On the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade's bloody slaughter...

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(TB: On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I post this sermon preached yesterday, Sunday January 27, 2013, at Clearnote Church, Bloomington.)

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The Lord'€™s Throne Is in Heaven

(For the choir director; a psalm of David.) In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, "Flee as a bird to your mountain; for, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD'€™S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face. (Psalm 11:1-7)

Forty years ago this past Tuesday, on January 22nd, 1973, the Supreme Court of these United States issued its infamous ruling, Roe v. Wade, in which the Court declared that a mother's intentional killing of her unborn child was a fundamental right guaranteed under our Constitution. Since that ruling, it has been a commonplace to observe that Roe v. Wade, the Court's repeal of the laws prohibiting abortion on the books of all fifty states, was simply the exercise of raw judicial power with a legal justification based upon a mist and a vapor--€”or as the Court itself might put it, emanations from penumbras.

Our Supreme Court: intentionally conniving at murder...

Since 1973, no one has made a name for himself defending Roe. v. Wade’s history, biology, ethics, logic, or justice; and only a few have been foolish enough to claim this ruling will stand the test of time...

In fact, when the Court was handed what was, arguably, the best opportunity for reversal since Roe v. Wade was first issued, although the Court declined to reverse itself, its rationale was telling:

The Roe rule'€™s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades, have organized intimate relationships and made choices in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives...

Overruling Roe's central holding... would seriously weaken the Court's capacity to exercise the judicial power and to function as the Supreme Court of a Nation dedicated to the rule of law... Moreover, the country'€™s loss of confidence in the Judiciary would be underscored by condemnation for the Court's failure to keep faith with those who support the decision. A decision to overrule (Roe v. Wade would come) at the cost of both profound and unnecessary damage to the Court's legitimacy... (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992)

Listening carefully, the Court chose not to reverse Roe v. Wade because the withdrawal of the right to kill their unborn child might harm the plans of fathers and mothers who count on abortion as a backup for failed birth control; also because the reversal of Roe v. Wade might harm women's exercise of financial and social equality; might "seriously weaken the Court's capacity to exercise judicial power"€ due to the country losing confidence in its judiciary; and might lead to "profound and unnecessary damage to the Court's legitimacy." Reading this rationale reminds us of a father refusing to apologize to his wife and children because he fears his apology would be viewed as a sign of weakness and undermine his authority. How sad the homes led by such little men, but what can we say about a nation whose highest court of law justifies its use of authority and power to support the murder of unborn children by such insecure self-justifications?

The irony of the matter is that, by their refusal to reverse Roe v. Wade, the Court has assured the very thing it sought to prevent--namely, a significant loss of confidence in the court'€™s jurisprudence, as well as its members'€™ integrity and honor, among those it governs. In fact, by standing firmly on the side of those who support and practice the murder of unborn children, the Court has assured there will be "profound and unnecessary damage to (its) legitimacy."

African slaves and the unborn...

Today it would be hard to imagine a ruling more controversial than Roe v. Wade, but some might single out the Dred Scott ruling of 1857 for that honor. This decision was a key part of the buildup of hostilities that led to the Civil War, and it is the judgment of some scholars that Dred Scott "probably created more disagreement than any other legal opinion in U.S. history; it became a violently divisive issue in national politics and dangerously undermined the prestige of the Supreme Court." €[1]

What were the Court's judgments in the Dred Scott case? That...

A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.

When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its "€œpeople or citizens."€ Consequently, the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them.

The language of the Declaration of Independence is equally conclusive: ...

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family... But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration...

(T)he men who framed (the Declaration of Independence)... perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race... (Scott v. Stanford, 1856)

Now let us stop and compare the declaration of the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the personhood of men and women of African descent in their 1857 Dred Scott decision to that of unborn children following the Court's Roe v. Wade decision one hundred sixteen years later. But rather than limiting ourselves to the comparison of quotes taken from these opinions, let us develop the arguments much as they might have been heard from the mouth of the man on the street defending slavery at the time of the Civil War and the killing of unborn children today. (And as I list these arguments, please keep in mind that I do not agree with them.)

