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“Let the little children come to me”

The real monstrosity of Roe was not legal but moral

Faith Adams from Bangor, Maine, holds up a sign Friday morning outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. Associated Press/Photo by Steve Helber

“Let the little children come to me”

Roe v. Wade was always an embarrassment of contorted jurisprudence. Even many legal scholars on the left admitted as much. The Constitution never meant to enshrine under the right of privacy or the due process clause a right to abortion on demand. Indeed, as Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion points out, at the time of the 14th Amendment, three-quarters of the states outlawed abortion at every stage of pregnancy, and the remaining states soon followed suit. The Dobbs decision succeeds admirably in making the fictitious reasoning of Roe plain to see.

But as much as abortion has been indefensible on constitutional grounds, the real monstrosity of Roe was not legal but moral. For 50 years the two sides of the debate have been called “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” and those are accurate labels. The ability to freely terminate a pregnancy—at any point in the pregnancy and for any reason—is certainly about the right to make a choice. But that invented constitutional right has been, even more fundamentally, about the ending of life. Everyone with eyes to see the literal pictures of beating hearts and 4D ultrasounds, not to mention the gruesome photos of preborn children torn limb from limb, has known that we are talking about life. The newborn baby lovingly cuddled for the first time and welcomed into the world with tears of joy is the same child who has been denied a right to live a few inches away on the other side of the birth canal. Father, forgive us, for we know what we do.

No doubt, parents have always loved their children, but the world didn’t collectively protect children until the hitherto strange views of Jews and Christians became normalized.

If there was one dominant fact regarding children in the ancient world it was their high mortality rates, especially among infants. Many newborns were stillborn or died in labor. Those who made it safely out of the womb often went hungry. There were too many mouths to feed and too little food. As a result, children were often abandoned, exposed to the elements, and left on trash heaps to die. From 230 B.C. onward, the most common family in Greece was a one-child family. Families of four or five were rare. Some families might want two sons but rarely would they want two daughters.

Unwanted children were disposed of in various ways. Some were sold into slavery. Others were aborted in the womb. Many more were simply killed as infants. Newborns were not considered part of the family until the father officially acknowledged them and received them into the house through a religious ceremony. Consequently, ancient Greeks and Romans thought little of little babies and did not hesitate to get rid of them.

The newborn baby lovingly cuddled for the first time and welcomed into the world with tears of joy is the same child who has been denied a right to live a few inches away on the other side of the birth canal. Father, forgive us, for we know what we do.

In the ancient world, it was uniquely the Jewish people who prohibited abortion and infanticide, the latter of which was not outlawed until Christianity took on a privileged place in the empire (turns out Christendom wasn’t all bad). Christians have always opposed killing children, whether infants outside the womb or infants inside the womb. The two were the same crime. “You shall not abort a child or commit infanticide,” commanded the first-century church manual we know as the Didache. Opposition to abortion and infanticide is not one position Christians might want to consider, it is the Christian position.

Jesus welcomed children when others wanted to push them away (Mark 10:13–16). He said the measure of our love for Him would be measured by our love for children (Mark 9:36–37). He took the children in His arms as if to say, “Honor these little ones, and you honor me. Send them away because they are weak, socially insignificant, and bothersome, and you’ve demonstrated you don’t understand the values of the kingdom.” When the governor of Michigan says she will “fight like hell” to protect abortion access, she says more than she knows. The ruthless, relentless termination of human life was not heaven’s idea.

As a pastor, I’ve conducted funerals for newborns who lived but a few hours, I’ve visited with families upon the news that the pregnancy would not make it to term, and I’ve sat with numerous couples who grieved their miscarriage. My wife and I have known that pain ourselves. In every case, the tears tell us what we already know: The baby in the womb is not a mere fetus, a potential human being whose worth depends upon our choice, but a precious child ready to be nurtured, supported, and loved.

We will hear much over the next days and weeks about all those who are scared and hurt by the Supreme Court’s ruling. We will be told by even some of our friends that now is the time to be extremely sensitive and circumspect. True enough, rudeness is never in order. But sometimes celebration and thanksgiving are. We don’t need a thousand Michals telling David to stop leaping for joy. Every child is a gift, a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3), and if by some supernatural intervention the children in the womb could learn that Roe is gone, they might just leap in the womb as well (Luke 1:41).

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church (PCA) in Matthews, N.C., and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). Prior to the summer of 2017, he pastored at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich. Kevin holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and received his Ph.D. in early modern history at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including The Biggest Story, The Hole in Our Holiness, Crazy Busy, and Just Do Something. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have nine children.

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