Editor’s Note: This article was featured in Light Magazine.
By now, it’s old news. Late last summer, a pro-life group called The Center for Medical Progress released a series of sting-style, undercover videos that reveal high-level employees from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America discussing the monetary value of body parts from aborted babies — often with Swiftian detail.
The operation falls in line with similar efforts by pro-life activists to shed light on abortion practices — and in so doing undermine the credibility of groups like Planned Parenthood. If nothing else, these videos pushed the topic of abortion back into the national spotlight. The videos prompted the United States Congress to open investigations into Planned Parenthood, a large-scale movement of hashtag activism (#defundPP) and numerous investigations into the funding of the federation itself. Some of Planned Parenthood’s highest profile corporate sponsors, like Coca-Cola, distanced themselves from the nation’s largest provider of on-demand abortions. All this culminated with the The New York Times observing that even though what the videos reveal is unclear — which, well, they’re not unclear — “What is clear is that Republicans and anti-abortion groups are giving no signs of letting the issue fade quickly.”
This observation places pro-life activism, perhaps even beliefs, in the hands of Republicans. As far as it goes, that could be true. Though, notably, the Planned Parenthood scandal may be shifting political lines, too. In the same breath, the Times cites democratic representative Gerald Connolly saying, “Democrats will not abandon their support for women's reproductive rights, but ‘nor are [they] going to defend the indefensible.’”
Regardless of reasons Republicans don’t plan on “letting the issue fade” and Democrats defect from party lines, for Christians it doesn’t really matter.
Followers of Jesus promoted a culture of life and human dignity a long time before abortion became such a partisan issue. And the Christian concern for life neither begins nor ends with strictly legal concerns. These convictions run deeper than political platforms, and they come from an authority higher than D.C.
The Christian heart beats for justice, because justice grows from the heart of God himself. In Generous Justice, Timothy Keller explains that this characteristic of God represents one of the defining aspects of Christianity. “From ancient times, the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor,” he writes. And among various expression of the justice — causes and concerns, from environmental care to animal protections — human dignity takes center stage.
After all, in the Christian vision, we as humans are endowed with the image of God, making us the prize of his creativity. “All human beings owe their ancestry to a set of common parents, according to the Hebrew Bible. These parents, Adam and Eve, were made in the image and likeness of their Creator (Genesis 1:27), and thus all their progeny bear that image (i.e., the imago Dei),” write the editors of the (incredibly helpful) treatise, Legatees of a Great Inheritance. “From these beginnings we inherit the concept of human exceptionalism — the belief that human beings are unique, possessors of inalienable rights.” And the Scriptures teach clearly that God’s love extends to all humans, including those not-yet born (Exod. 21:22-25; Ps. 139: 13-16; Ps. 51:5; Judg. 13:3-5; Luke 1:35 [cf. Heb. 2:17-18]).
This belief fueled the earliest Christians who, beyond simply condemning abortion, provided alternatives, adopting children who were destined to be abandoned. Legatees points to Callistus who took in abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes and Benignus of Dijon who offered nourishment and protection to children, including those disabled by failed abortions.
Of course, ever since the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the Christian response took a different, more political tone. But the pro-life movement was never a merely reactionary position. For Christians, the entire movement draws the earliest church’s witness to human dignity. And since then, care for the unborn continues as a major theme in the story of Christianity.
Among the most famous Christians who stood against bloodshed is German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who represents a figurehead of modern-day social justice. Bonhoeffer, who famously conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler because of his gross anti-human actions, saw the Christian fight for justice extending to abortion, too. “Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life,” he said. “To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life.”
From our earliest days to 2015, Christians see the lives of unborn children as valuable creations by God. And as such, they deserve protecting. So in the Planned Parenthood scandal, we watched a cultural conversation fall right into a central conviction of Christian teaching.
Quite possibly, the Planned Parenthood scandal will fade sooner than later. And you can bet that talking heads jockeying for political high-ground will eventually squawk off to some other subject. You can bet prominent political discussions will shift to other issues. And who knows, maybe in a few years the pro-life platform land with the other political party. But, for the Christian community, moving on from human life and dignity isn’t an option. We’re more than 2,000 years in, and the Christian conscience (and voice) against abortion isn’t going anywhere.