he is in a woman’s body; and a woman must have absolute control, the power of life and death, over anything in her body. Nor do they grant much substance to the debate about “apparently conflicting claims.” To them only the woman’s claim is worth discussing; and that claim must take unconditional authority. The claims of father, child, doctor, law and God are not merely rejected; they are not considered. Thus the radical feminist woman contemplating abortion chooses with a godlike autonomy.
Such a modern woman makes her decision in awful moral loneliness. She may consider only her own interest and use only her own judgment as to what her best interest is. In fairness (and most radical feminists are fair here) she must allow others to consider only their own interest and use only their own judgment. Each person stands alone, without responsibility to anyone else, without the right to expect others to be responsible. Woman is alone in a cold, hostile world, a world without love.
For what is love, if it is not renunciation of autonomy and thinking of others before yourself (Phil. 2:1-4)?Not that we should hate ourselves. There is a legitimate self-love (Matt. 22:39); and love of others is in our best interest (I John 4:12ff). But we do not love husband, child, doctor, society or God if we refuse to consider their best interests and put those interests ahead of ours. And if we generously concede that others, like us, ought to be autonomous, we say in effect that we would rather not be loved; we exile ourselves to terrible loneliness.
We cannot have both autonomy and love. The Lord Jesus calls us away from autonomy and loneliness, into the warm embrace of his love. As true God, Jesus is Love (I John 4:8). He gave himself, surrendered the autonomy which he (unlike ourselves) rightfully possessed, to die for the sins of his people (John 10:11-15). He calls us to love one another in the same way (I John 3:16; 4:10f). Husbands and wives do not have absolute control over their bodies; rather God controls them both, and they control one another (I Cor. 7:4). Through Christ, we have the power to love in this way.
Community O.P. Church is part of this fellowship. We aim to wrestle with the hard problems of our day from the perspective of Jesus’ love. Thus we love unborn children, even though they have no political means of rewarding their advocates. We love women and radical feminists, enough to want God to save them from the awful loneliness of their sinful isolation from God and people, enough to call them to renounce their lovelessness and receive Jesus as the only savior from sin and only fit Lord of life, enough to invite them into his, and our, community.