Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019

Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019

The Briefing

January 31, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Thursday, January 31, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Virginia governor’s defense of abortion turns into a defense of infanticide

The relationship between culture and morality is natural, it’s essential. You can’t have culture without morality and of course the culture also influences the morality. But cultures themselves take on a moral profile. The trajectory of the culture is indicated by the trajectory of its morality. Furthermore, there is a baseline minimal morality that is necessary for a culture to exist. There is an obvious historic question, at what point does the breaking of a moral code lead to the break up of a society? Of an entire culture?

Keep that in mind as we shift our attention to the state of Virginia. In recent days, we have looked at deadly developments in the state of New York, one of the nation’s most liberal states, especially on social terms. We have seen New York state not only pass but celebrate, both in terms of its legislature and its Governor, a bill that basically legalizes abortion in that state all the way up until the moment of birth.

It was a macabre dance of moral horror that took place in that state. And yet, even as we were looking at that story, news came from the state of Rhode Island that legislators there, including the Governor, are considering adopting similar legislation. But then almost out of the blue came an even more horrifying tale out of Virginia.

This is the state of Virginia. If anything on the political map, it is rightly colored purple in the contemporary context. It is neither purely blue, nor purely red. That’s why you have political scientists and media officials referring to Virginia as a purple state, a swing state. But on the issue of abortion, the swing appears to be particularly deadly.

An alert came in a story that ran at CBS News by Kathryn Watson. She reported, “A new bill proposed in the Virginia legislature would loosen restrictions on abortions during the third trimester of pregnancy, and allow abortions during the second trimester to take place outside hospitals.”

Watson tells us, “Under current Virginia law, abortions during the third trimester require a determination by a doctor and two consulting physicians that continuing the pregnancy would likely result in the woman’s death or ‘substantially and irremediably’ impair her mental or physical health.”

But the new bill, which has been proposed in the Virginia House of Delegates by Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran, she represents Fairfax, Virginia, would require only one doctor to make the determination that the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health. The proposed legislation would also eliminate the requirement that abortions during the second trimester be performed in a state licensed hospital.

Well, looking at the actual text of the proposed legislation, we are looking at a bill that is far more radical than that CSB News report would even indicate. We are talking about the fact that the entire language of substantially and irremediably impairing the woman’s mental or physical health, the language of the fact that the pregnancy might result in the woman’s death, all of that disappears.

According to this new legislation proposed by Delegate Tran, there need be only one physician and there need be no real finding of any particular threat to the woman’s health, much less her life, whatsoever. As we have seen in so many cases since Roe v. Wade included this language in its own text in 1973, the phrase, “health of the mother,” particularly includes emotional health. Which means if a woman is going to be emotionally distressed by a pregnancy, that can be cited by physicians as adequate reason for an abortion, even in the third trimester.

But like the law in New York, it is clear that the proposed law in Virginia would go all the way up until the point of death. Three doctors reduced to one doctor– that one doctor having to provide no specific finding whatsoever, merely able on the basis of any reason or for that matter, virtually no reason, to authorize the abortion of a living human baby all the way up until the moment of birth.

But the culture of death has shown its deadly face in a remarkably honest way in shocking testimony offered by Delegate Kathy Tran in defense of her own bill before a legislative committee. For example, another legislator asked her straight forward questions apparently in shock of the nature both of the bill and of her arguments.

State Delegate Todd Gilbert asked, “How late in a pregnancy would your bill apply if a physician was simply willing to certify that the continuation of the pregnancy would impair the mental health of the woman?”

Delegate Tran wandered around for a bit, but eventually she came straight forwardly to acknowledge that according to her bill, this can happen all the way up until the moment a child is born.

So, as the Delegate asked her the question, how late in the pregnancy, and as he made clear, that referred to the mental health, not even the physical health of the woman at stake here. Well, she said, “I mean through the third trimester. The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.” She wasn’t at that point evasive at all.

The shocked legislator then asked the other, “But to the end of the third trimester?” “Yep,” Tran responded, “I don’t think we have a limit in the bill.” Indeed, there isn’t a limit in the bill. She specifically and intentionally wrote the legislation so that there was no limit whatsoever.

Her bill effectively makes it easy for a woman in Virginia, if the bill were to pass, to get an abortion because of what might be described as mere mental distress right up until the point the baby is being born. How specifically do we know this? Well, it is because later in the testimony she said exactly that.

The legislator asking the question, State Delegate Todd Gilbert, was apparently shocked at the horrifying candor of Delegate Tran. He went on and pressed the point after she said there was no limit on abortion in the third trimester. He said, “So, where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth, she has physical signs of that, that she’s about to give birth, would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified?” He went on even to describe the physical signs that indicate a woman is giving birth.

