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13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
Historians use the term “Holocaust” to describe the systematic, state-sponsored murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. "Holocaust" is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were "life unworthy of life." During the era of the Holocaust, the Nazis also targeted other groups because of their perceived "racial inferiority," for example Gypsies and Slavs. Other groups were persecuted on political and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals. It is estimated that as many as 13 million people died in Hitler’s concentration camps.
Which leads us to ask: How could a civilized country allow that to happen? Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, on promises of restoring German prosperity. He then proceeded to overthrown the Weimar Republic, seized all power, and became absolute dictator—all of which proves that having the right to vote and a republican form of government does not guarantee the freedom of the people.
But we want to think now about another Holocaust. This Holocaust is taking place right here, right now, in our own country.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, approximately 1,370,000 abortions occur annually in the US.A This figure is at best an estimate because considerable numbers of doctors, clinics, and hospitals do not report abortions, so a conservative estimate is that at least 1.4 million abortions are performed every year in the USA. Nearly 4,000,000 babies are born in America every year. That means then well over one fourth of all babies conceived in America are killed by abortion.
Roe vs Wade
Let us look back for a moment. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on Roe vs. Wade. “We need not resolve,” the court said, “the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at a consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to an answer.” In laymen’s terms, the court refused to decide when an embryo became a baby. But the Court’s non-decision was a decision in favor of upholding the state’s right to make abortion legal on demand.
Since that decision in 1973, well over 40 million abortions have been performed in the United States. To put that in perspective, 33 million more babies have died in American abortion clinics than Jews died in the holocaust in Germany.
Abortion is a difficult and controversial subject. Most people feel that in the extreme cases involving rape, incest, or health concerns for either the baby or the mother, abortion is acceptable, but all those extreme cases lumped together make up less than 10% of the abortions done in America. More than 90% of abortions are what we call abortions of convenience. For one reason or another, the woman just does not want a baby right now. In the case of a minor, the parents think she is too young to have a baby. Or, the woman feels that having a baby would disrupt her education or career. Or, the husband or boyfriend does not want a baby. Or, they think they cannot afford a baby. Of course, most people think they cannot afford a baby, but most people do not consider that a reason for killing the baby.
Abortion is an ugly, mean process not only because it kills a human being, or at least a potential human being, abortion is an ugly, mean process because it devalues and debases human life. The Second Vatican Council said, "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction...all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator" (Gaudium et spes, 27).
Once, a long time ago, slavery was legal in this country. It was a vast system easily worth billions of dollars in today’s money. But we finally abolished slavery after a long and bloody Civil War, because we recognized that it was evil to treat human beings as property. It was, it is, evil to buy and sell people.
The institution of slavery was totally opposed to all our traditions of human rights. We said in the Declaration of Independence that all people are endowed by God with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Certainly no one who really believes that can ever hold slaves. No one who believes that would say that though I am personally opposed to slavery, I do not believe I can force my beliefs on other people, and it is not the government’s role to legislate morality. Holding slaves is a matter of personal choice. No one would say that about slavery, why do we say that about abortion?
We sometimes hear the statement, “A woman has the right to do whatever she wants with her own body.” This idea comes from Margaret Sanger who was the founder of Planned Parenthood. “No woman” Sanger wrote, “can call herself free who does not own and control her own body.”
But, as Christians, we reply, that we do not own or control our own bodies. We belong to God. We are committed to doing the will of God, not our own will.
A Fetus Person
The basic question of the abortion controversy is: When does a fetus become a person? We do not murder persons. If we recognize an embryo or a fetus as a person, we should certainly not sanction its destruction.
It is sometimes argued that a fetus is just tissue in the woman’s body and not a person at all. This was the assumption in late 1960’s and early 1970’s before scientific discoveries allowed us a closer look into the beginnings of human life. For instance, we now know that at conception the embryo is genetically distinct from its mother. It is not just her tissue. At the instant of conception, all human chromosomes are present and a unique human life begins.
The Value of Life
Every birth is a miracle. We all sense that. We understand most of the processes of birth. A scientist could explain to us in detail how a baby comes to be born. It is a natural process, but that does not diminish the sense of awe and reverence we feel when we witness a birth. We know it is a miracle. Something of value has come into the world.
Pope John Paul II says that all of us can recognize “the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree" (Evangelium Vitae, 2).
