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What Will We Sacrifice to Limit Abortions?

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June 1, 2012 – Yesterday the United States House of Representatives failed to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act or PRENDA (H.R. 3541), a bill which would have criminalized sex selective abortions in this country.  The debate over this particular bill demonstrates just how far both morality and governmental theory have shifted in our day.  There is an immense moral failure here, but it is not primarily the failure of the House to approve this ban of gender-specific murder.  The primary moral failure evidenced in this situation is the devolution of our culture to a point where abortion is so normalized that a discussion of when it can and cannot occur takes place at all.  The fact that our lawmakers are even discussing whether it is permissible to take a human life based on its gender is shocking, but the reality is that we have become so desensitized to the issue that we are at risk of missing just how shocking it really is.
This is the moral shift that is demonstrated in this debate.  But there is a shift in governmental theory on display here as well.  The fact that, in an effort to curb abortions in this country we would actually consider entrusting our government with the ability to determine motives for actions and to then prosecute motives for actions rather than the actions themselves is almost equally as shocking.  In a country that has paid lip-service to the principle of limited government, it has always been assumed that a person can only be actually punished for an actual criminal act, not just a motivation, a feeling or an emotion.  This began to change over the course of the last century with the introduction and, to some extent, the redefinition of hate crimes legislation.  With these new statutes on the books, it became possible to prosecute a criminal not only for the actual act which he performed but for the feelings in his heart and thoughts in his mind when he performed it.  By entrusting our government with the authority over our motives we have elevated it almost to the status of a deity, for who else but a god is capable of justly judging the “thoughts and intentions of our hearts”?  This shift in governmental theory has now found another outlet in this attempt to ban sex selective abortions.  It is not the act itself which is to be criminalized by PRENDA but the reason or motivation for the act.
But, it is argued, isn’t any legislation, no matter how intrinsically repugnant, that limits the number of unborn children massacred under this atrocious system acceptable for the greater good?  That is to say, if the bill stops even one abortion, isn’t that a good thing?  Or, to put it another way, is it possible that the ends justify the means in this case?  I am prepared to admit that, despite my natural abhorrence of casuistic philosophy, a complete rejection of all such flawed means is not realistic in our fallen world.  Perhaps, in this case, it is worth setting a dangerous legislative precedent in order to slow the cancerous growth of this homicidal epidemic.  Maybe that is precisely what we are being called to as Christians – the willing sacrifice of our preferred theory of government for the establishment of a more God-honoring legal code.  As followers of Jesus Christ we’re marching inexorably toward Monarchy anyway.  But, by all means, let us be clear about what is happening.
Let us also be clear about the motivations of our lawmakers.  While I trust that there are some conservative politicians who are genuinely passionate about ending abortion, I fear that many are only interested in pandering to their elective base, and many more are motivated by a desire to dispel their opponents’ charges of anti-feminism.  The political maneuvering surrounding the introduction of PRENDA makes the latter fact very clear.  According to an article in Businessweek, “to help assure passage, the authors removed a contentious provision of the bill that would have also banned abortions based on the race of the fetus.”  Which is as much as to say that the lawmakers are not overly concerned with every depraved motivation leading to the abortion, but only those that may be conveniently condemned to counter the liberal charge of a Republican “war on women.”  Thus political expedience and electoral savvy trump moral integrity.
It seems likely that PRENDA will be brought to the House floor again in the near future.  If this is the case, one of two things needs to happen.  Either we need to rethink our strategy for curbing/ending abortions in this nation, replacing such ill-fated measures with some that are more circumspect and sound, or we need to be honest with ourselves about the precise nature of the sacrifice we are making, trading our precious limited government for the lives of the most vulnerable amongst us.  May Christ’s kingdom be advanced in our choice.

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