Originally posted on LTI blog January 2011.
My friend and LTI Board member Chad Holland forwarded this story about unwanted children in Pakistan being abandoned and murdered. There are various societal and cultural pressures offered to explain why such a thing is happening, although I am very comfortable with merely accepting that man is fallen and prone to the most vile behavior as Paul reminds us in Romans Chapter 3. We do not murder infants because they are the products of immoral relationships or because they are girls (90% of the dead and abandoned children in relation to this article are girls) and will carry the burden of a future dowry. Such brute facts do not necessarily compel such brutal action.
Whether it is a matter of inconvenience to have a child or whether they fear they will be stoned to death by others for being pregnant but not married, they choose to do a great evil to make things better for themselves. We look to avoid consequences by performing an act that will leave us materially and physically intact at the small cost of our immortal souls, which we convince ourselves may not be real anyway. A trifle to consider when our present well being as we understand it and the current plans we have for our future are on the line. We become secret killers to avoid being publicly exposed and even sometimes so that we can merely continue to do the things we are currently doing uninterrupted. That is the sinful selfish behavior of the fallen and that is explanation enough for me.
It is natural to wish to see this as the barbarous acts of an evil people removed from our own way of life . I read comments of outrage, “How can we ever expect to get along with these beasts?” or “these people are monsters!” While I think that there are legitimate concerns that must be addressed in the radically different worldviews of Islam as it is practiced in much of the world and the Christian West, this situation does not demonstrate that so clearly. In fact, prior to the age of surgical abortion, infanticide was common enough in less foreign places.
In Joseph Dellapenna’s Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, he confronts the idea that abortion has always been common in civilization. This is an argument from the defenders of abortion, and part of the task of demonstrating the error in this line of thinking was showing that abortion was considerably less attractive given its inherent risks (in many societies it was synonymous with suicide) than good old fashioned infanticide. To quote:
While western societies seem to suffer amnesia regarding the frequency of the practice of infanticide in their own pasts, in fact much of the evidence for infanticide or abandonment in England and throughout Europe shows these to have been common practices even during the Christian era… Throughout history until the emergence of abortion as a real alternative reduced the incidence of infanticide, making the latter a relatively minor legal problem, infanticide remained the most common crime in Europe and probably in the rest of the world.
Does this include sex selection killing, a practice we condemn as particular to the barbarous Chinese and Muslims? You bet.
While low rates of birth per women might have had a number of explanations, the skewed sex ratios, absent any prenatal means of sex-selection, can only indicate female infanticide (including abandonment and neglect)… Historical demographers have identified sex ratios as high as four-to-one in favor of male children in areas of medieval Europe.
Boys just are not naturally born 4 times more often than girls. He reports the natural sex ratio at birth is 106 boys/100 girls. So if medieval Europe, ancient Greece, and Rome all had unusual sex ratios then one can be certain they were arrived at about as naturally as China’s is.
So infanticide is not a Muslim thing, and it appears to be prevalent in places where abortion is not an option (it is strictly forbidden in Pakistan). This proves abortion is a good thing, right? Why would anyone say that? Whether or not abortion or infanticide are morally wrong depends upon the identity of the unborn and the newborn. Are they full members of the human family? If the answer is yes for both, then it is truly bizarre celebrating the killing of unborn human beings to spare them being killed as newborn human beings as progress. The difference is not in the kind of action, but in the developmental stage of the human life. If that is a philosophically relevant difference then someone will have to explain why. That we are better able to conceal one over the other is not a great place to start, by the way.
I have been studying the history of abortion for about a year now, and one thing that I have confronted is that there are no “good old days” when people treated other human beings, unborn or born, with the dignity and respect those bearing the image of God deserve. Our history is filled with violence upon the young for the sake of the mature, it is just a different kind of violence to a slightly older human being. If anything, modern abortion is a sanitized version of an old evil. If the garbage bins of public streets were littered with the bodies of newborns rather than the “medical waste” of the unborn perhaps it would be unnecessary to explain to a self-professed “pro-life” gentleman why that identification impacts his daily life as I recently had to do. Perhaps the grim reality of the world we live in would be clearer to him. Seeing the daily killing of newborns is harder to live with than hearing about the statistics of the daily deaths of the unborn.
Though the past offers us no refuge to which we can point and say,“if only we could get back there”, we can at minimum remind our friends and adversaries that the laws once served to limit evil and inform our people of the nature of abortion. It would be easier to say that abortion has always been around so lets make it safe, but we would scoff at the person that made the same claim about infanticide, rape, or slavery. So we move forward calling the people around us to become something better than what we are even as we acknowledge that we do not fully know what that will look like. The alternative is to walk away and let the practice of abortion move forward without restraint or protest. If the unborn are fully human, that is just not an option no matter how much easier it would be.