Tran responded, “Mr. Chairman, that would be, uh, you know, a decision that the doctor, the physician, and the woman would make at that point. Gilbert then pressed the point, “I understand that. I’m asking if your bill allows that?” Tran responded, “My bill would allow that. Yes.”

Now in the history of this nation, dealing with the question of abortion and in the descent of this nation into the culture of death, quite honestly I don’t believe there has ever been a legislative exchange quite like that.

Here you had one legislator, in moral shock apparently, asking the sponsor of legislation of she really did mean that emotional distress on the part of the woman would justify abortion without restrictions simply on the judgment and complicity of one doctor, even as the woman was in the process of giving birth.

But just when you thought you couldn’t be more shocked, the Governor of Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam, entered the picture in a media interview the next day. The host of the program at WTOP pointed to the contentious committee hearing that had taken place on Tuesday. She mentioned Fairfax County Delegate Kathy Tran and the point that she had made about how abortion would be legal even up until the moment that a baby is being born.

The host asked the Democratic Governor, “Do you support her measure and explain her answer?” The Governor then said this, mark these words, “You know, I wasn’t there, Julie. And I certainly can’t speak for Delegate Tran, but I would tell you one, first thing, I would say this is why decisions such as this should be made by providers, physicians, and the mothers and fathers that are involved.”

“There are,” he said, “when we talk about third trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother and with the consent of the physicians, more than one physician by the way, and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s nonviable.”

Now I will stop citing the Governor for a moment at this point simply to say, straight forwardly, in a way I have never said such a thing on The Briefing, the Democratic Governor of the state of Virginia is lying. He is lying through his teeth. He knows that the legislation that has been proposed by the Delegate Kathy Tran would take away virtually everything that he said in qualifying a woman’s right to an abortion in a third trimester in Virginia.

And there is no excuse that perhaps he was unaware of what he’s talking about. Because not only did the Governor in this conversation misrepresent the new proposed legislation, he completely misrepresented where the law in Virginia stands right now. He pointed to what may be severe deformities.

But right now in the state of Virginia, that is not the sole reason that a woman may be given authorization for an abortion in the third trimester. The life and health language is there now requiring a certification, though not by one but by three doctors, saying that it would be a substantial impairment on the woman. But there is right now no limitation that there would have to be a severe fetal deformity.

By the way, Christians would understand that that in itself would not be justification for the abortion at any point in a pregnancy. But the specific point we’re making here is that that is actually even beside the point. The Governor had to know that he was misrepresenting Virginia law as it stands now, and Virginia law as it is proposed to be changed with this new legislation.

But even as we look straight forwardly thus far at what the Governor said, I simply have to warn you that far worse followed. The Governor went on to say, speaking it might be of the fetus that’s nonviable, but speaking specifically about abortion in the third trimester and abortion that would take place while a woman is giving birth or beginning to show the signs of giving birth. This means a full-term baby.

The Governor said this, “So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen.” Let’s just pause for a moment, the Governor isn’t equivocating here. He tells the audience that he’s going to tell them exactly what would happen.

Here’s what he said, “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. Then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

“So,” said the Governor, “I think this was really blown out of proportion. But again, we want the government not to be involved in these type of decisions. We want the decision to be made by the mothers and their providers. This is why, Julie,” that’s the host, “that legislators, most of whom are men, by the way, shouldn’t be telling a woman what she should and shouldn’t be doing with her body.”

Let’s just try, it’s hard given the horror of what we’re talking about here, but let’s just try to remind ourselves that the Governor here dares to speak of intervention in telling a woman what she should and shouldn’t be doing with her body while, as the case was presented to him, her body was delivering a full-term human being.

This is where we are in America and this is not just New York. By the way, the Governor of New York, as committed as he is to the culture of death, has never to my knowledge said anything as horrifying as this. The Governor of Virginia, in defending and supposedly explaining Virginia’s law in this new legislation, not only came close to advocating infanticide, he crossed the line and actually explicitly in a live broadcast endorsed infanticide. He offered his political support for infanticide. He said that no government should stand between a mother and the intention of infanticide.

Recall that we’re talking about a baby that has been born and the Governor said, “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired.” Just imagine human dignity hanging on the very existence of that if.

We have argued for years that when you look at the crisis of abortion, it will never remain merely the question of abortion. Once human life is devalued in the womb, or anywhere else for that matter, but as human dignity right now is routinely discounted in the womb, that inevitably begins to subvert claims of human dignity for anyone else, for any other human life, at any other stage of development, at any other age of life.

