One of the most insightful classes I had in Pastoral Ministry class in Seminary wasn’t taught by the professor. He was out that day and his grader stepped in for him.
He used an illustration of placing “Danger! Bridge Out!” signs on a mountain road. He pointed out the church’s strength of warning of the dangers of the “damaged bridge” of any number of societal ills. But he added that the church should do more than just post warning signs. The church should also run an ambulance service at the bottom of the hill where the bridge was damaged, so those who fail to heed the warnings can be helped.
On the abortion front, I think conservative churches have done a good job of standing up for the sanctity of human life. But overall, those churches have done a very poor job of giving real options — other than “Don’t kill your baby” advice — and supporting those who choose life. Unfortunately, many church-going teens have been shamed when they decided to carry their baby to term.
I confess that when a neighbor’s teenaged daughter made a bad choice on prom night and then chose to keep her child, I was less than supportive. (But she was supposed to “choose life”, right?) Another neighbor reminded me that the teen’s baby would need diapers, baby clothes, and formula… just like every other baby does. The teenaged mother would need maternity clothes… just like every other expectant mother. So, the neighborhood ladies threw a shower for the teen. Just as they should have!
So what is a “Heartbeat Bill”?
Simply put, a Heartbeat Bill prohibits an abortion if a heartbeat is detected.
The overall argument against “Heartbeat Bills” concerns hardship for women. Opponents of the Texas Heartbeat Bill argue that if a woman discovers at nine weeks (after her second missed period) that she’s pregnant, she will have no options. They say that this will put extra burdens on those who already have financial stresses and will disproportionately affect women of color. The lack of options could also cause high school students to drop out, either because of health issues surrounding the pregnancy or because of shame resulting from a pregnancy that could be otherwise hidden by having an abortion. They argue that having to raise a child before they’re ready would prevent many young women from pursuing college or beginning careers. They say that abortion allows women to choose when they want to begin having children.
In a recent discussion of Texas’ Heartbeat Bill, the person I was talking with emphasized the often-overlooked difficult family dynamics and shame of high schoolers who become pregnant. While acknowledging the tough realities of those issues, I pointed out that the Heartbeat Bill recognizes and protects the human and civil rights of an unborn baby.
And therein lies the rub.
As long as we’re talking about pregnancy inconveniencing a pregnant woman, the discussion centers around how we can best ensure the rights and needs of the woman. You know, the God-given, inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness espoused in the Declaration of Independence. The discussion concerns caring for the woman’s health, finances, and family dynamics.
However, Heartbeat Bills radically change the nature of the discussion. Heartbeat Bills declare that unborn babies have God-given, inalienable rights. Suddenly we’re talking about the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of another human being. When you follow the path of the Pro-Choice advocate, you talk about the rights of the woman. When you follow the path of the Pro-Life advocate, you talk about the rights of the unborn baby. When you follow the path of the Pro-Choice advocate, the unborn baby’s rights are ignored.
“Follow the Science”
For fourteen months, we have heard our government leaders and media pundits urge us to, “follow the science” regarding the Global Covid-19 Pandemic. Heartbeat Bills bring science into the discussion, demonstrating that there is a separate heart beating in the woman’s body. No longer are we talking about “reproductive rights”. Now we’re talking about the rights of another human being.
In the Nineteenth Century, three Amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution, declaring the personhood and rights of former slaves. Now, in the Twenty-First Century, we’re addressing the personhood and rights of unborn babies.
The U.S. Supreme Court has chosen to hear arguments regarding Mississippi’s Heartbeat Bill, which, like Texas’ Bill, prohibits abortions as early as six weeks from conception, and only two weeks after the mother’s first missed period. Many women don’t even suspect they’re pregnant at this point.
With Texas’ Heartbeat Bill, “private citizens, including people outside of Texas, will be allowed to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who may have helped someone terminate a pregnancy after the limit for up to $10,000 each.” This is problematic for critics of the Bill who argue that it will create a flood of lawsuits in the courts.
We are wrong to assume that the sanctity of life issue is a simple open-and-shut case. The issues of health, finances, and family dynamics cloud the emotions and prevent honest discussions that need to be had if, in fact, we’re dealing with a baby with its own rights.
The Texas Heartbeat Bill is a good bill. But the Bill only addresses part of the real issue. Yes, abortion stops the heartbeat of an unborn baby. But we (church and state) must step up and provide education and real options if we really want to prevent abortions.
We need churches and ministries like Grace House Ministries in Weatherford, Texas, and Embrace Grace Ministries who step up and do more than post “Danger! Bridge Out!” signs about abortion. Ministries like these not only encourage young people to choose abstinence, but they also provide free sonograms, encourage young women to carry their babies to term, and help prepare them (and their “baby daddies”) for parenthood. They help new parents to get diapers, wipes, baby clothes, car seats, and other things that new parents need — things that many young people don’t even think about. It can be quite overwhelming! We need churches and ministries to serve as referrals when mothers choose to put the babies up for adoption.