In Defense of the Pro-Life Movement: A Response to Greg Rubottom

Earlier today I received an email from a good friend, asking for my feedback on Greg Rubottom’s recent guest post on Frank Schaeffer’s Patheos blog. The original article (“Death throes of a great deception – the fall from grace of the pro-life movement”) can be found here.

About three sentences into my response email, I decided to make this into a blog post. The article is fairly long, so I’ll try to limit myself to the major points.

Rubottom begins by describing “the Republican Party’s nefarious campaign to teach Americans that God opposes abortion”. He includes this paragraph:

“Modern medical abortion is a relatively new phenomenon in the world. When this procedure was unexpectedly legalized in 1972 many struggled to understand it. There were no centuries old church degrees (sic) concerning abortion in existence. The responsibility therefore fell on all believers to decide for themselves what the “will of God” might be concerning abortion.”

I don’t want to spend too much time nitpicking history…but medical abortions have been around for thousands of years (qualifying them as “modern” in order to call it a “new phenomenon” is just being redundant). Christians have been responding to the practice (and generally condemning it) since Roman times. It isn’t as if the moral ramifications of abortion suddenly fell from the sky in 1972, blindsiding Christians everywhere.

“The pro-life believer feels confident that rape can not be the will of God – because rape is a bad thing. But despite the other obvious “bad things” staring them in the face, a woman required to bear a rapist’s child against her will and a child growing up with a rapist father, they still steadfastly refuse to consider the possibility that God might actually prefer to terminate a conception.”

Are we to play God, then, and decide that a fetus conceived through rape is undeserving of life? Do the circumstances of a person’s conception really determine their worth? Doesn’t this just open the door to prejudices from the not-so-distant past, when “bastards” were socially stigmatized as adults for the circumstances of their conception?

Or consider the following scenario from Dr. Neil Shenvi:

“Imagine a woman living in some remote area. A man breaks into her home and rapes her. But before leaving, he leaves his newborn son in her kitchen. The sight of the baby obviously brings back horrible memories for the woman. But is she morally justified in killing him to avoid the pain? No. Even if it takes the government weeks or even months to come take the baby, he should not be killed for the actions of the rapist. She is certainly a hero for caring for the needs of the innocent child. But her only other option – to kill the child – is morally wrong.”

“The pro-life worldview is promoted in our Evangelical churches [and by the Roman Catholic bishops] almost entirely by means of a very powerful appeal to ones’ empathetic emotions, along with a preference for some scripture over others and a complete denial or perversion of yet others. All to try to make a case for “human soul life” beginning at conception.”

Rubottom makes no attempt to engage with the Scriptural evidence for the pro-life position, but I think it’s worth taking a moment to do so. If you’re at all uncertain about the Biblical basis for the pro-life position, I implore you to read this excellent summary from JW Wartick.

“The teaching of the pro-life heresy in America’s churches (along with other blatant heresies all stemming from the belief in an inerrant Bible) imperils the very survival of Christianity in America.”

I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I think Mr. Rubottom tips his hand here. After spending several paragraphs explaining why the Christian stance against abortion is in conflict with the Bible, he now claims that it’s a heresy stemming from a belief in an inerrant Bible.

Just think about that.

It’s an implicit concession that there is a Biblical basis for the pro-life position. Furthermore, by claiming that the Bible contains errors, he seriously undermines his previous attempts to refute the pro-life position on Biblical grounds.

“Just like nature, people should choose to allow a conception to proceed if a healthy body is understood as likely and the external environment is favorable for nurturing an emerging soul. Choice is simply another of God’s tools promoting our evolution toward perfection.”

Your eugenics alarm should be going off about now.

“God trusts nature to use her wisdom at times to destroy a fetus to ensure the best “body environment” for the potential soul.”

The author makes the mistake here of assuming that spontaneous abortions are acceptable to God (rather than a form of natural evil). In the absence of clear evidence that a fetus isn’t a “human person”, this is akin to saying, “God trusts nature to use her wisdom at times to destroy (via lightning strikes, flash floods, and eathquakes) newborn infants that lack an ideal ‘body environment’.”