And so, as you see here, you see abortion, a defense of abortion, turning into a defense of infanticide. And here you have a Governor, a Governor of a major American state, one of the earliest of the American colonies, arguing for the defense of infanticide. Calmly and deliberately. Straight forwardly saying, “So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. Then a discussion would ensue,” he said, “between the physicians and the mother.”

But don’t forget his words, “So I think this was really blown out of proportion.”

We must also remind ourselves that similar kinds of arguments have taken place for some time, but usually behind the walls of a university, inside some kind of legal or scientific debate or examination room. But we also need to remind ourselves that at Princeton University, a philosopher by the name of Peter Singer holds a respected chair, a respected professorship within that university, and he has for decades now openly advocated infanticide. The willful killing of human babies even after they have been born.

It’s just difficult to know where we go from here. It’s openly questionable whether or not any society that begins to embrace or even to consider such legislation, the routine killing of human beings not only in the womb, but for that matter now in the delivery room, it’s hard to imagine that such a society can really ever recover.

Part II

Even when looking at socially-liberal Europe, abortion laws are far more restrictive

But next, we shift from the United States to Germany. Yesterday The New York Times ran an important story with the headline, “Germany may ease an abortion law.” The article is by Melissa Eddy from Berlin.

At first glance, it would appear that maybe this is a story from Germany that’s very similar to what we have looked at in New York and now in Virginia, but it turns out the story is different.

Eddy writes, “For the first time in generations, German women would have legal access to public information about who performs abortions and what services they provide under a compromise that seeks to end a dispute that has plagued Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for months. It’s a legal compromise,” we are told, “about whether or not doctors can publicly indicate that they perform abortions.”

But the most important issue a paragraph buried in the middle of this substantial article. It states this, “Abortion is legal in Germany during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. But under the current law passed in 1933, doctors cannot publicly advertise that they perform abortions. Healthcare providers can only discuss the subject directly with their patients.”

Did you notice those words early in this paragraph? “Abortion is legal in Germany during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.” This is something that the pro-abortion movement in the United States doesn’t want to talk about. Even if you look at socially liberal Europe, you will find almost uniformly laws that are incredibly more restrictive on abortion than what is found in the United States.

When you are talking about the law in New York, understand that there you are talking about an abortion right up until the 40th week. Similarly, the proposed bill in Virginia. But in Germany, yes, far more socially liberal Germany, abortion is legal only in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

Leaving the German story aside, as I said, this story really tells us more about the United States than it does about Germany, you understand that the United States, as it stands right now, is the moral outlier when it comes to civilized nations and the question of abortion. Even nations with which we share a cultural inheritance, such as the nations of Western Europe.

But notice the frightening fervor in the United States, not only to defend abortion on demand as it currently exists in America, but to expand the culture of death at every opportunity, virtually even beyond imagination.

Part III

As extreme cold grips the nation, human beings are reminded of our helplessness when it comes to weather

Next, we have to turn to the fact that for many Americans over the last several days, the predominant word that has shaped their vocabulary comes down to some form of the word cold. The front page of yesterday’s edition of USA Today simply ran the headline, “No ‘feels like’ for this kind of cold.” The article is by John Bacon, Doyle Rice, and Aamer Madhani.

Now why is the headline telling us there is no “feels like”? Well, it’s because many people living in many parts of the country are experiencing record lows. Record low temperatures that have never been experienced by anyone currently living in those regions.

The story is datelined from Chicago where we are told, “Schools were shut down Wednesday because of wind chill temperatures that Accu Weather Meteorologist Elliot Abrams said would make it feel like 50 to 60 degrees below zero.” USA Today then simply summarizes, “That would be colder than Antarctica.”

Abram said, “It’s never been -50 in Chicago, so we really can’t say it ‘feels like,’ nobody really knows what that feels like. But you can get frostbite within four or five minutes.” As USA Today continues to report, the high temperature Wednesday was forecast to reach 14 below, that’s the high temperature. There is a chance that Chicago’s all-time record cold temperature of 27 below could be broken.

Even as of Tuesday, it was very clear that this storm, fueled by the Polar Vortex, was going to bring incredibly low temperatures, record lows. As USA Today tells us, “In Grand Forks, North Dakota, the temperature dipped to -25 on Tuesday, with a wind chill of -63.”

