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Heretofore pro-life Gov. John Kasich of Ohio recently vetoed a bill passed by the Ohio legislature that, as he described it, banned abortion "if a heartbeat can be detected in the unborn child." He explained that this "central provision ... is contrary to the Supreme Court of the United States' current rulings on abortion." To preserve his pro-life credentials, he "signed a ban on dismemberment abortions."
The bill's architect, Janet Porter of Faith2Action, said Kasich's veto was "absolutely heartless."
"Kasich not only denied science, he turned his back on thousands of babies whose heartbeats can be detected," said Porter. "Kasich can never claim to be pro-life again."
However heartfelt, Porter's criticism reveals the inherent contradiction in the "regulatory" approach to the issue of abortion. She claims that Kasich "denies science" because he refuses to accept the presence or absence of a heartbeat as the decisive indicator of life in the nascent child. But the practice of abortion is not controversial because pro-abortion advocates deny that the nascent mass of cells growing in the womb is alive. Killing a living mass of cells growing in the body is not, in and of itself, a matter of controversy. It is the aim, for example, of anti-cancer chemotherapy and the use of non-invasive radiation therapy to target certain cancerous tumors.
Of course, a medical treatment killing living cells aims to extend a human life, not end it. Abortion aims to kill. It aims to kill an ordered array of living cells that, in the normal course of events, are scientifically known to develop, in an orderly and predictable fashion into a human body capable of surviving, as a separate entity, in the world outside the human. The controversy arises with the question:
Should the intentionally deadly disruption of the naturally programmed and organized cellular activity of provably human cells (let's call that activity "human life") be considered a criminal offense under human law at any stage? Or, at every stage before natural death, should human law presume that the intentionally deadly disruption of the naturally programmed and organized activity of provably human cells is a criminal offense, until and unless exonerating circumstances are shown to rebut this presumption?
The substantially non-controversial use of chemotherapy suggests that, generally speaking, the human opinion holds, and has always held, that carefully targeting human life (as just defined) for destruction is not a criminal act when it serves to preserve human life. So even when a fully formed human being, fully recognized and accepted as such, threatens the life of another, that person may be injured or killed in order to avert the threat. If the nascent child in the womb could somehow defend itself against the abortionist's attack, would anyone deny that it has the natural right to do so?
Is this right of self-defense a function of natural power or natural justice, regardless of power? There was a time when "might makes right" was almost universally accepted as the practical definition of justice. This view came naturally to conquerors and the forces they relied on to get their way. As long as they constantly prevailed, people subjected to their power were, perforce, doomed to accept it as well. In the course of generations, the minds and spirits of such people became so inured to presumptuous power that nothing short of utter desperation induced them to resist it. Even when they did so successfully, their brief outburst of strength gave way to vengefulness, which inevitably ended in a way that validated the maxim of power.
These days, Americans, and others inspired by our example, take it for granted that the relatively powerless may nonetheless rightly challenge power when they have just grounds for doing so. This obliging right to resist abuses looks to a standard apart from power; a standard such that those entirely subject to the power of others may appeal against abuses of it, and prevail in reason even when and if they die in the attempt.
If those who perish in fact nonetheless prevail in reason, the standard for judging their appeal cannot be a matter of empirical fact. The English political theorist John Locke appreciated this when he said that the contest over injustice involved an "appeal to Heaven," which is to say, to the seat of power beyond human measures from whence arises the rule of law that produces, and therefore, governs things, from their inception. No matter what sophistical logic one uses to mask the deficiency, the issue of justice is not decided by force, but by the rule that orders and therefore accounts for its results.
Modern empirical science takes this for granted; which is why the programmatic orders it reveals are called discoveries, not creations. If the universe represented no consequential code of conduct at all, empirical science would be little more than another name for happenstance. Reliance on scientific results would be seen as a matter of ultimately groundless faith, a game of chance, like any other. As things stand, human beings have successfully deciphered the codes that govern the world of our perception. In the course of doing so, we have extended our vision, devising means to see what we humans once correctly described as "things invisible."
But what accounts for the binding power of thought (reason) that make such successes possible remains the penultimate mystery. This mystery opens the mind and heart of our humanity to the mystery that transcends thought, which the Bible calls by the name of God. Though we live in an age when the invisible power of thought has given humanity unprecedented access to forces never before subject to our control, the original resource of our thoughtfulness exceeds its grasp. If might makes right, surely this original font of absolute power holds the key to understanding the ultimate meaning of righteousness.
People were led to reach this conclusion, both naively and in a profoundly sophisticated way, long before the age in which we live. They sought to worship God in many ways, until one way of worship invited people to accept, rather than simply fear or seek to manipulate, the way of God, in truth. Striving to see the world with the heart of God, some people sought to decipher its meaning — in the stars and then in all the world around us. This verified the truth, so often proclaimed in the Bible, to those who, in mind and heart, walk in God's ways, may by their trust in His word, decipher the power that speaks with thunder, strikes with lightning and casts mountains into the sea.
But in pride of the power that came of seeing things in God's way, there was the temptation to deny that the power revealed is not our own. As human beings are not ultimately responsible for the power of creation, we are not, on our own, possessed of the wholesome knowledge (knowledge of the whole) required to use it rightly. Though now full of ourselves, and tempted to do what is right in our own eyes, the full import of the powers our science has unleashed is known but to God.
Lacking God's wholesome knowledge, can we use those powers without inflicting damage on the whole? Our only hope of doing so is to ponder the rules that govern His creation, including those He has encoded in the information of our humanity, in and through which He previsions our existence and preservation. But this assumes respect for God's authority over us, as well as the rest of things.
In our day, our discovery and deciphering of human DNA is the most striking token of God's informational prevision for the human race. We now have no excuse now for believing that there is no basis for our common sense of humanity. In our marvelously different ways, as individuals, peoples and nations, we are all variations on the theme — bridging the abyss that divides life from lifelessness, and human life from other living things of God's creation.
Like a computer program running through its routines, human life moves through the God-ordained course of its development. DNA allows us to know that, at every stage in that development, God's intention for our humanity informs events, looking ahead to the appearance of the individual human whole, conceived and willed into existence in the unfathomable mind and heart beyond all being but God's own.
Given these reflections, doesn't it make sense to conclude that neither Gov. Kasich nor the sincerely well-intentioned proponents of the heartbeat Ohio bill have as yet returned to the ground of principle (and empirical fact) on which the battle against abortion must be fought and won?
The question is not when human life must be respected. The question is: When will America again respect for God's will for all humanity? From before the existence of creation, He intended life for humankind. For he prepared the salvation of the world in Christ before ever it was lost to sin. So He envisioned the sacred sharing of His image and likeness in human form before Adam, the man of dust, became by the Spirit of God, a living soul.
As Americans, we must not surrender the standard of justice implied in the assertion of God-endowed right with which our nation began. The key to victory in the cause of life is therefore to demand respect for the authority of God. On this, more than anything else, the revival of our life in liberty utterly depends.