And again, what kind of message is this sending to the physically and mentally disabled living among us, who WERE born with less-than-ideal “body environments”? Are their lives somehow less valuable? Isn’t this essentially telling people from impoverished families and broken homes that their lives aren’t worth living?

Is this the message of Jesus?

“Humanity must follow nature’s and God’s example by judging the “exterior environment” into which the potential soul will be born. The mental and physical fitness of the mother and father. The physical resources. Is there severe damage to the fetal body nature is blind to? Would pregnancy endanger the life of the mother? Is the conception against the will of the mother? All of these external environmental factors must be considered and found acceptable in order for one to truly say that “God approves” that another soul come into the world.”

As Mary Ann points out in the comments section, shouldn’t Jesus himself have been aborted according to this criteria? Wasn’t He born into abject poverty, in a barn, to an unwed mother?

Rubottom argues that babies shouldn’t be carried to term if the external environmental factors are unfavorable. Yet even a child born into a stable, upper-class family is certain to experience some degree of pain and hardship during her life. This “exterior environment” argument just seems so…arbitrary. Is there even such as thing as an ideal environment for bringing a new soul into the world?

Throughout the article, Rubottom spends a good deal of time arguing that the human body is merely a “container”, and that the soul is created as a “process” during human development. Yet, astonishingly, he shows no interest in even attempting to define when a human life becomes valuable and worth protecting.

When should we start protecting human life, and why? This ought to be the first question that’s asked.

My Previous Posts on Abortion

The Roots of the Abortion Debate

Abortion Methods: An Overview

A Pre-Election Post: Abortion and Right of Conscience

Possibly the Worst New York Times Op-Ed in the History of New York Times Op-Eds

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22 thoughts on “In Defense of the Pro-Life Movement: A Response to Greg Rubottom

  1. This is a very hot topic. You have presented your case well. Abortion is something I feel should be a last resort, but not to be used, solely, as a method of birth control. I recall a case of a woman who underwent three abortions for birth control reasons. I was upset with her choice to not use contraceptives, or abstain from sex. Like I said, this is a hot topic.

  2. Are we to play God, then, and decide that a fetus conceived through rape is undeserving of life?
    #####Of course we are to play God. That is the whole point of the article Matt. If one does not understand this fact one has not really understood traditional Christianity. If you shun the responsibilty of playing God in the life and death issues then how will you play the part of a doctor? And even more if you do not play the part of God then why do you post your opinions about God as though they are the thoughts of God Matt? #####

    “The teaching of the pro-life heresy in America’s churches (along with other blatant heresies all stemming from the belief in an inerrant Bible) imperils the very survival of Christianity in America.”

    I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I think Mr. Rubottom tips his hand here. After spending several paragraphs explaining why the Christian stance against abortion is in conflict with the Bible, he now claims that it’s a heresy stemming from a belief in an inerrant Bible.

    Just think about that.

    It’s an implicit concession that there is a Biblical basis for the pro-life position.
    #####Absolutely not. I cite my awareness that there are people who believe the Bible is without error. This in itself makes a person ignorant of how to read the Bible. They read it in a superstitious manner.#####

    Your eugenics alarm should be going off about now.

    “God trusts nature to use her wisdom at times to destroy a fetus to ensure the best “body environment” for the potential soul.”

    The author makes the mistake here of assuming that spontaneous abortions are acceptable to God (rather than a form of natural evil).
    #######Are you saying that a chromosome damaged fetus that then is aborted by nature should not have been aborted by nature? Are you saying nature has no wisdom?#####

    And again, what kind of message is this sending to the physically and mentally disabled living among us, who WERE born with less-than-ideal “body environments”? Are their lives somehow less valuable? Isn’t this essentially telling people from impoverished families and broken homes that their lives aren’t worth living?