  • Although a slave/fetus has a heart and a brain, and is human from the biological perspective, a slave/fetus just is not a legal person under the Constitution. The Supreme Court made this perfectly clear in the Dred Scott/Roe v. Wade decision.
  • man/woman has the right to do whatever he/she pleases with his/her personal property, the slave/fetus.
  • Both the social and economic burdens which will result from prohibiting slavery/abortion will be unfairly concentrated upon a single group: slave-holders/pregnant women.
  • Isn't slavery/abortion really something merciful? Isn'€™t it really better never to be set free/born than to be sent ill-equipped and unprepared into an environment where one is unwanted, unloved and bound to be miserable?
  • Those who believe that slavery/abortion is immoral are free to refrain from owning slaves/having abortions; they should give the same freedom to those who have different moral beliefs.
  • Accordingly, those who believe that slavery/abortion is immoral have no right to try to impose their personal morality upon others by way of legislation or a constitutional amendment.
  • The claim that slaves/fetuses are like us is simply ridiculous; all one has to do is look at them to see that they are completely different.
  • The anti-slavery/anti-abortion movement is in fact a small band of well-organized religious fanatics who have no respect for democracy or the principles of a pluralistic society.

And moving to the opposite side of the argument, we see the analogy works in that direction, also:

  • The question of whether slavery/abortion should be tolerated is not a matter of personal or religious belief; it is a question of protecting the civil rights of millions of innocent human beings who are not in a position to protect themselves.
  • The humanity of slaves/fetuses cannot be denied simply because they look different from us; there is no morally defensible way to draw a line somewhere along a continuum of skin color/(fetal) development and claim, "This is where humanity starts, this is where it stops." [2]

Two decisions a century apart, both so radical they undermine the Court's reputation and sow the seeds of violent division across our nation. Both deny the personhood of a class of human beings who are weak and oppressed; both refuse to bring the law'€™s strong arm to bear in their defense. Both, rather than taking up the cause of the widows and orphans in their distress and thereby mirroring the perfections of the One our second president, John Adams, referred to as "€œthe great Legislator of the Universe," [3] take the side of the oppressor, declaring him to be protected by the U.S. Constitution. Is it any wonder, then, that these opinions are hated and opposed at every turn, and that they have given birth to two of the most zealous forces for political change in the history of our nation--the abolitionist (or anti-slavery) and the pro-life (or anti-abortion) movements?

By what authority, though, do citizens oppose these rulings?

Whoever sheds man's blood...

If this question is to be answered on something other than a superficial level, it must be acknowledged that opposition to both Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade springs from the Christian world view founded in Scripture and codified in the centuries-long common law tradition: That every human being is unique among all God's creation in that he alone is made in God's Image. And further, that this Only True God has decreed through His Word, "Whoever sheds man'€™s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:6).

Undoubtedly, hearing the arguments made by the U.S. Supreme Court against the full personhood of African slaves and the extension to them of all the rights of a United States citizen in its Dred Scott decision awakens in each of us righteous indignation. We have no doubt that, had we been alive in that time, we would have stood against Dred Scott and called for an end to slavery just as William Lloyd Garrison and many others did. But if we are inactive in opposing the killing of unborn children, we certainly would not have been found active in the anti-slavery movement. Jesus was speaking to us when He said:

€œWoe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, "€˜If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets." So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. (Matthew 23:29-32)

Christian faith, and love for our brothers...

It's instructive to note the strong positive correlation between Christian faith and activism within the anti-slavery and anti-abortion movements. For instance, the first speech given by William Lloyd Garrison in which he repented of his past support for the colonization compromise, instead demanding a full cleansing of the evil of slavery from our national conscience under his uncompromising cry, "No union with slaveholders," was given in the basement of Park Street Church on the corner of Boston Common.

What sort of religious commitments characterize Park Street Church?

Our nation's Sunday school movement started in this church and to this day Park Street Church is known as New England's bastion of evangelical Christian faith.

This same correlation repeats itself over and over in the mid-nineteenth century. Jonathan Blanchard, the first president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, was active in the Underground Railway. And today, Wheaton is known as the alma mater of Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham.

What of the anti-abortion movement?

A war between wicked and godly women...

