Don’t fear the abortion punishment question

April 18, 2016

We recently witnessed another cycle of the news media asking pro-lifers and presidential candidates (not always one and the same) if they believe post-abortive women should face criminal charges. If you’re quiet and listen, you can almost hear the hand-wringing of Republican campaign managers around the nation, fearing their candidate will implode on a controversial abortion question. But they shouldn’t fear it. The punishment question is fully answerable and is an opportunity for the pro-life cause. If pro-lifers are paying attention, we ought to welcome the question, as should any elected official claiming a pro-life platform.

The short answer to the very loaded “abortion punishment” question is simply, “Oh, stop it,” then cue a response like Marjorie Dannenfelser who explained, “We have never advocated, in any context, for the punishment of women who undergo abortion.” At the same time, when asked in good faith, it is a question worthy of a thoughtful reply. So become familiar with the thinking on the subject from other pro-life colleagues, including Russell Moore, Jeanne Mancini, and Joe Carter. But even before developing that conversation, you can dispense any fear of the “gotcha” question. Here are a couple ways to do that.

1. Recognize what’s behind the question.

The question itself reveals a significant ceding of ground to the pro-life position. It indicates the pro-life movement is winning other arguments. Whether they know it or not, those who pose the question concede they don’t know how to defend abortion-on-demand as morally good, in and of itself. Otherwise, they would do so. They have skipped any attempt to defend abortion as anything other than the taking of a unique human life. After all, the pro-life movement continues to win that point medically, philosophically, and yes, biblically.

The question presumes a not-yet realized world where abortion-on-demand is once again outlawed. So if we are already debating what the penalties might be for future illegal abortions, pro-life Americans should welcome that conversation. Why is that? Instead of forthrightly defending abortion, the pro-abortion apologists are doing three things. First, they are avoiding the main question at hand (what is the unborn?), which they lose. Second, they are trading in fear, casting pro-lifers as people who want to lock women in jail, which is not true. Third, they are trying to keep Americans thinking that abortion is not something they want to prohibit by law.

The abortion industry is on the defensive, you see. The pro-life movement has proved resilient and public support for pro-life legislative ideas is increasing. Evidence of this is in opinion polling on abortion laws (like bans on late-term abortions) and open admissions of trouble from within the industry. The pro-life movement has successfully convinced many Americans that abortion is at least morally questionable. The logical next step is for Americans to consider abortion immoral enough that we make it unlawful.

The pro-abortion apologists know this. They reason that if they can get Americans to think that being pro-life means punishing women with the law, they can neutralize the pro-life movement. Don’t let them deceive you. The “punishment question” reveals the success of the pro-life movement.

2. Welcome the legitimate policy question.

Pro-lifers know that women who consider abortion are often victims themselves. Post-abortive women certainly are. They have been injured physically, medically, emotionally, and spiritually. These mothers and their aborted babies are among the most vivid and heartbreaking casualties of the sexual revolution. Abortion-on-demand cannot be separated from the context of the sexual revolution which hatched such an evil. This is why the American pro-life movement has staffed, volunteered, and self-funded pregnancy care centers to serve women and men to offer counsel, healing, and often Christ. Legal restrictions are not a quick fix to a culture of death.

Once we explain our dedication to the care and healing of post-abortive women, then yes, let’s talk about what life looks like in a world when abortion-on-demand is outlawed once again. The rule of law facilitates justice and educates us about morality. Let’s readily admit that the abolition of abortion-on-demand necessarily has implications for our legal system, including criminal penalties for abortion “doctors.” This is no different than the abolition of slavery requires criminal penalties for those who buy and sell human beings. We need not shy away from this fact. If you have proclaimed yourself a pro-life candidate without understanding this, know that this is simply the logical outworking of a coherent position.

In the modern era, Americans have outlawed human trafficking. In combatting trafficking we seek to address a host of social factors and provide restoration to victims. Nevertheless, it would be absurd for us to neglect criminal penalties for the perpetrators of those crimes. We rightly do both. The same is true for where the pro-life movement has historically placed emphasis: forgiveness and restoration for women; penalties for those who dismember the bodies of unborn humans.

The moral of the story in all this is the same as any debate about abortion: be prepared to reply to difficult questions, and recognize when you are on the winning side of a debate. To the pro-life community, I echo Russell Moore and say, “Onward!”

Matthew T. Hawkins

Matthew T. Hawkins is a former policy director of the  ERLC. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and serves as chair of The One America Movement, a nonprofit that desires to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. More information … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24