Friday, February 27, 2009

Redefining Pro-Life? The Abortion Reduction Debate

I have often spoken out on this blog about the need to forge common ground on abortion reduction. At the same time, I have been more than frustrated at the total absence of any tangible reduction policies being put forth by this administration. As I recently commented in a Washington Post article, many evangelicals have stuck our necks out to forge common ground in this effort and the administration will have done us a great disservice if they do not put their political money where their political mouths are. Filling the air in place of an actual political agenda, pundits and commentators are offering their advice.

A Newsweek piece commented, "The election of a pro-choice administration and a Democratic Congress has divided the pro-life movement, between those who are preparing for the fight of their lives and those who see the opportunity to redefine what it means to be pro-life." I disagree with Newsweek, a periodical which demonstrates again and again that they wouldn't recognize evangelicals if we all scrunched together for a cover story photo. The pro-life movement is not divided. We are as unified as ever to protecting the lives of the unborn. However, many people--including myself--have been accepting a broader definition of what it means to be pro-life.

For many evangelicals, the term pro-life extends beyond anti-abortionism, though it certainly includes it. It means we must fight against the global death occurring in massive numbers all across the globe. It is the ultimate hypocrisy to advocate for the protection of unborn babies, but turn a blind eye to the millions who die from water-related diseases, malaria, hunger and other preventable maladies.

Where Newsweek gets it right is that "to legions of pro-life activists, even the use of the word 'reduction' instead of elimination borders on heresy." That is perhaps the greatest potential division in the entire pro-life movement. This mindset is typified in the words of Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who, in this month's Christianity Today, said that joining with pro-choice groups on abortion reduction is "akin to civil rights activists joining hands with pro-lynching vigilantes in ... early 20th century America to 'reduce the number of lynchings' through better funding of segregated African-American school systems."

On one hand, Moore makes a solid point. On the other, I am not sure that inflammatory rhetoric goes a long way toward solving a very real policy problem. There is no significant division within the pro-life movement, yet many of us have decided to speak and advocate in what may be more constructive ways. I have worked with others to promote common ground policies that can reduce abortions in America and will continue to do so.
We are making progress. As Christianity Today notes, "More states are passing legislation that works to reduce abortion. Fewer Americans now support abortion on demand. America's youth are increasingly pro-life. Crisis pregnancy centers are full of volunteers. Planned Parenthood is under more scrutiny thea it has been in decades. And the abortion rate is really decreasing. It's now the lowest level since 1974." Now we simply need the Obama administration to begin making good on their promise to enact federal legislation to support this trend.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have been speaking about the shifting abortion debate for some time. I will continue to bring you developments on this important trend as they happen.

Your thoughts?


robert fortner said...

Great post Jonathan.

And,"they wouldn't recognize evangelicals if we all scrunched together for a cover story photo", well... That's just perfect.

Brian said...

This is an area that tugs at my heart. I hear it when people say "Reduction??? Why not elimination?!" I want to say "elimination and elimination only." It seems like the righteous position, difficult as it may be.

But in doing so, I put many of my friends who only want exceptions to protect a mother's life or in other severe situations in the same camp as a person who would see abortion used as a method of birth control. Is that a helpful strategy for saving the lives on unborn children? Does finding common ground and working with others around abortion reduction issues we can agree upon not only save lives but create valuable (and potentially moving) relationships?

I don't know what the answer in. I desire a world without a single abortion; but I don't want to cause more abortions by unwillingness to forge alliances.

Tough stuff.

Kim Pittman said...

I have a friend that actually worked with Planned Parenthood, but was very pro-life. Because of all the donations she received for them in way of clothes and baby items for the women that decided not to abort, they actually let her take up shop there from time to time and offer her counseling services. This approach stopped numerous abortions, and the abortion statistics for that particular PP went down tremendously after she was there a few years. So, on the one hand, I totally see your stance on working with pro-choicers to meet a common ground on new policies. On the other, I'm glad it's you and not me, because I would find it very difficult to hear the same evil rhetoric over and over again; that it's a woman's choice, that it's not a human until born, blah blah blah.

