The words ‘conscientious objection’ evoke memories of the Vietnam War, mass protests, and (whether they were right or not) the principled objection to unjustified killing. It is to our shame that the conscientious objection to abortion has been so quiet and indistinct in comparison. It is our sheepishness on this topic that has allowed the basic human right to life to be eclipsed by a sacred cow in the form of women’s rights.
Yesterday, Bill Muehlenberg penned an excellent piece about how men and women of conscience are few and far between nowadays, and how too many who identify as Christians fail to exercise their consciences and condemn the evils of our day. You can read it for yourself here.
There were two things that struck me as I read.
First, that there is a large degree of truth in the accusations of hypocrisy so often levelled at Christians. As Bill points out, ‘plenty of slave owners were Christians, and they railed against Christian abolitionists like William Wilberforce. He was hated and despised not just by non-believers but by believers as well. He was even known as “the most hated man in all of England”.’ If Christians who now despise slavery as a gross violation of human rights can nevertheless remain silent about the mass slaughter of unborn children, they are indeed hypocrites. Unlike slaveholders who had to pitch whatever moral qualms they might have had about slavery against concerns about their own livelihood and the eternal salvation of the souls of their “black family”, Christians now cannot argue that abortion is the only way these people can hear the Gospel. While I make no attempt justify slavery, I recognise it as the lesser of two evils (especially if you had a kind Christian master). Christian slaveholders had considerably more weight to their arguments…
… which brings me to my second observation, that the “apathetic and callous hordes” of history were guilty of mere silence and avoidance, whereas our generation is guilty of staring evil in the face and calling it good. It is not so much that we have pretended abortion doesn’t exist, but that we know that it exists and have put forward all manner of excuses to make ourselves feel better about it. Unlike the schoolgirl in Nazi Germany quoted by Bill Muehlenberg, who did the 1940s equivalent of staring at trifling Facebook status updates on her iPhone all day, we live in a world where we cite the most fallacious arguments in an attempt to justify murdering our children for the sake of convenience.
Some, in the kindness of their hearts, try to tell me that people are just ignorant, that if they really knew what abortion was they would not support it, but ignorantia juris non excusat. Ignorance of the law, I hear you correct me, and that is the crux of the issue. The laws of nations and states must be heeded despite a lack of knowledge, and so too natural or divine law must be heeded by our consciences despite a lack of knowledge. It is not enough to say “it is legal”. We must also be able to say “it is right”. And if a law is not right, if our consciences tell us it is wrong, then we must object. That is what conscientious objection is all about.
But what if they really are ignorant, you ask. It hardly seems fair. Indeed, it doesn’t seem fair, especially to me when I examine my conscience and recognise my own many failings. Who am I to judge, after all? However, the more I examine my own conscience, the more I realise that all those excuses we make for ourselves, including “ignorance”, are just excuses. Our consciences are not arbiters of good and evil but a faculty or tool that we must use properly and keep ‘in good nick’. It helps us to tell right from wrong, but only if we use it and use it properly.
Ignorance is no excuse because we are simply not that ignorant. Even our peasant forebears, who had no knowledge of human development in the womb, could not read or write, and were oblivious to the world outside their local county, would not have had the hubris to accept the women’s rights ideology as we have.
The loathsome idea that a woman’s socio-economic circumstances could ever justify killing her child is not ignorance. The preposterous argument that someone should be killed prior to birth because their father raped their mother is not ignorance. And the absurd delineation of infanticide as beginning only after the complete exit from the womb or after the first breath has been taken is not ignorance. The discussion of foetal heartbeat, brain activity, and consciousness is not ignorance. The fact that we argue about abortion in such detail demonstrates that we are not ignorant as we claim.
As Bill Muehlenberg points out at the end of his article, we ignore and have “blood on our hands”. Ignorance is a state that arises from our choice to ignore. When we conceive a child we become parents, whether we intended it or not, and we are responsible for the child. The man who fathers a child and the woman who nurtures that child in her womb have a duty to protect their baby, and the society they live in has a moral obligation to uphold that child’s right to life. We are all responsible, and there is no excuse.