One of the most useful myths in the “pro-choice” arsenal is the assertion that any effort to curb abortion is mere religious overreach. CNN trotted it out a few weeks after the Dobbs verdict—in an article penned by senior writer Eliott C. McLaughlin. His essential complaint was that Justice Samuel Alito—writing for the majority—replaced Roe’s term “potential life” with that used by the Mississippi legislature: “unborn human being.” This may seem like a “semantic argument,” McLaughlin mused, but “experts say it’s anything but.” Who are these experts? The article offered up just one: the Reverend Rebecca Todd Peters.
Alito didn’t write God or Christianity or Bible anywhere in the opinion, but his justification is a veiled “religious narrative,” said Rebecca Todd Peters, a religious studies professor at Elon University. By co-opting the language in Mississippi’s law in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the majority opinion gives credence to the notion – embraced largely by the religious right – that life begins at fertilization, she said.
If you don’t see the glaring lie in this statement (amidst the layers of more-nuanced lies), then you’re exactly where I was 24 years ago. Exactly where so much of the world is today—ignorant of the fact that the beginning of individual human life is a biologically-settled question. Every teaching text on embryology affirms the same thing. Ditto for National Geographic. Life begins at fertilization. This is not a religious opinion. In fact, it is religion that tends to muddy the waters. Basic biology is clear. So how is it that such an esteemed member of the clergy can utter such a blatant falsehood? Very easily, it seems.
Rebecca Todd Peters is one of those devout Christians who believes the virgin birth is a patriarchal contrivance foisted upon us by a church that is inherently misogynist and racist. Of course by holding such a view, she also tosses out the deity of Christ—along with his substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection. You know, little things. Peters writes that she literally and figuratively set aside the cross to become a feminist theologian. Now she’s devoted her life to “reimagining God as female,” which apparently requires free access to abortion. “Understanding God as Mother,” Peters explains, “might help us develop a more complex and approachable God (so long as) motherhood [is] something that God—and women—are able to freely choose.”
Leave it to CNN to find such a shining example of Christian scholarship. If nothing else, Peters is an “expert” worthy of their devotion to objective journalism. “Whether she's escorting women to a(n abortion) clinic, teaching at Elon or simply having dinner with friends and family,” McLaughlin gushes, Peters is “guided by Scripture.” And then as if suddenly realizing what an absurd assertion he’d just made, McLaughlin narrowed the context of his claim to those “verses that command she care for the poor and marginalized, love her neighbors and seek social justice.” The problem, of course, is that Peter’s care for the poor and marginalized does not extend to her unborn neighbors who are victimized to death by society’s greatest injustice. In the context of abortion, Peters has aligned herself with the more powerful—who are killing the least powerful thousands of times a day.
Rebecca Todd Peters, who is somehow ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA, calls herself a progressive Christian—which strikes me as something akin to a traditional transexual or a round square. “We need a whole new God,” Peters publicly demands, as if God can be molded into anything people desire. To that end, Peters concedes that what she desires is “a Goddess.” No surprise there. Peters rejects the Bible’s veracity while also appealing to its silence on abortion as proof that this particular form of child sacrifice has God’s inferred blessing. But after admitting that there is no religious language in the Dobbs decision—except for that scandalously ecclesiastical turn of phrase “unborn human being”—Peters asserts that this one phrase “erases whole groups of people who have different religious beliefs."
First things first, it is not the phrase “unborn human being” that is “erasing whole groups of people.” It is abortion that is erasing whole groups of people. Literally. Planned Parenthood defined the victim class by exclusion with its subtly sinister slogan: Every child a wanted child. A more honest rendering would have been: Every unwanted child a dead child. The other problem with Peters’ claim is that there is nothing remotely religious about the descriptor “unborn human being.” That phrase shows up exactly zero times in the English Bible. The same goes for “human being.” All the while, Peters claims that the Court’s use of this phrase is evidence that “we've allowed a minority religious belief to curtail the rights of the majority of women in the country.” And just to top it all off, she laments that we are now living “in the middle of a dystopian novel." She’s actually right about that, though she’s entirely wrong about what got us here.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of projection—which generally involves taking your own transgressions and casting them upon an adversary. It’s all the rage these days. So let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario in which you have an imbecilic president who says horribly divisive things as he runs the country into the ground—all while singing his own praises. Let’s say he’s also mentally unstable, morally bankrupt, and compromised by the illicit foreign affairs of his ne’er-do-well son. Add to that: chronic liar, global embarrassment, and a daily threat to both freedom and democracy. That would be awful, right? But how much worse would it be if his doting supporters simply took this list of grievances and ascribed it to his political rival. That’s projection.
In the case of McLaughlin and Peters, their support for abortion is entirely built on metaphysical arguments that have no basis in biology—and can’t be measured or objectified. In a very real sense, these are essentially religious arguments that belong to the realm of faith and belief. To illustrate, Peters insists that mothers should be free to make their own decisions about when life begins—as if it’s merely a matter of personal taste. Banning abortion at any point, she argues, “precludes women from making that choice in accordance with their own moral, spiritual, and religious beliefs.” In other words, she doesn’t want women to be bound by something as inflexible as biology. She wants them free to actualize their own realities. The reason Peters dislikes the term “unborn human being” is because it’s too clinical and objective. It doesn’t provide enough wiggle room to sufficiently justify abortion.
