Reproductive biology service, Nice, France, In Assisted Reproductive Technology, ART, lab, Embryo cultures.
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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Briefing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024.

It’s Tuesday, February 20, 2024.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Huge Affirmation of Human Dignity: Alabama Supreme Court Rules That Frozen Human Embryos Are Children

We’re quite accustomed to seeing history change through rulings and decisions handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States, less often by one of the supreme courts of the respective states. But just in the last few days, the Alabama State Supreme Court handed down a history-making decision, which found that human embryos are covered by Alabama law, and even by the Alabama Constitution as children, regardless of where an embryo may be found.

Rolling Stone Magazine responded to this, and Rolling Stone has been for a long time a barometer of the culture, especially coming from the left. Rolling Stone ran the headline, “Alabama Court says, “IVF” That’s in vitro fertilization embryos, “are extrauterine children and people under the law.” The headline at Rolling Stone and the insinuation of the article is that this is an absolutely bizarre development. I assure you, it is not. And for Christians this is a matter that simply has to be thought through, and fast, and we better think through it consistently in biblical terms.

What did the Alabama State Supreme Court rule? It ruled that three couples, each of whom had had embryos stored in Mobile by an organization known as the Center for Reproductive Medicine, all three of them had lost their embryos. Because someone with no authorization had walked into the area where the frozen embryos were stored–there in Mobile–and had interrupted the storage, leading to the destruction of embryos that were owned by and controlled by (Those are very interesting legal terms aren’t they?) three couples who had produced the embryos with the help of IVF technology.

The three couples sought legal relief, two on one argument, one couple on another argument. But the point is that all three ended up before the Supreme Court of the state of Alabama, because lower courts had ruled that these frozen, then unfrozen, embryos were not covered as children under prevailing Alabama law or the Alabama Constitution. This is a big issue, and it’s a particularly important issue for us because many evangelical Christians have steadfastly refused to think through this issue.

The Alabama State Supreme Court has really thought through this issue. It has done so in a way that is likely not only to prompt a lot of conversation, but I can hope will prompt a lot of moral thinking, even as a prompt to conscience among American evangelicals. It was an overwhelming ruling, eight to one, in the decision. An associate justice of the Alabama court wrote the majority opinion. There were concurring opinions. There was only one dissenting opinion.

A part of the background of this is simple, and it comes down as Associate Justice James Mitchell writing for the majority said, “Alabama law is really clear. A child is a child before and after birth”. And as a matter of fact, in Alabama, it is now quite clear, that a child is thus a child from the moment of fertilization until the moment of natural death. That is something that the Alabama Supreme Court made abundantly clear as just a part of the common law tradition as just a part of the English legal tradition. It’s a part of our own legal tradition. Which is why, in a very widely-known case of several years ago, when a man murdered his wife who was pregnant with a child, he was found guilty of two murders, not simply of one.

The three couples whose embryos have been destroyed there in Mobile sought relief from the courts and they sought damages. They wanted a court ruling. And the Supreme Court in Alabama gave them that ruling. As a matter of fact, the language is extremely clear. In the majority opinion handed down by the court, the court stated that unborn children are children, “without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.”

This is fundamentally important. And this gets to a basic principle of Christian thinking in the Christian worldview, and that is the fact that when you’re dealing with objective truth, that objective truth does not depend upon the context. It is objectively true that a human embryo is a human person, bearing human dignity, made in the image of God. And it doesn’t matter at what stage of development that human embryo, or later fetus, or later baby, or later old man, might be. That person, whether male or female, regardless of age or other circumstances is made in God’s image and is so undeniably.

But the language that was used in this majority opinion at the Alabama State Supreme Court is remarkable because of the insertion of the phrase “physical location”. That is to say that children are children, unborn children are children, “without exception based on developmental stage [We’ve heard that before] physical location or any other ancillary characteristics.” Physical location is key there, because at no previous moment in human history did anyone need to say that. Guess what? We need to say it now.

The physical location here has to do with the fact that there are those who had argued publicly that if the embryo is in a mother’s womb, then it’s protected, but if it’s anywhere else, it’s not. Nonsense. “Abject nonsense”, said Alabama Supreme Court. That human being is a human being regardless of developmental stage or physical location. Whether in the womb or in a freezer, a human embryo is a human being. Period.

With very precise language, the majority opinion from the Alabama court declared that there is no, “extrauterine exception to the Alabama law protecting children.” No extrauterine, that is outside the uterus, exception. In incredibly clear language, Justice James Mitchell declared, “All parties to these cases, all members of this court, agree that an unborn child is a genetically unique human being whose life begins at fertilization and ends in death.” Furthermore, he went on to say, in the majority opinion, “Unborn children are children under the act without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.”

