Tuesday, February 23, 2021
It's Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
South Carolina Adopts Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban: Two Categorically Opposed Arguments on Abortion Exist in America, Setting Up an Inevitable Contest at the Supreme Court
The headline comes from South Carolina telling us that South Carolina has passed a major abortion ban known as a heartbeat bill. And it has been signed into law by South Carolina's governor Henry McMaster. Last Thursday, he signed the ban into law, and it will effect, at least in its text, an almost complete ban on abortions in the state. As Rich McKay of Reuters News Service explains, "South Carolina governor Henry McMaster signed into law a ban on almost all abortions in the state and the women's health group Planned Parenthood followed with a lawsuit arguing the measure was unconstitutional." McKay rightly explains this, "As one of the most restrictive abortion bans, the so-called fetal heartbeat law bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often at six weeks, and before a woman realizes she is pregnant." That often here is to be applied to the fact that it's often before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
At least we were told that and that's understandable. But the reality is this is a serious law now signed into law in South Carolina that sends a very serious and very important moral signal about the affirmation of the dignity of all human life, including the life of the unborn. Before we even go further, I want to say a word of appreciation to the legislature in South Carolina, and to South Carolina governor Henry McMaster, for getting this legislation through and signing the legislation. It has already predictably been suspended by a court, but the point is the law is there to be suspended. That is a profoundly different moral statement than if the law were merely hypothetical. The legislature and the governor of South Carolina deserve full credit for putting their names on the legislation, voting on the record and being on the record for the sanctity of human life. Also on the record is the fact that you have Planned Parenthood and other groups who are opposed to every restriction on abortion.
Here's something we need to note. You have criticism of this bill saying that it amounts to an almost total ban on abortion, which by the way, is the logic of the pro-life movement. But furthermore, you will notice that the same groups are outraged about any restriction that might prevent or avoid even one abortion. And so we're looking at an absolutist argument and here's something we need to know. It's really an absolutist argument on both sides. The pro-abortion, it's often disguised as a pro-choice, argument, is really right now down to opposing any restriction on abortion and even arguing that there should be no moral problem with abortion whatsoever. Categorically, the pro-life position is based upon the fact that the unborn child from the moment of conception is indeed a human being. It's human life, it is a human life, a human person deserving of full protection.
Now you're looking at those two arguments and you recognize just how far apart we are in this society. You also understand how far apart we are on a map. In recent years, especially very recent years, you've seen it's like New York adopt pro abortion legislation so extreme that even as the media would try to deny this, the truth is, it basically allows for legal abortion right up until the moment of birth. Meanwhile, in the state of South Carolina, as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, the abortion would be illegal. So again, look at the map. You talk about two categorical arguments. You might put it this way. There's a New York argument, there's a South Carolina argument. How long can those two arguments prevail in one country? That's a question in a very different context. Abraham Lincoln asked as president. We are looking at definitional issues here. And look both sides know it.
At this point in American history, we really do understand the arguments on both sides. At least if you want to understand the arguments, they're there to be understood. By this time, both sides have made their arguments over and over again in books, in courtrooms, in legal decisions, in legislatures. The argument is by now very well known, but so is the response. As soon as you have South Carolina adopt this legislation, you have Planned Parenthood and other groups go to the courts. And they're arguing that this legislation is unconstitutional. Why? Well, let me go back to that Reuters report. Here's the way Reuters explains it. "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the constitution protected a pregnant woman's right to an abortion." Very interesting by the way. Actually, even more interesting that you probably just heard. For one thing, when you look at Roe v. Wade, it does refer to pregnant women, not just pregnant humans.
In other words, in the worldview, even of Roe v. Wade in 1973, and for that matter for a long time after that, it was inconceivable that you would have to be talking about anyone who might not be a woman who might be pregnant. Because the fundamental reality that wasn't denied by Roe v. Wade is that only women get pregnant, period. But the other thing you will note is that the language here the Reuters report's actually accurate. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the constitution protected a pregnant woman's right to an abortion. Ruled here is the operative word. It's the verb issues. And yes, they did rule. They didn't look in the constitution and find long neglected references to abortion. There are no such references there, period. Instead, they ruled that the constitution protects a woman's right to an abortion. But then of course, the article at Reuters goes on to talk about all the state restrictions that have been attempted.
