The End of Abortion in Pennsylvania?
Thinking Through Senate Bill 956
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.
— Romans 12:2
Every individual is a product of his environment to some extent. Particularly in the age of mass media
and information overloads, the minds of individuals are constantly being shaped and molded by a
continual stream of propaganda directed toward various aims and agendas.
People are also products of their political culture and history. Americans enjoy life in a representative,
democratic republic, and featured in such a system are the necessity for political compromise and the
reality of change being slow and incremental. These exist by design, with the intent being to protect the
nation from destabilization and revolutionary upheaval.
However, wise as these safeguards might be, they have helped to shape the moral thinking of the nation as a whole, and of Christians in particular. Although there are a host of competing influences and interests seeking to shape the worldview of Christians, we must be committed to the renewal of our minds—to looking at all things through the redeemed eyes we have been given.
This certainly is the case when considering a topic as politically and morally weighty as abortion.
The latest effort among Pennsylvania Republicans is a strategy that would put the issue of abortion
directly before the voters themselves—to offer a proposed amendment to the state constitution, adding language that would explicitly protect the right to life for every child from conception. The exact text, as laid out in Senate Bill 956, is as follows:
The policy of Pennsylvania is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth, to the extent permitted by the Federal Constitution. Nothing in this Constitution grants or secures any right relating to abortion or the public funding thereof. Nothing in this Constitution requires taxpayer funding of abortion.
Initially, our sentiments—having been sufficiently soaked by the pro-life waters in which we swim—are elated by this development. It seems that an affirmative vote should be a no-brainer. However, any action within a realm as serious as abortion must be considered carefully, soberly, and above all, biblically. Therefore, Christians would be wise to think through this referendum before casting a ballot one way or the other, and not merely yield to gut instinct. For starters, it seems to be a positive step to seek to address abortion via state constitutions. As each state’s supreme civil authority, the constitution could be a very effective means of not only attacking abortion in the present, but also of protecting against it in the future. Additionally, in Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments do not need to be signed by the governor, meaning that this statute would not be subject to a veto. It is also appropriate to consider the national attention that such a measure could potentially incite, as the crisis of abortion continues to compete for the public eye among a slew of other political issues. Tactically, then, this political play could be impactful.
This proposal also is unique among mainstream Republicanism in that it explicitly seeks to protect life from conception. Thus, it avoids the customary form of partiality inherent in bills which ban abortion at fifteen weeks, or six weeks, or when a heartbeat can be detected. For essentially the entire existence of the pro-life movement, this form of incrementalism has been a fatal flaw because it fundamentally
compromises the very premise of the pro-life position, which is that life begins at conception. This proposal is admirable, therefore, in working within a more consistent framework regarding the reality of life in the womb.
However, it is this consistency which reveals the insufficiency of the amendment. Christians are required to think beyond pragmatism and optics, and with renewed minds consider justice as well as effectiveness in executing justice. Thinking in these categories ought to give Christians pause before hastily voting to ratify this amendment.
For a law, statute, or constitutional provision to be good, it must be just. Biblically, justice is marked by impartiality and punishment proportional to crime:
You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live long and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
— Deuteronomy 16:19-20
Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
The question Christians must ask simply is: “Does the proposed constitutional amendment meet these criteria?” To put it negatively: “Does God hate this bill?”
As for impartiality, again, it would seem that this proposal—on its face—meets the qualification. It does not distinguish between the size or level of development of the unborn child to determine who will be protected, but it classifies all of those in the womb as living persons with the right to be protected. If this is true, however, then abortion is nothing less than willful and premeditated murder perpetrated against an image-bearer of God. This is where the red flags begin to appear.
In addition to impartiality, the other fundamental mark of true justice is proportionality—the punishment fits the crime. Yet in this provision, there is no punishment laid out for the crime of abortion. Therefore, although the amendment does not fall into the snare of showing partiality between human beings at different stages of development within the womb, it commits an even greater form of partiality by radically differentiating between a born human being and a preborn human being—namely, by not treating murder of the former the same as murder of the latter. Thus, this proposal falls short of attaining
both marks of biblical justice.
