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How do I explain abortion to my children?

By Michael C. Sherrard

These kinds of questions keep you awake at night. Knowing how and when to talk to your children about sensitive issues isn’t an exact science. But we better figure it out quick. While we contemplate the best way to do it, our little ones are being taught by someone else. The internet, social media, and public education have changed the rules of the game. With that in mind, here are four practical suggestions for parents and church leaders on how to get ahead of the issue and teach your children about abortion.

explain abortion children

1. START EARLY. 

Parents always struggle with “how soon do I allow my children to see the brokenness in the world?” My wife, Terri, and I err on the side of sooner than later. I want the first time my children to be horrified by the brokenness of our world to be in the safety of our company and in the context of the gospel. Besides, in the tech age, I’d be foolish to think I can keep the filth away. It will find them. My children need to be ready for when they encounter the darkness.

We need to be proactive in teaching our children. This doesn’t mean that we the force the issue, though. A good way to be proactive but not overbearing is to use questions to gently bring up sensitive subjects. They way I broached abortion with my oldest daughter (age 7) was by asking her if she knew why I went on a recent trip to England. She said, “to speak.” I said, “Yep. I went to speak about abortion. Have you heard that word before?” She shook her head no. I left it there. One minute later she asked what it meant, and we had an amazing conversation.

Good teaching requires knowing your children’s knowledge and assumptions. Bad teachers simply lecture and then patronizingly ask, “Does that make sense?” Don’t do this with your children. Instead, ask your children questions to find out where they are on abortion. Are they oblivious, disinterested, or already educated? Find out. Asking questions also allows for self discovery. You’d be amazed at the insight of seven year olds. They are already making sense of the world. They are forming their moral framework. When simply asked a question and introduced to abortion, children often know what to think if it.(1)

 

2. SIMPLIFY THE ISSUE.

Children, and adults for that matter, are confused about the pro-life position. We must simplify it. People need to know that we are pro-life because we believe it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being. Therefore, we believe abortion is wrong.

Children also need to know the reasons that support this belief. They need to know that along with scripture we are pro-life because science and philosophy direct us to be. Science informs us that from the earliest stages of development the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. And philosophically, we understand that there is nothing morally significant in the difference between an embryo and adult that would justify killing the unborn. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons to kill the unborn.(2) 

The case for life is reasonable, rationale, and remarkably simple. Children easily grasp it. Use questions to simplify the issue, teach the pro-life syllogism, and explain the science and philosophy that support our conclusion.(3) Here are some questions you can use.

  • “Is it okay to kill humans?”
  • “Are the unborn human, and if not what are they?”
  • “Would it be okay to kill unborn humans because they are smaller, not aware of themselves, dependent on their mom for survival, and living in her womb?”
  • “Are humans valuable because of what they can do like be self-aware and able to care for themselves? Or are they valuable because of what they are, a human being?”
  • “If the unborn are valuable because they are human, what should we do with them?”

There you go. It’s that simple. You can teach your children the scientific and philosophical case for life by having a conversation directed by the right questions.

 

3. TALK ABOUT IT FROM THE PULPIT.

I understand that many pastors don’t want the controversy that might accompany speaking on a social issue, but neutrally isn’t an option when it comes to abortion. Children are very observant. When the church is silent on abortion one of two things is communicated to them: either that abortion is tolerable or that it is unforgivable. Both positions are false.

The sin of abortion is a horrific sin for which the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient. People in our congregation need to hear that abortion is wrong and that there is mercy, forgiveness, and healing for those who have participated in one. When the pulpit addresses abortion, it shows the relevancy of Christianity to our children. It shows that it speaks to all of life. Speaking on it also allows sin to be seen in a concrete rather than abstract manner which makes the gospel more tangible. If you want to faithfully teach your children about abortion, the pulpit must be involved. When it is not, the church undermines the work in the home. (4)

 

4. CARE FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY ABORTION.

Training our children to be pro-life doesn’t mean that we just make then apologists. We want them to serve and love those affected by abortion. Whether this means that they serve in a local pregnancy resource center, or simply show compassion to their friends who have had an abortion, actively loving those affected by abortion must be stressed.

Do this as a family or a church family. Our youth group went and served our local pregnancy resource center by doing odd jobs for them. Our youth painted, cleaned up the grounds, folded clothes, and many other things. They also were given a short presentation by the director educating them on what the resource center did for woman. Many of our kids had no idea what the resource center was doing. This experience opened their eyes to the compassion in the pro-life movement and the reality of abortion in a way that words never could.

 

Parents, church leaders, we must be motivated. Children are almost always ready for more than we give them. Knowing when they are ready for something isn’t always clear. But I would rather make a mistake a time or two of addressing something too early rather than too late. So start early and teach the simple pro-life message in the home and the church, and may we all show the compassion that springs from the love of our Lord.