Some of them passed, some of them upheld by courts all the way up to the Supreme Court. And what all of this is pointing to is the inevitable. What's the inevitable? Well, these kinds of cases, one of these cases, these issues concerning abortion are going to arrive once again, inevitably, it's just a matter of time, at the Supreme Court of the United States. We also need to note that South Carolina joins other states in adopting legislation such as what in South Carolina is known as the "South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection From Abortion Act," about twelve states. At this point, roughly a dozen have adopted similar legislation. In not one of those states, is that legislation in effect because of some federal court granting some kind of injunction, which means, yes, this has headed for the Supreme Court. And as much as the Supreme Court of the United States has at least appeared to want to duck and evade any cases like this, at least in the last several years, they cannot duck and evade this issue for long.
Moral Clarity on the Line: An Awkward Pro-Life Bill in Tennessee Testifies to the Brokenness of the World
Next, we turn to a very different law. In this case, it's merely proposed in the state of Tennessee. It's getting a lot of attention. USA Today ran an article that originally appeared in the Nashville Tennesseean, part of the Gannett network. This article by Yue Stella Yu tells us that, "In an effort to further restrict abortion in Tennessee, two state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow a father to deny an abortion without the pregnant woman's consent." Now that's a very poorly worded lead paragraph. What would it mean for a law to "allow a father to deny an abortion without the pregnant woman's consent?" What? A consent for him to deny? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. What does make sense is the fact that this means that a father could prevent the mother aborting a child if the child is his child. In other words, there are two parents.
Both parents should have a say, it's not just about a woman's right to an abortion. It's also about a father's say in this. Now, what should Christians think about this? Well, first of all, it's pretty convoluted. For one thing, we don't believe that consent is enough to justify abortion in any case anyway. That's not what we're looking at here. We're not looking at merely modifying consent, but we also have to understand there is a very legitimate moral impulse behind this legislation. And it comes down to this. There is a father and a mother. There is a man and a woman responsible for this pregnancy, and both should have some kind of moral say. Now, as you're looking at the law here, note one, it's unlikely to pass even in the state of Tennessee. Secondly, if it did pass, it will be unlikely to stand up to court scrutiny simply because it's a very awkward legislative issue.
Just look at the lead paragraph in this news article even trying to explain it. But here's where Christians have to look at this and say what a broken world we live in. Because here's what we need to note. We should be looking at the first institution in creation, which is marriage and understanding if marriage is the context here, these issues become tremendously clarified. If the gift of life is affirmed, then the issue becomes incredibly clarified. Once you begin to confuse the entire picture, because after all, there's actually no expectation in this legislation that the father is married to mother. But it points to something else, secondly, in terms of our confused society. We will hunt down a father in order to provide child support. In other words, there's a moral obligation. This society in all fifty states to some degree holds fathers, whether they are married to the mother of the child or not, responsible to some degree insofar as the legal authorities and the courts can affirm this.
They are hunted down in order to offer financial support to the child because there's an obligation and being the father of a child. But that same society now says, according to the logic of Roe v. Wade, father, what father? There's no man in the picture at all. There's no father of any moral consequence. Now there's a divided mind in a country that says, "If the baby's born, we're going to hunt the father down. But until the baby is born, the father-- that doesn't matter much at all." And even after the baby's born, by the way, fathers do not have much legal claim upon many of their children. Even in some cases that they are married to the mother in the case of a divorce or separation. The reality is we're a society that has tried to unravel creation and then try to find some equitable way to settle all the moral and brokenness issues that follow in trying to unravel creation.
The reality is, and here's something just so basic to the Christian worldview. If you unravel creation, you can't clean it up on the other side. The article about this proposed Tennessee bill in USA Today includes this very interesting exchange. The first person quoted is Senator Mark Pody, Republican Tennessee State Senator, who's one of the co-sponsors of the bill. He said, "I believe a father should have a right to say what's going to be happening to that child. And if somebody is going to kill that child, he should be able to say, 'No, I don't want that child to be killed. I want to be able to raise that child and love that child.'" Now, that's just really clear moral language. Now it's moral language on the other side of a society that's tried to break down any meaning to those words, but nonetheless, that's a very morally clear statement. But the next paragraph and the USA Today article says this, "But the bill language has drawn criticism from abortion rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, and the state's Planned Parenthood chapter."