Some years back Family Planning Perspectives, the research journal of the Alan Guttmacher Institute (a "special affiliate"€ of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America), published several studies examining the demographic composition of the pro-abortion and anti-abortion forces. The articles titled "Abortion Activists" €[4] and "The War Between Women" €[5] demonstrated the intractable nature of this conflict spawned by the Supreme Court. For instance, taking two of the principal political action groups on opposite sides of this issue--€”the National Abortion Rights Action League and the National Right to Life Committee--they found:

(Right to Life) members are far more likely than (Abortion Rights) members to have been reared in large families, to prefer large families, and (themselves) to have large families... Eighty-seven percent of (Right to Life) members report that religion plays a "€œvery"€ or "extremely"€ important role in their lives compared to only 20 percent of (Abortion Rights) members... (causing the author of the article to observe) "It is difficult to imagine data that might more convincingly demonstrate that religion is a very important factor in determining attitudes about legal abortion."

Turning from the opposing organizations to individual women involved on opposing sides of this issue, in her January 1984 article, "€œThe War Between Women" (also published in Family Planning Perspectives), author Kristin Luker speaks of the "€œemotional and volatile abortion debate," declaring "over the last decade the subject (of abortion) has galvanized--and polarized--Americans in the same way that such moral issues as abolition... once did."€ She continues,

Women who are engaged in the abortion debate are separated from one another by income, education, family size and occupation... Thus, the abortion debate grows out of two very different social worlds that support very different aspirations and beliefs... The life circumstances and beliefs of the activists on both sides of the (abortion) issue serve to reinforce one another in such a way that the activists have little room for dialogue and few incentives for it.

(O)ne may ask who is the "€œtypical"€ (Right to Life and Abortion Rights) activist...? The typical (Abortion Rights) activist is a 44-year-old married woman whose father was a college graduate. She married at age 22 or older, has one or two children, and has had some graduate or professional training after her B.A. ...She is married to a professional man, is herself employed, and has a (high) family income... She attends church rarely, if at all; indeed, religion is not particularly important to her.

(Whereas) The typical (Right to Life) activist is also a 44-year-old married woman. She, however, married at age 17, and has three or more children. [Sixteen percent of the (Right to Life) women in the study have seven or more children.] Her father was graduated from high school only, and she herself has a good chance of having gone no further in school... She is not employed and is married to a small businessman or a lower income white-collar worker; her family income is (about $20,000 lower than the average Abortion Rights household)... Her religion is one of the most important aspects of her life... The two sides have very little in common in the way they look at the world, and this is particularly true with regard to the critical issues of gender, sex and parenthood. The views on abortion of each side are intimately tied to, and deeply reinforced by, their views on these other areas of life. Even if the abortion issue had not mobilized them on opposite sides of the barricades, they would have been opponents on a wide variety of issues.

(Abortion Rights) activists... see women'€™s reproductive and family roles not as a natural niche, but as a potential barrier to full equality... A general theme in the interviews with (Right to Life) activists--many of whom have large families--is that there is an anti-child sentiment abroad in American society...

In short, the debate about abortion rests on the question of whether women's fertility is to be socially recognized as an asset or as a burden.

If a broad cross-section of American society is anti-child and views women's fertility as a burden, it's little wonder that unborn children are killed at the rate of around 1.3 million per year in our nation, sacrificed on the altars of our national gods of convenience, choice, autonomy, and self-determination. But it'€™s also no wonder that godly mothers and daughters and sisters and grandmothers and wives will oppose this slaughter of the little ones with every fiber of their being.

Just as those involved in the anti-slavery movement believed in the full personhood and dignity of members of the African race because of their prior belief that every human being is made in the Image of God, so also those involved in the anti-abortion movement believe in the full personhood and dignity of all children because of their prior belief in this same biblical doctrine that every human being, born or unborn, is made in the image of God. Slaves or freedmen of African descent, unborn children swimming in the amniotic fluid of their mother's womb--each a precious soul who, in the words of our own Declaration of Independence, is "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...."€ And further, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Mothers who forget their children...

Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)

This then is the impasse of our nation, and it grows ever deeper. On one side are those who believe in the dignity of every man, from the moment of conception to the time of natural death, because he has bears the Image of God. On the other side are those who do not believe in the dignity of every person, claiming that the dignity of some--€”particularly those living in the first world who are rich, white, educated, and (of course) already born--trumps the dignity of others.

