Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughts About 180 [Scott]

The post below assumes you’ve seen the film.

Thank you, Ray Comfort. I'm thankful you care enough about abortion to do something about it. I'm grateful for the resources you personally invested to make the film. I'm glad you take abortion seriously.

For our readers, here is my quick take on the film from the perspective of a pro-life apologist. Your comments are welcome.

The Good: The big ideas are there

1) The film casts the abortion issue as a human rights issue. That is the correct way to frame the debate. In an era where some pro-lifers are duped into reframing the discussion in terms of “reducing” abortion rather than legally protecting the unborn, this was indeed refreshing.

2) The film correctly states that moral conclusions (i.e., abortion is wrong) should impact how we vote. Pretending that pro-life convictions can be divorced from the political process won’t do and Comfort, unlike many evangelical leaders, is courageous enough to connect the dots. Once again, this was refreshing to see.

3) The film correctly states that discussions about abortion often lead to larger (theological) questions about human sinfulness and the gospel as the remedy. It challenges the false dichotomy between preaching the gospel and cultural reform—used by some to downplay pro-life political and cultural reform efforts. The films shows that concerned Christians both confront injustice and preach the gospel.

4) The film challenges the fear of engaging unbelievers. Ray Comfort’s tactic of asking questions to provoke conversation is an excellent way to engage. Despite asking some very pointed questions (including some I would not have asked), his listeners don’t seem to take offense. His best question (paraphrase) was to a young woman who said she didn’t know if the unborn were human, but still thought abortion was an option. Comfort asks, “Would you blow up an old building before making sure no one was inside?” Credit Comfort for asking rather than merely preaching.

My concern: The film overlooked some important distinctions:

1) The distinction between people in the film (Venice Beach?) and the public at large—The sample used in the film is not only small; it's not where most people are in terms of historical knowledge. Most people don't know who Hitler was? True, people in Venice Beach may not, but the nation as a whole? While Comfort’s tactics worked with the morally untutored folks in the film, I’m not persuaded they will provoke a 180 with more clever critics of the pro-life view found at the local university. In short, this film, while useful, is not a silver bullet that will instantly convert folks to our position.

2) The distinction between shouting a conclusion and establishing one--A sharp abortion-choicer could easily say, “Ya, I value human life. What Hitler did to Jews was wrong, but the unborn are not valuable human beings, so the comparison fails.” To succeed, pro-lifers must first establish that the unborn are indeed human (which the film does through images rather than scientific evidence), but then show that none of the differences between the embryos we once were and the adults we are today justify killing us at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency, are not value giving in the way that abortion-advocates need them to be in order to make their case. In short, jumping from killing Jews for bad reasons to killing the unborn for those same reasons leaves out important premises in the pro-life argument.

3) The distinction between killing a “baby” and unjustly killing human beings—Perhaps I am nitpicking here, but I think Comfort asks the wrong question when he points to a 6-week fetus and says, “Doesn’t that look like a baby?” What if the critic says “no?” End of discussion. Indeed, the pro-life view is not that abortion is wrong because it kills a “baby;” it’s wrong because it unjustly kills a human being regardless of his/her stage of development. That is, “baby” (infant) is just one stage of human existence on the continuum from conception to death. Therefore, killing the unborn human through elective abortion is wrong even if he’s not a “baby.” To be clear, there is nothing wrong with using pictures to convey the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion. I use those pictures in my own presentations. But I use them to reawaken moral intuitions that elective abortion is the unjust killing of a human being, not make the case the embryo or early fetus qualifies as a “baby.”

4) The distinction between voting for pro-life candidates and voting pro-life--Put simply, what does it really mean to vote pro-life? Is it as simple as never voting for a pro-abortion candidate? I submit it is not. For example, at the legislative level in particular (House and Senate races), a "pro-life" vote usually means voting for the party that, though imperfect, will best protect unborn humans against one that sanctions killing them. The reason is simple: At the legislative level, political parties more than individuals determine which laws see the light of day.

Consider the House of Representatives. If a party committed to elective abortion controls the chamber, it will squash pro-life bills and promote pro-abortion ones. Even if that pro-abortion party has a few “pro-life” members, those members will likely never get to vote on a pro-life bill unless their party is not in power!

But it gets worse. These same “pro-life” members of that pro-abortion party almost always put party politics above moral principle when it comes to the most important vote they will cast—selection of the Speaker. Remember, the Speaker of the House ultimately determines the legislative agenda and if the party committed to elective abortion controls the chamber, its candidate for Speaker will inevitably be pro-abortion. Nevertheless, these “pro-life” members vote for their party’s candidate for Speaker, which all but guarantees that pro-life bills never see the light of day! In most cases, then, they aren’t reforming their party’s pro-abortion stance; they’re enabling it! So it's not always as simple as voting for the candidate (at the legislative level) who claims to be "pro-life."

