briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

It’s Tuesday, June 18, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

There is No Way to Deny that “Pro-Abortion” is the Right Term: The Fanaticism of the Pro-Abortion Movement on Full Display in New York City

Intelligent Christians need to watch as arguments unfold, and that reminds us that every single argument is in motion. An argument, by definition, changes from this position to that position, from this dimension of argument to another. We need to watch the unfolding of the most important arguments around us, and one of the most important of those arguments concerns abortion. We have seen, for example, that the pro-abortion movement has tried to rename itself, largely successfully years ago, as the pro-choice movement insinuating that the important issue here is not the decision as to whether or not to kill a baby but rather or not the woman should have the choice. The baby disappears as a moral agent, the woman is all who remains. And then we saw even in the last couple of years how the movement has rebranded itself again, and this is a form of modifying the argument.

The pro-choice movement began the movement for a woman’s reproductive health, abortion restyled not as the killing of an unborn baby, but rather as just a part of the entire package of a woman’s reproductive health. But we have also seen that even as the pro-abortion movement was making all of these efforts to camouflage the real ambitions, we have seen the reality shining through frighteningly enough just in recent months. We have seen it in a rash of legislation beginning in the state of New York and then continuing through other states—legislation that is not pro-choice, legislation that is not simply about affirming or protecting a woman’s reproductive health, but legislation that is clearly about allowing a woman to abort a baby at any point in a pregnancy all the way through the third term, all the way right up until the moment of birth. You can’t characterize that as pro-choice.

You can’t describe that merely as a woman’s reproductive health. We are talking about legalizing abortion for any reason or for no reason at any point in the entire continuum of a baby’s gestation, and now there are other modifications in the argument that help us to understand exactly what is happening. Consider the fact that the pro-abortion movement has been insisting it’s really not about abortion, it’s about something else, whether that’s a woman’s reproductive health or about a woman’s right to choose. But consider a headline that ran just in the last couple of days in The New York Times. The article is by Nikita Stewart. The headline: “City Council Devotes $250,000 to Abortion Access.” This is the city of New York. Stewart reports, “New York City will spend $250,000 to help poor women who travel from other states to obtain abortions here, inserting itself into the increasingly contentious debate over access to the procedure.” This is absolutely stunning.

Here you have the city council of New York deciding to spend a quarter of $1 million of the city’s budget in order to assist women who aren’t from New York City. Not even that, they’re not from New York state, but are traveling from some other state for the purposes of abortion. The city council is going to give a quarter of a million dollars towards allowing those women to have abortions the taxpayers of New York will pay for. Now, we are talking about a quarter of a million dollars in the budget of the city of New York. That is less than a drop when you consider what that budget represents fiscally, but this really isn’t about the money. It’s about the moralizing. Consider the next sentence in The New York Times article, “While the amount of money is relatively small, the allocation is a symbolic if provocative move as more conservative states take steps to all but ban abortion.”

So notice what’s happening here is this argument is being modified before our eyes. Here you have the city council of New York City declaring that it is now not only committed to abortion access for women in New York City, not only is it going to cooperate with the state of New York in guaranteeing that access, not only is it going to pay for abortions through Medicaid and other forms in the state of New York and in the city of New York, but now it is going to at least symbolically pay for abortions for women who come to New York from other states seeking to kill their unborn babies. The New York Times tells us that the New York City Council even put a projected death toll in the budgetary proposal. I read, “City officials said the contribution, which would be included in the budget being negotiated between the council and the mayor’s office would allow about 500 women to terminate their pregnancies.” In other words, the death toll is estimated at 500.

The New York Times tells us that the city of New York because of the city council’s action is going to be the funding agent for killing 500 babies in wombs of women who have traveled to New York from other states to obtain abortion. That’s how fanatical the abortion rights movement has become. It can’t possibly hide behind the charade that is really pro-choice. There’s no pro-choice approach taken here. This is the positive funding of abortion even from women who are not from New York City or New York state. Aziza Ahmed, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston commented about the city council’s action, “There haven’t been that many city and state public officials to say we should publicly fund abortions. It’s a big statement.” He continued, “This is a culture war to some degree.”

Yes, of course it is a culture war even as the left has told us that there is no culture war. And furthermore, it’s a culture war with a death toll and now with a financial dimension—the city council willing to spend $500 per abortion times 500 spending $250,000 of the city’s money specifically targeted at funding the killing of unborn babies, period.

The article continues telling us, “Officials with the New York abortion access fund had initially sought funding through the city’s health department. When those efforts fell short, the fund began working with the National Institute for Reproductive Health to persuade the city.” It continues, “The institute felt that the time was right for New York City to take the lead on explicitly providing funding for abortions said Andrea Miller, the group’s president. And the abortion access fund seemed perfectly suited as the recipient. The fund,” we are told, “only provides women with financial assistance for abortions unlike a public hospital or planned parenthood, which has several sexual and reproductive health services.”