Now here’s the point. I think most American evangelicals certainly agreed with that logic up until the point of location which, frankly, many evangelicals probably have not thought through before. But I want to speak out of personal experience. Over 20 years ago, I wrote a major academic paper on this issue, a book chapter that was published and became widely controversial, and many evangelicals did not like what I was arguing. Because quite frankly, it offered a warning about in vitro technology that they didn’t want to hear.

After the Supreme Court in Alabama handed down its decision, almost immediately critics charged that the decision would shut down all IVF procedures in the state, and that the consequences would ripple through issues far beyond in vitro fertilization. Some on the left immediately charged that this would further complicate pro-abortion arguments. I think they’re absolutely right, and I’m glad they’re absolutely right. I think this should further complicate abortion arguments.

The hard thing is that many who consider themselves pro-life have refused to extend their own logic to the huge moral crisis posed by IVF procedures. The blunt and unavoidable question is this, do pro-lifers really believe what they say? Do we really believe that unborn children are children? If not, then we’ve been lying to ourselves and to everyone else. But if we really do believe this, how do we reckon with the fact that there are millions of frozen children locked in indefinite freeze and destined for destruction due to IVF procedures?

By the way, it’s not just destined for destruction, many of them are being now routinely destroyed. In one headline news story coming out of Great Britain, thousands were destroyed in the name of medical ethics, simply because room needed to be made. And furthermore, there were questions about the aging of the embryos. Just think about that for a moment.

I understand that this is an issue many evangelical Christians do not want to be addressed. Because after all, there’s so many people who want a baby, and IVF technology offers at least the promise that many people who could not otherwise have a baby, might have a baby. We understand, as evangelical Christians, and deeply appreciate the desire for a baby and honor it. But IVF technology requires the moral alienation of goods that God intended to come together and to be held together.

Now, get this straight. This is just very simple, Christian, biblical logic. It’s understandable to anyone, I think, of almost any age. A man plus a woman plus marriage is the right context for children to emerge with no moral complications. Just to put the matter simply, the unity of the goods that the Creator gave us in making us male and female and in making us for marriage, the unity of the goods means that even as the Lord said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”, when a man and a woman are united in marriage and they live in the sanctity of that marriage and they live out the fullness of that marriage, they’re likely to have children. And there’s absolutely no moral complication or problem in them having a child under that circumstance whatsoever. It is uncomplicated and morally right.

Now, Christians don’t often think through these issues very carefully, but Christians need to understand that when God creates something and he gives us something as a moral good, if we try to alienate parts of that good, we create either moral disaster or the opportunity for it. Let’s think of it this way. Any alienation from the right context brings moral risk. Donor sperm or eggs, that brings risks. IVF, in vitro fertilization technology, furthers that risk by alienating the gift of life from the conjugal act itself. We’ll just leave it that way. You’re alienating the gift of life from that context, a physical union, at the very least.

The same technology that can be used to allow a heartbroken, young married couple the promise of pregnancy and a baby, can by so-called donor gametes be used by a same-sex couple or even a single woman to, “Have a child.” Just think of the technology. Once that technology is available, it’s not only available to married couples, that is to say a man and a woman in marriage who are hoping and praying for a child. The technology now creates a context in which the alienation of this process of having a child from the context of marriage means that it is alienated from the context of marriage. If it’s alienated for one, it’s alienated, at least potentially, for all.

To put it bluntly, the same technology that can allow a heartbroken, young married couple the promise of pregnancy and a baby, can be transformed into something very, very different. A single man or a male couple can now hire a surrogate mother to, “have the baby for them”. There may be the contribution of gametes from one of them, but maybe even from neither of them. But at any point it requires other gametes, and it requires a womb, which neither of those men has.

Thanks to IVF, the entire process can now be made into a marketplace with babies as commodities. It can start out as a marketplace with gametes, sperm and eggs. And now you can go to many cities, especially close to medical centers and medical schools, close to large American universities, and you can find the ads going both ways. I have seen these with my own eyes.

The ads go one way, trying to buy the cells, advertising for donors for sperm and eggs. And then the market goes the other way. If you’re looking for sperm or an egg, or for that matter, if you’re looking for an embryo, now you can go to different commercial outfits that are offering, basically, catalogs. You want blue eyes? You want brown hair? What is it you’re looking for? Male or female? It is turning human beings into a commodity.

Now, again, that is not what a Christian husband and wife are seeking as they are seeking a baby, but nonetheless, the technology that allows for the one allows for others as well. We’ll talk more about lowering the moral risk in this. But the point is, the wild, wild west of human reproduction and, for that matter, a commodification of human babies, it’s now become so routine that medical practice has aligned itself with this in such a way that, thanks to IVF, the entire process has made into one giant marketplace.

And you also have the fact that this leads inevitably to the reduction or the destruction of many of these embryos. The first question is, what about those that don’t get transferred to the womb? The fact is, the prevailing medical practice calls for, largely for the sake of economy, the creation of multiple embryos from, say, let’s just take a married couple, from a married couple at the same time in order that the procedure would be more efficient.

