We settled into the soft velvet covered seats in DC’s E Street Cinema, just around the corner from Ford’s Theatre of Lincoln assassination fame. We were here to view One Child Nation, a documentary about the China one-child policy. We may be a little more interested than most because our son was born in China and we adopted him a year ago. He was born with medical issues and was abandoned in a park at birth. He was put up for adoption when he was four years old as part of a program for children in need of medical care. This week he went in for the second of the three surgeries he will have this year. The good news? He is the most wonderful, loving, fun child we could have ever hoped for.
As we sat in the cinema, we were keen to learn more about the policy that resulted in so many children being abandoned. As the movie came on, the soft surroundings gave way to the most confronting footage we’d ever seen. In it, a prolific abortionist describes her intense guilt and regret at the part she played in the one-child policy. She doesn’t use veiled language like we so often do in western nations. Instead, this old woman calls herself a child murderer and questions how she can find redemption. She now attempts to atone for the evil she did by helping couples struggling with infertility, but she still cannot find relief from the intense guilt that haunts her.
This is a woman raised as an atheist in a Communist nation. A nation where people had literally starved to death in her lifetime due in part to uncontrolled population growth, where every pillar of society supported the abortions, calling them not only morally right, but ethically laudable. A society where abortionists received national awards on television.
But somehow in a society stripped of God and bathed in the utilitarian ethics of the Communist Party, a society where extreme deprivation was a recent memory, this woman knows that what she did was evil and has the honesty to say it.
In the same week, I read an Adventist News Network story about the Adventist Church’s latest struggle to come up with a morally coherent approach to the killing of the innocent young through abortion. The emphasis of the piece is on how “sensitive” the issue is, and on adults in difficult situations. While both are very true, of course, it is what is not said in the article that struck me: The article is completely silent on the beautiful young lives—each perfectly formed by a loving God in His image—brutally and intentionally killed through abortion. It is as if these young lives never existed. Once you are able to scrub these young human beings from the picture, support for abortion is easy.
But those lives do exist.
Peng Wang, a prominent Chinese artist, talks in the One Child Nation documentary about discovering beautiful babies on a trash heap inside yellow bags marked “medical waste.” He began painting portraits of these perfectly formed young humans. He talks with great empathy about the babies, who look, he says, just like his own son when he curls up to sleep.
Atheistic Communists can recognize the moral value of the babies murdered by abortion. Can Adventist Christians? Of course, it’s sensitive. Of course, it’s complicated. Of course, abortion routinely involves the murder of another human being. If we can’t bring ourselves to admit all three facts, any policy that will follow will fail. Just as the current Adventist guidelines fail.
The current guidelines is the classic case trying to have it both ways. It says we oppose the thoughtless destruction of human life. But it goes on to state that due to our dedication to freedom, we support the legalized killing of young human beings through abortion. The statement reads well, it is filled with lots of gracious sounding words, and if you don’t give it much thought, it even seems to make sense. Until you ask yourself the obvious question; why do Adventists oppose the thoughtless destruction of human life?
The current statement doesn’t provide an answer to its lofty cautions against abortion. It assumes the reader knows the basis of our reservations. And we do, don’t we? The only reason Adventists oppose abortion is because we know that every baby killed through abortion is formed by God in the womb and in His image, and to kill an innocent human life is murder.
At least that is what our Adventist pioneers thought. In a book edited by James White, abortion is called “evil”, the “basest crime” and “murder. (James White, editor, Solemn Appeal, 1870). Similarly, Ellen White consistently wrote about the sacred duty to protect human life, for example, she writes: “Human life that God alone can give, must be sacredly guarded.” (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 516.) At the time of Christ, the Jewish community similarly believed abortion was murder. (Josephus, Against Apion Book 2, Chapter 25, Section 202).
If we recognize the obvious—that young human beings have moral worth that comes from being children of God, then young humans must, as Ellen White put it, be “sacredly guarded”. We can’t both recognize young humans’ moral worth and support the unrestrained killing of young humans that is modern abortion.
