Yes, you can legislate morality | WORLD
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Yes, you can legislate morality

Righteous laws influence behavior and declare moral truth

iStock/Mongkolchon Akesin

Yes, you can legislate morality

According to a report in Axios, abortion in America has declined significantly since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June. Gleaning the data from a recently released report by The Society of Family Planning, a pro-abortion research foundation, in the two months following the Court’s decision, there were 5,000 fewer abortions nationwide. In states with significant restrictions, there was a 95 percent decrease. In states with few or no restrictions, there was an 11 percent increase.

This news is reported by outlets such as Axios as a loss of “reproductive rights.” Many left-leaning media figures and progressive politicians have tried to link the fall of Roe to an attack on democracy. But for those who believe that the unborn child is fully human and worthy of life, this reduction in abortions is good news. In those two months following the fall of Roe, 5,000 children were spared the horror of abortion and allowed to live. This reduction is a small percentage of the overall annual rate, which averages just over 600,000 abortions per year in the United States. Yet, it’s a positive step toward building a culture of life.

The reduction in abortions is also a powerful case for the efficacy of pro-life legislation. Pro-life activists have always been opposed by facile arguments that “you can’t legislate morality.” Even some well-meaning evangelicals parroted this refrain in response to the Dobbs decision this summer. Of course, this is an argument never made about other social maladies. No one argues that the way to curb human trafficking is to keep it legal while persuading folks not to engage in it.

Laws do work. This is why progressives are mourning the demise of Roe and the passing of abortion restrictions in conservative states. Every piece of legislation reflects someone’s morality, from anti-human trafficking laws to laws against murder and sexual assault. Every law reflects our collective judgment on what is moral and immoral.

The most defenseless in our society should not be deprived of their rights, as outlined by our founding documents.

In his powerful march for civil rights, Martin Luther King wisely said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.” As Matthew Lee Anderson wrote in an essay entitled “Let’s Change Hearts, Minds, and Laws Too”:

At the heart of creation is a conception of goodness that, once seen and its inner logic understood, impels us to respond accordingly. Recognizing the goods of what it means to be human, and the desire to protect and preserve them, sometimes takes the form of painting and poetry. But at other times, the goods discerned are important and foundational enough that they merit the protection of law and the punishment of those who infringe upon them.

Of course, the pro-life witness has always been more than lobbying capitals and courts. The mosaic of this movement includes pregnancy resource centers in communities around the country, student campaigns, apologetic arguments to the culture, and so much more. Today pro-life activists are urging public action on a robust pro-family policy agenda that buoys parents socially and economically at critical stages of life. There are so many factors that go into a young women’s decision. Respecting human dignity includes the dignity of both mother and child.

And yet there is something noble about seeking to pass laws that acknowledge what Scripture has told us from the beginning, what science is confirming with increasing clarity. The most defenseless in our society should not be deprived of their rights, as outlined by our founding documents. To stand for the life and liberty of the unborn is not something to be ashamed of but something to be pursued until America can rightly call itself, in President George W. Bush’s words, “a culture of life.”

Laws alone won’t protect unborn children. We must continue to make cultural arguments for the sanctity of human life. We need spiritual renewal through the preaching of the gospel in our communities. We need a reversal of the moral erosion brought about by the sexual revolution.

Yes, laws do serve as a powerful deterrent to the wanton taking of human life. Just laws protect the vulnerable against the powerful, the invisible from the threat of the visible. Just laws defend life, and it is our task to work for such laws. Just ask the other side. They know the laws matter.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His forthcoming book is Agents of Grace. He is also a bestselling author of several other books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words and the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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