So, if there are those pro-lifers that want to go at the issue by working with pro-choice groups to "reduce" abortions, I hope it's a matter of constant prayer, and would love to be able to say, "wow, I never thought Obama's administration would actually pass xxx!"

Personally, I'd like to be looked at as MLK Jr. for our unborn babies, no one will ever guess which side I stand on the issue, and I will put on God's armor and fight the good fight, knowing through Christ all things can be accomplished. And just as blacks are no longer "property of owner" as listed in the Dred Scott decision, I hope to live to see the day our unborn are no longer "property of owner" and it's illegal to kill them. We were all created with our own talents and personalities, and that's a great thing, because maybe (and it's a maybe for me because I'm still not sure), maybe if we have pro-lifers in both camps - God will allow us win this battle.

But again, I'm glad it's you in the other camp and not me. :-)

Anonymous said...

This is a very tough issue. However, for me personally, I see abortion "reduction" as one of the only reasonable solutions politically. Let me explain why:

For too long, politicians have garnered evangelical voters by saying that they are pro-life. So as far as politics is concerned, when you look at the results of those candidates in that area, I say who cares where you stand. If you are not going to do something about it, then don't use the issue to gather support.

Another reason is that I don't think that Roe v. Wade can be overturned until the powerful undercurrent that is sweeping our culture can be reversed or at least weakened.

Good politics requires compromises. Bush would not compromise on Iraq, we see where that got us. Obama and the democrats did not compromise on the stimulus, and we're about to get slapped with the consequences of that.

One thing I know, most pro-life and pro-choice people have one thing in common, they value life and don't want to kill babies. Most pro-choice advocates are supporting the health of the mother and the quality of life of the child.

Finding common ground could be a great way to slow down the "under-current" i mentioned earlier. That could set us on a path to achieve the total abolishment that we would have in our "perfect" world.

Jim Wallis and the Sojourners organization is one place that supports "reduction" and can offer better insight than I can. If you are interested you can find them at .

Chris Arsenault said...

Is it okay to reduce the body of Christ? What unity does that show if reduction is acceptable?

However, many people--including myself--have been accepting a broader definition of what it means to be pro-life.

How can one broaden what it means to be pro-life? Either you believe life is intrinsically valuable at all stages or you don't. Principles can't be split.

Broadening definitions simply means demonstrating pro-life beliefs in other works - but we are called to do these things AND defend the unborn. Instead of fighting for righteousness for the weakest among us, too many people believe they are demonstrating pro-life beliefs by doing other good deeds: a this OR that effort. For instance - "I can demonstrate I'm pro-life by helping out this well-water charity 'OR' by attending 40 Days for Life".

Such acceptance simply defuses support for the pro-life effort and achieves two divisive objectives for pro-abortion politicians: 1) it makes the neediness of the unborn equal to the born, (false - the unborn are completely dependent upon their mothers for a nourishing, protective environment) and 2) it divides the concentration of mass power on this issue.

Tactically, unity concentrates power, but diversionary tactics break up that unity, culturally creating the perception the unborn don't need concentrated defense. In fact, with less unity - they are less defended.

This is precisely the political result of this last election.

Jonathan, I used to believe abortion was about personal situations. That's a very naive mindset. Digging into the issue, you'll find abortion is a culturally tweakable market that's used specifically for political power and greater gain. There's no other way to explain it.

Now we simply need the Obama administration to begin making good on their promise to enact federal legislation to support this trend.

You won't see it.

BHO will not turn on his masters - the abortion industry and powerful elite interests.

For evidence visit:

Go the right side of the page and scroll down to the box titled "barack obama’s radical positions on abortion"

Read those articles and do your homework. You'll find out who he's really working for and what it's all about.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what Arsenault, no need to restate his comments.

Life - pro-life...where in the world did anyone get the idea that being pro-life meant supporting torture, genocide, euthanasia..and other means of death?

I for one have never been in that boat. I support the right to life for every human being from conception to natural death. However, when we start to politicize morality - that is when we get into divisive issues.

