Gloucester Daily Times Debate on Abortion (11), December 18, 1985

A Liberal Arts Approach

My View

(invitational column)

(John Rankin, his wife Nancy, and three sons live in Rockport. He is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton. Formerly youth pastor at Pigeon Cove Chapel, he has for two years served as executive director of the New England Christian Action Council)

For over half a century, secularizing forces in the U.S. have sought to exclude biblical input from social institutions. It is a false dichotomy, and in three columns I will attempt to articulate a Christian approach to addressing the issue of abortion. I submit that this approach is unimpeachable in its ethics and conduct, and honors pluralism better than any other perspective.

The starting point is a definition of liberal arts inquiry as “The Socratic commitment to investigate every aspect of an issue with an an open mind, willing always to be instructed by the facts as they emerge.” Accordingly, I embrace liberal arts inquiry, and freely profess my philosophical presuppositions as an evangelical Christian, convinced that all truth is God’s truth.

This definition is the basis for liberal arts colleges, a basis that historically has been the foundation for academic freedom. It is simple and straightforward. I find it easy to embrace, because I am convinced that truth is discovered by open inquiry, not by close-mindedness and ulterior agendas. Or in other words, if my Christian faith is true, then it will withstand the most rigorous scrutiny. I am so enthusiastic about this, that I am always putting myself in positions where my faith is thus scrutinized and challenged. Real Christianity does not hide behind stained glass; it humbly and boldly enters the marketplace of ideas. I have added to this classical definition a word about philosophical presuppositions (we all have them). Open dialogue in this setting can only occur when people of differing convictions are honest about what they really believe at the presuppostional level. Thus, in a society that seeks to avoid religious language in government, I go against the grain consistently. But I only go against the grain in being open about my convictions, for as the 1961 “Torcaso” and 1965 “Seeger” U.S. Supreme Court decisions ruled, secular humanism is a religion. My desire is to encourage secular humanists and others to be open and honest about their true beliefs as well. It is to encourage them to also embrace the spirit of liberal arts inquiry.

On this basis, I then submit two scientific definitions that define the terms necessary to approach the abortion issue. The first is a definition of conception: “Prior to it, the sperm and the egg are haploid life with no future apart from fertilization, whereupon they unite to form a one-celled zygote which is genetically whole human life. This is our common biological origin. Human life is defined by essence, not achievement.” This language seeks to be precise for the benefit of those trained in biology. Summed up, it says that conception is the beginning of human life. No ifs, ands, or buts. We are no less human as a one-celled zygote, than we are as adults. There is no genetic difference. It is only a matter of what stage of growth we are at, and all that growth is genetically programmed from the beginning. Human life doesn’t begin at an arbitrary point of achievement in growth, it begins at conception.

The second definition is that of abortion: “The deliberate cutting off of life in the human womb” (Latin: “ab-” plus “oriri” equals “to stop from rising”). This definition is inarguable — abortion is a procedure that intervenes into the womb with instruments which methodically tear apart the fetus. Look inside the jar after a suction abortion, or into the bucket after a saline abortion. Facts are facts. Note that I did not use terms such as kill, murder, baby, person or child. I could have, and I do in other instances. But for the sake of an unimpeachable argument, I forego certain prerogatives. Truth along can afford understatement. What is life in the womb but human? And if the abortion is not carried out, what will be the result — something other than a baby?

There are the terms of the debate: abortion kills. The question then becomes, is it ever justified? And here is where presuppositions come into play — what value does unborn life have? I will pick up on this progress of thought next time with a definition of abortion as an avenue of male chauvinism.

John C. Rankin (signed for the newspaper)