James V. Heidinger II has published a must read new book entitled About Abortion: 10 Things a New Generation of Christians Should Know (Seedbed: 2014). As any reader of this blog knows, for as moderate or (occasionally) liberal as I am on certain issues, I am both religiously and politically conservative on the issue of life. I am pro-life–consistently. I do not think it makes sense to say that what exists inside of a woman is anything but a child and a person with inherent value and I think it is time enough for my generation to wake up and look again at the face of abortion. It is somewhat interesting to me that in every time and nearly ever place in history we have sought to lesson the person-hood of some group, whether that be by color, gender, or–in this case–size. It is no wonder to me that as far as our concerns of social justice may go, we tend to remove the inherent person hood from a person we cannot see. It’s easy to demand healthcare and the right to life for a person who stands on the street. But I guess when you don’t have to see it, it makes it easier to ignore.
Heidinger’s book, then, is an important one. Reacting to the fact that in the past 40 years of Roe v. Wade, 55 million abortions have taken place in the U.S. alone, with 43% of women in childbearing age having at least one in their lifetime, Heidinger brings sensitivity and some fresh insights to the table. One of the most intriguing points Heidinger makes is that the support for abortion is dwindling, with 58% of Americans noting that abortion should be either illegal altogether or legal in only a few instances (16). Likewise, 72% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in the second trimester with 61% saying after the heart starts beating (which is, incidentally, a mere 22 days after conception!)
Also noteworthy is Heidinger’s focus on the United Methodist position on abortion and the position unanimously affirmed by the early church fathers (on this, see also Michael Gorman’s book). Heidinger also notes the pro-life position of eminent twentieth century theologians like Albert Outler, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As Barth wrote: “The unborn child is from the very first a child…it is a man and not a thing, not a mere part of the mother’s body.” Heidinger also brings into view the complications surrounding the court’s consensus. Many people have taken the Roe v Wade decision to say that the unborn is not human (btw, how does the court have such assumed power and why is it that we are appalled that the courts have said the same things concerning other people groups in the past?). It has merely said, we don’t know when it starts (later, on this point, Heidinger proposes the Precautionary Principle).
Heidinger closes the book by noting two case studies he sees as incredibly important. First, the famous recent case of Kermit Gosnell who horrified the nations with his abortion clinic that involved the death of one woman and 17 years of unsanitary “snippings” (cutting the spinal chords with scissors) of “live, viable, moving, breathing, crying babies.” While not abortions look like this, it goes to show the horror of abortion once it is put in front of us, for the fact is that children are viable in a massive number of abortions. Techniques involving suctioning out the child (earlier stages), sticking forceps into the womb to dismember the child (abortion at about 18 weeks), salt poisoning (at this stage, some babies who survive salt poisoning have been adopted), chemical abortion, or the sticking of scissors into the skull of the child and the suctioning out of the child’s brain (30 weeks, wherein a child can dream), in my opinion, are little less horrific.
The second case study concerns Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a leading abortionist of the 1970s and prominent spokesman of it. Nathanson received an ultra-sound machine in 1973 and in 1979 Nathanson became convinced of the person hood of the child, noting that after 60,000 deaths he could no longer support the pro-choice cause. Heidinger documents his later endeavors in the pro-life movement, not as a Christian, but as a secular Jew (by the way, there is a massive movement of secular pro-lifers who see exactly what Nathanson saw).
Heidinger’s book is a simple read. It is targeted for Christians, though certainly it is also a worthwhile read for anybody who may not fall by that title. It can be read in an hour or two, as it stands a mere 61 pages in length, but it is packed with information and questions entirely worthy of consideration and thought. Buy this book. Read it. Give it away. This question must be the greatest social justice question on our radar. When it comes to 1.2 million lives a year, are we really willing to live so passively with our assumptions?