That’s actually a staggering statement, there’s a lot embedded there that the mainstream media has generally avoided. In this case, it’s in the article, but no attention is drawn to it. We’re told that this group in New York now funded by the New York city government is not going to partner with the city’s hospitals or even with Planned Parenthood because all they want to pay for, period, is the termination of pregnancy, the killing of an unborn baby, period. But the article goes on to tell us that NIRH said, “Advocates were afraid to bring too much attention to the campaign for fear of derailing it.” She said, “This is something that has been done kind of quietly, I’ve been sitting with crossed fingers and toes.” Again, an amazing revelation.

There was an attempt to do this by stealth even in the overwhelmingly liberal city of New York. Why? Because even under these circumstances, this makes news. It makes news because it is a situation in which a city council is going to extreme unforeseen, previously almost unimaginable, lengths to indicate how determined it is to pay for and to facilitate the killing of unborn babies. But the story did make the news, but I read it at the bottom of page A20 in the Saturday print edition of The New York Times. It’s very big news. In the weight of human life and human dignity, it is enormous news, tragic news. The New York Times did cover it, but again, it’s under the fold at the bottom of the page on page A20 in the print edition.

Part II

The United States as the Moral Outlaw on Abortion on the World Scene: Even America’s Progressive, Liberal Allies Are More Interested in Protecting Human Life than the U.S.

But then we shift to yet another article in The New York Times. This one the very next day in the same newspaper, The New York Times. But this article also tells us more than the article purports to tell us. For instance, the headline is this, “German Doctors Fined for Abortion Ad.” Christopher F. Schuetze reports, “Two German gynecologist have been fined by a Berlin judge for promoting abortion services on their website, running afoul of a Nazi era law that makes it a crime to advertise the procedure in detail.” Now, let’s just pause and look at that introductory sentence. We are told that the law that these gynecologists were convicted of breaking is a Nazi era law. What are we supposed to do with that? Well, by using the very term “Nazi era law,” we’re supposed to recoil in moral horror that it must be a wrongful law. And certainly during the Third Reich, there were many indeed hundreds and thousands of horrifying laws that were adopted. But during the time immediately after World War II, most of those laws were surgically, publicly, intentionally removed from German law.

This one was not. Why not? And when we’re talking about the year 2019, why is it still on the books? Well as the article unfolds, it reminds us of the fact that just in recent years in Germany, the law has been basically reaffirmed. It was slightly modified, but the basic logic and moral importance of the law continued. Doctors may list professionally that they perform abortions, but they may not positively advertise how they do the procedure nor can they advertise in a commercial context. These two doctors defied the law. But even as the trial judge in the court in Berlin indicated that the court was not ruling on the question of abortion at all when it came to the action advertising abortion by these doctors, there was no question that they had violated a valid German law. Now, this may lead to all kinds of appeals in the German courts and you might think that’s the most important issue in the story. But actually it’s not, it’s something else.

There is one paragraph in this New York Times article that is just a few words, it’s just a single sentence. Here is the paragraph, “Abortion is legal in Germany through the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.” Let’s go back to that. It’s so short it bears repeating. “Abortion is legal in Germany through the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.”

The most important issue there is the number, the number is 12. Keep in mind that right now we just saw in the state of New York the fact that that number was increased by all moral effects to 40, to 40 weeks. The important point to recognize here is that even in very liberal Western Europe, in very liberal Europe, abortion is far more restricted than it is in the United States—far more restricted than the Roe v. Wade decision that was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973.

Christians committed to a biblical worldview understand that we are opposed to abortion because we understand the nature of human dignity and the gift of human life all the way to the moment we might say a fertilization when the two cells come together and God says, “Let there be life.” This would be when we would define conception, and from that point onward to the entire natural lifespan, we believe that all human life is a gift and we have no right to take it and that includes the inhabitant of the womb, the baby. But what we need to note here is how much of an outlier the United States is. It became an outlier in 1973 in the Roe v. Wade decision. It’s an outlier now.

Even as you have efforts by the pro-abortion movement to extend abortion rights to a woman throughout the entirety of the pregnancy and they that this is what it means for women to have dignity and citizenship and equality, let’s simply note that the progressive liberal allies of the United States in Europe don’t go nearly so far. Instead, they recognize a far more significant state interest in protecting unborn life. We wouldn’t be satisfied with Germany’s law, not by any extent, but it tells us a lot that in Germany, which after all had to learn the horrifying lessons of the Third Reich’s denial of human dignity firsthand that in Germany, abortion is legal under these circumstances only through the 12th week of pregnancy. That is a stunningly different math than we find in the United States of America.

I do appreciate that that point was at least acknowledged in The New York Times article, but it is in just a few words in a single sentence paragraph in the middle of the article. But again, what is most interesting for us to note is that that changes everything in the tenor of the article. It changes everything when it comes to how that article is read within the pages of The New York Times. It turns out that an article that’s supposed to be about two doctors who ran afoul of what’s described as a Nazi era law in Germany, the article really is most important for reminding us how much of a moral outlaw the United States is on the issue of abortion. And the pro-abortion movement in the United States would like us to think that the pro-life movement operates only here where the pro-life movement is described as a movement against women’s rights, and instead, we are told that we should follow the example of liberal Europe.

When moral progressives and liberals in the United States point to examples the United States supposedly should follow, we are so often, as in the case of Senator Bernie Sanders running for president, pointed to the Scandinavian countries. But there’s another little footnote in this article about the two doctors who were convicted of violating this law in Germany. It’s this, “The Norwegian parliament passed a bill recently to restrict the country’s liberal abortion laws.” You can count on the fact that the pro-abortion movement in the United States is not going to point to that Scandinavian development.

Part III

Do Pro-Lifers Really Believe What We Say We Believe? The Necessity of Consistent Arguments for the Dignity of Human Life

But next, as we’re continuing to watch arguments in motion, we turn to an argument made in the same newspaper several days previously by Molly Jong-Fast. She’s the author of the book, The Social Climbers Handbook. She begins by asking the question, “When does life begin again?”

She writes, “When exactly do abortion opponents think life begins? Over the past few months there has been a rush to pass abortion bans. Most of these bans center on the idea that abortions should be banned as soon as the fetal heartbeat is detected. That’s because a heartbeat proves there’s a life that deserves protection under the law.” And there she citing Kentucky State Representative Robert Goforth. She continues, “On the other hand, many including Mr. Goforth himself, also believe life begins at conception.” She goes on to say, “That’s the position by Arkansas Republican Senator, Tom Cotton.” She explains the argument as believing that, “The blastocyst, that clump of cells smaller than a raspberry that forms in the early days after a sperm meets an egg is a person.”

She cites then Alabama state representative, Terry Collins who said, “This bill addresses that one issue: is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is. I believe our people say it is, and I believe technology shows it is.”

So what you have in this opinion piece by Molly Jong-Fast is the argument that pro-lifers are insisting that human life begins at conception, and conception is defined as when the sperm and the egg come together and life begins. And yet she argues there’s a good question as to whether many who consider themselves pro-life actually hold to this position. Why would she say that? Well, it has to do with in vitro fertilization, and it has to do with the creation of human embryos, many of which are simply going to be eventually disposed of. That raises the question, she said, as to whether pro-lifers really do believe that life begins at conception. But I want to argue that even as she is coming from a pro-abortion perspective, she has really put her finger on something that should have ardent pro-life attention.

She’s raising a very important and legitimate question, do we really believe what we say we believe? Just a few years ago, even as some states in the Bible Belt considered adopting human personhood amendments, one of the reasons against them, and one of the reasons for the bill’s failure was that many indicated if consistent this law would outlaw in vitro fertilization, so-called test tube babies when the technology first emerged.

In Alabama, Clyde Chambliss, a state senator and another sponsor of that state’s pro-life legislation said that the legislation would not include embryos under such conditions. He said, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” Well, let’s look at that argument for just a moment. First of all, this really isn’t about either eggs or sperm, it is about the union of an egg and a sperm when life has begun. But the point being made here is that life has dignity and is worthy of legal protection if it is in a woman and in her womb, and therefore she is declared to be pregnant.

But here we have to recognize that the pro-life argument that the baby is a person all the way from conception really is here put on the line. Do we really believe what we say we believe? Years ago when in vitro fertilization was a new technology, I was invited to be amongst theologians who each contributed a chapter to a major book on the theological and ethical dimensions of in vitro fertilization from a Christian worldview. And in that chapter, and I stand by that chapter right now, I made the argument that it is incompatible with the sanctity of human life and it is incompatible with a Christian worldview to intentionally create embryos that are not intended for eventual transfer to a woman’s womb and that means not only some kind of vague intention, but the actual determination that every single one of those embryos created would be transferred to a womb in order to have the opportunity to grow to a full term baby. That’s a very important issue.

But you also have to face the fact that many Christians who are honestly, earnestly, ardently concerned with defending human life in the womb are not following the logic of our own worldview, are not following the logic of our own definition of human life all the way into the in vitro fertilization laboratory. And we are now looking at the stark horrifying fact that there are at minimum hundreds of thousands of human embryos now in storage likely one day simply to be discarded or destroyed. And that number could be more than hundreds of thousands. It could actually now be well over a million mounting into the millions. There’s more to Molly Jong-Fast’s article than we can cover in this segment. But the important thing to recognize is that it is our responsibility to follow arguments and to make arguments consistently, to follow arguments as they unfold eventually revealing their internal logic, eventually making very bare the presuppositions behind the arguments.

