In June 2019, the Alabama state legislature debated a piece of legislation that all but banned abortion. In one interview about the bill, John Rogers, an African-American state representative, made a controversial statement about black children, abortion, and society. “You bring them into the world unwanted, unloved, then you send them to the electric chair,” he declared. “So you kill them now or you kill them later.” While Americans across the political spectrum denounced Roger’s language, his comments actually articulated a common pro-choice argument: to bring an unloved child into the world is unjust. As Christians, we must wrestle with this line of reasoning. Is abortion more “loving” for a child that will likely experience trauma, abuse, and poverty?
ELIMINATING THE UNDERCLASS
While most pro-choice advocates use “compassionate” language today, America’s earliest champions of abortion promoted the procedure in low-income communities to the detriment of the underclass. In her 1922 book, The Pivot of Civilization, Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League (Planned Parenthood’s predecessor), wrote that aid to poor pregnant women encouraged them to “increase and multiply” and forced the “healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others.” In fact, providing financial support to poor women desiring more children would just result in “a dead weight of human waste.” “Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world,” she professed, “it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant.”
Millions of Americans have adopted Sanger’s prejudiced views. In a 1980 San Diego Union article, Edward Allred—one of the most prominent abortionists in California at the time—described his conviction that abortion should be used to reduce the burden poor minorities put on society. “I would do free abortions in Mexico to stem the new influx of Hispanic immigrants,” he declared. “Their lack of respect for democracy and social order is frightening...When a sullen black woman of 17 or 18 can decide to have a baby and get welfare and food stamps and become a burden to all of us, it’s time to stop.” Anthony Bouza, a former Minneapolis Police Chief and columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote a 1990 editorial titled “A Mother’s Day Wish: Make Abortion Available to All Women.” In his piece, he argues that “poor, Black and Indian” constitute the “at-risk” population and states that poor minority children are “marked for failure.” He later bemoans the fact that marginalized women choose to “produce our criminals” rather than abort:
When abortions are illegal, poor women deliver and keep their babies. Then they plunk them in front of a TV set, watch them get abused and conditioned to violence by parades of males, and expose them to all the factors the criminologists describe as the precursors to a life of crime...Making abortions freely available to the impoverished young women who produce our criminals is very likely the most important crime-prevention measure adopted in this country in the last 25 years.
Such hateful and demeaning rhetoric is still espoused by people in positions of power. Andre Bauer, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina, told attendees at a 2010 town hall meeting that taking care of uneducated poor people just encouraged them to have more children. "My grandmother was not a highly educated woman,” he said, “but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."
Over the last several decades, politicians and community leaders have used “compassionate abortion” rhetoric to hide their true motives: to lower crime, reduce government dependency, and “perfect” the human race. However, millions of pro-choice Americans really do believe abortion spares human beings from life’s greatest difficulties and suffering. Though well-intentioned, their position allows abortionists to snuff the light of life out before it ever has a chance to brighten the world outside the womb. It robs communities of future scientists, poets, athletes, engineers, and activists. We convince ourselves that we can not only see into the future but determine whether others are worthy of experiencing it. When we argue that babies born into poverty are better off dead, we are discounting the gifts the Lord has given them and the propensity for systems and circumstances to improve.
THE RIGHT TO LIFE: A RIGHT FOR ALL
One would hope that most Americans today have greater sympathy for the poor than Ms. Sanger or Mr. Bauer. However, many still believe that the unborn baby of an impoverished mother is better off aborted than born. All they’d know is violence and neglect. They’ll end up in prison or addicted to drugs. They’ll just become another statistic. Why should they be subject to poverty and misery if abortion is an option? This seems like a loving and caring position to take, but the reality is far more complicated.
Before diving further, we must answer an incredibly important question: Are the unborn poor fully human? Everything else in the abortion debate is premised off this answer. If the unborn poor are fully human beings, then they possess all the rights associated with being human, including the right to life. Ruth Hubbard, the first woman ever awarded tenure in Harvard University’s biology department, commented on the notion of "compassionate" abortion. “No one these days openly suggests that certain kinds of people be killed; they just should not be born,” she says. “Yet that involves a process of selection and a decision about what kinds of people should and should not inhabit the world” (p.84).
If the unborn poor are fully human, there is no moral distinction between taking the life of a poor unborn baby and killing other humans experiencing intense suffering or hardship. Taken to the extreme, this logic legitimizes the mass extermination of poor people, disadvantaged minorities, the disabled, and the elderly, all in the name of alleviating suffering. As author Francis Beckwith writes, aborting the unborn poor is a “fundamental confusion between the concept of ‘finding a solution’ and the concept of ‘eliminating a problem’”(p.97). We would never suggest killing poor people to rid the world of poverty. Instead, we work harder to solve the problems that make their lives more difficult.
When poverty and hardship are particularly acute, the church has a responsibility to act. Believers must live out their Christ-centered identities by providing financial, emotional, social, and spiritual support to hurting families. We can do this in three distinct ways:
- Seek the flourishing of the poor and broken among us through individual and community relationships.
- Advocate for laws that uproot the systems that make parents believe ending a child’s life in the womb is more loving than what awaits them outside of it.
- Remember that our God is sovereign and often uses suffering and hardship to draw people to Himself. Though God may not completely remove a family’s hardship, we can show them He has a purpose in trials and hasn’t left them alone.
ABORTION: AN ACT OF VIOLENCE, NOT OF LOVE
Fannie Lou Hamer, perhaps the most prominent African American female civil rights activist of the 20th century, saw abortion as a tool of oppression against the poor and racial minorities. She said that if legal abortion had been available when she was born, “I wouldn’t be here now...if you give [black babies] a chance, they might grow up to be Fannie Lou Hamer or something else.” While financial hardship, abuse, and violence are all affronts to dignity, they cannot strip their victims of their worth or value. Abortion is neither compassionate nor loving. It robs those born into poverty of their personhood and perpetuates the idea that we have the right to determine whose lives are worth living. Christians must continue to lead the way by defending every unborn baby’s right to life while building a world that welcomes and supports them well.
Garrett serves as the Lead Data and Research Analyst and joined For the City in February 2018. He helps volunteers, pastors, nonprofit leaders, and business professionals better understand the characteristics and dynamics of their communities so that they can more effectively pursue human flourishing together. Garrett earned his master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas - Austin and continues to live in North Austin.
Review: The Gospel & Abortion
The Gospel for Life series is a collection of short books that seek to apply the Scriptures to the questions and circumstances found in everyday life. In the Gospel for Life: Abortion, five authors collaborate to help Christians understand what the Bible says, how Christians should live, and how...Learn More