"It was because in Jesus the Creator Word of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that Christians came to regard the unborn fetus in a new light, sanctified by the Lord Jesus as an embryonic person." —T.F. Torrance
The staged release of the undercover planned parenthood videos has brought to the surface issues that must be addressed by Christians who see social justice, caring for the poor, and protecting all life as an every square inch issue for Christian ethics.
Unequivocally, abortion is an unprecedented evil in our culture. The history of our world demonstrates that evil is cyclical. One generation may have a blind spot when it comes to race. We see this in the New Testament as Paul addresses many of the uniquely Jewish sins as it relates to accepting Gentiles into the covenant community. We also see this in the Atlantic slave trade just two centuries ago and the continued affect of that in American life for minorities. Another generation may have a blind spot when it comes to protecting life especially the life of the most helpless—children. In the Old Testament, God punishes the Canaanites for sacrificing their children to Moloch. In ancient Greece and Roman culture, exposure was a common “birth control” for unwanted babies. Instead of outright killing the child, parents would leave the child unprotected in the elements and allow nature to take its course. In our own day, we have prized sexual freedom and sex without consequences to the point where children are seen as a disposable byproduct of our sexual freedom, but also as a valuable resource to be researched on and sold. Christians cry out with Theodon from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film, “Alas, that these evil days should be mine.”
As the debate surrounding Planned Parenthood’s funding rages on, one issue that will not be ignored is birth control. Senator Elizabeth Warren gave an impassioned speech where she chided,
"Do you have any idea what year it is?" Warren asked. "Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950's or the 1890's? Should we call for a doctor? Because I simply cannot believe that in the year 2015, the United States Senate would be spending its time trying to defund women's health care centers.”
In her speech, Senator Warren equates defunding Planned Parenthood with defunding women’s health care centers and stripping away “women's rights to make choices over our own bodies.” Planned Parenthood has burrowed itself so deeply into the core of the pro-abortion movement that even the thought of defunding it and moving federal funding to other women’s health care centers is tantamount to stripping women of their fundamental right as a person to have control over their own bodies. Central to women’s health care choice is birth control, which many argue is the key to curbing abortions.
Prominent Christian feminist, speaker, and writer, Rachel Held Evans has constantly beat the drum of contraceptive availability as way to slash abortion rates. In one blog “Privilege and The Pill,” she writes,
Birth control should be an important topic to those of us who consider ourselves pro-life because the most effective way to curb the abortion rate in this country is to make birth control more affordable and accessible.
Abortions happen because of unwanted pregnancies, and often, unwanted pregnancies happen because of lack of contraception. Most women who choose to have abortions do so because they feel they cannot manage the financial burden of carrying out the pregnancy and raising another child. So understanding the economic and health concerns of women of childbearing age is critical to actually affecting change when it comes to abortion instead of just talking about it.
Also, in Colorado recently, a public policy experiment ended where the state provide free IUDs (intrauterine devices) to women in attempt to curb the abortion rate.
Rates of teen pregnancies and abortions have plunged in Colorado thanks to a six-year program that distributed free LARCs -- long-acting reversible contraceptives -- to teens and young women.
The initiative provided women with free IUDs (intrauterine devices) or hormonal implants that can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years, resulting in a 40 percent decline in birthrates among teen moms and a 42 percent decline in teen abortions from 2009 to 2013, reported The New York Times.
While teen pregnancy has decreased nationwide, an estimated 37 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, which can have serious health ramifications for mother and baby -- as well as high economic and social costs for the new family.
As I watched discussion surrounding Planned Parenthood videos on social media, this study was regularly brought as proof positive that contraceptive access is the silver bullet to lower abortions rates.
However, there’s good reason to suspicious of the argument that contraceptives are the quick fix for our abortion obsessed culture. In 2010 he CDC released a report which states,
Contraceptive use in the United States is virtually universal among women of reproductive age. . . . But that does not mean that contraceptive use in the United States is completely consistent or effective. One-half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and the average probability of an unintended pregnancy in 12 months of contraceptive use in the United States is 12%, unchanged from 1995.
Several studies as well as records from Planned Parenthood have demonstrated that almost half of abortions are performed when no contraceptive was used at all—even when contraceptive options were available and had been used within the last month. As reported by Life News, Thomas Peters of CatholciVote.org says,
“Why do women who have sex keep getting pregnant, even when they use birth control?” he asks. “Three reasons: first, sex is designed to make babies (duh) and no matter how hard we try to avoid it – sex keeps making babies. Second, because the pill and barrier methods have a statistically-significant failure rate, over time, most women who habitually use birth control can expect at some point it will fail them and they will get pregnant. Third and finally, people don’t always use birth control correctly.”
