On Persuasion and Abortion

Most who will read these chapters live under some form or other of democracy. That means, in the end, that we must persuade a lot of people on a lot of points. In a democracy, if you cannot do that, you lose.

Suppose…that by powerful manipulation of electoral forces you manage to win sufficient strength in the legislature that you can ram through some cherished legislation. Let us suppose the country is America, and the issue is abortion on demand. Suddenly you have enough support in Congress that you might be able to ram through a constitutional amendment banning abortions except, let us say, in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Would this be a major victory for righteousness?

History warns us that at the very least we should be careful before we wave our triumph banners. In a passion of concern, America approved Prohibition almost three-quarters of a century ago, and when the gangsters and the cheats had finished, the country repealed the amendment. Suppose, then, that constitutional amendment putting to rest Roe v. Wade (1972) passed Congress. Let us further suppose that, much to everyone’s surprise, two-thirds of the States approved the amendment within five years: what would happen? First, there would be a rapid rise in the number of illegal abortions. Then the media would relate endless gory stories of how some poor woman lost her life to a back-door abortionist. It would not be surprising if in a few years the same fate awaited this amendment as awaited Prohibition: repeal.

Does this line of argument suggest that it is folly to suppose that effective change can be legislated? Not at all. It is simply a reminder that our deepest social problems are pre-political. They are cultural; they are embedded in worldviews that are fundamentally alien to the Judeo-Christian heritage. It may be wise and godly to aim for legislative change anyway. But unless changes are effected in the outlook of the nation at large, in many cases it won’t be long before the changes are themselves reversed.

From a Christian perspective, it is pleasant to contemplate some of the changes that would be effected by massive revival and reformation. But we are not to despise the day of small things. Some changes may be possible by wisely choosing the tone and terms of the debate.

For instance, on the abortion issue, a number of voices are pointing out that if the issue is constantly cast in terms of the rights of the woman versus the rights of the unborn child, the pro-abortion position is likely to win. The pro-life supporters are not helped by the handful of violent individuals who shoot abortion doctors and their receptionists. But if the debate is cast more broadly–if we keep asking what kind of society we want to become, if we point out that there are more crisis pregnancy centers in the land than abortion clinics, if we recount the documented psychological damage done to millions of women who have undergone abortion, if we demonstrate that abortion has proved a remarkably ineffective means of reducing the number of single-parent families–a constitutional amendment might be possible that would limit abortions, if not abolish them, and get that amendment to endure and not be repealed. Although I am uncertain that this would be the outcome, I am quite certain that on many fronts we need to work harder at being more persuasive in the public arena than we have been.

– D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, Zondervan, 1996, 427-29.

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