The declaration of Independence speaks of an inalienable right to life. That right is the basis for all the other rights that we take for granted in this cournty.
Thus, the pro-life-pro-choice debate is not simply about abortion. It is an ethical debate about the value of human life. The pro-abortion folks represent a society that devalues human life, and indeed all life. Albert Schweitzer said, “If a man looses reverence for any part of life he will lose his reverence for all of life”
Mother Teresa said, “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”
Therefore, a commitment to the value of human life implies a commitment beyond the issue of abortion. It has implications for what we think about war or capital punishment, for our stand on the environment. Too often the debate on abortion is pro-birth rather than pro-life. We must see the broader call of honoring God’s image in all human life, and beyond that in all living things.
Holocaust in Egypt
The Bible mentions another Holocaust. In Exodus ch1, Pharaoh was disturbed by the increasing numbers of Israelite slaves. So, he ordered the Hebrew midwives to murder boy babies at birth. This order became the law of the land. The government sanctioned the murder of all the male Hebrew babies. Everyone says that was a horrible thing to do. We do not want to talk about how that would look like. We do not want to imagine people beating babies brains out against a stone.
But are we so different today. Today we call it abortion. And we are more equal opportunity than Pharaoh was. We kill both male and female babies. If it is possible to judge degrees of evil in this matter, that would make us worse than Pharaoh.
Now if you want to be technical, you might say that Pharaoh did not massacre unborn babies. He only killed them after they were born. Of course that does not make his crime any less horrific, but that does lead to the question: What does the Bible say about abortion? If you are a literalist here, the answer has to be that the Bible says nothing at all about abortion. No commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit abortion.” But just because the Bible does not explicitly forbid something that does not mean that it is right.
And there are several passages of scripture that show us how precious the unborn child is to God.
For example, we might consider the passage in the gospel of Luke (1:41-44) when the pregnant teenage Mary is visiting her kinswoman Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with her son who will be John the Baptist. Elizabeth said when the child in her womb heard Mary’s voice, the child leaped with joy.
But probably the best known passage of Scripture on this subject is Psalm 139:13-16. A couple of Sabbaths ago I preached on God’s omnipresence, the doctrine that God is always present in every event and God aways is with us in every place and circumstance. For that earlier sermon, I took as my text Psalm 139:7-12. In the verses before us today, in verses 13-16 of that same Psalm, the Psalmist continues to describe God’s presence with us, even in the womb. In v13, speaking of God, the Psalmist says, “It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” In verses 15 and 16 the Psalmist praises God saying, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”
The Psalmist says that when I was conceived, that was the first day of my life God was there with me. When my heart began to beat, God was there with me. When my fingers and toes and muscle and brain formed, God was there with me.
And that is true of every human embryo. Think about this then. God is present to every unborn baby that is aborted. Can you imagine then the horror that God feels at our American holocaust?
What then are we to do? Prov 31:8 says, “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.” Unborn babies are “those who cannot speak.” According to current law, they have no rights. The Bible says, we are to speak for them.
Christians are called to examples. We are lights shining in darkness. God uses us to point the way for others who are without Christ and seeking direction. God uses us to reveal the moral and spiritual decay of our society. God uses us to reach out to women who are pregnant and in need of help, to reach out to families struggling with financial or emotional difficulties.
But we do not reach out to others in condemnation. Norma McCorvey, using the pseudonym “Jane Roe,” won the 1973 Roe vs Wade Supreme Court case to legalize abortion. For a time Norma McCorvey worked as the marketing director for a Dallas abortion clinic. When the Christian organization, Operation Rescue, moved their offices directly next door, she began to taunt Phillip Benhem, the president of the organization. Benhem was no saint. He was a recovering alcoholic. He had much in common with Norma McCorvey. They were the same age, they had both been through rough times. They became friends. Phillip Benhem’s care and compassion for Norma opened up her heart and allowed her to confess the real needs and convictions she had held inside for so long. Eventually Phillip Benhem baptized her. He said, “Jesus Christ has reached through the abortion mill walls and touched the heart of Norma McCorvey.”
Columnist Cal Thomas said, “He won her over not with harsh rhetoric, but by treating her as a valuable person.” The controversy over abortion is deep and divisive. The only way to respond to it is with compassion and understanding. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 5/17/05