During the fiscal years of 2009-2014 alone, Planned Parenthood performed 1,650,024 abortions.1 In the same five years, Planned Parenthood provided more than twice as many breast exams (3,254,136)2 as abortions—along with a host of other services related especially to women’s health. From their website, Planned Parenthood claims to be “one of the nation’s leading providers of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, and the nation’s largest provider of sex education.” The group also claims that only “Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.”3
Even if one disagrees with how some of the non-abortion services are structured (as I do), it is inarguable that there are people who are benefitting from some services Planned Parenthood provides. The recent efforts of undercover videographers raise questions regarding whether or not young human beings are being carved up—even while alive—so that their various parts can be harvested for research. That research will presumably benefit many, but at what cost? Are we willing to look past some benefits to see atrocities for what they are?
It is well documented that Hitler greatly reduced unemployment in Germany in the early 1930’s. Though his methods were highly problematic, he benefitted many in Germany, and in large part that benefit he provided was the credibility seedling he needed in order to garner the nearly monolithic public support he had built by the time he plunged Germany into war. Yet history largely remembers Hitler for his atrocities, not for any beneficial policies he might have had (perhaps in large part because even those beneficial policies were grounded on atrocities themselves). At that time, the general populace was not willing to look past the benefits to see the atrocities.
Why are we humans so susceptible to the placation of our consciences through small benefits?
Planned Parenthood cites “real expert” R. Alta Charo, as saying “By using the public’s unfamiliarity with the history and realities of fetal tissue research as a back door for attacking Planned Parenthood, abortion opponents have added millions of people to the collateral damage of the abortion wars. This attack represents a betrayal of the people whose lives could be saved by the research and a violation of that most fundamental duty of medicine and health policy, the duty of care.”4
Charo suggests that the public’s unfamiliarity with the process of how fetal tissue research is gathered is being used against Planned Parenthood. Essentially it is an admission that the public is not yet calloused to those methods because those methods are new to public view. It is not lost on this reader that Charo’s comment acknowledges a concern for the wellbeing of some human life, but assumes a willingness to destroy other human lives with cold disregard in order to achieve that. How can “the duty of care” for some be engaged over the corpses of others who are being sacrificed in the name of that same care? This distorted view of the value of life is subjective based on the perspective of the valuer, and does not evidence any recognition that individual human lives have value.
Planned Parenthood also highlights in bold Charo’s comment that “Virtually every person in this country has benefited from research using fetal tissue.” Even if the claim were true, the implication is that the end justifies the means. Charo’s is an outcome based, utilitarian argument. That sort of subjective ethic would gladly sacrifice you if such a sacrifice contributed to the greater good. In this system, individual human life has no quantifiably objective value.
And that is the deep-seated problem that undergirds and facilitates the atrocities of abortion and Planned Parenthood’s (in these apparent cases) associated callousness regarding the way those abortions are conducted and how the bodies of these young humans are apparently being handled: as a society we fail to recognize why every life matters.
What Makes Human Life Special?
An organism exists at conception that did not exist before conception. In the case of human conception, at the point of conception, that organism has human DNA. Further, with natural, proper nurture, that organism will be born, and continue to develop after its birth into a biologically (at least) mature human being.
Even in the exceptional cases of monozygotic twins and tetragametic chimera (from a chimeric embryo), the organism(s) that immediately result from the conception process are distinctly human. One might argue that at the moment of conception there is no guarantee how many human lives have actually begun, but it is clear that human life has indeed begun. This is not mere potential for human life—it is by definition, fully human, and it is life.
But why does the distinctness of this new organism’s DNA, for example, grant this new living thing unique moral status? If, after all, a sperm and an egg are living things on their own, then why do they not each separately have their own protected status? In short, what makes fully human life so special, even if it is not yet fully developed with all the features it will have when mature?
That a child is not as fully developed as an adult does not make the child any less human. Even if one argues that life’s beginning is not associated directly with conception, such a one cannot look at the corpses of the slain “fetus” without awareness that what was distinctly human and alive is now broken and lifeless. Still, ultimately the primary question we have to resolve is not what particular stage of development must be achieved before the organism can be considered human, but rather what makes human life special at all.
The Bible answers the question directly. Humanity was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:17-29), and as a part of an ongoing covenant with every living thing on earth (Genesis 9:9-10), God demands that human life be treated with respect by all because He created them in His image and for a specific purpose (Genesis 9:5-7). All human life has value to Him, and as the Creator, He is the Ultimate Valuer, having the authority to make such value assessments and claims.
If we acknowledge the legitimacy of our Creator, we must acknowledge the legitimacy of His value claims. If God is the Creator of humanity, then the value of individual life is not arbitrary, but rather is determined by His purposes and revealed by His declarations. If we disregard Him, then we are—as Romans 1:18 and following verses describe—suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. That path is a dark one for human life, resulting in dishonor and lack of dignity (Romans 1:24-32). It is no surprise that such an outcome would result, but it is truly tragic.
The Bible’s clear presentation of the basis for the dignity of every individual human life begs us all to examine our own worldviews, to consider, upon what basis—if at all—should we value individual human life. How we answer that question will go a long way in determining how we understand and respond to the heartbreaking scenarios playing out before us with regard to abortion and the research being done with slain babies’ corpses.
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.