Why has abortion so roiled this country for half a century? Here’s an idea.
In December, The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It is expected to hand down its decision in late June or early July. It may or may not resolve anything for, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in 1985, the Roe decision of 50 years ago appeared “to have provoked, not resolved conflict.”
Which raises a question: why?
Joshua Prager asks this question. He’s the author of “The Family Roe,” a book on Roe v. Wade. Prager cites Brown v. Board of Education, taking prayer out of the public schools (1962), interracial couples gaining a right to marry (1967), gay marriage—decisions that met high public disapproval that immediately began to decline. “But abortion was different,” he writes. “Opposition to Roe became more hostile after its issuance.”
There are many reasons, I’m sure, but it seems to me the biggest is that Roe involved death. But not just any kind of death. Murder. And that’s what makes abortion different. Murder can coarsen a person’s conscience. It can coarsen a nation’s conscience.
Conscience comes from the Latin con (with) and science (knowledge). Humans have a special knowledge, a moral awareness, that comes with ordinary knowledge. It’s God’s gift to every individual, designed to accuse us when we’re wrong, defend us when we’re right (Rom.2:15).
Conscience demarcates us from the animal kingdom. Animals don’t have a conscience, so they kill but don’t murder. We too can rightly kill (serving in the military is one example), but we can also commit murder. We see this in the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not murder—unlawful killing resulting in bloodguilt.
And therein lies the rub. Bloodguilt.
When we have blood on our hands, we do one of four things. We can confess and repent, which is the mark of a good conscience—or we can deny, defend, or not give a damn. That’s a warped conscience. It can warp three ways. The arrogant conscience denies they’ve murdered anyone. The defiled conscience defends murder, the seared conscience doesn’t give a damn. All three are hell on wheels.
David embodied a clear conscience, even though he had Uzziah murdered. When confronted by Nathan, he repented and repudiated his sin. He didn’t explain, justify, defend. No wonder David was called a man after God’s own conscience (I Sam.13:14).
The Apostle Paul embodied a clear conscience, even though he was a murderer. When confronted by Jesus, he repented and repudiated his sin. He didn’t explain, justify, defend. No wonder Paul said he lived his entire life with a clear conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16).
What about us? According to The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), since 1973, there have been over 63,000,000 reported abortions in the US. Reported. God knows how many go unreported. This many murders cannot help but coarsen a nation’s conscience.
What then can be done?
First and foremost, pray. Pray that God smites our conscience, as he did after David disobediently numbered the people (II Sam. 24:10). Second, I recommend two stories.
The first is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It’s the story of the tormented conscience of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg. He formulates and executes a plan to murder an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Raskolnikov, in attempting to defend his actions, argues that with the pawnbroker’s money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of evil. But Raskolnikov’s conscience torments him. It is the punishment for his crime. At the end of the day, he can’t live with his conscience.
Judah Rosenthal can. Watch Woody Allen’s film, Crimes and Misdemeanors. Judah Rosenthal finds himself trapped in an affair with an unstable mistress. She threatens to expose him, destroying Judah’s successful career (as well as his marriage). He arranges for his mistress to be murdered. At first deeply anguished by the murder he arranged, Judah justifies his actions until his guilt seems to melt away. At the end of the film Judah tells Cliff (Woody Allen) that with time, any crisis will pass. Cliff morosely disagrees. We’re forever fated to bear our burdens for “crimes and misdemeanors.” Judah disagrees, feeling that people can get away with just about anything over time, including murder.
Both stories get it right. A clear conscience can face bloodguilt. A deformed conscience cannot. It rationalizes, defends, denies… coarsening our souls, our nation.
I witnessed this firsthand in two countries whose cultures felt coarse, rough. The first was in the former USSR. I visited in 1988. I’ll never forget reading an official tourist book noting that, on average, a woman in the USSR undergoes seven abortions in her lifetime. The second country was China, where there are around 9.7 million reported abortions carried out annually. Reported. Chinese society struck me as coarse, rough.
Close to a quarter of all pregnancies in the US end in abortion. That’s a lot of death by murder. And that’s what makes abortion different. It’s coarsening our nation’s conscience.