I am pro-life, because I believe it is no one's right or authority to determine when the life of another human being should be ended. That includes the terrorist, the working mom, the lawyer, the grocery clerk, the sick child in Africa, the man with no brain activity in the hospital - and certainly does not trump or supersede the right to life of an unborn defenseless, helpless, child.

You can't legislate morality. And you can't legislate the proliferation of a suggested morality.

However - reduction of abortion? I don't see why we need to look at that....

If anti-abortion advocates would seriously do their homework and field work - we could present a case that can show there is no need for clauses or "loopholes" in legislation for the "sake of the mother"....for any reason.

If mother can't carry a baby - then we can take it out of her womb and artificially implant it elsewhere. If the mother's health is at risk - we can do the same. If in the case of rape or incest - we can do the same. We have had technology in place for decades to implant and develop a baby from any stage of fertilization in another natural or artificial womb.

The viability argument is a farce too. Certainly, at 12 weeks if a mother looses the baby it's considered a miscarriage. But there are cases of mothers giving birth to a live baby at even 18 weeks. The baby is then incubated for a few months until it can breath on its own. (A pastor at my church actually has an 18 year old daughter who was delivered as such).

The issue with abortion is pride and selfishness.

Jonathan Merritt said...


You asked the question, "How can one broaden what it means to be pro-life? Either you believe life is intrinsically valuable at all stages or you don't." Unfortunately, in the past being "pro-life" has meant nothing more than protecting life at one stage--pre-birth. Sure, pro-lifers assent to the belief that life should be protected at all stages, but they are no where to be found at rallies and policies meetings when the time come to stand behind that belief.

Thank you for the link. I have read extensively over Obama's record. You may want to see some of my recent posts about his transition appointments and repeal of the Mexico City policy (interesting post on your blog on Mexico City, btw). Also, check out my article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on this subject.

Where I disagree with you is on your strategy of concentrating power. I am all for mobilization, but we are not called to walk this earth as a political machine. We must not forsake our obligations to stand for ALL truth in the pursuit of some deeply-sought political coup.

If you were living in Jesus' say, you may fall into the "zealot" camp. Unfortunately, Jesus didn't. They didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah because he wouldn't rise up and fight for a more just political system. He didn't want to be the King in the way they defined King. While the zealots were off rounding up people for a political revolution, Jesus was out loving on people. I wonder what kind of application this fact should have on this conversation.


Jonathan Merritt said...


You said, "I am pro-life, because I believe it is no one's right or authority to determine when the life of another human being should be ended." Does that also apply to the soldier on the battlefield? How does this statement affect your view of war?


Robby said...

I appreciate the good writing and great candor (the writing may be great too but I am not necessarily a good judge of that). Thanks for keeping this topic alive. Moore's comments may be inflammatory to some...I don't know. But sometimes things have to be said in such a way to grab attention. Like it or not, this is about politics. Unfortunately we must color politics in shades of gray or else no one recognizes it. So we must talk LOUD. Society at large cannot see in full 3-D colors or else this would not be a discussion. The picture of an aborted child or an unborn fetus at 12 weeks would be all we need to outlaw abortion completely. In fact, if we saw things clearly, we (as a people) wouldn't need a law...abortion would not exist.

Jonathan Merritt said...

Who knows Robby? The writing may be poor and the ideas may be worse still. Thanks for the comments.

As far as Moore's comments, I don't think his analogy to lynching is very helpful except for getting his base all excited. It is no different than when we are called "religious fanatics" or "extremists." It only profits a few fist pumps. It doesn't change minds.

Kim Pittman said...

So, Mr. Moore goes on to say in answer to the same question he's been quoted in your blog: "The key issue is that the personhood of the unborn is denied. That cannot be ameliorated simply by more federal spending and certainly will not be reduced by “comprehensive sex education” as many of the pro-abortion activists are advocating."