To put it bluntly, our divided nation falls in behind two women: One woman loves her child and, from love, gives up her life for him, while the other hates her child and murders him.

Back in the 18th century, "in six pages of elegant, deadpan prose Jonathan Swift set forth an impeccably logical solution to alleviate the Irish famine: poor people should dismember and eat their babies. (Swift wrote) "A young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled..."€™ Through satire, Swift intended to shock his readers out of their moral turpitude..." €[6]

(But) today, when English professors teach "A Modest Proposal," they often find it hard to make students realize Swift was joking. Here's one actual response: "Well, I don't completely agree with him, but he does make some really good points."€) Harvesting embryonic children for their stem cells is little different from Swift's proposal to harvest just-born children for food. But whereas Swift's audience pulled back in revulsion, much of the American public thinks this is a swell idea.

"Adults are supposed to provide for, protect, and, if necessary, give their lives to defend their children. They are not supposed to sacrifice children for their own well-being.... [7]

What has happened to us, to our senators and congressman and supreme court justices and presidents and mayors and governors and law enforcement officers and attorneys and physicians? What has happened to the men of this nation for thirty-one years now, that has caused us to look the other way as around fifty million unborn children have been slaughtered in their mother's womb? Has the killing of these children been invisible? Have we not heard their cries? Have we not felt their pain? Have we not seen their blood?

Again and again, Scripture declares God'€™s hatred for the shedding of innocent blood:

Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; and the LORD would not forgive. (2 Kings 24:3,4)

But when the blood is shed by fathers and mothers--when it is the blood of their own children?

They did not destroy the peoples, As the LORD commanded them, But they mingled with the nations And learned their practices, And served their idols, Which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, And shed innocent blood, The blood of their sons and their daughters, Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; And the land was polluted with the blood. Thus they became unclean in their practices, And played the harlot in their deeds. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against His people And He abhorred His inheritance (Psalms 106:34-40).

If we are oblivious to their suffering, here is the condition of our hearts:

The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern (Proverbs 29:7).

Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these...

Brothers and sisters, it is time we shake off our complacency concerning the oppression surrounding us and remember again the godliness and courage of those who have gone before us, those who dealt a mortal blow to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision and brought an end to slavery. Like us, every effort was made to silence them and to relegate their cries for reform to the backwater of private religious expression. But they would have none of it. They were determined to be heard. When they tried to silence Abraham Lincoln, he responded:

Let us apply a few tests. You say that you think slavery is wrong, but you denounce all attempts to restrain it. Is there anything else that you think wrong, that you are not willing to deal with as a wrong? Why are you so careful, so tender of this one wrong and no other? You will not let us do a single thing as if it were wrong; there is no place where you will allow it to be even wrong; there is no place where you will allow it even to be called wrong! We must not call it wrong in politics because that is bringing religion into politics; we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because that is bringing politics into religion...and there is no single place, according to you, where this wrong thing can be properly called wrong! [8]

Let all such men, let each of us here this day, remember that God is not on His throne for nothing:

...The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."€ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

May God have mercy on our motherland and raise up a great army of godly men who will follow the godly women leading the battle for the wee ones being slaughtered by the millions each year just down the street from our real estate agent and barber shop. We should tremble to think He has told us He is a Father to the fatherless.

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[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica 2003 Edition; sub "Dred Scott decision"€ and "€œRoger Brooke Taney."€
[2] Patrick Derr, "The Argument€ & the Question,"€ Human Life Review, Vol. V, no. 3, 1979, pp. 77-83.
[3] John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765.
[4] Donald Granberg, "Abortion Activists," Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 13, no. 4, July/August 1981, pp. 157-163.
[5] Kristin Luker, "The War Between Women,"€ Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 16, no. 3, May/June 1984, pp. 105-111.
[6] With thanks to S.B.
[7] Gene Veith, World, July 8, 2001.
[8] William McGurn, "Lessons from Lincoln: Abortion and The GOP; If the GOP Is Lincoln'€™s Party, Maybe It Should Use His Tactics" in National Review, March 25, 1993.

[This message was first given at a Sanctity of Life Memorial Service held in the rotunda of the Indiana State House on the occasion of the thirty-first anniversary of Roe v. Wade.]

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!