But then the prevailing medical practice also calls for the transfer of more than one of those embryos into the womb at the same time. This leads to a danger to the embryos, just in terms of their dignity indeed, with a threat of destruction. Because some of them which are not transferred into the womb ever, they’re basically in a deep freeze, and let’s face it, they’re destined for eventual abandonment and destruction.

Others, many people are simply unaware of this, others that are transferred into the womb are often basically destroyed in the womb through a process known as selective reduction, which is–it might be argued–a form of quality control. Just think about how dark that is: A form of quality control so that the more successful, the more promising, of the embryos will be continued throughout the pregnancy. Others will be reduced to make way for the likelihood of greater success for what are rated to be the superior embryos. This is pretty much the standard practice. As a matter of fact, some practitioners in IVF will not take a couple, if they do not agree upfront to the creation of multiple embryos, and to the use of selective reduction after transfer to the womb.

Quite frankly, over a period of time, greater success, let’s just put it that way, in the application of the technology has meant that there are sometimes fewer that are now reduced. But the point is, if you even go back, say, a few years to standard medical practice and to the continuation of this logic, there are many practitioners who won’t take a couple who will not agree upfront to the multiple embryos and to selective reduction. Let’s also be clear, selected reduction means the targeted killing of some embryos in the woman’s womb.

The other dark side of this, as if it’s not dark enough, is that a lot of this is now coming with some form of genetic screening. You also have the commodification on the front end of people who are saying, “I want a sperm or an egg that’s likely to produce a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child”, or whatever. You can understand how very quickly this undermines human dignity.

Let me be absolutely clear, and here we need some real, clear Christian thinking. Christians welcome every human life, every single baby, and we celebrate that life. The baby’s not responsible for the circumstances of the baby’s own fertilization or his or her birth. Every single human being is simply to be welcomed by Christians as a gift from God. That does not bless every context in which a baby is brought into the world.

Just to state the obvious, there are all kinds of sexual sins that can bring a baby into the world. That sin does not mean that the baby is any sense less to be celebrated and welcomed, but it also means that the sin is not itself to be celebrated and normalized. But even as a baby’s a moral good, a person made in God’s image, not every technology or medical procedure or, for that matter, sexual act is made legitimate simply because it leads to babies.

This is really important for Christian couples. For a young Christian couple, man and woman, the moral risk is greatly lowered by using only gametes from the husband and wife, and by transferring all the embryos to the womb, perhaps even in successive pregnancies, with none abandoned and none “reduced”. Put quotation marks around reduced, that means selective destruction in the womb. None of them. The Christian couple can significantly lower the risk by insisting upon this application of the technology. But it’s also interesting to note that there’s some medical clinics who would not agree to this, and they say it right up front, they would not agree to this.

The case out of Alabama serves as a graphic warning of what can happen, and indeed does happen. No one said this issue was going to be easy or unemotional, but the Alabama High Court decision has just put it on the nation’s agenda, and it also falls squarely now in the Christian conscience. The court’s reasoning, let me just state it right up front, it’s unassailable.

A human embryo is a human being, wherever that embryo may be found. It is not morally significant whether that embryo is in a freezer or in a womb. The point is that this is an individual made in the image of God regardless of the location of that embryo. And that’s true of every single human embryo. A human embryo is a human being wherever that embryo may be found, and if that is not true, the pro-life movement, let’s face the facts, has been lying all along.

If it is true, and I assure you it is true, then evangelicals had better make certain, our affirmation of human dignity is clear, our affirmation of the sanctity of human life is unconditional. It comes down to what should be very understandable to all Christians: All unborn children, all of them, are children.

It is so often true that a part of our responsibility is to see the deep inconsistencies on the secular side, and to understand that sometimes those who are thinking that way do not see the inconsistencies. But we also recognize as Christians, sometimes we need to be confronted with our own inconsistencies. And on this issue, many who consider themselves pro-life have been, up until now, deeply inconsistent. That’s going to have to change or else the world is going to make us face the fact that we didn’t mean what we said all along.

Part II

The Logic of the Culture of Death: Babies Become Commodities

But next, something I want to point out is that when something like this happens, it’s almost always the case that other pieces of the puzzle fall into clarity very quickly. They all fall into place. You can say, okay, I see more of what’s going on here. That was headline from last week, just at the very end of last week, going into the weekend. Because there was so much big news at the end of last week and going into the weekend, many people didn’t notice it. More people are noticing the Alabama story as of yesterday and today. They’re beginning to awaken to the scale of this story. But, like I say, sometimes other things fall at about the same time, making things more clear.

