"The challenge of Abortion" by Bill Muehlenberg, published 2015 by Culture Watch, ISBN: 978-1518742613 Available from the author or Koorong Books in your city. Price $15. Reviewed by John Morrissey.
"The challenge of Abortion" is the concise first volume of a trilogy on Life and Death Matters, with further publications in hand on Euthanasia and IVF and Surrogacy. It carries a foreword by abortion-survivor Melissa Ohden, which states that this challenge can be met only with Truth, Love and Legislation.
The author presents his argument in two parts, first outlining and refuting the myths commonly used to justify abortion, and then examining the Biblical and theological evidence supporting a stand on abortion. Three case studies and a recommended reading list are appended.
Bill Muehlenberg takes up fifteen of the myths supporting unfettered right to abortion. He disposes of some quite briefly, such as the proposition that it is "about freedom of choice and control of one's body". To this he sets up the personhood of the child, which is implicitly denied in this argument, and the denial of choice, which actually occurs, in practice, when a woman is in the clutches of the abortion industry. Similarly, he disposes of the claim that abortion is about "helping women". He exposes the financial imperatives of abortion clinics, which operate on turnover, citing the economics of reformed practitioner Carol Everett, who earned $15,000 per month and advertised throughout the South. She confessed to having been "an abortionist who used every means available to get a woman to have an abortion for the sake of money."
More space is devoted to what are commonly called "hard cases", such as rape and incest. After citing research showing that only 1% of abortions follow a rape and 0.5% a case of incest, the author reminds readers that the child is innocent of the crime of his or her father. He quotes a number of ethicists who make this point and use analogies to show the flaw in reasoning which justifies a violent act on a guiltless person because we ourselves have suffered. We are also reminded that the "hard case" argument has been commonly used as the slippery slope reasoning for the introduction of legal abortion. Self-reporting surveys conducted by US researchers in 1987 and 2004 have revealed that for 78% and 74% respectively the reason was that "having a baby would dramatically change my life".
Other "hard case" arguments are based on the health and life of the mother. Muehlenberg draws on more US research to argue that in the extremely rare cases where saving the mother involves the death of the child, as in some ectopic pregnancies, this is justified by the intention to save her, rather than to kill the child. Where late term abortion is advocated for the supposed health of the mother, of course the alternative of caesarean birth should be pursued.
As for the furphy that abortion is safe for women, international research shows that, especially after multiple abortions, the mortality rate rises.
Comparisons with nations like Ireland and Chile, where abortion is not freely available, indicate that maternal mortality is not reduced by access to abortion - quite the opposite. Readers of these pages will be quite aware of the links between breast cancer and post-abortion trauma, rendering it unnecessary to traverse the author's other arguments on that great euphemism, "maternal health".
Some myths are given short shrift, including the over-population argument, when we are actually facing a global demographic winter, masked only by increased longevity. To the final shot in the pro-abortion locker, which tries to isolate pro-lifers as religious cranks trying to force their views on others, the author insists that it is a moral and ethical issue where people of all manners of belief have a right not to have the values of this death culture forced on them. He cites a number of prominent atheists, Christopher Hitchens, for example, who share some or all of his beliefs about the rights of the unborn, and concludes with an Aristotelian discourse, distinguishing between the essence of humanity and the accidents [or quibbles?] used by opponents to dispute this.
Part 2 of Muehlenberg's work turns to Scripture. Although it will not cut any ice with non-believers, he confronts the arguments of those who have compromised their beliefs in the case of abortion, and those who use fatuous arguments, such as that there is no mention of abortion among the many wrongs against which Jesus preached. He draws on the Old [First] Testament especially, to show a special awareness of life in the womb and God's prohibition against harming this separate human person: "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (Psalm 139: 13-16). He goes to some length to show evidence of pre-natal calling and election, citing both Testaments, and that children are a gift from God.
We are enjoined throughout the Bible to protect children and especially not to "shed innocent blood", but to "defend the cause of the weak and fatherless" (Psalm 82: 2-4). Children are not killed for rape, incest or birth defects, as seen in Genesis in the case of Lot's daughters and their children. Jesus healed the disabled, as well as the blind and the deaf, and paid special attention to children, "for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19: 13-15). And the author leaves us with the picture of the unborn John the Baptist leaping at the presence of Jesus while they were both in their mothers' wombs. (Luke 1: 41-44)
Of the three case studies, "Amy's Story" is the most rending. She tells of multiple abortions from the age of 17, and of the professional advice which she received, each time pointing to abortion as the only alternative for one too young and without resources to bring up a child. She admits that she thought adoption "horrible". Why go through all of that just to give the baby away? It is only now that she can recognise the spiritual and emotional connections which she experienced with the children she lost.
Other case studies are more uplifting. "Erin's Story" demonstrates the uncertainty behind another of the myths considered by Muehlenberg. Her unborn baby was diagnosed with a club foot, and of course abortion was advised and offered by the professionals. Although she and her husband did not doubt the diagnosis, her Christian principles ruled out an abortion. Imagine their joy when Baby Jacob was born with normal feet, confounding the diagnosis.
"Jade's Story" is told by a Pregnancy Crisis volunteer, who relates how she was able to contradict available medical opinion and help to stop the process of an abortion by RU486, when the mother had relented after taking the first (mifepristone) pill. The volunteer was tech-savvy enough to be aware of the US Abortion Pill Reversal website, and the treatment was successful.
Bill Muehlenberg's slim volume is an accessible and valuable contribution to the challenge which the Life movement faces. It is a source of argument for all of us who take up the fight in our own small ways, in our churches, workplaces and social institutions. Although the media allows few openings, this work gives us ammunition and evidence for letters to the press and our MPs, and calls to talkback radio, whenever the opportunity arises. Bill is a model of muscular Christianity and his work should be an inspiration to us all.