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ANALYSIS: Abortion debate is about to heat up

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jan. 22 is Sanctity of Life Sunday on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar

HAZARD, Ky. (BP) — A full pendulum swing back to the right has put the Republican Party in a position here in Kentucky that has led quickly to the passing of abortion-curbing legislation that in previous decades had absolutely no chance.

At least for the moment, abortion providers are not allowed to perform abortions on unborn babies over 20 weeks, and women seeking an abortion must be given and ultrasound before an abortion procedure can take place.

This success of conservative, pro-life politicians and their constituents will most definitely be challenged in the courts. It took only one day for the ACLU to bring suit! It is conceivable that such legislation may move the Supreme Court ultimately to revisit Roe v. Wade. Of course, we are still waiting to see what nominee to the court President-elect Trump will put forward. Furthermore, we may see additional nominations to SCOTUS during the next four years.

A tide that favors the pro-life cause has without a doubt arisen. The question remains as to how high it may carry legislation in statehouses until it begins to recede because of federal courts.

The abortion issue has been and always will be a moral and ethical debate. Unfortunately, like other moral issues, it has become politicized. But for the pro-life person like me, the conversation has always been about the human rights of the unborn and about helping women who feel, for whatever reason, that abortion is the right choice for them.

The push to make abortion legal in our country happened on the heels of the feminist movement, which was by and large part of the so-called sexual revolution. As the society moved to more open liberal views in regard to sexuality in the ’60s and ’70s, unwanted pregnancies began to be rethought as well. Why should a woman who found herself pregnant necessarily have to carry and give birth? Some were getting illegal and dangerous abortions anyway. So, the arguments for legalized abortion began to emerge in force.

In these arguments the pregnant woman’s rights and the issue of safety took center stage. What people had intuitively known — that an unborn baby is a human life — was to be suppressed and take a backseat to a woman’s choice. The argument that ultimately won the day, resulting in legalized abortion, concerned a woman’s right to privacy in regard to her pregnancy. The Supreme Court applied the 14th Amendment to the debate in Roe v. Wade. No serious discussion took place about the nature of the unborn themselves.

These old arguments are going to resurface for a new generation. However, there will be one difference — technology. Ultrasound technology was new, of poor quality and not widely used in the United States in 1973. The in utero detail we can see now of a baby is amazing! The equipment and skill we now possess to help premature babies survive has also complicated the issue. It seems much more likely that when the lawyers and judges begin to argue and rule on this in the days ahead, there will be a lot of new material to work with that was unavailable the first time around in the ’60s and ’70s.

We might actually be forced to have the discussion that never took place from the first. Yes, we must talk about women’s health in regard to pregnancy. But we must also talk about the reality of this new life. We must talk about whether this new life has human rights, just like the mother.

Our country, through its legislative and judicial processes, will have to rethink our understanding of life and freedom. We will have to sift out the weightier ethical elements and prioritize. In the end, maybe we will come to our senses and finally admit what I believe we all really know — that an unborn baby is a human life. Then we will have to decide if that unborn human life has just as much the right to life as a newborn human life.

I believe we are now on a trajectory in which these discussions will be taking place at the family dinner table, at the coffee shops, on social media (God help us!), in churches, on the cable news networks, and among our leaders.

In the end, decisions will have to be made. Will we continue to hide behind the rhetoric of choice and become even more callous and selfish? Or will we repent, admit our error and begin to reshape a culture that will uphold the dignity of every person and protect the most vulnerable, while being serious about helping women who find themselves with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies? I have a feeling that we may get some answers to these questions in 2017.

    About the Author

  • Daryl C. Cornett

    Daryl C. Cornett is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hazard, Ky., a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and former associate professor of church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.

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