Before the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, there were many debates about abortion laws. Some were trying to put limits in place while others argued that regulating abortion in any way was an affront to human rights, especially those of women. Limiting abortion, they contended, was regression into the dark ages of ignorance and insensitivity toward “women’s healthcare” and the right to self-determination.
Within this spirit of “women’s healthcare,” abortion has again come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are arguing abortion is an “essential service,” but as I read some of the online rants, one thing is exceptionally clear: No one advocating abortion as an “essential service” mentions or talks about the baby in the womb. Instead, it is argued that women must continue to have the unrestricted right to do whatever they want with their bodies, especially in the arenas of human sexuality and reproduction.
But herein lies the rub: What is the true identity of the “product of conception” in the womb? We cannot simply pass over that question in favor of a woman’s “right to choose,” because no one, male or female, has the unrestricted or unregulated right to do things with their bodies that intentionally inflict harm upon another human being.
It’s convenient, of course, to claim this an issue of “women’s healthcare” and call what’s in the womb a “product of conception,” “a ball of cells,” or “a blob of fetal tissue.” But these labels only subvert and obscure the true nature of what (or better, who) resides within. Relabeling something or someone does not fundamentally alter its true essence or nature.
From a purely medical standpoint, at six weeks, though no bigger than a pea, the fetus’ arms and legs have already begun to appear, the heart is beating, and brain waves can be detected. By eleven weeks—less than three months into the pregnancy—the baby is completely formed with its own fingerprints, a fully functioning organ system (including circulating blood), and a nervous system that can and does feel pain. The second and third trimesters of pregnancy are primarily periods of growth in size, not complexity.
It is deeply ironic that during the COVID-19 pandemic severe limitations have been imposed on nearly everyone planet-wide in order to save human lives, yet the “right” to terminate the life of an unborn child has simultaneously been dubbed an “essential service.”
During his presidency, Bill Clinton, like many of his time, considered abortion a “necessary evil” and hoped it would become “safe, affordable, and rare.” To be sure, abortion is relatively safe (for the mother) and affordable, but it has never become rare. While rates of abortion are significantly lower now than they were in the eighties and nineties, every year well over half a million babies are aborted in the United States alone. And much of the downturn in abortion rates is simply related to a significant decrease in overall pregnancies. In short, fewer pregnancies means fewer babies to abort.
Sadly, recent rhetoric among some pro-choice advocates has become increasingly shrill and harsh about protecting the unrestricted right of a woman to decide what to do with her “product of conception.” In fact, a 2018 billboard campaign in downtown Cleveland proclaimed abortion to be “self-care,” “a family value,” “life-saving,” and even “a blessing.” Rather than a necessary evil, it has become a sacramental right and an “essential” medical service. As awful as it sounds, this makes sense from a certain point of view. If what’s inside the womb is just an inconvenience, then who cares what becomes of it?
I would argue, however, that these babies are tragic sacrifices to the spirit of age, one that demands unaccountable sexual freedom and no unplanned and undesired interruptions to one’s self-determined lifestyle. Somehow, in our moral confusion and hypocrisy, “selfishness” has been transformed into “self-care” instead.
In today’s moral climate, it’s difficult to imagine a publicly funded billboard campaign stating simple truths about abortion: abortion is “big business,” “brutal,” “guilt-inducing,” “traumatic,” “infanticide,” or a host of other more honest and accurate adjectives and nouns.
The fact that an unborn child is small, largely unseen, and even unwanted should never count against it. This merely means it is doubly weak, vulnerable, and defenseless. It is therefore an “essential service” to protect, care for, and nurture it in celebration of all God-given life.