USA Today says that the school system there in Sioux Falls had warned that school would be canceled “if wind chill temperatures fall to 35 degrees below zero.” The wind chill in Minneapolis was forecast between Tuesday and Wednesday to reach 54 below, especially on Wednesday morning. Parts of Wisconsin were hit with a foot of snow or more on Monday and we are told that governments are scrambling to figure out how they can help citizens in the midst of such a vice grip of cold.

Human beings are left with the understanding that there is really nothing we can do about the weather. But there is at least the advantage, we need to recognize, of living in a time when such record lows and other weather phenomena can often be forecast so at least there can be some kind of preparation. Even as all of us are concerned for one another and we pray for those who may be vulnerable in this kind of weather, we are also reminded of just how frail and fragile human beings are.

In some of these wind chills and brutal cold temperatures, we are told that frostbite can happen virtually immediately. Certainly within no less than five minutes. And another phenomenon of our age is that of course there will be a public debate in the media, in government and beyond, as to exactly how this is explained by different and varying arguments concerning climate change. You can get ready for that.

But beyond those arguments, there is the explanation from weather experts that the polar vortex during cold weather months in the nor is a circular pattern of extremely high winds up above the jet stream and that the temperatures that are now being experienced by so many parts of the United States have simply been allowed by movements in the atmosphere to go down more deeply into North America than would usually be the case.

Part IV

At what age should a child be considered criminally responsible?

Finally, we shift to the Philippines. Headline news stories concern a new criminal justice law that is expected to be passed in that country. It’s being pressed by Philippine strongman President Rodrigo Duterte, who has routinely violated human rights. The headline in the article in The New York Times by Jason Gutierrez is this, “Philippine legislators weigh a law prosecuting children.”

The headline in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, “Philippine crime bill draws condemnation.” Jake Maxwell Watts, reporting for The Journal, tells us, “The proposed law would lower the age a child could be held criminally responsible to 12 years old from 15. It passed Monday through the House and moves to the Senate where it is expected to be debated in coming days.”

The article in The Times begins this way, “A proposed law making its way through the Philippine Congress would consider children as young as nine criminally responsible for their actions, drawing fierce opposition from rights advocates and opponents of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly anti-drug campaign.”

Well this article raises some really interesting questions. At what age should a child be considered criminally responsible? That seems to be an honest question. In the Philippines, they are looking at lowering the age to as young as nine. Meanwhile, if you look at the story in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, you will be reminded that the ages at which children can be held criminally responsible across the world might surprise you.

In India the age is seven. In Australia and most of the United Kingdom, it is ten. The United States sets the minimum age of criminal liability for federal crimes at 11. Most states, we are told, have no minimum age for state level crimes.

You know, looking closer at the article, what becomes clear is the distinction between what is taking place or proposed in the Philippines and what has taken place elsewhere, including in Europe and in the United States. The critical distinction is this, in the Philippines it appears that children as young as nine or 12 or even in the ages between or up to 15, will be thrown into the same criminal justice system as adults. That is not the case in Europe or in the United States.

But it’s really interesting from a worldview perspective to recognize that most nations recognize that children are morally responsible. The question is, to what extent are children morally responsible? And if they are understood as being morally responsible, to what degree is the criminal justice system the right place for that responsibility to be adjudicated?

Here’s where Christians should be reminded that a biblical worldview recognizes and respects the progression of human beings into greater moral responsibility over the early stages of life. There is infancy, then there is childhood, then there is adolescence and youth. And there is in the Bible an understanding that there is a progressive responsibility for one’s moral actions as you go through those stages of life.

The Bible is also clear that we are born as sinners, we are conceived in sin. But we bear moral responsibility to a greater degree as human society holds us accountable over time. Over different aspects of development. We know that there is a distinction between an infant and an older child. Between a child and a teenager. Between a teenager and an established adult.

The Christian worldview understands that we all bear moral responsibility. The question is the degree to which that moral responsibility should be translated into public policy. Even in the courts in the United States, especially at the state level, different states have ways of deciding whether or not a child, a juvenile, whether a child or a teenager should be even tried as an adult for particularly heinous crimes.

We are also reminded that according to the biblical worldview, there is no magic moment, there is no magic age when that moral responsibility is invoked, when it doesn’t exist before that moment and does exist after. It is instead a matter of moral responsibility over a continuum of growth and development, increasing responsibility, increasing culpability.

As Christians, we do know this, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

The news story coming to us out of the Philippines raises a host of important questions and it appears most people are quite ready to avoid them.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

You can obtain a copy of my new ebook, Life in Four Stages, a book that addresses these very questions of the four stages of life, childhood, youth, adulthood, and age from the perspective of the text of Scripture and biblical authority.

You can find that ebook and other resources at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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