Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament departments at the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In our last article we discussed some general principles of importance for our treatment of the moral aspects of different forms of medical technology. With this article, we want to begin our discussion proper of this subject. It is probably best to follow a sort of chronological order in dealing with various aspects of this issue: i.e., first of all to treat the moral aspects of medical technology which have affected the conception of a child and its development before birth; and then to treat those aspects of recent medical technology which affect the life of people after birth.
In beginning then with the question of recent developments in scientific circles and in the advancement of medical procedures which affect conception and the development of a child prior to birth, we want to turn first of all to what are commonly called contraception and birth control.
Although in much modern parlance no distinction is made between contraception and birth control, it is probably better to recognize that technically these two terms refer to two different things. The term contraception refers to various devices and techniques which are used for preventing conception, while birth control refers technically to means to prevent birth of a conceived child. Birth control, in one way or another, therefore, refers to abortion. The distinction becomes crucial because some forms of what is commonly called contraception are in fact forms of birth control. I refer to what are commonly called intrauterine devices. These devices are implanted in the uterus to prevent birth. They do not prevent conception, but, after a child has been conceived, they result in aborting the fetus. They are not, therefore, contraception devices, but birth-control devices.
In our discussion of contraception and birth control, we intend to discuss birth control first of all. That is, we will devote this article to the general subject of abortion.
Some of our readers may perhaps object to an article on this subject on the grounds that abortion is so obviously wrong that there is no need to discuss it in the pages of The Standard Bearer. It is to be hoped that this is indeed true and that none of those who are regular readers of our periodical would even for a moment give consideration to what is a terrible crime. Nevertheless, abortion poses, especially in our day, its own kind of threat. Abortion has become common. Many cities have their own abortion clinics in which thousands of abortions are performed. It has become, through rulings of the Supreme Court, legally acceptable. Abortions are done more often than most types of surgery. The result of this could very well be that people in general and God’s people in particular become inured to the evil of it and begin to accept it as a common thing.
This is the way sin operates. And the devil knows it. Even the ungodly have a conscience. The first time some heinous crime is committed by them, their consciences plague them. But if they persist in this sin, gradually their consciences become hardened and they no longer think of the sin in terms of its terrible character. The same thing is true of any man, including the child of God. If a sin is committed often enough, gradually it loses its power to plague the conscience, and gradually it is accepted as right and proper, or if not this, at least its seriousness is lost. This is true, e.g., of the sin of fornication. The first time a person commits the sin of fornication, the person may have a terrible time living with the sin, and that person’s conscience may be a whip which lacerates all his or-her life. But the second time it is a bit easier; the third time easier yet; and finally the sin no longer pains and troubles, but becomes a way of life.
This is not because the sin loses its horrible character before God, but because, when we live in sin, the conscience becomes hardened. Indeed, we know from Scripture that God sovereignly hardens the conscience and heart of man as His just punishment for sin. This is exactly why confession of sin is so extremely important. Confession of sin means, as we all know, sorrow before God for the sin which we have committed and a turning away from sin. When one sins, these are the only two alternatives: become hardened in sin or confess one’s sin—there is no third possibility.
Add to this the fact that the highest judicial body of our country has now legalized abortion so that it is acceptable legally in all parts of the country, and one can readily see that a climate is created in which some of the horror of abortion disappears and we begin to accept it and no longer be adversely affected by it. When this happens, and the devil would very much like it to happen, we become easy targets for the temptation to abort a child which is conceived but not particularly wanted.
And so it is important that the child of God continuously be reminded of the horror of this great sin so that his spiritual sensitivity may remain and so that he may continue to protest this great evil as loudly as he can. It is not without purpose that we turn to a discussion of this subject.
Our country has a fairly strong “pro-life” movement which, although it has not succeeded in getting the law changed, has nevertheless kept itself before the consciousness of the public. This pro-life movement continuously pours our statistics of one sort or another to show what a great evil has befallen our land when abortion was legalized. These statistics are of various sorts, but no matter how you look at them and no matter what statistics you read, the impression they leave is devastating. Just a few of these statistics are worth repeating here. John Jefferson Davis in his book, Evangelical Ethicswrites:
Legal abortions increased from 898,000 in 1974 to 1,574,000 in 1982, according to researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Of those obtaining abortions in 1981, 66 percent were under age 25, and 77 percent were unmarried. This last figure shows that abortions in the United States are most frequently sought as a “solution” to the problem of pregnancy outside of marriage.
Abortion represents a $700-million-a-year industry in this country. The United States leads the world in teenage abortions, with over 500,000 every year. Some 150,000 abortions are performed in the second trimester of pregnancy, “the most grisly of all,” notes Dr. Batthew J. Buffin, “the ones that some hardened abortionists refuse to do because the killing is so real and unmistakable.” These figures mean that each day an average of 4,257 unborn human beings are aborted in the United States. In Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, abortions now outnumber live births.
In a recent article in The Banner abortions in other countries was discussed, particularly in Japan. The article says,
Since abortion was legally permitted by the Eugenics Law of 1948 for any reason from suspected defects to economic hardship, at least 60 million abortions have been performed. That’s over 4,400 per day for thirty-seven years. That’s over half the present population of Japan and over five times the present population of Tokyo. Research shows that 47 percent of Japanese women have had abortions and that two abortions will be performed per every adult woman. Well over half of these abortions have been performed under the “economic clause” of the Eugenics Law, which permits abortion if there is a fear that pregnancy or delivery may endanger the safety of the mother because of economic reasons.
In the September 11, 1985 issue of the Presbyterian ]ournal statistics of another kind appeared. These statistics were given to show how widely abortion has been accepted in our country. Only 11% considered abortion illegal in all circumstances. 87% considered abortion legal in the first three months of pregnancy when the pregnant woman’s life was threatened, and 85% considered abortion legal in the first three months of pregnancy when a continuing pregnancy might threaten severely the physical health of a woman. 83% considered abortion legal when pregnancy was the result of rape or incest; 73% considered it legal when a woman’s mental health was endangered; 69% considered it legal when there was a chance that a baby would be born deformed; 56% considered it legal when a family could not afford a child; and 52% considered abortion legal when it was a woman’s decision for any reason.
In a recent letter to the editors of U.S. News and World Report, one correspondent expressed what is perhaps a very commonly held view. “It’s easy,” this correspondent wrote, “for lawmakers to push ‘pronatalist’ measures, but it is not easy raising a child. I can’t blame anyone who chooses a financially secure life over one burdened with the costs involved to raise a child.” What is striking about this letter is its frank admission that underlying the correspondent’s approval of abortion is simple covetousness. We are not, I think, exaggerating when we say that this is often a primary consideration. People love money more than children.
And so abortion has become a national epidemic and the consequences are horrible beyond imagination.