    ######Matt, I would think if you plan to go into the medical field you must have some awareness of what the future holds. The day is coming soon when parents will be able to know in the first few weeks of pregnancy that this fetus has damage of the type that will render it severely problematic for the child if born. All sensible parents will abort at that time unless the damage can be fixed. Does your world NEVER get any better for the children to be born Matt?#####

    Rubottom argues that babies shouldn’t be carried to term if the external environmental factors are unfavorable. Yet even a child born into a stable, upper-class family is certain to experience some degree of pain and hardship during her life. This “exterior environment” argument just seems so…arbitrary. Is there even such as thing as an ideal environment for bringing a new soul into the world?
    ######Someone who has no real interest in quality of soul life but instead quantity of physical bodies born would think the argument arbitrary. To a person born with a horrible deformity your answer might sound trite as well.#####

    Throughout the article, Rubottom spends a good deal of time arguing that the human body is merely a “container”, and that the soul is created as a “process” during human development. Yet, astonishingly, he shows no interest in even attempting to define when a human life becomes valuable and worth protecting.

    When should we start protecting human life, and why? This ought to be the first question asked.
    ######We should start protecting human life as soon as each mother decides she wants society to enter into a pact with her to protect that life.#####

    Matt, You never address any of the issues I raise that make it clear that there are logical thinking errors in the pro-life argument. If you can’t address those issues why do you dance around with other issues as though this might save you from facing the real issues. One of which is related to the responsibility of God to humans. Must God be a truly loving God or not Matt? Must God at some point in history have every child born healthy to loving parents or not? And if so how is such a thing to come about? Is God responsible for creating a world where humans have a choice in whether or not they become parents – or not?

    • “Absolutely not. I cite my awareness that there are people who believe the Bible is without error. This in itself makes a person ignorant of how to read the Bible. They read it in a superstitious manner.”

      How is your initial statement NOT a concession that there’s a Biblical basis for the pro-life position? I see no way around that conclusion. If the pro-life philosophy is a heresy *stemming* from a belief in inerrancy, then it stems from taking the Bible at face value (without error). Thus, there must be a Biblical basis for the pro-life position (even if you hold that those parts of the Bible are erroneous).

      “Are you saying that a chromosome damaged fetus that then is aborted by nature should not have been aborted by nature? Are you saying nature has no wisdom?”

      I’m saying it’s equivalent to an infant dying in a tsunami, or a child being struck by lightning, or a 60-year-old suffering a heart attack. Sometimes people die as a direct result of natural events. It’s a classic example of natural evil.

      “All sensible parents will abort at that time unless the damage can be fixed. Does your world NEVER get any better for the children to be born Matt?”

      You’re basing this argument on the premise that life becomes valuable some time long after conception. If you’re going to take a life, I believe the burden of proof should be on you to demonstrate that this life isn’t of worth.

      I might also ask if your world never gets any better for children who inherit birth defects. Would you be willing to tell a child with Down Syndrome that her parents should have aborted her? Would you sit down and explain to her that her parents would have been more sensible to end the pregnancy and start over?

      “We should start protecting human life as soon as each mother decides she wants society to enter into a pact with her to protect that life.”

      Does this extend into infancy and childhood as well? If a woman decides to keep a baby, then changes her mind when he’s 2 years old, should she be allowed to kill him? If a woman is raped and decides to carry the child to term…then decides that the baby resembles the rapist too closely, should she be allowed to smother him in his crib?

      I guess I’m asking if there’s *ever* a point at which a mother loses the right to end her child’s life.

      “One of which is related to the responsibility of God to humans. Must God be a truly loving God or not Matt?”

      I believe He is, yes. I don’t believe this view of God to be incompatible with the existence of evil in the world, either.

      “…Is God responsible for creating a world where humans have a choice in whether or not they become parents – or not?”

      You seem more interested in questions of *God’s* responsibility to *us*, rather than the other way around. So I kind of question the premise behind your series of questions. But to answer this question, I believe people *do* have a choice in whether or not they become parents. I believe this choice should take place BEFORE sexual intercourse, not after a human life is already developing within the womb. So I support a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have sex. I don’t support a woman’s right to kill her child when she decides, after having sex, that she doesn’t want to be a parent.

