Monday, August 8, 2016

Why Rachel Held Evans is Wrong to Tell Christians to Vote For Hillary Clinton, Part II [Seth Gruber]

(This is the second in a three-part series responding to an article by Rachel Held Evans, which you can read here. This series is a joint effort between Seth Gruber and Clinton Wilcox. For part one in this series, go here.)

In our previous article, we responded to various points Evans raised in her introduction. In this article, we'll respond to her first two points, leaving the last two for the final article in this series. The two points we'll be responding to are as follows:

1. Voting pro-choice is not the same as voting for abortion.
2. Criminalizing abortion won't necessarily reduce abortions.

1. Voting pro-choice is not the same as voting for abortion
This is tantamount to saying:
Voting for a candidate who is pro-choice on wife beating is not the same as voting for wife beating.
Regardless of your pro- or anti-position on wife beating, a vote for a political candidate who believes that men should have the freedom to choose whether they want to beat their wives or not and has promised to do everything in his power to protect that right by law, would be a vote FOR wife beating. And we would discourage people from voting for such a candidate and would be appalled if our fellow believing brothers and sisters chose to vote for that candidate anyways.
In her first point, Evans mentions that the abortion issue doesn’t fall neatly into black and white categories but is much more complex. She seeks to illustrate the “supposed” complexities of the abortion issue by pointing to the frequency of early miscarriages, the historical disagreement among evangelicals regarding when personhood begins, and the potential consequences of criminalizing abortion.
Regarding early miscarriages, Evans says:
The fact that a woman’s body naturally rejects hundreds of fertilized eggs in her lifetime raises questions about where we draw the line regarding the personhood of a zygote. Do we count all those “natural abortions” as deaths?
To be clear, Rachel Evans is talking about miscarriages, the spontaneous yet unfortunate death of the early embryo, who has already come into existence, and is itself a distinct, living, and whole human being with a “dynamic orientation towards self-expressive activity” (Kaczor, 93).
Christopher Kaczor makes the simple observation that “death rates have no relationship to personhood” (Kaczor 131). High early embryo mortality rate does not raise any such question regarding when personhood arises in the early embryo. “For centuries throughout the world, indeed until the twentieth century, the rate of infant mortality was more than 50%” (Kaczor 131), but no one would question whether such infants were persons or point to the complexity of determining the line for personhood.
So why does Rachel Evans do this with the unborn? Does she not believe the unborn is entitled to rights of personhood from the moment of conception? She hasn’t said so. What she has said is that for her, pro-life means to “believe the sacred personhood of an individual begins before birth”, but not necessarily at conception. The belief that life begins at conception and that the embryo we once were began at that moment is the most fundamental pro-life belief, so it is deeply troubling to us that Rachel Evans has not claimed to believe that.  And the failure to confess this foundational, pro-life belief is perhaps what enables her to assume that a high early embryo mortality rate translates to confusion over when personhood arises, even though she wouldn’t dare pose such a question in regards to high infant mortality rate.
So yes Rachel, we do count all those “early abortions” (or miscarriages) as real deaths.
Regarding the historical disagreement among evangelicals on when personhood arises, Evans says,
When does personhood begin—at fertilization? implantation? the presence of brainwaves? the second trimester?  There is disagreement among Christians about this, (and historically, even among evangelicals), so is it really my place, or the government's job, to impose my beliefs on people of all faiths and convictions?

