My Facebook feed is blowing up with my friends responding to New York passing the Reproductive Health Act (RHA). Some are making written comments about it, while others are sharing whatever meme or picture someone else has made in response to the RHA’s passage. One of the things that I’ve noticed in all of this is that many of the responses paint the implications of the act in the starkest possible terms.
I tend to get a bit troubled when people—particularly Christians—portray laws about abortion, homosexuality, marriage, or any other hot-button moral issue in terms approaching hyperbole. For instance, one of the pictures that came across my News Feed was of a newborn with words to the effect, “I was born at 12:05. At 12:04 it would have been legal to kill me.”
How should a Christian respond when abortion makes news headlines? When a law expanding abortion is passed? I don’t mean whether we ought to protest outside of Planned Parenthood or write our elected officials or any of that. What I mean is, how should we talk about what happened? Should we paint a generic picture of the evils of abortion, or is there some other way we should talk about it?
When I see reactions like I described above, my first instinct is to fact check. In other words, I go back and read the legislation and try to figure out to the best of my ability what it actually says and does. I feel that as a Christian, it is my responsibility to accurately portray these situations, even when I fundamentally disagree with what was done. Philippians 4.8 tells us to think on the things that are “true.” If I am saying something about a piece of legislation that isn’t accurate, I’m not living up to that.
So what does the RHA say and do? To be clear, I am upset by the legislation and what it does, but I think we need to understand it if we’re going to oppose it. Memes such as the one I mentioned are great rallying cries, but they do us no favors if they are inaccurate. In full disclosure, I am not a lawyer. I’ve never played one on TV. I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But I do have just a bit of reading and thinking capability. So here’s what I came up with.
- The main thing that the RHA does is remove “abortion” from the criminal code. The bulk of the text removes references to abortion in various laws relating to homicide, etc. Paradoxically, that doesn’t make abortion 100% illegal. The statements made by the legislators supporting the RHA is that it moves abortion from the criminal code to the public health code. As I understand it, in theory a medical practitioner could be charged with malpractice for administering an abortion in violation of relevant law.
- Public health law is changed to allow any properly licensed practitioner operating within the scope of their practice to perform an abortion.
- An abortion is permitted for any reason up to 24 weeks, and for medical necessity (risk to mother or lack of viability) after that point.
- A section of public health law was repealed that explicitly requires care and treatment of live births resulting from an abortion.
Now, are these bad things? Sure. Is it a tragedy? Absolutely. But we must be careful not to characterize the RHA—however bad it is—as something it isn’t. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see a blanket permission for elective abortion (or for an abortion to be performed) up to the point of a live birth. I do see a slackening of the controls around 2nd-trimester abortions. What is interesting to me is that the repeal of PBH section 4184 (that requires care be administered to a live birth resulting from an abortion, which is why abortions after the 1st trimester had to be supervised by a doctor able to provide such care) notwithstanding, a live birth resulting from an abortion may still be legally protected under the same criminal law from which “abortion” was removed (depending on how the definition of a “person” under that law is interpreted).
You might ask, “What’s the difference?” After all, a law that expands abortion is bad. Late-term abortion is still on the table, even if it is for medical, rather than elective reasons. The difference is Matthew 7.12. We would have people accurately represent what we say and believe. We wouldn’t want people to take our opposition to abortion as a lack of concern for the welfare of the mother, would we? We wouldn’t want people to say that we believe a mother should be forced to die from a confirmed ectopic pregnancy (which is a legitimately life-threatening condition for the mother) rather than terminate the pregnancy, would we? We should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And that extends to how we characterize and explain their positions, even if (and especially if) they differ from ours.
But beyond discussions about what the law does or doesn’t say, my personal response to this is not driven by what people may or may not do because the law was passed. Do I wish it hadn’t passed? Sure, but the RHA is a symptom of a more fundamental issue. The RHA came about because of the hearts of people who wanted the freedom to do what was already in those hearts.
Even with laws that make abortion illegal, we would still have the same problem that Jesus pointed out in Matthew 15: people honoring God with their lips but with their hearts far from Him. God is interested in people’s hearts. In the Old Testament, He rebuked those who were outwardly observing feast days but were inwardly counting the hours until they could get back to cheating one another. While making abortion illegal would certainly reduce the number of unborn children being killed, it wouldn’t change people’s hearts. It wouldn’t change the mindset that people have that minimizes the value of a human life that happens to be dependent on its mother for life support. It wouldn’t change the hearts of people who want to do whatever they want to do and be free of the consequences. It also wouldn’t change some of the upstream issues that might lead mothers who would otherwise want to keep their children to see abortion as their only option.
Laws don’t change hearts. The Gospel does. As Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” There is no law that can be written that will bring people’s hearts to God. But if the Gospel brings people’s hearts to God, there is no law that needs to be written to bring people’s actions into conformance with God’s will. The battle over abortion won’t be won with laws. It won’t be won with Supreme Court justices. It won’t be won by withholding funds from organizations that support abortion. Those things may end the practice of abortion, but only the Gospel can end the attitude of abortion.
Because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6.12, LEB