Can a sheet of paper change property into a person?
A recent episode of the TV show Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., helped a popular black entertainer discover how just one sheet of paper—and a few words written with ink—forever changed her family’s trajectory.
Decades before the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation, a slave owner wrote a few sentences on a sheet of paper, declaring that her female slave would be set free the next day at a specific hour. At that almost magic moment in time, the ancestor ceased being “a piece of property” without legal rights. She became a person with full legal rights to pursue life as she pleased.
That piece of paper changed the direction of the emancipated slave’s descendants forever. They would also be born as free persons, not as slaves. But there was one thing the sheet of paper did not do, nor could it ever accomplish. It did not transform a piece of property into a person—a real person—not three-fifths of a person. No piece of paper can do that. Only our Creator God can make that call.
Human laws may err; God’s laws do not. The Dredd Scott Decision and Roe v Wade were wrong-headed. Each became the law of our nation; each needed to be expunged and, thankfully, were declared to be unconstitutional.
Today there is controversy over the issue of abortion—over the question “when does a baby deserve protection in the womb of its mother?” Each of the 50 states have laws specifying such a date. Some states choose 20 weeks gestation. Others, 28 or 36—or perhaps when the fetus can survive outside the womb. Regrettably, almost beyond imagination, a few states essentially provide no legal protection even up to the moment of birth.
How can this be? Why the confusion? Why so many different laws determining if or when a baby can be aborted, and his or her life terminated?
Why the race, in some states, to place the right to abort a baby at any time for any reason as a constitutional right? If abortion is a matter of life or death—and it is—why all this subjectivity? That is exactly the reason some people today have chosen the title abolitionists. Like the bold people in the 19th Century that called for complete eradication of the evil of slavery throughout the nation. Today, those abolitionists remain heroes.
Where are the voices of those who, when polled five years ago, said they believed abortion was wrong? How can the issue of taking the life of an innocent person no longer be a moral issue to oppose? Abortion is either right or wrong—evil or just. There is no middle ground if the life of another human being is being terminated.
So the issue remains: When is a baby a person? Answering that question is all-important. Is it at conception? Is it when it reaches an embryo or fetal stage? Or does it become a real-live baby when it gasps for its first breath? Or maybe somewhere in between the above options?
Since abortion involves premeditatively killing something or someone that is alive, dare we subjectively choose a date during gestation to insert the scalpel or to drink the poison?
If I am a deer hunter in the forest seeing something move—something obviously alive—but I can’t determine if it has antlers, should I pull the trigger? What if in that instant I realized that the movement might also be my son, hunting with me and moving through the trees? Should I take a chance and pull the trigger? Of course not! How then can we justify subjectively setting an arbitrary date to terminate a human life in the womb?
It isn’t just senseless. It’s evil. And words on paper inserted in a state constitution can never make it right.
Now a personal note about God’s grace:
I realize that what I have written in this post sounds harsh. However, I am not suggesting that abortion is an unpardonable sin.
David committed murder to hide his sin of adultery, yet was forgiven. Saul of Tarsus, prior to encountering the resurrected Jesus, pursued physical violence against Christians including the death of Stephen. Paul would later write that where sin abounds, God’s grace is greater. Paul would also call himself the greatest of sinners, yet he had experienced overwhelming mercy.
So, if you are struggling with guilt over an abortion, I encourage you to confess and to experience God’s forgiveness. Perhaps, also seek godly counsel with a pastor or a counselor at a Pregnancy Resource Center near you.
I am also writing to caution anyone who may be contemplating an abortion. Knowing that something is gravely wrong, and yet pursuing it, is to presume on God’s grace. Consider alternatives to abortion. Receive help and compassion at a Pregnancy Resource Center.