The abortion industry in general—and Peters in particular—have crafted a faith-based narrative in support of abortion that can’t be subjected to the normal scientific process. But instead of owning it and defending it, they accuse their opponents of being the anti-science sectarians. And yet it’s abortion advocates who’ve made an arbitrary distinction between human being and human person so as to morally-exclude that one subset of the human community whose existence they find the most inconvenient. History does not take kindly to such behavior. It tends to label it genocidal, even when there isn’t an explicitly racial motivation. At some level, Peters admits that support for abortion is driven more by faith than reason when she refutes the assertion that “religion is against abortion.” She calls this “a dangerous narrative” that has warped our culture's understanding of abortion. In one sense I agree with her.
Peters believes abortion can be supported as a matter of faith; I believe abortion can only be supported as a matter of faith. If we understand religion to be “a particular system of faith and worship,” then it’s fair to label all abortion arguments as religious. Yes, there are pseudo-religious reasons to support abortion, but that doesn’t prove anything. Plenty of people have found religious justifications for human sacrifice. Child sacrifice, in particular, was practiced across the ancient world, and cannibalism persists even today among various pagan religions. Just because something is “religious” doesn’t mean it should be lawful. Not by a long shot. Freedom of religion is a glorious thing, but it exists within a limited sphere. If your religion practices child sacrifice, sorry, that’s not acceptable. Why should it be any different when it comes to abortion?
Despite the Left’s efforts to characterize abortion opponents as Bible-thumping simpletons, history tells a different story. One of the more interesting takeaways from James Mohr’s book Abortion in America is that the visible church in this country has never been a meaningful witness against abortion. Virtually all of the early opposition to abortion came from the medical community. It was doctors, not clergymen, who raised hell about this barbaric practice which entirely subverted the role of the physician. This is of particular note because it would have been in Mohr’s ideological interest to paint opposition to abortion as a religious phenomenon. It would have fit his preferred narrative very well; it just so happens there’s no evidence for it. And yet this idea that opposition to abortion is merely a religious construct sticks around. It’s incredibly useful after all.
I’ve already mentioned that life’s beginning is not open to biological debate. There’s a whole page on the Abort73 website demonstrating this fact, but it’s also self-evident. By definition, something that is alive has “the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.” Embryos have all this; sperm and egg cells do not. And because species only and always reproduce after their own kind (the law of biogenesis), we know that the embryos and fetuses growing in human mothers are human beings. At no point are they simply “part of the woman’s body.” Their genetic profile is entirely unique, biologically-distinct from every cell in the mother’s body. Therefore, that which is growing in a mother’s womb is not a potential life. It is a life—which is why the dishonest pseudo-scientific descriptor “potential life” had to be replaced by the more accurate and objective “unborn human being.”
Nevertheless, Rebecca Todd Peters blithely declares that “there is no scientific gauge” to determine when life begins. “The belief that life begins at conception,” she continues, “is a theological belief.” It’s hard to know whether Peters is lying intentionally or in ignorance. I’ll charitably assume the latter since it’s entirely possible she’s never fact checked the “pro-choice” talking points she parrots. She also exhibits a postmodern disregard for objective reality—as we’ve already seen—and seems perfectly content to contradict herself.
Peters wants to allow for a plurality of religious belief, so long as those beliefs all allow for abortion. What about those religious crazies who don’t support abortion? Who hold the scientific view that life begins at conception? “It's fine to have that belief,” Peters declares, so long as “you don't impose it on others." She‘ll impose her own religious beliefs on unborn children—at the cost of their lives—but God forbid anyone publicly act on the conviction that abortion is murder. For abortion advocates, compromise—or meeting in the middle—actually means bending entirely to their position. They will graciously allow us to be pro-life in private, so long as we’re “pro-choice” in public—at least with regard to abortion.
The reason the Left’s religious narrative has as much staying power as it does is because those who oppose abortion are disproportionately Christian while those who support abortion are disproportionately atheist. But there’s really nothing surprising in this—nor should it count as a point in abortion’s favor. The Christian ethic holds that you will be judged for your treatment of others. The atheist ethic holds that you will be judged for nothing. If you don’t think that has a practical influence on behavior, you’ve simply lost your ability to reason. Christ, himself, had no tolerance for those who tried to marginalize or remove young children. “Let the little children come,” he warned his disciples, “and do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God.” I wonder if there’s an abortion application tucked inside this rebuke.
My own entrance into anti-abortion activism came via science and religion. It was motivated by pictures of abortion victims and the story of the Good Samaritan. It continues because of the biology of prenatal development and the judgment of the sheep and the goats. I suspect this is true for most abortion opponents. We lean on science and religion; those who support abortion bastardize them both. To oppose abortion is to follow the science—assuming you believe innocent human beings should be legally protected against fatal violence. To support abortion is to follow something else. And though science can’t tell us it’s wrong to have an abortion—it offers data, not moral conclusions—science can tell us that abortion kills a human being. So if you’re someone who thinks it’s wrong to murder young children—but sees nothing amiss with abortion—it’s probably time you took a closer look at the evidence. Especially if you'd rather not.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. Subscribe to Michael's Substack for his latest articles and recordings. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.