Pointing to historical disagreement among evangelicals regarding when personhood arises does absolutely nothing to prove that we don’t know when human personhood begins. We used to disagree regarding whether African Americans were full persons and whether women were entitled to the full rights of a man. Yet, we look back at those events and wish that the correct view had been “imposed” on the rest of society, because we were imposing our incorrect view of human personhood on blacks and women by depriving them of rights they deserved intrinsically.
Rachel Evans, we appeal to you as brothers in Christ and gently remind you that it is your place as a follower of Jesus to love your neighbor and speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. So are the unborn our neighbors from the earliest stages of development (i.e. conception)? The science of embryology is clear that human life and development begins at the moment of fertilization (even abortion-choice advocates know this) . We then look to philosophy to answer the question of value and personhood. (See the 5-minute pro-lifer) If you don’t ground the genesis of human personhood at conception, then you are espousing a performance view of personhood that says we are only valuable because of arbitrarily-determined capacities or characteristics. Why? Because if human personhood is not grounded in the human being’s nature, which comes to be at conception, then what explains value? What determines personhood? If it’s not intrinsic (the unborn being valuable by virtue of the kind of thing that it is), then it has to be something the unborn can do, perform, or realize at a later stage in its development (quickening, ability to feel pain, detection of brain waves, memory, etc..). And if the latter is true, then we must be prepared to accept that there are many born people who don’t have such capacities and abilities, and therefore, we must also call into question whether they are full persons yet.
So yes Rachel, it is your place and our place to “impose” the belief that human life and personhood begins at conception and it is wrong to take the life of a defenseless, innocent, unborn human person through legalized abortion on the rest of society.
Regarding the potential consequences of criminalizing abortion, Evans says,
If abortion is criminalized, should every miscarriage be investigated by police? Should in vitro fertilization be outlawed?
If abortion is made illegal (“criminalized”), a miscarriage will still be a spontaneous and unfortunate loss of life with no one to blame. In a post-Roe world, miscarriages will still occur, and as long as such miscarriages are a spontaneous and uncaused event, then women won’t be charged or blamed, any more than we would charge a woman for murder whose son slipped and fell to his death while rock-climbing. Miscarriages are more often than not extremely traumatic and sad events in the life a mother, father, or couple and such an event should be acknowledged as a real loss for which grief is appropriate.
However, in a post-Roe world, if there were questionable circumstances surrounding a miscarriage that caused people to question whether such an event was spontaneous, than the police would be required to look into it, just as they are required to do so when there may be reason to believe that the death of a born child may be linked to a family member. In such a world, abortifacient “contraceptives” would also be outlawed, so inducing an “early-abortion” would require more old-fashioned techniques that would likely leave behind evidence of such an act. If such an investigation was warranted and led to the discovery that the “miscarriage” in question was caused and self-induced by the mother or someone else, then we would be required to charge said person with first-degree murder. If the early abortion was induced by someone other than the mother, a secondary charge for crimes against the mother would also be required.
So no, Rachel, if abortion were made illegal, not every miscarriage would be investigated by police, but only those for which there were good reasons to assume, or evidence to warrant an investigation, that the “miscarriage” in question was actually an induced abortion.
Regarding in vitro fertilization, it’s beyond the scope of this article to give a full treatment of the morality or immorality of the procedure. However, excess embryos are always created through IVF. This is because the process is very expensive and carries extreme risks to the mother in extracting her ova, so excess embryos are created to give the process the greatest chance of forming an embryo that will successfully implant into the mother. These excess embryos that are not ultimately implanted into the woman are either used for experimentation, or sometimes stored away. Since excess human embryos are created and ultimately destroyed, experimented on, etc., IVF, as it is currently practiced, is highly immoral and should be outlawed, even now.

2. Criminalizing abortion won’t necessarily reduce abortions
Evans’ argument here seems wrong, on the face of it. If people are generally law-abiding citizens, then most of them will follow the law. Of course a lot of women will still abort, but even those who do still abort should be punished when they do so. This is true whether or not the number of abortions have been reduced. The unborn are still full human beings, and taking their lives should bring with it legal penalties. Additionally, as was the case before Roe was decided on in 1973, women were often granted immunity if they released the name of the abortionist who did the procedure. There are bigger fish to fry, and going after the abortionist will save more lives in the long run.

The assumption in Evans’ argument here is that we shouldn’t make abortion illegal, because that won’t necessarily even reduce the number of abortions anyway, but instead should be “working to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies using the tools we already have”.

In the introduction, Evans wrote the following:
So even though I think abortion is morally wrong in most cases, and support more legal restrictions around it, I often vote for pro-choice candidates when I think their policies will do the most to address the health and economic concerns that drive women to get abortions in the first place. For me, it’s not just about being pro-birth; it’s about being pro-life.
But let’s think about that for a moment. Suppose we weren’t talking about abortion, but spousal abuse. We’re going to change a few words around. Let’s see if Rachel’s argument still holds up:
So even though I think wife-beating is morally wrong in most cases, and support more legal restrictions around it, I often vote for candidates who promise to fight to keep wife-beating legal, when I think their policies will do the most to address the health and economic concerns that drive men to beat their wives in the first place. For me, it’s not just about being pro-wife; it’s about being pro-life.