There are, of course, circumstances where a mother will die unless the baby is delivered, but delivering the baby prematurely may result in the child’s death or serious permanent disability. In these situations, a terrible decision must be made. This decision cannot honestly be conflated with elective abortions and using them as justification for the killing of healthy babies with healthy mothers is disingenuous. I know how fraught these circumstances are more than most, because my wife and I have been through this gut-wrenching situation.
My wife came down with preeclampsia during our first pregnancy. It progressed to the point that she very nearly died. We had no choice but to deliver our daughter, even though she was very severely premature – with all the associated risks of death or severe disability. It was the most traumatic experience of our lives.
So, yes, I’m very well aware on a visceral level that there are very complex circumstances that surround what to do in a medical emergency. But there is no moral equivalence between situations where death of the mother is balanced against the life and health of the baby, and situations where economic or social interests are balanced against the life of a baby. Money is not flesh and blood. Equating these two disparate circumstances is part of the rhetorical arsenal of those who support access to abortion in virtually all circumstances.
In our circumstance, our precious daughter was born at about 2 and a half pounds. When I held this tiny baby against my chest, her little hands grabbed at me. I sang to her. I talked with her. I prayed for her. I cherished her. Not because I’m a sentimental fool, but because there are studies that have found premature baby survival rates are greatly increased when they are held against their parents’ chests. Why? Because babies are humans made in God’s image, and just like every other human, they thrive when they know they are loved.
That these complex situations occur, however, does not obscure the fact that the bulk of abortions in the US, according to the abortion industry’s own reports, involve physically healthy mothers, physically healthy babies, conceived through consensual sexual behavior. As a religious community, let’s begin by getting a moral coherent statement on where Adventists stand on the killing of healthy babies, with healthy mothers, conceived through consensual sex.
Chinese Communists know that an abortion for birth control is the murder of a child. Adventist Christians know it too. Brave women and men have gone on the record in Communist China to speak the truth in defense of the defenseless. The question is whether we will too as a community formed to reflect the character of Christ, the Father of every one of those babies discarded as rotting “medical waste”.
My tiny premature baby is getting her drivers permit next week. Just last night we were out together and I looked over at her and said, “You know who I love spending time with?” She answered with the most beautiful smile, “Me!” Life is precious. Let’s use our collective Adventist voice for love and protection, not in support of the continued cold utilitarianism that deems young human beings disposable.
What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?
If you Google what the Bible says about abortion, you may be surprised to find articles claiming the Bible actually supports abortion. You’d be right to be surprised, because those articles are deceptive. Don’t believe me? Let’s find out why Jews at the time of Christ, the early Christians, and the early Adventists all opposed killing of innocent babies before birth; and why the more faithfully you attend church and the more regularly you pray, the more likely you are to oppose the killing of our young today.
We start in the Old Testament where we are told humans are created in God’s own image (see Genesis 1:26-28) and that God Himself forms us in the womb (see Psalm 139:13-16). Following from this, not only does God outlaw the killing of innocent human beings in the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:13), but the Bible even lays out punishment for the unintentional killing of an unborn child (see Exodus 21:22-25). The high value God gives to all human beings continues in the New Testament where we read that John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary told Elizabeth that she too was expecting a child – Jesus Christ (see Luke 1:41, 44).
Christians have read these instructions and asked themselves the obvious questions. If a child is made in the image of God, should we deliberately destroy God’s image? If we are banned from killing the innocent, doesn’t that include the youngest, most vulnerable and most innocent among us? If the Bible punishes the unintended killing of unborn children, doesn’t that indicate babies must be protected against deliberate killing? If John the Baptist could be filled by the Holy Spirit and leap for joy while still in his mother, doesn’t that indicate babies have moral worth even before they are born? Christians over many cultures and over many centuries have answered all these questions with a profound “yes, we must cherish and protect all innocent human beings, including babies”. Today we must answer those questions with an even stronger yes because we have now witnessed what this killing of our most innocent looks like on an industrial scale.