  3. Hmmmmm, many years ago a baby came into the world in very undesirable circumstances. His Mother was not married at the time of His conception, He was born in abject poverty in a barn, His parents were refugees……. According to Rubottom’s criteria this Child should have been eliminated. Thanks be to God, in spite of the Herods of the world, Jesus Christ ,born over 2,000 years ago, lives now and forever! The Feast of the Annunciation is March 25, when according to the Gospel of Luke, Mary said “yes” to the Angel Gabriel and “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”

  4. Thank you for your article; it was an effective statement of pro-life arguments against the claims of those who are hostile to the lives of unborn children. Although the article to which you reply is not by Frank Schaeffer, it is no surprise, given his recent foray into heresy, that the article appears on his blog. Frank’s father would have been disappointed in his son’s denial of a view for which Francis Schaeffer fought with so much dignity and courage. If Mr. Rubottom’s article represents Frank’s own views, he has moved even further from the pro-life position than he had moved earlier. What a sad story of someone who once used his own talents for life.

  5. I’m a Physical therapy Assistant and for years I worked with children with disabilities. Some with Downs some without arms and legs and born that way. Not one of their parents thought that they were better off not being here. Most said they were blessings to them and others. We have things to learn from these children. So what he’s saying that these children should have been aborted? God does not make mistakes. I worked with children who also had other injuries and diseases that happened after birth. Should we kill these children too? What about adults that get diseases like MS. If that’s the case I shouldn’t be here either. This guy’s ideals are flawed greatly.

    • Thanks Brenda. I’ve only had a handful of interactions with children with disabilities, but I couldn’t agree more with what you’re saying.

  6. Matt,

    Above, in your response to Greg, you composed the following quote:

    “But to answer this question, I believe people *do* have a choice in whether or not they become parents. I believe this choice should take place BEFORE sexual intercourse, not after a human life is already developing within the womb. So I support a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have sex. I don’t support a woman’s right to kill her child when she decides, after having sex, that she doesn’t want to be a parent.”

    I believe this is a bit contradictory in relation to your points about conception from rape. If you support a woman’s to choose whether or not to have sex, then why don’t you support her right to terminate a pregnancy when she did not consent to sex?

    Also, I think your quote overlooks a key component of sexual interactions: sex has never been solely for the sake of reproduction. (Ritualistic performances and sex for pure pleasure are denoted in art and writing across centuries of the human experience.) Deciding to have sex does not mean a man and a woman decide to be parents – specifically if modern forms of birth control are properly used.

    Just adding another view,
    Natasha

    • Thanks for the comment, Natasha. I always appreciate hearing other views.

      I think you’re entirely correct to point out that the argument I used (the “right to choose” prior to sex) doesn’t apply in cases of rape. I don’t think it’s contradictory, per se, but it’s definitely inapplicable. We have to develop different arguments for those kinds of special cases.

      I used the “right to choose” argument because it applies to the overwhelming majority of abortion cases. In those rare cases of rape, we’re left with an ethical dilemma: either a woman will have to carry a child she didn’t consent to, or a child will have to be killed for a crime he/she didn’t commit. The “right to choose” must now be weighed against the taking of an innocent life.

      In my view, this is a “lesser of two evils” situation. If one rejects the idea that life is valuable from the moment of conception, than it might seem acceptable to grant the “right” to terminate the pregnancy. If one believes – as I do – that all human life is inherently valuable, then it can’t be acceptable to kill one individual for the crime of another (even at the cost of extended trauma for the rape victim). I sort of alluded to this perspective in Dr. Shenvi’s scenario above, which I think is a pretty convincing defeater for rape exceptions. Frankly, I would be much more willing to allow for the execution of the rapist than for the unborn child.

      I also think you’re correct to point out that sex has never been used solely for procreation. I actually don’t think it should be! Pleasure and attachment are important components as well (within the bonds of marriage, in my view).

      Nonetheless, I think it should be evident that sexual intercourse carries with it the *possibility* of pregnancy…even if contraception is being used. Therefore, sex comes with an unavoidable and unattachable *responsibility*. It should only be practiced if both partners are willing to provide for the child (or offer it for adoption) in the event that pregnancy occurs. Engaging in sex carries with it an implicit promise of commitment to both the partner and the (potential) child.

    • You are most welcome, Matt. I do as well, even when our views tend to be on opposite ends of the continuum!

      I do agree with you that, in the faith-based, pro-life stance, it is inconsistent to be against abortion except in the cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother. Because if you do follow the “God views all life as sacred” stuff, then it’s quite hypocritical to say “Well, except those rape babies.” (This, of course, is another hypocrisy in the anti-homosexuality stance of many religions, but hey – that’s another topic.)