Yesterday, the Associated Press ran a story with a headline, “Post-Roe v. Wade, More Patients Are Relying On Prenatal Testing.” Now, this is another piece of the puzzle, and it’s especially important to Christians. We understand the big picture, which is what the puzzle means. The big picture means we either stand for the dignity and sanctity of every single human life or we don’t.

Here’s the headline again, AP, “Post-Roe v. Wade, More Patients Are Relying On Prenatal Testing.” A pair of reporters for the Associated Press tell us coming out of Utah specifically,  “More of Dr. Cara Heuser’s maternal fetal medicine patients are requesting early ultrasounds, hoping to detect serious problems in time to choose whether to continue the pregnancy or to have an abortion.” Now the doctor for North Carolina is cited. And then the reporters say, “The reason: New state abortion restrictions mean the clock is ticking.”

Just to understand what’s going on here, because of restrictions on abortion and the fact that later-term abortions are increasingly illegal in some jurisdictions, couples who want to have just the right baby are doing prenatal testing. They’re doing deep testing, whatever testing they can do, in order to find out if this baby is acceptable, so if not, they can abort the baby before the law makes that difficult, if not impossible. The big lesson here is that there are those who now think of a baby as a product that has to prove its worthiness before this baby deserves to be born, and welcomed into the world and raised and nurtured.

What you’re looking at here is that this story is trying to scare us by telling us that those big, bad people who have been coming along with all their pro-life restrictions, they’re now forcing couples, and by the way, of course, couples really don’t appear, it’s patients, they’re requiring patients, we are told, to have to use genetic testing, other forms of diagnostic testing earlier in order to figure out if the baby is what they want after all, this specific unborn child.

The AP story tells us this, “Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, many healthcare providers say an increasing number of patients are deciding the fate of their pregnancies based on whatever information they can gather before state bans kick in.” But you also see how the culture of death works. “But early ultrasounds show far less about the condition of a fetus than later ones, and genetic screenings may be inaccurate.”

The logic of abortion and the logic, frankly, of turning human babies into commodities, the assault on human dignity in all this becomes very clear when you read this, “And when you find out your fetus has a serious problem, you’re in crisis mode”, said one doula, “who has helped women in this predicament,” “you’re not thinking about legal repercussions and state cutoff dates, and yet we’re forced to.” 

You rarely see the logic of the culture of death distilled into just a few paragraphs as in this article, and it appeared on Monday morning, right after the news broke about the Alabama State Supreme Court ruling. You understand the culture of death is pressing forward on every single front, on every line of logic, on every policy, every law, every judicial decision. And you can see where the culture of death leads. Just to remind yourself, the culture of death leads to death.

Part III

Nothing About Abortion is Safe: Abortion by Telemedicine or in a Clinic is Never Safe for the Baby. Never.

Bringing this to a close, one final issue related to the two that came before: Just a few days ago, the New York Times ran an article supporting telemedical abortion services. There’s no doubt where the major media are on this in a very pro-abortion stance. Here’s the headline in the article by Sam Bullock. “Telemedicine Abortion services are as safe as visiting a clinic, study finds.” The big point of this article is to argue that for a woman seeking an abortion, an abortion by visiting a clinic or an abortion by, say, telemedicine, we are told that the two are equally safe. Telemedicine abortion services are as safe as visiting a clinic, study finds.

The journalistic report is telling us about research undertaken by folks at the University of California, San Francisco. “The patients used one of three telemedicine abortion organizations, Hey Jane, Abortion on Demand, or Choix [That’s C-H-O-I-X] that served 20 states and Washington DC,” according to the report. The bottom line in the research is trying to make the argument that telemedicine is safe. And that’s over against questions raised, especially by pro-life figures, conservatives in Congress who’ve been asking about the safety and efficacy of these telemedicine abortion services.

But the point I want to make, it’s not actually any comparison between an abortion that a woman would get in an abortion clinic versus an abortion that would come by telemedicine. My point is the moral analysis of that headline. Just think about it for a moment. Let me see if you catch what the editors of the New York Times clearly do not intend for you to catch.

Here. “Telemedicine abortion services are as safe as visiting a clinic, study finds.” As safe as visiting a clinic. As safe as. Just ask yourself the question, safe for whom? Not safe for the unborn baby. The unborn baby in this kind of logic simply has to disappear. The unborn baby is clearly not safe, not intended to be safe either by the visit to an abortion clinic or by recourse to abortion by telemedicine. This redefines safe only in terms of one person, but the moral equation is two people. The actual physical equation is two people.

Here we come to see how the logic of the culture of death sneaks in all over the place, including in routine headlines at the bottom of a page in the print edition of the New York Times in making the claim that, “Telemedicine abortion services are as safe as visiting a clinic.” The argument here is that for the woman one’s as good as the other, but for the baby, the intent to kill is just as deadly in one as the other. That’s not what they want you to think about in reading this paper.

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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