The head of the ASLU of Tennessee executive director, Hedy Weinberg said in a statement, "This unconstitutional legislation demonstrates the condescending mindset underlying this bill: that men should control women's bodies. Women are not chattel, and this bill needs to be stopped in its tracks." Now, I'm going to argue very clearly for the pro-life position here. I am going to acknowledge this is the kind of bill that presents awkwardness, because it is not a comprehensive affirmation of the dignity and sanctity of every single life, including unborn life. It is, however, a legislative attempt that clarifies issues. And one clarification I want us to note is the distinction between the moral clarity in the statement made by the state senator in defense of life, and the lack of moral clarity, the complete absence of moral clarity in the statement made by the Executive Director of the Tennessee chapter of the ACLU. That in itself makes this article worthwhile.
When Governments Gamble with Human Lives: Kentucky Legislature Passes Bill Allowing Historical Horse Racing Machines
But next we're going to shift to an issue of lesser moral importance, but it's still a morally important issue. And that's the issue of gambling. And once again, we're looking at a state legislature in this case, not South Carolina, not Tennessee, but the state legislature in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The issue is gambling and the headlines are about what is summarized as HHR, which is Historical Horse Racing. This turns out to be more interesting than you might imagine. The Kentucky legislature has now passed legislation legalizing what is known as Historical Horse Racing machines. As Joe Sonka of the Louisville Courier Journal reports, "The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize Historical Horse Racing machines, after nearly three hours of debate. Senate Bill 120 now heads to Governor Andy Beshear's desk, and he has indicated he will sign the bill into law."
Listen to this, "The bill changes the definition of pari-mutuel wagering in Kentucky statutes to include these HHR"--that's Historical Horse Racing--"machines, which closely resemble slot machines. It passed the chamber by a 55-38 vote after several floor amendments were defeated and a dozen Republican members spoke out forcefully against the bill.." The article then continues, "The horse racing industry championed the legislation after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last year that such machines do not constitute legal pari-mutuel racing, arguing the closure of tracks' HHR facilities — and the massive revenue they've brought in over the past decade — would devastate the industry and lead to massive job losses." We should note the critics of the legislation note that the bill is unconstitutional and that Historical Horse Racing machines could actually be legalized only through some form of constitutional amendment. But others are arguing that the big issue is that the tax rate should have been higher.
It's not a moral issue about whether or not this expansion of gambling is either constitutional or illegal, it's just all about the money. The state needs the money. The state also, the argument comes here, the state needs the jobs, the state needs the industry, and in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, you're looking at horse racing being not only a big industry, but a high prestige industry with a lot of political clout. But here's where things really do get interesting. It turns out that the Kentucky constitution basically authorizes only some form of parimutuel betting. Now, what is that? That means betting that takes place in a pool in which there is some kind of event such as a race, like a horse race on which odds are placed. And then bets are placed in a mutual pool in which there is an actual event taking place, is pari-mutuel having to do with the mutual indicating the common betting pool.
It's very different than, say, a slot machine, which isn't pari-mutuel. And a slot machine is not about some event in which odds are cast about a car or a horse or some other kind of competitor. You're really looking here at something that is effectively just a slot machine. The Historical Horse Racing concept is pretty brilliant in a sinful sort of way, because what it does given the fact that there have been so many thousands and thousands and untold thousands of horse races documented throughout the 20th century, what it does is choose one of those races randomly. But in reality, the fact is it's operating just like a slot machine. There's virtually no way that there is any kind of skill. And furthermore, there's no event. Where if there was an event that took place long ago, it's been long forgotten. But the legislature hasn't forgotten and neither is Kentucky's governor who are in a race of their own to try to get this bill passed in order to bring in more tax money and keep the gambling institutions and the industry in Kentucky open.
By the way, the state constitution in Kentucky allows for charitable gaming and a lottery. We've looked at that again. You're looking at states adopting the lottery as a way to actually prey on their weakest of citizens and what amounts to a voluntary tax, but a tax that is quite seductive and dishonestly presented. But you also have the fact that parimutuel betting is allowed. The point is that you're looking at slot machines not being allowed by the constitution, but now you have the legislature saying, "Yeah, these operate like slot machines. You basically use them in exactly the same way, but we're going to call them something different. We're going to put up the imaginary argument that it was a horse racing event somewhere in the past, a specific race out of the tens or hundreds of thousands of races that will somehow be electronically generated." But the point is it still amounts to the fact that it is generated, it's not happening.