      Your “lesser of two evils” comparison is, well… interesting. I hear that exact cliché in most anti-abortion arguments and it always shocks me a bit. Because – you are telling woman who have been through a traumatic experience that they now have two options and both are evil (one, apparently, just a bit less evil, though). And your argument on this point is that it isn’t acceptable to hurt one individual for the crime of another. So why then is it okay to force consequences in the form of “extended trauma for the rape victim” from an act committed by the rapist?

      In my experience with the faith-based side of this argument, the one you presented is quite common – an exhaustive effort to physically protect unborn fetuses with partial or complete disregard for protecting the physical, mental and emotional aspects of women. And – while I typically stray away from this detail – it is seemingly simple for the point “even at the cost of extended trauma for the rape victim” to be made by men who will never have the pleasure of such an experience.

      Also, I just can’t relate to individuals who so vehemently oppose abortions based on the idea that “God views all life as sacred,” when ten to 25% of all pregnancies result in spontaneous abortions (more commonly known as miscarriages). Does your god not view those lives as sacred? And if, in fact, abortions are one day deemed illegal, will all those women be tried for murder?

      I do think the topic of abortion is an interesting one when compared to modern rights topics because it isn’t one that HAS to be based in religion. When compared to a topic like marriage equality… Have you ever met someone against LGBT rights who wasn’t religious? I sure haven’t, because there isn’t an anti-gay argument that is not based in religion. However, you can be an atheist and oppose abortion. So, it’s interesting to me that so many arguments rely on what your god thinks.

      And my apologies for the delayed response – didn’t have a chance to check your blog this weekend!

    • “This, of course, is another hypocrisy in the anti-homosexuality stance of many religions, but hey – that’s another topic.”

      I can’t speak to other religions, but I honestly don’t think there’s any Biblical basis whatsoever for saying that the lives of gay individuals are less valuable or sacred than any other life. Self-described Christians who say otherwise are, in my view, perverting the message of Christianity.

      “So why then is it okay to force consequences in the form of “extended trauma for the rape victim” from an act committed by the rapist?”

      Let’s look at the scenario where a woman is living alone in a remote area, and a man breaks into her house and rapes her. Then, on his way out the door, he leaves his newborn son on her kitchen table. Do you believe the woman should be allowed to kill that baby (or allow him to die of neglect)? Or should she be obligated to care for the baby’s needs until other arrangements can be made? If the latter, then isn’t this *also* forcing consequences in the form of extended trauma for the rape victim?

      “…it is seemingly simple for the point “even at the cost of extended trauma for the rape victim” to be made by men who will never have the pleasure of such an experience.”

      A person can recognize the injustice of an action (abortion) even if they are never in the position to commit it. To borrow another of Dr. Shenvi’s comparisons, what you’re saying is akin to: “it is seemingly simple for someone to argue against slavery if they’re personally not wealthy enough to ever own slaves.” But I do hope that I don’t come across as being callous or insensitive toward the difficult position that women are placed in during these situations. It’s true that, as a man, I’m not *personally* in the position to ever have this happen to me. But my wife (and other women in my life that I care deeply about) are in that position. When it comes to physical and psychological pain, I know that I’d *much* rather endure it myself than watch helplessly as my beloved suffers. It’s not “simple” for me to condemn abortion in cases of rape, when there’s the distinct (if remote) possibility that my wife could have this happen to her. Believe me, there would be nothing *easy* about comforting my traumatized wife during her pregnancy and raising the rapist’s child as my own firstborn. But neither of us believe that these kinds of horrific crimes can justify murdering the unborn child.

      “Also, I just can’t relate to individuals who so vehemently oppose abortions based on the idea that “God views all life as sacred,” when ten to 25% of all pregnancies result in spontaneous abortions (more commonly known as miscarriages). Does your god not view those lives as sacred?”