The central issue with this amendment is that, although it stands for true justice in theory, it does not allow for the actual execution of justice. The fatal flaw is the clause, “to the extent permitted by the Federal Government.” Justice is therefore contingent upon what the federal state allows. According to this amendment, the reference point for justice is not the Supreme Lawgiver—the Creator—but is the Supreme Court, made up of sinful individuals and beholden to an egregiously illogical and evil decision made almost five decades ago in the case of Roe v. Wade.
This amendment thus does not establish justice for the preborn, but rather formalizes the subjugation of Pennsylvania to the federal government in its policy toward abortion, forever tying this state to the wicked whims of the higher magistrate. This amendment also writes in ink what has already been written in blood, namely that every Pennsylvanian shares in the guilt of the abortions executed in this state. It will enshrine in our own constitution that the preborn are human and deserve protection, and yet we will continue to do nothing to actually protect them.
This amendment follows along the lines of what are commonly called “trigger bills”—legislation set to go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns its decision in Roe v. Wade. Once again, this framework fundamentally compromises true justice by making it dependent upon the decisions of sinful individuals. It certainly is possible that the court will overturn this gravely evil and frankly ridiculous decision—and if it does, it will be a pivotal moment of national repentance. Yet the fact remains that the highest echelons of our government continue to reveal their unwavering commitment to the blood sacrifice of abortion.
Put simply, it is highly unlikely that a reversal of Roe will drastically alter federal policy regarding
abortion. Effective resistance to the regime of death cannot work within the boundaries established in Roe—it must ignore, defy, and otherwise act in non-compliance with the decision. American Christians must remember that not only does our national constitution prevent the judiciary from creating laws or
rights, but more importantly, God’s law prevents anyone—elected or not—from declaring murder legal.
It is in situations like this that Christians must make direct appeal to the highest moral and legal
authority: the Word of God. It is true that the American system of government typically requires compromise and incremental change. However, two considerations must be kept in mind when weighing the temptations posed by compromise.
First, such an approach toward abortion has proven to be profoundly ineffective. Abortion has been considered legal across the United States since 1973, and since that time, access to abortion has risen on the whole, to the point where consultations can now be done entirely online, and abortion pills can be shipped directly through the mail. This approach has also caused conservatives to lose the moral high ground in many respects—a truly shocking display of incompetence considering that the other side is
advocating baby murder. But the Left is beginning to point out the inconsistency of incrementalism—if it is a baby at conception, how can a six-week ban claim any moral clout?—even as they continue to work out their perspective to ever greater consistency, despite the horror it brings.
Second, and more importantly, the urgency posed by abortion demands an uncompromised approach. While we appreciate the blessings of democracy, and acknowledge that the process is often inherently incremental, this does not mean that Christians are free to compromise our moral imperative. If Christians and conservatives are right, that abortion kills a human being—and it does—then any solution short of equal protection is unacceptable. Christians cannot compromise when mass killing is legally permitted in our own nation. The dire urgency of abortion demands that we unflinchingly affirm that no government—state, federal, or otherwise—has the authority to allow abortion. Any provision that submits to an unjust, unlawful, and immoral higher authority on this point simply will not cut it.
All of this being said, it is up to each voter to determine whether or not to support this proposal. The validity of a person’s faith is not to be measured by a vote one way or the other. However, it is incumbent upon Christians to vote with careful consideration and in a manner consistent with one’s own conscience before God. Remember that each of us will stand before Christ to give an account for how we dealt with this issue, and the responsibility is multiplied when we participate in democracy directly.
The prospect of the highest law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acknowledging the humanity of all children from conception is admittedly attractive, and is certainly a worthy goal. However, the difference between this amendment being a bold and courageous stand for the sake of the preborn and it being yet another well-intentioned, conservative virtue-signaling dead letter is eight words: “to the
extent permitted by the Federal Constitution.” That is the excuse for Pennsylvania to continue to do nothing for the preborn—the cop-out. Whether or not to defer to the federal government is the battle surrounding abortion—and this proposal is yet another act of deference disguised as a principled stand. A quote commonly attributed to Martin Luther is apt to close:
“Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. And to be steady on all the battlefields besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Written by Luke Griffo.
Luke Griffo is an elder at Redeemer Church of South Hills in Pittsburgh where he lives with his wife and twin sons.