The abortion industry in the United States has killed over 60 million young Americans since 1974. Globally, it’s estimated there are 50 to 60 million young human beings killed every year through abortion. As Stalin is reported to have said, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” The rivers of human blood. The suffering of those little innocent babies. The beautiful, talented, remarkable people we have lost in this brutality. All of that may not move us. But maybe one consequence will: The missing girls. According to the UN, there are in the range of 126 million missing girls. Why? Because with the advent of sonograms, parents who prefer boys can now use abortion to kill baby girls before they are born. Think through everything you know about God and ask how anyone who believes in the God of the Bible can support this slaughter of baby girls.
I certainly can’t. Because one day I know I am going to be standing at the judgment seat of a Righteous God who lovingly knit together every one of those precious baby girls. Each one just as precious to God as my own daughters are to me. There’s a time coming when it isn’t the respect of a degenerate society I’ll be craving, but the grace of a God who gave the most graphic warning to anyone who offends a child. (See Matthew 18:6). Silence in the face of evil is approval. I have chosen not to be silent. I hope you will choose not to be silent too. And I am praying my church will rediscover the voice of our founders and not only stand up for the Sabbath, but for human beings created in God’s image for whom the Sabbath was created in the first place (Mark 2:27).
Seven Common Questions
There are seven questions that frequently come up in abortions discussions. Each question is worth considering carefully:
Q1: Why do Christians only care about babies before they’re born, not after? This question makes for a great sound bite, but it is also completely untrue. Christians adopt children at twice the rate of the national average. Christians also volunteer in their community at a much higher rate than the general population. Look for your local crisis pregnancy center and see who is running it. Check out who is operating your local day cares. Call around to find out who is providing food, clothing, shelter and healthcare to the poor in your community. Chances are, it will be Christians. In the public square, many Christians support funding for food for underprivileged people, universal access to healthcare and support for high quality, universal education. I know, because I’ve personally worked with many Christian organization and denomination on all three issues on Capitol Hill. But even if Christians were the most mean spirited, least giving people on the planet, how would that justify support for killing young human beings?
Q2: Doesn’t freedom of conscience require us to permit abortion? Freedom of conscience does not include the right to physically harm, let alone kill, another human being. There are many examples of cultures or norms permitting the killing of other innocent human beings, from human sacrifice to the practice of burning a wife at the death of her husband, or physically harming another human being like the practice of female genital mutilation, that we have no hesitation opposing even though it infringes on the rights of those who want to continue harming others. I have worked for many years as a lawyer promoting religious freedom – to see religious freedom distorted into a justification for legalized killing goes against everything we stand for. The first right enunciated in the Declaration of Independence is the right to life (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”). The right to life is the right upon which all other rights depend.
Q3: Aren’t Christians hypocrites because they oppose abortion but support the death penalty? In fact many Christians oppose both the death penalty and abortion (I’m one of them). But even Christians who do support the death penalty are not illogical or hypocritical. They support death for people who have been found guilty of heinous crimes and oppose the death penalty for innocent babies. We can disagree with the death penalty, while recognizing the moral logic that underpins differentiating the guilty from the innocent. The question should be turned around: Why do so many people who oppose the death penalty for even the most debased child murderer, support the death penalty for any innocent baby unlucky enough to be deemed unwanted?
Q4: But doesn’t abortion support female rights? According to the UN, there are 126 million missing girls globally. Where are those girls? They were killed in gender selective abortions by parents who wanted boys not girls. Even in nations where gender selective abortions occur less frequently, still roughly half the babies killed are little girls. How can anyone with a straight face call the killing of baby girls an expression of female empowerment? Second, women are often pressured by men to have abortions they do not want. They are also often pressured to abort by economic structures that don’t provide adequate opportunity or support. Abortion isn’t an expression of freedom, it’s an expression of desperation. We need to address the causes of that desperation by ensuring opportunity and support, not by killing innocent babies.
Q5: Isn’t opposition to abortion a Catholic thing? Catholics oppose theft too, does that mean Adventists shouldn’t? Of course not. We can’t let our positions on theological issues be a reaction to Catholicism. Instead, like our Adventist pioneers, we must focus on what the Bible teaches about the value of human beings before and after birth and take a stand irrespective of what others are saying.
