It is easy and understandable that people on each side of the abortion debate are passionate about their positions. I certainly am as is evident in the “Life Matters” post I recently wrote upon the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. While I would not deny anyone their right to express their emotion, it is good when a calm, rational voice steps in to present a reasoned argument that genuinely attempts to understand both sides while clearly making a case based on articulated core principles. That is what is contained in the informative and helpful pages of R. C. Sproul’s Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue.
The book was first published in 1990 but was updated in 2010 in order to benefit from two decades of debate and history and to assure the book remains current. Sproul believes that abortion is the ethical dilemma of our time. He unapologetically approaches the topic from a Christian worldview as you would expect from a leading evangelical pastor, theologian, author, philosopher and chancellor. He takes great pains, however, in the book to avoid inflammatory language that tends to immediately alienate and cut off discussion. Rather, he approaches the topic from multiple standpoints, including natural law and the role of government – not just biblical theology.
In the book, Sproul addresses the question of when life begins, including as an appendix the fascinating partial transcript of a court case that deals with the issue of human embryonic development. He addresses those who are not sure about abortion (which may include many Americans). He discusses the role of government in abortion, a woman’s right to her body, the problem of unwanted pregnancies, how Christians should relate to those with whom they disagree and with those who have had abortions, common arguments aimed against one side or the other and counterarguments, and he offers a strategy for those willing to devote time and energy to the cause of protecting innocent life. In addition, he provides a host of resources for further study and action. For later review of the book, the brief chapter summaries will serve as a quick reminder of key points when one returns to the text as needed.
One of the key takeaways for me in reading the book is that it helped me understand that there are more than just two positions in the debate. Commonly, all we hear in the media are the pro-life vs. pro-choice positions. Sproul, however, makes clear that there are really three positions to speak of, four if you include the undecided. There is a pro-life position which deems all human life as sacred – a view which holds that the unborn child is human and worthy of that most basic protection and right of life itself. There is a pro-abortion position which a minority of Americans would espouse due to its radically favorable view of the practice of abortion. Then there is the pro-choice position which over time has been lumped legally and in effect with the pro-abortion position, but which has a very different driving principle behind it than the pro-abortion position, namely the right of each woman to make such a choice herself rather than have her choices limited by others.
It is that pro-choice line of thought that may very well be behind the common statement, “I wouldn’t personally want to have an abortion, but I wouldn’t want to force my beliefs on someone else.” In this sense, those holding the pro-choice position value most that choice, whereas pro-life proponents value most the life at stake, while the less spoken of pro-abortion lobby is militantly devoted to the free practice of abortion. In a country that historically values individual freedoms, it is no surprise, therefore, that the “freedom”-oriented language of the pro-choice side has many supporters, even if those very supporters personally oppose abortion. Sproul’s discussion provides much food for thought for those on the pro-choice side willing to consider logical arguments for being pro-life politically due to the current legal and political implications of their position.
I encourage anyone with an interest in this subject to read Sproul’s book, even those who suspect that they won’t like the conclusions he draws or the foundational values upon which he builds his case. In the interest of open-mindedness, many on all sides of the debate would do well to be exposed to a rational, logical presentation of the subject, if for no other reason that to consider the matter apart from the usual heated exchanges shouted from behind protest signs and campaign stump podiums.
If you’d like to view a 23-minute video of Sproul being interviewed by his son on the subject, I invite you to watch the following. Then, go read the book.