If this argument doesn’t sit well with you, but you agree with the former argument as Evans presents it, then what is the fundamental difference between the two scenarios that makes the argument reasonable in the former, but not in the latter, case?

Evans points out that in areas where abortion is illegal and heavily restricted, their abortion rates were no lower than the rest of the world. She goes on to say, In fact in Latin America, a region with highly restrictive abortion laws, one in three pregnancies (32%) ended in abortion in 2010--2014, higher than any other region”. Such thinking is dangerous as it often leads to asking this question:

If women are going to get abortions anyway, shouldn’t we just keep it legal so that it’s at least safe?

Frank Beckwith deals with this question by asking another question: “Should we then legalize child pornography and the hitman profession because we can’t stop all people from obtaining such ‘goods’ and services?” (Beckwith, 122). Clearly not. Some choices are wrong and require us to forbid them from being made for the very reason that those choices hurt or end the life of innocent human persons with intrinsic value.

Aside from that, Evans has not really proven anything. In fact, she’s guilty of cherry picking evidence in order to prove her claim.

First, you can’t just look at Latin America, with highly restrictive abortion laws, and argue, ipso facto, that abortion laws don’t reduce abortion rates. You have to look at a country in a state in which abortion is illegal, and that same country in a state in which abortion is legal, and compare the two. Only then can you know whether or not restrictive abortion laws have actually worked in reducing abortions. Even then, it’s difficult to get accurate figures because abortions are not always accurately reported, especially if they are illegal.

Second, Evans looks at Latin America, but ignores a country like Ireland, in which only 1 in 9 pregnancies end in abortion. This suggests that there are other factors at work which affect the abortion rates, such as the fact that there are many developing countries in Latin America, which means more poverty and other situations in which women might feel they need abortions. If abortion laws were less restrictive, the number of abortions in Latin America might be much higher.

This leads us to finally address Evans’ claim. Will making abortion illegal significantly reduce the abortion rate in America?
Evans’ arguments assume a view of the law that we take issue with, namely that the law cannot and will not change people’s behavior. Thus, Evans’ statement: “women will continue to seek out abortions even if they are illegal”. Obviously, people break the law all the time. So to an extent, laws won’t change people’s behavior, but that doesn’t mean they can’t change some people’s, or even a majority of people’s, behavior. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his address to Western Michigan University in 1963, “It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important, also.” It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if stealing and murder were legal, we would see a huge rise in theft and homicide cases. But thanks to the law, people are less likely to commit the act to which they are tempted.
Beckwith adds: “[T]he function of law is not always to reflect the attitudes and behavior of society but to serve as ‘a mechanism by which people are encouraged to do what they know is right, even when it is difficult to do so’” (David Reardon, Aborted Women: Silent No More, Acorn Books, Springfield, Il, 2002, p. 319, as quoted in Beckwith, 122). Reardon goes on to point out that while law reflects morality (the laws we make are based on moral standards of living), morality can also reflect law: “Studies in the psychology of morality reveal that the law is truly the teacher. One of the most significant conclusions of these studies shows that existing laws and customs are the most important criteria for deciding what is right or wrong for most adults in a given culture” (Reardon, 319-320, as quoted in Beckwith, ibid.). In other words, most adults don’t make choices based on their moral intuitions, but based on what the law has said is right or wrong. So if and when abortion is made illegal, it is safe to say that we will see a significant decrease in the abortion rate in America.

Now that we've responded to Evans' first two points, we'll respond to her last two points in our next article.

Works cited:

Beckwith, Francis J., Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2007.
Kaczor, Christopher, The Ethics of Abortion: Women's Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice, First Edition, Routledge, New York, NY, 2010.


  1. I can't be certain about someone's motives, but this Rachel Held Evans doesn't sound very pro-life to me. What kind of pro-lifer refers to abortion as "terminating a pregnancy"? Terminating is something you do with a stalled Windows program or an incompetent secretary, not a human life. And the stuff about what happens if abortion is made illegal looks like it's coming from a concern troll rather than someone who is actually pro-life (ie someone that favours making most first-trimester elective abortions illegal). Just because you aren't depraved enough to give a standing ovation to a woman that brags about her abortion doesn't make you pro-life.

  2. No matter which way you look at it, Abortion is Murder. The Abortion lobby tries to cover up the fact by using a fake vocabulary. The term "Pro-Choice" is less threatening than "Pro-Abortion". "Abortion is a Sacrificial offering to Satan".


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