5) The distinction between intentional killing and killing that is merely foreseen--Is it always wrong to kill an innocent human being? What about ectopic pregnancy? The medical protocols on this are clear: If the doctor does not remove the embryo (which results in the embryo's death), both mother and embryo will likely die. Given the circumstances, shouldn't the physician act in such a way that he does the greatest moral good possible--in this case, save one life rather than lose two? True, the embryo dies when the physician acts to save the mother, but the physician does not intend the embryo's death. He merely foresees it. In the case of elective abortion, the death of the embryo is both intended and foreseen. A better question for the film would be, "Is intentionally killing an innocent human being ever justified to suit our own preferences?"

Despite these concerns, the film is worth seeing and Comfort gets huge accolades for his courage in confronting abortion head-on. Say what you want, at least he’s doing something about it and for that I am immensely grateful. Before ripping him, his evangelical critics need to ask themselves what they are doing to stop the bloodshed. Are they taking this holocaust as seriously as Comfort does? I can only pray that one day they will.


  1. Thanks for weighing in on this one, Scott. I was wondering what your take on it would be.

  2. Hey, Scott; this is a very thoughtful review, and kudos for standing up for life. I do have a few thoughts to share; I don't want to be a wet blanket, but I would say a few things about your concerns.

    I do know that Comfort didn't just conclude that the younger generation is ignorant of Hitler just by the shown interviews on the movie. I know they've received letters from other folks saying the same thing, and that some people they talked to didn't want to be taped. Overall, today's youth are ignorant of a great deal of world history. I don't recall the statistics exactly, but a great deal of public school students couldn't place the Civil War in the correct century.

    Personally, I think that the reason the big-wigs won't "convert" to our position is that they love their sin, and will only use big words and evade the true questions at hand to justify it. The arguments Comfort provides in the film are logically sound, and I think that 180 is also geared toward the average Americans, so that anyone can understand these issues. They've initiated a big project to get it into the hands of as many people as possible.

    Also, in the film, Comfort didn't present 'It looks like a baby' as his proof that it is a baby. If you recall, he asked folks, 'Do you think that God knows when life begins?' He pointed out that a 6-week old fetus has a beating heart. Now, the question that I would pose to a pro-choice person is, "If life does not begin at conception, when does it begin, and what are the criteria? How do we measure life? What is the magic event, besides conception, by which we can be absolutely sure that at this moment in time, now it is a life?" A fetus is a child, just like an infant or a toddler is also a child.

    Comfort didn't ask if the individuals if they would 'vote pro-life,' he asked if they would ever vote for a candidate who is in favor of abortion.

    Your question regarding ectopic pregnancies puzzles me a little; you ask if it is always wrong to kill innocent human beings. Yes, it is always wrong; why would we suddenly call this into question again because of difficult circumstances? If there was a burning car with two people inside, and I could only pull one out of the fire, would I be justified in shooting the other person just because I couldn't take him out with the other? No! Plus I would have to pose this question...
    what kind of mother would allow the doctor to kill her baby to save her own life? I realize it's a threatening situation, but have we forgotten the protective role of the mother? How about the father? Why don't we rather hold the position that we will do whatever is in our power to save both lives in danger, and we will appeal to the Almighty for His intervention?

    Maybe these questions are just rhetorical, but could they in some way mellow your concerns?

  3. The Other Alice,
    In an ectopic pregnancy, the life of the mother and child are in danger if nothing is done. They are both going to die due to the pregnancy. Therefore, it is justified to save the mother and terminate the life of the child.

    Your analogy of a burning car is deficient. For in an ectopic pregnancy, you cannot simply save the child. The fetus at that point has no viable environment to thrive in. However, you could save any one of the passengers. You don't have to shoot one to save the other. In an ectopic pregnancy, you do have to necessarily terminate the pregnancy (terminate the child) to save the other.

  4. Christopher Kaczor on ectopic pregnancy: "[T]he fact that some medical procedure brings about fetal death with certainty does not mean that it is intentional or direct abortion. Similarly, the removal of the pathological tube along with the human em-bryo (salpingectomy) also causes certain embryonic death, so the certainty of death by no means indicates that the procedure is intentional abortion."

    You can read his article here:

  5. What about very high risk pregnancies, but where the death of the mother isn't as certain? Even with ectopic pregnancies, there is a slight chance that the woman may deliver a baby, even though the odds favor a miscarriage or very heavy bleeding on the mother's part, possibly her bleeding to death. How much risk does there have to be to the woman to justify her having an abortion? And would these arguments work for a 2 year old? For example, what would we say if a mother sacrificed her 2 year old to save her own life, especially if there was even a slight chance the 2 year would live?

  6. Hey Scott. Thanks so much for this review.

    Another issue that might be brought up is that it seems Comfort wants to establish an exact parallel between the holocaust in Germany and the abortion holocaust. No doubt there is an abortion holocaust occurring, but it seems problematic when we try to parallel this too much with the Jewish holocaust, e.g., some could wrongly draw the conclusion that we are morally justified in shooting abortion doctors just as soldiers were justified in shooting German soldiers in WWII.

    What are your thoughts on this?


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