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(1) Check out “Children asked about Abortion” by my friends at the Human Coalition..

(2) See “How to Defend Your Pro-Life Views in 5 Minutes or Less” by Scott Klusendorf for an excellent, concise summary of the pro-life position.

(3) A syllogism is simply a conclusion that is supported by reasons. This is the pro-life syllogism in case you missed it.

  •  Premise/Reason 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
  •  Premise/Reason 2: Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being.
  •  Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.

(4) I am a pastor, and I’ve experienced the fruit of speaking an equipping, gospel centered message on abortion. Pastors, you can win on this issue. You don’t need to fear taking it on. For our story and some resources on how to do this is your church, visit the Pro-Life Pastors Initiative at plpi.info.

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Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, the director of Ratio Christi College Prep, and the author of Relational Apologetics. Booking info and such can be found at michaelcsherrard.com.

 


 

Dead Things Don’t Grow

Author’s Note: The debate discussed in this blog post can be seen at the bottom article.

Many who hold the pro-choice position subscribe to a postmodern worldview. They are not arguing that we can kill the unborn because a woman’s right to choose trumps the right to life of the unborn. They are arguing that ambiguity on the question of when life begins supplies adequate justification for abortion on demand. The argument from ambiguity was central to former ACLU president Nadine Strossen’s presentation when I debated her recently on the campus of Oregon State University (OSU).

I was pleased that Nadine’s opening argument relied heavily on the claim that we cannot know when life begins. This played into the strategy I had chosen prior to the onset of the debate. Nadine did two other things I had hoped she would do in her opening statement: 1) Argue that Roe v. Wade was a moderate decision that balanced the competing interests of the individual and the state, and 2) argue that the Roe decision was necessary to stop the deaths of women who were dying as a result of unsafe abortions. In my own opening argument, which followed hers, I tried to establish two things:

1. There is clear consensus in the science of embryology that life begins at conception. Scientifically speaking, the unborn are distinct, living, whole human beings actively involved in the process of developing themselves from within from the very point of conception.

2. There is no difference between the adults we are today and the unborn humans we once were that would justify killing us at an earlier stage of development. In other words, there is no essential difference between a “human” and a “person.” Furthermore, any effort to justify abortion with philosophical distinctions among the living would invite systematic human inequality. At the end of the day, our society must choose between human equality and abortion. We simply cannot have both.

After we presented our opening statements, Nadine had an opportunity to offer a rebuttal. In that rebuttal, she challenged my claim that there was an absolute consensus among embryologists that life begins at conception. She quoted a source saying that the question could not be answered conclusively. This was a good tactic for Nadine to employ. She was obviously prepared. Fortunately, I had fully anticipated her move.

In my rebuttal, which followed hers, I drew on the work of Francis Beckwith. As Beckwith has previously written, Roe v. Wade concedes that the question of the parameters of a woman’s right to abortion is inextricably bound to the question of when life begins. Therefore, if someone is agnostic on the question of when life begins, they are also agnostic on the parameters of a woman’s right to choose. I began my rebuttal by establishing this crucial point.

Rather than conceding that there was a legitimate doubt about when life begins, I decided to reassert the point that the matter was settled. I did this by firing off numerous sources. Among them, I included former Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and Princeton Philosopher Peter Singer. I wanted to establish the fact that many honest pro-choice advocates conceded the point. In fact, they have done so for decades.

Fortunately, OSU Socratic Club debates are structured in such a way as to allow opponents to have an informal half-hour exchange following the opening statements and rebuttals. During that exchange, Nadine came across as cordial and well informed. She also impressed me as sincerely interested in my views on a number of issues related to the debate topic. She was a worthy and articulate opponent.

One downside to Nadine’s choice of questions was that they sometimes gave the appearance of trying to divert the issue from the question of the status of the unborn. When Nadine interjected the phrase “potential life” into our discussion I tried to seize the moment to refocus the debate. I asked her whether by using the phrase “potential life” she meant to deny that the unborn were humans (in a biological sense) or persons (in a philosophical sense). Her answer was “both.”

Having established that the unborn have separate DNA and that there is cell division and metabolism from the point of conception, I replied with the following: “But, Nadine, dead things don’t grow.” In fact, I said it twice during the exchange.

That statement ended up being the takeaway line from the entire debate. In fact, nearly everyone who saw the debate and spoke to me afterwards quoted that one line. It was effective because Nadine and I were in danger of getting into a war of quoting texts no one has ever read. But “dead things don’t grow” was an unmistakable appeal to common sense that I believe solidified my central thesis and allowed the pro-life position to prevail in the overall exchange.

Therefore, I would like to conclude this column by thanking my friend Jay Watts for supplying me with that line, which I saw in a recent episode of “Life is Best” – a series hosted by my friend Scott Klusendorf. That series may be the best thing Scott has ever done for the pro-life movement – and that is really saying something.