      I guess I just don’t see the “spontaneous abortion” argument as being very forceful. If we consider a spontaneous abortion to be a form of natural evil, then the fact that X% of embryos die spontaneously is no different than observing that Y% of 70-year-olds die spontaneously from cardiac failure. I don’t see how *stage of development* has anything to do with *personhood* when it comes to spontaneous death. Saying, “God doesn’t view the unborn as sacred, because 25% die from natural causes during pregnancy” isn’t so different than saying, “God doesn’t view any life as sacred, because we’ll all eventually die from natural causes anyway.”

      “And if, in fact, abortions are one day deemed illegal, will all those women be tried for murder?”

      Of course not. They weren’t tried for murder before abortion was legalized, were they?

      “Have you ever met someone against LGBT rights who wasn’t religious?”

      What do you mean by LGBT rights? As a Christian, I believe that LGBT individuals should enjoy equal protection under the law (which they currently do for the most part, but I think issues like hospital visitation rights definitely need to be addressed to include cohabiting same-sex couples).

      As far as gay marriage goes: If homosexuals *were* being prevented from marrying, then that would definitely be a civil rights violation. But there’s actually nothing stopping a homosexual individual from getting married…provided that he’s marrying someone of the opposite gender (it does happen: http://www.joshweed.com/2012/06/club-unicorn-in-which-i-come-out-of.html). A gay man isn’t allowed to marry another man, but neither is a straight man! So there’s really not an “equal protection” issue here.

      The question isn’t whether or not this segment of the population is allowed to get married…it’s whether or not we, as a society, should change the definition of “marriage” as an institution. Should marriage continue to be defined as “the union of a man and a woman”, or should we change it to “the union of two people who care about each other”? Should we really be defining marriage in terms of romantic attraction, or is there something fundamentally unique about the male-female unit for raising families? I think that’s the question at stake.

      (Here’s a secular case against same-sex marriage. I don’t agree with all of it, but the point is that not *all* arguments on this issue are religious arguments http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/a-secular-case-against-same-sex-marriage/)

  7. A friend and I first clicked on your link and read Mr. Rubottom’s original post, because we wanted to let him make his full argument, without our being prejudiced against him, before reading your response. But it was still such a bad argument! It was so full of bad logic and strawmen, and his framework for thinking about the issues is so badly wrong, that if I had to put together a rebuttal, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Good job taking the trouble to respond to some of it (and apparently engaging with the real Mr. Rubottom in the comments?) and managing to keep your half organized.

    My friend remarked, To hear Mr. Rubottom tell it, God chooses our presidents,* but has nothing to do with creating life**—but has everything to do with ending life.*** What a creepy God!

    * (“But Romney was rejected as well. It seems God has spoken once again concerning his will and abortion in America. And loudly.”)

    ** (“the creation of human life is an ‘extended process’ initiated – not by God – but by the actions of human beings”)

    *** (“At best this view of reality not only puts man in a box but it puts God in that same box. God is not free to use the hand of man to ever stop gestation once conception begins – by the decree of man.”)

    And yes, our “eugenics alarms” were definitely going off for much of the article. So bad!

    But also, so was my Gnostic alarm—Mr. Rubottom begins his argument (it is the beginning of his argument, though he doesn’t get around to it until more than a third of the way through his post) by saying that “Jesus taught” “that the human body is the ‘container’ for what God values in human life – the soul”. Which Bible is he reading? God created matter and declared it good. God uses physical bread and wine to give us grace. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God.” (Mere Christianity, page 64 out of 227.) I’ve heard people talk about the body as a worthless container for the mind before, but that’s not a Christian view. I would expect to hear it from an atheist science-fiction writer, or from certain new-agey admirers of Eastern religions, or from—well, a Gnostic.

    • Excellent points, all of them. :)

      I kind of laughed when you said: “It was so full of bad logic and strawmen, and his framework for thinking about the issues is so badly wrong, that if I had to put together a rebuttal, I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

      After reading the article, I literally stared at my computer screen for ten minutes trying to figure out where to start. Then I had about 3 false-starts before I finally got rolling, haha.

      I’m also glad you mentioned the Gnostic overtones and the bit about God choosing our presidents. I meant to respond to the election claims in my post, but somehow that slipped through the cracks.

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    • Thanks for the heads-up! I really appreciate your willingness to give a platform to both sides of the debate.

      Best Regards,

      Matt

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