Even with consistent use, birth control will fail and with inconsistent use well we know the results. All of this sidesteps the main issue: the worship of sexual of freedom at the expense of the imago Dei. Does this mean we shouldn’t have any contraceptive public policy? Absolutely not. Ross Douthat in his recent New York Times op-ed acknowledges the necessity of a positive birth control public policy while also seeking more data (please take the time to read the entire article):
Now: Does all of the foregoing mean that no contraceptive-oriented public policy can possibly reduce the abortion rate? No, probably some can, and do: You can find evidence, when other variables are screened out, that certain discrete measures — including the oversold but still noteworthy recent Colorado experiment with long-acting contraception, which I promise to give longer treatment at some point — can in some cases have an impact on abortion rates on the margins. The overall evidence here isn’t quite as straightforward as liberals insist, but it’s stronger than some social conservatives want to believe, and it deserves a role in the debate about what sort of interventions the government should support.
The Purity Movement is under regular attack by progressive Christians and also traditional Christians and for good reasons. Some of its teachings are completely devoid of the gospel and don’t aim for the heart. Some of its practices are weird and creepy like Purity Balls where daughters gift their virginity to their fathers (see this article for a Progressive point of view).
One major flaw in the larger purity culture as I saw and experienced growing up in Fundamental Baptist churches is that it treats men like animals. Women’s primary objective is to dress, act, and talk in such a way as to not stoke the uncontrollable lust men experience. When men fail, instead of repenting and taking responsibility for their actions, the woman is blamed as the seductress and the man is the victim. Sadly, this kind of buck passing happens even in cases where the girl is underaged and the man is not. We are all responsibility for our own actions and doing something unwise never excuses the sin of someone else. This entire conversation would be better framed within the picture of each sex as created imago Dei and all of us tasked with loving those who we are in community with. That’s another post for another day.
In response to the Purity Movement and its perverted view of human nature and man’s sexual desires, our culture flips the script. They say: We must pursue equality for women and if men must be treated as animals with sexual urges that must be fulfilled at all costs, women must also be granted that same kind of animalistic rope. Instead of returning to God for wisdom or understanding sex within a framework of love, covenant, marriage, and family, or repenting of replacing God with his good creation of sex, we’ve attempted to solve a problem of the heart with birth control. We’ve put a band aid on a culture cancer.
Now let me get this out of the way. I am for access to birth control. When my wife was in college, she had debilitating cramps that required birth control and pain medication. Without that she would have been out of commission for several days during every month. Other women choose birth control as a way to delay pregnancy within marriage. Some have severe medical conditions and birth control is one way to protect their life and their family. I am all for that—no questions asked. As Douthat said earlier, birth control can be a piece to the puzzle and should be used responsibly.
However, is the best solution Christians have to curb the evil of abortion birth control? Let’s say we take Colorado’s recent study as prima facie proof that contraceptive will drop abortions significantly, should we be comfortable with plan that in effect temporarily sterilizes all young women capable of having a baby? Again there are lots of good reasons to use birth control and I certainly don’t want to push my personal beliefs about its benefits or use on others through public policy—excluding where a child could be murdered. But something in my gut that I can’t quite articulate makes me uncomfortable with making our primary platform for reducing abortion to temporarily sterilizing all women capable of having children. That position seems to take a page out of the Purity Movement playbook where women and men are seen as animals with sexual urges so demanding that we must remove all possibility of the natural consequences of sex. We are cutting off a branch from a rotting tree and hoping that the tree will stop growing. This kind of public policy feeds the narrative even if implicitly that the sexual urges we experience cannot be controlled. Isn’t there a better narrative?
We must return to Scripture and communicate clearly our beliefs in a way that will affect the church first then the broader culture. We must talk about the dignity of human life. We must talk about the value of all humans. We must praise the imago Dei in all people. We must demonstrate clearly how that makes us different than animals who have uncontrollable urges. We must make it uncomfortable for men who prey on women and blame the victim. It must not be tolerated. Men are not animals. We must provide support for single mothers, widows, and orphans. We must take the underlying worldview of the sexual revolution and turn it on its head. It cannot support its own demand for equality. And yes we must make birth control available for those who choose to use it or need it for medical reasons, but we can certainly do better (and we must) than swinging the pendulum from from the Purity Movement’s foibles to the Sexual Revolution’s sex without consequences.
When the narrative we sell is universal birth control to prevent “unwanted consequences” of sex (that’s a euphemism for children) than is it any wonder that the logical conclusion of that narrative is abortion? Let me hammer this home: We are made in the image of God. We are not animals. Our sexuality is not the most important part of our identity. We know this because in the new heavens and new earth there will be no sex. We all have urges and desires that are perverted because of the fall and we all must put those to death for one reason or another. That only happens when we realize our identity isn’t rooted in our sexuality and that we are made imago Dei.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the project manager for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.