Published August 4, 2022
The fall of Roe has proved revelatory on a number of fronts. It has exposed the pathological commitment of many feminists and Democrats to infanticide. It has demonstrated that many of those who thought Donald Trump’s boorishness was the moral issue of our generation still cannot acknowledge that he did anything worthy of praise. And, perhaps most surprising, it has revealed how many on both sides of the abortion debate have not thought that deeply about the real issues involved.
In part, this latter point is understandable. While abortion was a constitutional right, there seemed little reason to wrestle with the issue in depth. One could be pro-life or pro-choice, but in practice this did not affect most individuals’ engagement in the wider life of the nation. That is no longer the case. The issue is now alive and very real, in workplaces, at dinner tables, and at the ballot box.
In this context, Christians need to think more deeply about the various issues. And that is why Tearing Us Apart, by Ryan T. Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis, is so valuable. In seven chapters, they cover the damaging effect of abortion on unborn children, women and family life, equality and choice, medicine, the rule of law, politics and democracy, and media and popular culture. It is a thorough primer on the problems of a culture bent on paying the mortgage on the myth of cost-free sex by killing the most vulnerable members of society. It is replete with argument and anecdotes (many of which are powerful graphic descriptions of what abortion does to the baby and to the mother). And it quietly articulates an overall framework, based on natural law, for understanding the issues.
One argument that has surfaced recently, even in pro-life Christian circles, is that the fall of Roe is not a cause for rejoicing because the problem of abortion can only be solved by changing hearts—not by changing laws. It is odd that this kind of argument is only ever applied to laws that profane progressive pieties. Further, this reasoning fails to acknowledge that laws do not stand in isolation from a society’s moral imagination but are actually constituent parts of its transformation. There is little doubt that Brown v. Board of Education helped to shift American thinking on segregation, as Obergefell v. Hodges has with thinking on gay marriage. We should pray that Dobbs does the same on abortion. Armed with the framework, the facts, and the stories that Anderson and DeSanctis provide in this book, all will be better prepared to help in that important task.
Three chapters stand out. First, the chapter on how abortion harms equality and choice details the murky origins of our abortion culture in the eugenics movement of the twentieth century. It also highlights how abortion has disproportionately targeted babies that are female or disabled or from ethnic minorities. No, Iceland has not eliminated Down’s syndrome. It has eliminated people—real people—with Down’s. That is an important, and rather chilling, distinction.
Second, there is the chapter on how abortion harms medicine. This, of course, has ramifications well beyond abortion. The culture of abortion thrives in, and reinforces, a medical culture of therapy, not true healing. It’s related to the rising acceptance of euthanasia. It is also connected to transgenderism: Planned Parenthood now operates over two hundred centers offering trans hormone therapy. At first glance that might seem odd, but it really makes perfect sense. Abortion is predicated on personal autonomy and wages a basic war against the perceived tyranny of biology. Why stop with evacuating wombs?
Third, the chapter on politics gives a fascinating account of the evolution of the Democratic party on the issue. As left-wing pro-life advocate Nat Hentoff commented many years ago, it is perverse for the party of the underdog to be so committed to killing society’s most vulnerable, but that is where we are. And President Biden’s history of changes on the issue reveal a man of no real inner conviction, committed only to whatever position will keep his base happy. At least Trump’s boorishness, for many Christians the single most important moral issue of the 2016 and 2020 elections, did not tilt toward infanticide.
Will the book persuade any pro-abortionists to change their position? In terms of its underlying argument, probably not. Facts may not care about feelings, but in today’s world it is clear that feelings care even less about facts. Further, to win people over to the pro-life cause we also need a philosophical framework within which to set those facts—and pro-abortionists reject such frameworks, be they rooted in natural law or supernatural faith. But people also think intuitively, and intuitions are not primarily shaped by facts or even by self-conscious philosophical frameworks but by stories, particularly stories of powerful human interest. That is why the minuscule number of abortions sought by victims of rape and incest has become the dominant storyline of the pro-abortion lobby. We too need stories to make the facts and framework of the pro-life cause come alive in the imaginations of the people who will be casting votes on this issue in the next few years. This book provides them.
Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash