Birth Control Series [Part 1]: The Paramount Value of Human Life
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
The following is the first in a series of articles exploring the topic of birth control and contraception from the Christian perspective. Christian Life Resources ran a similar series in 1998-1999 which was later compiled into the booklet, The Christian and Birth Control (available through the CLR Store). This current series will revisit, clarify, and update the issues, mechanisms, and other concerns related to birth control.
Since I first wrote on the topic of birth control in 1998, I discovered that buyers of the booklet, The Christian and Birth Control, generally knew the pro-life mantra, “Life begins at conception.” Yet those who maintained a pro-abortion stance did not rush to buy this Christian piece of literature premised on life beginning at conception.
Based on mail I have received and conversations I have had over the years, I cannot say with certainty that people have completely thought through the paramount value of human life. They don’t readily recognize the equal value human life holds at all of its stages.
It is comparatively simple to say the life of a child on Grandma’s lap and the lives of a young couple on their wedding day are equal in value. That perceived equality remains somewhat constant until that first serious encounter with the aging process (i.e., heart attack, stroke, dementia, etc.) in which the quality of life is compromised. Then, the affected life has a diminished value in the eyes of an increasing number of people.
This affects the birth control issue because of the so-called “gray areas” involving some birth control forms which have the potential to abort human life. However, the reality of that happening, and the frequency are uncertain. People nevertheless seem willing to take greater risks when human life is at this youngest stage.
For that reason, this series needs to begin with an examination of the concept that human life is of paramount and equal value at all stages. We especially focus on that value as it exists in the womb.
Learning from a Fairy Tale
The moral of Aesop’s fable, The Fox and the Lion, is that “familiarity breeds contempt.” In other words, as one becomes more familiar with someone or something, the relationship changes and sometimes respect or reverence diminishes. One party may begin to feel superior to the other. Such is what is happening at the beginning of life.
It is difficult not to be amazed at the intricacies of the human body. With today’s technologies, we can observe the body at work at the microscopic level. Surgeries can be performed on major body organs without even a noticeable scar. With hormones, chemicals, and therapy, illnesses and injuries can be corrected and wounds healed. Also, with the accessibility of the Internet, nearly anyone can learn more about the body and human life.
All of this familiarity, however, comes at a cost. With the increased knowledge about human life comes a declining respect for it. In many ways it becomes a commodity that is balanced against the other commodities of life – with human life not always coming out on top.
Debates in current life issues reflect this contempt. Near the end of life, some argue that once aging diminishes the quality of life, it becomes less compelling to protect and preserve it. The mentally and physically disabled often do not receive the same respect and consideration as those who are healthy. An unborn child who is diagnosed in the womb with some ailment is considered more expendable than a healthy unborn child. An unborn child who is wanted is viewed as possessing a higher value than one who is unwanted.
In the arena of birth control, this contempt for human life is brought into sharp focus. Forty-eight percent of all women who have abortions have had at least one previous abortion. It is the ultimate birth control.
One step before this is the use of some forms of birth control which may terminate an unborn child’s life at its earliest stages. Specifically, hormonal methods of birth control (pills, injectables, patches, etc.) generally work to prevent ovulation, thicken the mucus plug to prevent passage of sperm through the cervical area, or thin the uterine lining which can either inhibit the mobility of the sperm or, if all else fails, prevent implantation of human life in the embryonic stage. In this way it serves as an abortifacient. The question is: do the potential advantages of a certain form of birth control outweigh the risk that unborn life might be aborted?
God’s High Opinion of Human Life
Human life is the centerpiece of God’s creation. It was not only the final element of creation, but human life was created with dominion over all other creation (Genesis 1:26ff; see also Genesis 9:1ff).
The fall into sin introduced death into what would otherwise have been eternal existence (Genesis 3:17ff; Romans 5:12). This, however, did not diminish the favored status God gave to human life. In this world of sin, God still demanded the protection of human life (Exodus 20:13). He pronounced the most serious of consequences for those who took human life, (Genesis 9:6) and He never divested Himself of His authority over life and death (1 Samuel 2:6).
As one reads the Bible, a continued revelation as to why God wants human life protected is clear. We learn that human life is a “time of grace.” Narrowly, but importantly understood, it is the window of opportunity during which a person comes to know God’s salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 6:1,2; Hebrews 9:27). There are no second chances.
It is also a time to experience and cherish God’s undeserved love. It is a time to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and to reflect His love to others in the way we live (1 John 4:19). A shortening of human life denies the opportunity for faith to demonstrate itself.
Finally, taking human life undermines God’s ultimate authority over life and death. To assume that right is to attempt to play God (Deuteronomy 32:39). All of Scripture represents the guidelines for living life. Terminating life runs contrary to God’s specific and explicit intentions.
The Equality of Human Life
What is difficult for many people is to understand God’s objective and equitable view of life. This is most explicit in the simple words, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). There are no qualifiers on this highest expression of commitment through sacrificial love. God doesn’t practice love only for those who love Him (Matthew 5:45). The sacrifice of Jesus was made for the wealthy and the poor, the happy and the sad, the physically fit, and the terribly ailing.
This objective to love is articulated in Scripture with reminders that God does not play favorites (Romans 2:11), and neither should we (James 2:1). All of life is of equal importance and value; so much so that God’s own Son died for all human life.
God Really Is Pro-Life. Are We?
The sacrifice of Jesus leaves no doubt about God’s high regard for human life. The terrible consequences of sin, even at our conception, demonstrate the point that God wants to protect human life and save it eternally (Psalm 31:15,16; John 10:10,11; Psalm 51:5). As God does not play favorites, He demonstrates that we too should not play favorites. We cannot favor the robust and healthy over the ailing and infirm. We cannot assume the authority to terminate or accelerate dying of those who we deem to be of lesser quality.
All of this being true, the same regard holds true for life in the womb. The high regard for life in the womb is demonstrated in the rejoicing of mothers who know the lives they carry in their wombs (c.f. Luke 1:39ff). They do not rejoice over potential life but real life. A miscarriage brings sorrow not for what might have been that is lost, but for what was and is now no longer.
This is the challenge to our reason. Life in the womb is life unseen – out of sight, out of mind. Seeking to justify abortion, we can most easily dismiss that which we don’t see. For that reason advocates for abortion resist efforts to allow potentially abortive women see ultrasound images of their unborn child before going through with an abortion.
Technology today, however, leaves us without excuse. The biological evidence is so compelling that even abortion advocates concede that this is not simply removing a blob of tissue or a parasitical growth from the host (mother), but that in abortion a child dies. Their argument has shifted to now considering this a sad, but necessary evil. That is why their mantra has been to keep abortion safe, legal, but rare. They know a child dies.
Scientific advancements, however, have not revealed anything necessarily new. God has explained the existence of human life all the way from conception (Psalm 51:5). It doesn’t matter whether we see it, feel it, communicate with it, hold it, or even love it. God has stated clearly that life is present from conception. As life, it must be loved, protected and coddled as any other life during a period of special vulnerability.
As we continue this series on birth control we will encounter some difficult issues that raise questions about the life of an unborn child. In the end, we must make decisions that always reflect the paramount value God places on life.