And we also have to look at the necessity of making consistent arguments. If we genuinely believe that life begins at conception and we believe that conception is when the sperm and the egg come together and God says, “Let there be life,” if we really do believe that human embryos deserve protection and should be recognized for the sanctity of human life, then that applies to a human embryo wherever it is found—in the womb, of course, but also in the laboratory. If we don’t make that argument and if we don’t mean it when we make it, then we set up those making the contrary argument for abortion rights to come back at us when we say when human life begins and tell us, “When you say it, you don’t really mean it.”

Part IV

Our Outrage Reveals Our Worldview: When the Killing of a Dog Garners More Attention Than the Killing of Babies

But while we’re thinking about the gift of life, we need to turn to a very different kind of headline in conclusion. This is an article that ran just in recent days by the Associated Press as it was reported in many newspapers. This was the headline: “Healthy Dog Euthanized for Burial with Owners Sparks Debate.” The article’s dateline is from Richmond, Virginia, and the Associated Press tells us, “Veterinarians and funeral homes in Virginia are rejecting the idea that pets should be buried with their owners after a recent case in which a healthy dog was euthanized so it could lie with her owner.”

AP tells us, “WWBT TV in Richmond reports workers at one animal shelter tried to talk the executor of the estate out of the plan, they failed. And the Shih Tzu mixed named Emma was euthanized and cremated. The dog’s ashes were placed in an urn and given to the estate’s representative. ‘We did suggest they could sign the dog over on numerous occasions because it’s a dog we could easily find a home for and re-home,’” that according to Carrie Jones, manager of Chesterfield Animal Services. Dr. Kenny Lucas said that while it’s an emotional situation, his clinic would not euthanize a pet in order to be buried with the pet’s owner. ‘Whenever we’re faced with the euthanasia situation, it’s a very emotional situation. And beyond everything we talk about that we need to do ethically and we’ve taken an oath to do, it’s something we take home too. It weighs on us as professionals.’”

Larry Spiaggi at his funeral home in Virginia—he’s also president of the Virginia Funeral Directors Association—he has in his funeral home a chocolate lab and certified therapy dog named Peace that he keeps in order to help clients through their grief. As for euthanizing a healthy dog and burying it with his owner, he says he finds the practice according to AP abhorrent. He said, “I am licensed by the state of Virginia, so I have a license on the line with the health professionals board so I cannot do it.” The next sentence, “Virginia Law generally forbids burying pets with humans.”

There you have to wonder what exactly the word “generally” means. Caitlin O’Kane reporting for CBS News tells us nonetheless that in this case the dog was euthanized, “The healthy dog was euthanized because her late owner had left instructions for the dog to be put down and laid to rest next to her when she died.” The CBS article eventually cites Amanda Howell identified a staff attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and she accused various parties of failing in their responsibility to prevent the killing of this dog in order to be buried with the dog’s owner. She concluded by making what in her view was an emphatic moral point, “Pets are individuals, they’re not your CD collection,” raising the odd and interesting question as to whether some people would want to be buried with their CD collection. One of the obvious questions that interested journalists in this case is whether or not it is legal for a dog to be buried in a cemetery for humans, and it turns out that in Virginia it is a violation of the Virginia Cemetery Code. But then the question was asked: did this take place before that was understood and recognized? And the bottom line in the article is no one appears to know.

Now, before leaving this story, I have to say that at least once in my ministry I have known of someone who did just what’s described in this article. They had their pet euthanized in order to be buried with them. And in that case, and in this one, there were many people who were outraged at such an act. And we can understand why a healthy dog put down just to be buried with its owner. And you have outrage, genuine moral outrage reflected in the articles in response to this article and the kind of comments made in the articles, and we can understand the outrage.

The question is, how can you be so outraged over euthanizing a dog to be buried with its owner when you do not have this kind of outrage when you consider what’s going on at the abortion clinic just down the road? We don’t have time in this episode of The Briefing to take home the huge question of animal rights. We’ve done that before, and we will do it again. The issue is taking this story just to understand the incommensurate outrage on the part of many who are absolutely, urgently, ardently offended that a dog would be euthanized in order to be buried with its owner, but some of the very same people turn out to be amazingly unconcerned about the destruction of human life in the womb. And furthermore, some of the very same people are those who identify most urgently with the pro-abortion movement. That is what is urgently important for our attention.

We also have to note something very, very sad. It turns out that in a society where you have a subversion of human dignity, you sometimes have simultaneously an elevation of animal rights. That’s a big question I promise you we’ll take on in the future.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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