Upon reading Erick Erickson’s “Confession”, I must confess I was taken aback. While many voices have arisen crying against the principles of this week’s abortion legislation, I did not expect to hear this particular evangelical Christian among them. It is in this light of Erickson’s prominent identification as an evangelical that I appeal to him to reconsider the treacherous path which he has taken in advocating for a rape exception. I hope that these words will be heard as those of one who has appreciated many of his past writings and desires nothing but a consistent Christian witness from him at present.

I find the main of his argument encapsulated in the following sentence: “While I am perfectly comfortable telling someone they cannot kill their child because they engaged in behavior that ultimately amounted to irresponsible or selfish behavior, I just cannot bring myself to tell a victim she must continue to suffer.” While there is more to be read, this is the nub of it, without question. To make his parallel explicit, here is the position in more plain terms: “…I just cannot bring myself to tell a victim they cannot kill their child because another engaged in rape.” As he has already shown himself willing to identify abortion as the killing of a child, there is no reason to abandon this language in connection with a rape victim’s child, except to shape a different narrative. And yet the rhetorical trap is laid: “Would you grant an exception or do you prefer that rape victims suffer?”

It first might be noted that abortion is by no means the path of lesser suffering for victimized mothers. While the prospect of psychological trauma from the pregnancy is noted by Erickson as a grounds for abortion, one review of relevant studies found “a moderate to highly increased risk of mental health problems after abortion.”  Far from fending off suicidal thoughts, it seems quite possible that abortion could potentially intensify the psychological suffering of a rape victim. This is not to minimize the difficulties and emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy compounded by the memories of the ordeal which brought this about. It is, however, to note at minimum that there is no clear reason to believe that infanticide will diminish the psychological suffering of the mother. Erickson’s principal justification for the taking of an innocent child’s life relies upon dubious inference and anecdote.

It must also be seen how this principle plays out in other ethical scenarios. For instance, it might be argued that the threat of serious depression and suicidal thoughts is potentially more grave post pregnancy. Even those who are not rape victims still may find themselves driven to suicide amidst postpartum depression and the sleep deprivation of those early years of motherhood. If a rape victim finds her mental state deteriorating in that first year after the child’s birth, what is to stop the same logic from authorizing infanticide outside the womb? I am under no impression that Erickson would advocate such, but I fear his reasoning has opened a door which would be hard to close.

Perhaps one might argue that there are other possibilities for the care of infants once they have left their mother’s womb so as to differentiate the morality of post- from pre-birth infanticide in such a case. Then let us consider another parallel scenario in which Erickson’s principles might be applied. Consider the case of a certain pair of conjoined twins. Twin A is biologically dependent upon his sibling such that he would quickly perish if separated. His sibling, Twin B, however, stands a highly probably chance of living out a full life in relatively good health if the two are separated. Twin B has found the life of a conjoined twin to be remarkably difficult, as one might expect. This biological union to another human being is not one which he has chosen and it is something which even seems to have brought on suicidal thoughts. Upon Erickson’s principles, what moral argument can be raised against killing Twin A so as to put an end to Twin’s B’s psychological suffering?

If one were to respond that there is obviously a difference between a conjoined twin out of the womb and a child in the womb, then the problem is laid bare: the moral reasoning has shifted to the subjective criteria of modern abortion advocates. Viability. Cognitive development. Social value. Whatever arguments may be marshaled, the moral argument is now decided by some determination that a child within the womb is to be regarded as of lesser moral status than one without.

This is the most alarming aspect of Erickson’s piece: the abandonment of the objective moral valuation of human life in the imago dei. It’s the key linchpin in the pro-life position which holds back the onslaught of every potentially legitimate claim of human suffering thought to negate the responsibility to preserve the infant’s life. More than simply written into our nation’s Constitution, it is indelibly inked upon the very constitution of nature itself, a moral law prohibiting the taking of innocent life without exception. It is seen in the innate response of many mothers when they are confronted with the sound of their child’s beating heart and the images of their babe’s tiny body. It is also a moral law which finds repeated and plain expression in the pages of Holy Scripture, a matter of no small import for a professed evangelical Christian. Beyond all every rational deconstruction of the abortion advocate’s logic and beyond all the witness of nature’s light which might be brought to bear, Almighty God has spoken in His Word clearly and definitively. The taking of innocent human life is an abominable evil before God and no man may righteously say “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Romans 3:8).

A few texts of Scripture are sufficient to establish the abiding commandment. Following the Flood, the creation of man in God’s image was reaffirmed with the sobering proclamation, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). Not only from beasts, but also from men, did God require that highest penalty of capital punishment for assaulting His appointed image-bearer. The same unchanging moral standard endures throughout all ages, “thou shalt not kill” (Exod. 20:13). Though the taking of human life might be justly enacted against high criminals and aggressors in war, civil punishments, and self-defense, the murder of innocents is forbidden. We find it written in Israel’s law, “… the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.” (Exodus 23:7) and again, “Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person.” (Deut. 27:25). (The qualification of innocency is clearly understood as relative to acts demanding of capital punishment in this life, not as though the presence of sin in any form might legitimize the taking of another man’s life.) The divine moral law persistently forbids the taking of innocent human life.

Are infants in the womb to be judged as part of this category of man created in the image of God and thus subject to divine protection through this Sixth Commandment? The Scriptures again are quite clear. Infants both in the womb and upon birth are regarded as moral persons, judged as culpable for the guilt of original sin before a holy God as David sings, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5) and again, “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3). This consistent conception of personal identity is extended time and again to the infant within the womb as the most well-known of texts illustrates, “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13, cf. vv. 14-16). An infant John the Baptist is represented as capable of spiritual response while yet in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41). It is this same state of man in his mother’s womb which is then regarded as so fully a man that the lex talionis is equally applied under the statutes of Israel’s judicial laws (Exodus 21:22-25). There is no foundation in the Scriptures to devalue human life in the womb as less than subject to the protections of the Sixth Commandment.

Where does this leave us with the rape victim and her child? We may and should call for greater penalties for rapists in our nation. We may and should reach out in love to victims of sexual violence and share together with them in the heroic labour of raising up a child from such a lamentable beginning. At no point should we be found to minimize the uniquely tragic and difficult circumstance of such a mother nor to shame her for the vile sin of another. Yet we cannot do evil in search of good, whether the benefits seem tangible or dubious in nature. Moreover, there is a practical denial of the biblical doctrines of God and man when one’s view of human suffering is narrowly focused upon present psychological and physical pain.  Have we considered the damage to the soul done by any form of participation in this heinous evil of infanticide? Have we considered the spiritual abuse we further perpetrate upon the victims of rape when we encourage them in destroying perhaps the one perceivable good God has brought forth from the ashes of what another intended for evil? 

Do we thus doom our cause by insisting on such a principled stand? No more than the cause of the 19th century abolitionists was imperiled by their similar insistence upon the human dignity of all men. It is rather the sandy shoals of subjective human valuations that will forever make shipwreck of the pro-life cause in our nation. When pragmatic considerations intended to limit one evil are given free reign, there is little reason to believe that the exceptions will do anything but multiply. When the pro-life position is erected upon the unmoving foundation of man’s creation in God’s image, we will find a coherent, consistent witness anchored in both the light of nature and the Word of God. For an evangelical Christian, there is no more sure footing.

Photo credit: NBC News

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