It's a matter of about the same kind of logic as slot machines and every honest person knows it. And the money was the straightforward argument here. One state representative asked the question, "Do we have enough signature industries that we can afford to lose this one? Do we have so many jobs that we can kill off thousands of them?" Now notice killing off in this case means remaining constitutional. For the constitution to change, the people of Kentucky would have to be consulted, but after all, that could be far too expensive. Another member of the House, Representative Chris Fugate argued against the legislation saying this, that the house with 75 Republican members to Democrats' 25 had been elected to "point Kentucky in a conservative, pro-life, pro-second amendment, pro-family direction and not to legalize casinos." He then said this, "Sometimes we come to Frankfurt and our values start to get changed because there's a lot of pressure at this place. A lot of money at stake, but gambling is not going to fix, slot machines are not going to fix the troubles of Kentucky."
That's one of the saddest issues of the entire gambling debate. Gambling never solves the problem. It's almost always presented as a way to solve the problem. If you are in need of money, well, the entire logic of gambling is take the little you have and try to get more simply buy some games chance, or maybe you could disguise it as skill and betting on a horse, and understanding the odds. But it also comes as a very seductive argument to governments. Governments that really find themselves politically hemmed in in terms of raising taxes or politicians that don't have the courage, honestly and straightforwardly, to raise taxes. Instead, they will argue let's turn to gambling. And as I said, it turns out that some of the opposition to this bill wasn't about the actual form, or even the constitutionality of the proposal, it was just about the tax rate. There should have been a higher cut for the state.
As we think about this, I started out by saying that this issue is not of the same moral importance as the sanctity and dignity of human life represented in the issue of abortion. But don't hear that in the wrong way. It's not an unimportant issue. Every society, every government, every state decides what kind of moral culture it is going to have. It's going to decide whether it awards thrift and saving and labor, or whether it tries to reward the kind of financial profligacy and wastefulness and risk that comes with gambling. It's got to decide whether or not it's going to pay its bills going forward with some kind of adequate, honest taxation, or whether it's going to try to sneak in financial support by enticing citizens to gamble. Every society, every state, every government eventually has to make these decisions.
And when it comes to the issue of gambling, we need to go on. And as we conclude, make another very important observation. When it comes to the life of many families, many families devastated by gambling, some families devastated for generations by gambling, the reality is this is, in some cases, virtually a life or death issue. There are children who do not have the clothes they should have. There are families who do not have the housing they should have. There are children and others who do not have the food they should have because dad or someone else has gone out and wasted the money. There are a few sadder sites I've ever seen morally than people sitting for hours in front of a slot machine. Now, how did I see it? Well, it is because oddly enough, in the year 1989, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual convention in Las Vegas.
It wasn't pleasant for either the SBC or Las Vegas in that sense. The Convention Bureau is not likely to ask us back because we weren't that good for business, but it was an eye-opening experience for Southern Baptist. Hollywood, and others want to make gambling, and for that matter, organized crime time, in some ways enticing, and so they will show attractive character there's involved in gambling, entering crime in one way or another, but just to take gambling as a standalone issue. The fact is the big moral issue isn't so much about people with untold millions of dollars who decide to play for a bit of recreation at a baccarat table. No, the issue is someone who is actually losing bread and butter for his or her family by means of the enticements of gambling. The reality is there are far more of the latter than there are of the former.
The fact is that states like Kentucky really are hurting for revenue. No one should doubt that. You're also looking at a largely self-inflicted crisis when it comes to the pension crisis in this state and in so many others. What you have are legislators trying to bail out a system that at some point simply can't be bailed out. But it's one thing to try to bail out a broken system, it's another thing to decide to prey on the citizens of one's own state. The argument should be this, the legislators and the elected representatives, Senators and Governor of Kentucky are there to protect the people they are to serve. They are not there to try to figure out just how much they can squeeze out of the population in tax revenue from gambling. And never forget this. This kind of political effort always produces diminishing returns. You have this tax rate now on this amount of gambling, but you'll need more money so you have to increase the rate and the gambling eventually.
It all comes down to the fact that it becomes an omnivorous, never satisfied beasts.
And yes, there is no doubt that horse racing is elegant. There's also no doubt the hungry children are a crisis.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Nashville, Tennessee, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.