I'm curious. You wrote "I have worked with others to promote common ground policies that can reduce abortions in America and will continue to do so." What ways do you work with others to promote common ground policies? I'm not being facetious, I'm genuinely interested. When things that Moore brought up, like their agenda to offer more "comprehensive sex education", do you then go and work with them to be sure that sex education isn't teaching openly about homosexuality? Or leaving the teaching of "abstinence" out of the sex education agenda, which is one of Obama's latest and greatest? How do you hold hands and work together when all of these tiny facets show up in the "common ground policies". And, do you think that PP is under more scrutiny, that crisis preg. centers are full of volunteers, that the rate of abortion has gone down, because of people holding hands with pro-choice policy makers?

In my short time reading your blog, I've seen the words... zealots... religious fanatics... extremists... entrenched, insular Christianity... and all in negative connotations. Moore's words ring true and what he said is exactly what he should have said, IMO. His audience in that interview was Christian, and we SHOULD be raising our fists and letting what he says get us angry, and then... doing something about it. Who are you or anyone to say that his words will do nothing to make a change and do nothing but get people excited? Seriously?

Jonathan Merritt said...


First, I have worked promote the message of abortion reduction and to call those politicians who promise to act to account. I have done so in numerous national publications including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and forthcoming in RELEVANT Magazine. As part of this, I have made strong comments in national media outlets such as The Washington Post, explaining what pro-lifers can and cannot support. Second, I worked to launch "Come Let Us Reason Together," which is an ongoing effort to open lines of communication between evangelicals and progressives. Third, I have met and spoken candidly with several Obama staffers and also in a meeting with the Democratic Faith Working Group of the United States House of Representatives. Hopefully, this serves to illustrate that when I said "I have worked with others to promote common ground policies that can reduce abortions in America and will continue to do so" it was not done gratuitously.

I would like to point out that you are incorrect in your assertion that Obama seeks to remove abstinence from sexual education. As stated clearly on, the Obama administration supports sexual education with an abstinence emphasis. Whether or not this will translate into actual policy is another matter.

You can certainly hold that Moore's words were best. I respectfully disagree. Moore's words and your affirmations typify the MO of the religious right for the last 25 years. It is an MO that has produced an entrenched, reactive Christianity that is off-putting to non-believers and has contributed to an anemic, shrinking Christian following in the traditional Christian West. It has abandoned the principle of love that Jesus so clearly taught and modeled and instead has demonized and villianized anyone who doesn't agree with its key assertions. There is no reason that people of mutual goodwill--believers and non-believers--should not be able to work together when there is room to cooperate. If by working with progressives, we can save even one life, I will gladly lead that charge.

Those who refuse to do so because they express a zealotous Christianity that places false hope in political power or who cannot do so because their idea of what it means to follow Christ has made them retreat to an insular cocoon of Christian sub-culture, then they must answer to Christ for their actions (as will I).

Perhaps I am way off when I say that his words will do little besides rile up the evangelical bloc. That is unlikely. My challenge to you is this: find five progressive pro-choicers. Walk up to them and tell them that you think they are no different than members of a racist lynch mob looking to satisfy a bloodlust. Then, ask them if they have changed their mind. When you get done, feel free to report back what they said.

Remember, scripture tells us to always be prepared to give an account for our faith's positions, but it says to do so with respect and love. Perhaps Moore's words are true. That is another discussion for another post. But, from a pragmatic standpoint, they are ineffective and unhelpful.

That's my opinion, and I'm stickin to it.


Kim Pittman said...

Thanks for outlining what you've done for the cause, it does illustrate what you said. For the record, I was sincerely interested in what you’d done.

I’ll say again, Moore's comments were for a Christian audience (let me state it's the first I've read Moore, so there may be other underlying reasons for your opinion that I'm unaware of). And as Christians, we need to face exactly what we're letting go on around us, deal with the truth, rally together, strategize just like the other side does, and that is why I agree with his comparison. But to a Christian audience. Especially because the Dred Scott and the Roe v. Wade decision were always and remain excellent comparisons.