My advice to pro-lifers debaters who wish to compete (and prevail!) in debates on hostile turf is twofold. First, read everything Francis Beckwith writes on the topic of abortion. Second, watch every video, speech, and debate featuring Scott Klusendorf speaking and teaching on the topic of abortion.

The best place to start is right here: http://www.lifeisbest.tv.

 

Why Doesn’t Everyone See Late-Term Abortions as Morally Wrong?

In the interest of trying to provide some moral clarity, I want to examine the type of abortion scenario for which it should be straightforward to morally assess. My thesis in this article is thus narrow in scope but still significant in that some pro-choice advocates take a strong stance that abortion is to never be restricted and is never morally wrong. If it can be shown that this view is mistaken it may awaken folks to more carefully examine other scenarios as well. Here is my simple argument:

  1. If it’s generally wrong to kill a newborn baby, then it’s wrong in many cases to kill a full-term baby.[1]
  2. It’s wrong to kill a newborn baby.

Thus, it’s wrong in many cases to kill a full-term baby in the womb.

I’ll not be arguing for premise 2 as I’m interested here only in convincing those who already believe it’s wrong to kill newborn babies. I’m not trying to assess all possible cases of abortion but am merely wanting to examine whether or not it’s morally permissible to kill a baby that is fully matured but still in the womb. Also, my thesis deals merely with morality – it’s a separate question how this impacts laws.

Consider that many babies are born prematurely and yet have no adverse long-term health impacts. So if one thinks that it’s morally wrong to kill a baby that has been born say a month or so prematurely why think it’s morally permissible to kill an unborn human baby that is has developed for 40 weeks? In this scenario both babies are healthy and were not the product of rape or incest and were born into or would be born into reasonably loving families.[2]

Many arguments by pro-choice advocates fail in this scenario. For example, some claim that the life of the unborn is not worth protecting because it’s smaller or less well developed than humans that have been born. My youngest son Kevin was 10 pounds 6 ounces at birth and my wife’s labor was medically induced. He definitely stood out in the nursery at the hospital – the song “one of these things is not like the others” comes to mind. So when my wife went into the hospital that morning, would it have been wrong to kill Kevin? There are plenty of “preemie” babies that are probably healthy enough now that had a birth weight a small fraction of what Kevin weighed while in the womb. Was it really morally justified to kill my son Kevin just before birth but would be considered murder to kill one of the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit? Was Kevin less of a human person than a baby already born just because he hadn’t traveled a half foot down the birth canal? Is there anything developmentally that happens in the last minutes of pregnancy or during delivery that suddenly endows the baby with self-awareness or cognitive abilities sufficient to go from no protection of life to full protection. It should concern pro-choice advocates that their arguments that the unborn lack attributes worthy of protection seem to apply equally well to toddlers or adults in a coma, etc. In this scenario unborn Kevin was more developmentally advanced and certainly much larger than preemie babies.

What about the mother? Does her right over her body trump the rights of the baby inside of her? Isn’t it the case scientifically that mother and fetus are distinct organisms anyway? A pregnant lady is not four-legged. In this scenario I’ve proposed note that the Mom has already carried the baby to full-term and endured most of the sacrifices that pregnancy entails. She can deliver the baby and deliver it up for adoption and be at least as well off as if she had to recover from surgically aborting a full-term baby. Are there negative impacts to the Mom from delivering the baby sufficient to override the rights of the baby to live? If the mother decides to keep the baby, isn’t it possible that the child becomes a treasure and joy to the mother? Isn’t there a maternal instinct to protect one’s offspring that may have negative impacts emotionally on the mother if she ends the life of her child?[3] Science supports the notion that mothers generally have strong desires to protect their babies – it would be surprising if there were no negative psychological impacts on Mom to end the life of her full-term baby.

My final question to those who advocate abortion without restrictions[4] – do you really think it would have been morally acceptable for your Mom to kill you minutes before you were born? Do you really want to encourage a moral principle that would have so prematurely ended your own existence?

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[1] I say ‘generally’ wrong to avoid controversial scenarios – e.g. the only way to stop a terrorist from detonating a nuke that will kill a million people would somehow necessitate the death of an infant. Likewise I say ‘wrong in many cases’ because I want to examine only whether or not there are ‘some’ cases where abortion is immoral.

[2]This is not a merely hypothetical scenario since 7 states and the District of Colombia allow abortions at any time during pregnancy and without restrictions.

[3] Whether this instinct is put there by God and/or evolution is irrelevant to my argument. Certainly natural selection favors whatever encourages mothers to preserve the lives of their offspring.

[4 One should not infer that I favor abortion just because I’m choosing to examine a specific scenario in this blog.