Is this our pro-life moment?

January 1, 2016

“It’s a baby. . . . The heart is right there.”

The doctor speaks these words, caught on a hidden camera, as she sifts through a dish holding the remains of a freshly aborted child.

“Was that crack the little bits of the skull?” an observer asks.

The abortionist answers affirmatively, continues her probing, then points out, in a tone as casual as that of a store clerk helping a shopper locate items on the shelf, “Here’s some organs for you. Here’s a stomach, kidney, heart, adrenal . . . ” She continues her foraging in the dish, searching for the legs. When she finds them, she exclaims giddily, “And another boy!”

This is a scene—one of many such grisly episodes—from a series of undercover videos recording Planned Parenthood officials doling out fetal body parts and haggling with fake buyers over the sale of fetal tissue. As the shocking videos were rolled out one by one this past summer, a movement swelled—despite scant media attention—calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Enough momentum had built by the fall to bring about what before seemed unthinkable: several congressional hearings to investigate Planned Parenthood along with state-level inquiries into the organization’s practices. An attempt by lawmakers to eliminate federal funding, while unsuccessful, was nevertheless a landmark effort in the history of legalized abortion.

It’s been more than 40 years since abortion was legalized across the United States. More than 40 years since the pro-life movement birthed by that decision has been fighting for legal protection of the lives of unborn children.

After all these years, is this our pro-life moment? It may well be.

Consider the steady decline in public perception of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortion. Following the release of the videos, an October Gallup Poll found that 23 percent of respondents reported a “very unfavorable” view of Planned Parenthood compared to four percent in 1989. While 79 percent of those polled had an overall favorable view of Planned Parenthood in 1989, that number fell to 59 percent in 2015.

Likewise, attitudes toward abortion in general have shifted over the years. According to another Gallup Poll, after Roe v. Wade, the percentage of Americans who believe abortion should be legal under all circumstances generally increased until the 1990s and has steadily declined since then, according to gallup.com. Even more importantly, according to a February 2014 report by The Guttmacher Institute, the rate of abortion has declined since it peaked in the 1980s, from 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 to the current rate 16.9 percent, the lowest rate since legalization.

Despite these positive trends, the truth is that we are a culture steeped in abortion. In the years since abortion was legalized by Roe v. Wade, our culture has become socially, sexually and economically dependent upon abortion.

According to data on johnstonarchive.net, approximately 20 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, and 30 percent of women in America will have an abortion at some point in her life. Some economists who have studied the impact of abortion on the country claim that legalized abortion has led to decreases in crime and poverty and higher living standards for children who are born, according to “What Economics Can (and Can’t) Tell Us About the Legacy of Legal Abortion,” published at The Atlantic on January 23, 2013. Such conclusions have been convincingly contested, as in a four-part debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer, yet the surface-level logic leads many to embrace unquestioningly bumper sticker philosophies purporting that legal abortion (even if it isn’t very nice) makes the world better:

The underlying assumptions of these sentiments suggest that abortion helps create a world where children who are born are wanted, safe and loved. While ample research demonstrates the invalidity of such easy conclusions, the assumptions remain stuck in our cultural imagination. The picture of a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy conjures up images of poverty, abuse and despair. Legal abortion fills in the blanks, offering a blurry picture in which those problems mysteriously disappear—along with the pregnancy.

Yet, the Planned Parenthood videos—along with various technologies that give us a window into the fascinating world of the unborn—have brought that once blurry picture more into focus. It is harder now than ever before to deny or ignore what abortion—even those done early in pregnancy—entails. Recognizing what abortion truly is is a start. But it’s not enough.

What remains is to reform the cultural imagination—the collective narrative—in such a way that collectively we envision life, hope and joy as the result of even unexpected or problem pregnancies. Yet, it is difficult if not impossible to imagine a nation—or even a world—that rejects abortion. But to create such a world begins with imagining such a world. For those of us who have lived most or all of our lives in a post-Roe world, it seems unimaginable. Perhaps we need better imaginations.

A 1960 photograph of Jackie Kennedy seated in a yacht, casually smoking a cigarette while pregnant with John F. Kennedy, Jr., is shocking to our sensibilities today. It’s hard to imagine now the days when smoking was allowed everywhere: in office buildings, restaurants, airplanes, and, astonishingly, doctor’s offices. But, no more. Even the economy of the regions formerly dependent upon tobacco have managed to flourish through other agricultural and entrepreneurial enterprises. Likewise, at one point, it seemed everyone in America was on some kind of diet. Yet, in recent decades, more of us are choosing healthier lifestyles over dieting, according to various news reports. Similarly, those of us who grew up in a certain era could not imagine consumers preferring water over soda. But health practitioners and producers of bottled water did imagine such a thing, and now soda sales are falling while bottled water is the beverage category showing the fastest growth. While less dramatic than abortion-on-demand, these examples show that deeply embedded cultural attitudes and behaviors can change—and can even become unimaginable over time.

Stronger parallels yet can be drawn from the abolition of the British slave trade. At the height of the trade worldwide, the British Empire’s military, economy and way of life (including the sugar that sweetened countless cups of English tea) was seen as entirely dependent upon human trafficking. To abolish the slave trade, many feared, would be to abolish the country. Some even argued for slavery on humanitarian grounds, asserting that slaves wrested forcefully from their native lands were better off in “civilized” colonies, even as slaves, than they would be in their native lands.

Christian leaders, in their endeavors to end the slave trade, appealed to biblical principles of compassion, liberty, justice, and morality as they sought to effect legislation, first, to regulate and then to abolish the trade. But they didn’t stop there. In addition to legislative efforts, they paid their own money to buy freedom for slaves, took them into their homes and schools, and promoted notions of freedom and human dignity in the arts.

The efforts to end slavery took decades. And as tempting as it is to think victory came as a result of abolitionists’ tireless efforts against slavery, there is more to the story. The fact is that the slave trade ended in Great Britain at a time when slave labor was seen as less necessary because of the Industrial Revolution. Machines made slave labor obsolete.

What will it take to make abortion obsolete?

It is not enough to expose the horror of the abortion trade for what it is, as the Planned Parenthood videos have done. We need to imagine ways to make abortion obsolete by filling the needs it meets with something better.

We must challenge the assumptions that portray abortion as a “necessary evil” with research, stories, art and real lives that offer countering visions. In so doing, we can refashion the image held within the cultural imagination of pregnancies as problems to be solved into one that envisions all children as blessings to society and all mothers as worthy of honor and support. We can replace the narrative that says women need abortion in order to flourish, that the economy needs abortion in order to reduce crime, and that children who fit into our lives according to plan are better off than those who don’t with a life-affirming narrative.  

How do we cast such an image? By embodying it in our own lives, churches and communities.

This story appeared in Winter 2015 issue of Light Magazine

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English at Liberty University, research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul … 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