I've been involved in the pro-life movement for many years, as far back as attending the March for Life in the early 80's (when I lived closer to DC). I've seen a lot in my lifetime; and I know that your challenge of finding five "progressive" pro-choicers and telling them that I think they are no different than members of a racist lynch mob looking to satisfy a bloodlust would get me nowhere, and do nothing to further Christ's ultimate goal... His greatest commandment... or anything other than a bad reputation duly earned. So, thanks for the “When you get done, feel free to report back what they said.” :-)

You’re very right, we are supposed to be prepared to give an account for our faith’s positions, and do everything we do with respect and love. But we all have different gifts and responsibilities in this life God's given us. At this point in my life, I couldn't lead the charge you've decided to lead, working with "progressives" to save even one life. That doesn't make me a religious zealot or mean for one moment that I put non-Christians off and turn them away from Christianity. It just means we look at our life here on earth differently, what God has set out for us to do. Or how we hear him is different, or where we are in our Christian walk.

I know 2 guys. One is a CTO at a an old high tech company I worked for, I've known him for years, awesome Christian. People love Mike; sure he doesn't get asked out to happy hour every night, but they love him, and when they have a serious problem, they go to Mike. He's actually led one person we worked with (that I know of)to Christ, and been an awesome example to many. Then there's Sam. He's been an Open Air Campaigner missionary in NYC for more than 20 years, I met him when I was in Bible College. Sam goes out every day and preaches the gospel, straight up, to strangers. Many have come to know Christ because of Sam. Both of these guys are equally important in God's eyes, if they're doing what he's called them to do. They both live for God, but in different ways. I'd never look at Sam as a religious fanatic, although many people do.

Ultimately, in everything we do we're going to answer to God someday. I'll stay in the Word and let God direct my paths, and hope I walk in His wisdom, and that's my prayer for you, my brother in Christ.

Chase said...

"If you were living in Jesus' day, you may fall into the "zealot" camp" Simon the ZEALOT, chosen by Jesus to be one of the 12?

I still would like to know what you are specifically looking for from Obama regarding abortion/pro-life policies? I commend you for engaging with "progressives" (liberals who are afraid to use the moniker) and am hopeful that minds can be changed and new ground forged. As for Obama, his actions are entirely consistent with his past, and I see no reason to believe he is going to do anything more than throw a bone every so often to hopeful "evangelicals" on issues like abortion, gay marriage and sex education. Thankfully, the king's heart is a stream that can be turned wherever He wills.

One of Obama's next moves is likely going to be rescinding a Bush-era rule that currently protects physicians in exercising their conscience and refusal to provide abortions. So much for choice, huh?

Like Kim, I too have noticed your choice words in their negative contexts (and she didn't point out several of the more direct insults, like a certain "old stuffy 68-year old man in Nashville" that you went on to call "creepy"). In light of biblical teaching to edify and build up, to let your conversation be seasoned with salt and full of grace, I'm wondering what kind of application this fact should have on your approach to facilitate "conversations [that] create change?" You don't hide your disdain for those who seem to fit the MO of the rel right for the last 25 years, but you exhibit some of the same zealotry, fanaticism, and knee-jerk reactions (looking for a few fist pumps of your own) of which you accuse them.

Jonathan Merritt said...


That's a good word.


Jonathan Merritt said...


First of all, your statement about Simnon the Zealot needs to be tweaked. Certainly, you aren't saying that Jesus condoned the political movement of the Zealots in the first century. The simple fact that Jesus called a Zealot to become one of his disciples is no more indicative of Jesus' cultural paradigm than the fact that Jesus called tax-collectors to follow him.

It would do you well (and others who have remarked on it) that the term "Zealot" is a historical one. It is not pejorative, but rather informational. Zealots were those who believed the best way to live out their faith was to mobilize against the political systems and fight back. This approach is completely divorced from the life of Jesus Christ, as no biblical historians will contest.

If you feel that there is some disdain in my voice toward the religious right, you are correct. First of all, I am in a wonderful place to comment on conservative evangelicals because I am one. I was raised in a traditional Southern Baptist's minister's home and Dr. Jerry Falwell was a close friend who paid for my college education. I cherish my upbringing, but I also recognize the deep flaws that have developed within our ranks. I won't go into detail here for entire books catalog these things (start with UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters by Kinnaman and Lyons).