Q6: Wouldn’t legally protecting babies result in other harms? Preserving any human life results in harms – we all produce greenhouse gasses, we burden the healthcare system, we get old and need care, and some of us, even physically harm other people. On the positive side, any one of the aborted babies may have grown up to write the songs we love to sing, discover the medicine we need, they may have cared for us in our old age. But even if they didn’t, we don’t decide the value of human life based on a cold utilitarianism. We value human beings because they are human beings, made in the image of God. Period. In rare cases (discussed more fully in the article above), the life of the mother is threatened by the continuation of a pregnancy and must be preserved, but according to the American abortion industry’s own statistics, the vast bulk of abortions involve healthy babies with healthy mothers. (Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives, Guttmacher Institute, p. 113, https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/pubs/psrh/full/3711005.pdf)
Q7: If abortion really is so bad, wouldn’t everyone oppose it? In every society, in every generation, there are terrible injustices that the majority supports. Generally, those injustices are perpetrated by a powerful majority against a powerless minority – and in our society, there is no one more voiceless and powerless than unborn human beings. We like to think that if we had lived in the times of slavery we would have been part of the Underground Railroad rescuing slaves. We like to think that we would have helped Jews in Nazi Germany. We imagine that if we were in Rwanda, we would have been the ones saving people from genocide. But statistically, that is very unlikely. Most of us, when we see powerless minorities being harmed by a powerful majority, align ourselves with the powerful majority. It is our survival instinct. In the case of abortion, those supporting the killing are much more powerful than the victims of the killing – who literally have no voice or power at all. Students of history and human nature are not surprised at all that much of society either supports or is silent in the fact of our current genocide against our youngest, most vulnerable human beings. We have classed young human beings as subhuman with less rights than a dog (as societies have done with various ethnicities, women, religions, etc.), and we are silent as the killing goes on. Our heroes are our heroes because they did what other people didn’t do, when it was hard to do it. In all of our hearts, we know the killing of young human beings is wrong. I pray you’ll have the courage to be a hero in the defense of those young humans made in God’s image, not part of the silent majority who let it go on.
 “The law moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring: and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten; or to destroy it afterward. And if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child; by destroying a living creature and diminishing humankind.” Flavius Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews.
 See Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church (available on Google Books).
 See, e.g., “One of the most shocking and yet one of the most prevalent sins of this generation is the murder of unborn infants. Let those who think this a small sin read Psalm 139:16. They will see that even the unborn child is written in God’s book. And they may be well assured that God will not pass unnoticed the murder of such children.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 30, 1869, p. 184. For a good overview of how Adventist slid from opposing abortion to supporting legalized abortion, see George B. Gainer, Abortion: History of Adventist Guidelines, Ministry Magazine, August 1991, https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1991/08/abortion-history-of-adventist-guidelines
 There is controversy over this text. As explained by H. Wayne House in Miscarriage or Premature Birth: Additional Thoughts on Exodus 21:22-25, Westminster Theological Journal 41.1 (1978) 108-23, the best reading of the text is that the death penalty applies for the death of either the mother or the child. However, even if the text is read to apply only a fine for the death of the child, such a punishment is consistent with the causing of other unintended deaths (see for example Joshua 20:1-9 which describes provisions for unintended killings).
 https://www.unfpa.org/gender-biased-sex-selection Note, some estimates are lower, but even these estimates put the number of girls targeted for death because of their gender in the tens of millions.
 “Five Things You Need to Know About Adoption,” Barna Research, November 4, 2013, https://www.barna.com/research/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-adoption/#.UnvPco2E7Tw
 Alexander F. Hamilton in “Study Finds Religious People More Likely to Volunteer,” Gainsville Sun, June 20, 2009, writes: “Recent studies from Harvard professor Robert Putnam and University of Notre Dame scholar David Campbell show that religious people are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community.” https://www.gainesville.com/article/LK/20090620/Lifestyle/604151969/GS/
 https://www.unfpa.org/gender-biased-sex-selection Note, some estimates are lower, but even these estimates put the number of girls targeted for death because of their gender in the tens of millions.