In a recent article, pro-life spokesperson Abby Johnson argues that the real hindrance to ending abortion today is the perception of “older white men screaming at women” outside abortion clinics. She says, “How pro-lifers are perceived by those who oppose us is important.” Reading the rest of her article makes me realize why the mainstream pro-life movements have failed for over 40 years. It’s a misplacement of compassion, and a neglect of the vital importance of civil government for the Christian.
Mrs. Johnson tells the story of when she worked for Planned Parenthood. She almost became friends with one of the abortion protesters—almost called her to schedule a coffee date. But then another mean abortion protester “sent a letter to the neighborhood where my parents lived, comparing me to a child molester and telling everyone that I killed children.” When she realized these two abortion protesters worked together, she reconsidered. She didn’t want to have coffee with that other girl after all.
Then she blames the mean, angry man’s letter for causing her to stay at Planned Parenthood for two more years! She says,
I didn’t move across that fence for another two years. Two years. How many lives had been taken in that two years? How many more babies died by my hands because I didn’t make that call?
The absurdity of this appeal is exposed by considering Scripture. Abortion is murder. Murder is a crime. Scripture teaches us not to have compassion on crime. While salvation is obviously not by law, the law nevertheless serves crucial purposes—and two of these purposes are the prevention and punishment of crime. In neither case are we to show compassion.
The biblical doctrine of civil justice is to have compassion upon victims, but to have no pity—no compassion—in providing proper punishment for the criminal.
But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies. . . . Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you (Deut. 19:11–13).
This standard is repeated a few verses later, when dealing with the rules for false witnesses. Here, the law is said also to provide a preventative aspect in society.
[Y]ou shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity (Deut. 19:19–21).
The preventative aspect here is specifically said to be fear.
Some Christians have been misled to believe that the appeal to law is an Old Testament phenomenon, but is replaced with love in the New Testament. But Paul upholds this use of the law in the New Testament as well:
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Tim. 1:8–11).
I address these differences between biblical love and our own feelings of love, as well as biblical fear, in The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty.
For people who allow personal feelings to triumph over God’s design for society may feel that love is best served over a latte, but when crime is involved, the only course of love is for civil justice. Stop the crime, bring restitution if necessary, and bring punishment if necessary. This is to protect the innocent and to make potential criminals fear.
When we remove this fear, and replace it with undue compassion, we create a license for crime. This is what Mrs. Johnson unwittingly does with her appeals.
What can we conclude from this but that pro-lifers who hesitate due to misplaced compassion care more about protecting the murderers’ feelings than the life of the child?
And yes, it really is this bad. Mrs. Johnson goes on argue that “a baby cannot be saved unless we reach the hearts of the women walking into abortion facilities.” Not true. Imagine if we treated any other civil crime in this way. Imagine if we said, “a rape victim cannot be saved unless we reach the heart of the rapist first.” Imagine if we said, “a sex slave cannot be saved unless we reach the heart of the sex traffickers first.” Imagine: “murder victims cannot be saved unless we first reach the heart of the murderer.”
Imagine if such reasoning were used to prevent the enforcement of laws against rape, murder, and theft. Imagine if arguments like Mrs. Johnson’s were used to shame those who preached with zeal against these crimes.
Mrs. Johnson argues that we cannot stop abortion through intimidation: “We won’t be able to help women if we scare them.” Crazy as today’s Christian may think this sounds, this is absolutely wrong. Fear is precisely one way civil law works and why it is a Christian tool in a sinful society. It is the last resort available to prevent people from committing crimes. You commit murder, you go to jail or get executed. Those who absolutely will not be persuaded from injuring their neighbor by any other means must be persuaded by threat of punishment.
Again, Mrs. Johnson’s compassion is misplaced: it demands compassion for the perpetrators over the victims. Were the pro-lifer compassionate in a way that expresses biblical love, she would have compassion for the child and not for its murderers.
Folks, we are not talking about medical procedures and women’s health care here. We are talking about murder. Do not be deceived into thinking that any delicacy with the feelings of the abortion clinic staff or resident medical butchers is the Christian thing to do. Pass or enforce laws at every level to stop the practice, now, and let the States defy the Supreme Court if we have to. We can deal with the emotions after that.
Especially in a world of unregenerate souls—but even in a world of regenerate, but still-being-sanctified souls—the laws of the civil government provide crucial bulwarks against injury and malice. Murder may still reside in the hearts of people (1 John 3:15), and yet the vast majority do not physically commit murder out of fear of punishment. The same is true of other sins and crimes. Yes, a few that are wholly committed to evil or desperate will still commit crimes, but not the millions that would do so if the crimes were legal. Many of these would have committed physical crimes were it not for the fear and intimidation provided by the civil law.
Abortion is the same way. It is murder. It ought to be treated as murder, immediately. You don’t wait for the abortionist murderer or the murderer’s secretary to feel good about you and schedule coffee with you. Smiles and warm fuzzies don’t matter here. The law does. Recriminalize it first. Have coffee later.
Save the feelings of compassion for where they should really matter: poor and single mothers. Once abortion is abolished and criminalized, there will for some time be a tremendous need to help those with “crisis” pregnancies. The need will decline over time if society renormalizes to Christian morality and out-of-wedlock pregnancies grow rarer. Even then, however, some mothers will need help. During these cases (even those today) will be the time to schedule coffee and have counsel. Here is where compassion belongs—not when facing the scheduling desk for a mass murderer.
The Christian world needs to move well beyond the misplaced compassion of the failure that is the pro-life industry. It has no biblical answers, and it has no biblical plan or tactics to abolish abortion. I don’t think it really even wants to. We should embrace a more radical and thoughtful legal approach.