The difference between my blog and many other outlets of other Christians is that I am harsher on Christians and more gracious to non-believers. Other outlets employ the opposite paradigm. Yet, I believe my outlook is deeply, deeply rooted in scripture. The Bible teaches that there is a direct relationship between truth and accountability. In other words, those who have the truth (Christians) should be held at a higher standard. We should not get angry at those who are lost when they act lost. Why get upset at a blind man for being blind or a lame man for being unable to walk? Almost every time that Jesus spoke harshly, it was to the Pharisees--the religious aristocracy of his day.

Furthermore, "creepy" is an adjective, not a derogatory name. Even still, I was speaking of a theoretical "man" rather than anyone by name. Loosen up, Chad.

As far as this blog goes, I will continue to facilitate conversations that I believe are the most pressing and most timely. One of these conversations is abortion reduction, and the 15 comments above indicate that people want to talk about it. I believe that the tough conversations are the ones that need to be had, and when one engages such a conversation there will be disagreements in methods, approaches, Biblical interpretation, etc. but that is okay. It is through the friction that people develop their viewpoints, whatever those may be. Without friction, there is no momentum and without momentum, no change. If someone can't handle a little friction, they should look for a blog with the tag line, "Agreement Creates the Change."

Those who want to participate in this blog should come with a thick skin. I certainly have to have one in order to put my views out there for everyone to criticize. And if I score a fist pump along the way--though it is not my goal--I am cool with that too.


Chase said...

My reason for challenging your approach to Christians who fit a particular model was only to point out what appears to be a duplicity in your logic and actions towards them. How ironic that you recognize the way non-believers are treated by many on the RR, and therefore bring a different approach to them through your blog. Yet you exhibit some of the same behaviors as those on the RR in your responses to some of their posts. You then justify this by pointing to Jesus’ means of addressing the aristocracy? Hmm, I’m not sure about that...So, is part of your goal to influence some on the RR in rethinking their approach? If so, then how does your use of loaded terms with negative connotations bring about this change? This is at the heart of my challenge.

Lest I have not made myself clear, I am NOT suggesting you refrain from calling out those who act in ways similar to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. I am simply addressing the manner in which you choose to do so and trying to understand the reason(s) why you do it, especially in light of the biblical exhortation to edify and build up the Body, as well as what you say your blog is seeking to accomplish (creating change).

As for the “creepy” comment, the larger context was your reference to the “old stuffy 68 year old” TLW exec. Again, what is edifying about this? Why even go there?

Anyway, I continue to pray for your protection, wisdom and discernment in forging a new path and that you will be used in advancing the Kingdom and redeeming culture. I enjoy the blog and appreciate the dialogue. God bless!!

sonchan said...

More then 100 life every days in Indonesia have been killed because of Arbortion.
I hope the number will be decrease.

Chris Arsenault said...

We must not forsake our obligations to stand for ALL truth in the pursuit of some deeply-sought political coup.

Our accountability, as the Body of Christ in the USA, as citizens of the United States, is an issue before the Lord. Matters of justice cannot be dismissed and are inherently political issues.

Yes, the gospel is top priority, but one must be born before being born again.

It appears you're mistaking my zealousness for Christ's righteousness as purely political, while you cannot see my other activities, which are more focused on the PRC/education side of things. We are both far more complex than immediate impressions on websites indicate, as I found out reading your AJC article.

It would be wise for both of us to have a more extensive conversation to arrive at an understanding of common ground before we both continue to jump to erroneous conclusions.

Anonymous said...

While I would like to see an end of abortion period, I have this feeling that simply overturning Roe v. Wade is going to do the trick. In fact, I have a feeling that abortion will only go underground. So I think the best thing to do, for now, is focus on the factors that lead to abortion--lack of sexual education, poverty, etc.--work on those factors, and hopefully that will gradually lead to the end of abortion.

I know Obama's got a lot on his plate right now, what with the economy and all. But I, too, am disappointed that the Obama adminstration hasn't discussed any abortion reduction plans yet.