I'm often asked by pro-choice friends why pro-lifers oppose sex education, family planning, and contraception. Don't those approaches reduce unintended pregnancy and therefore the numbers of abortions? It's a question at the heart of efforts to achieve "common ground" on abortion.
So I emailed Jill Stanek, an important pro-life leader (she's the Chicago nurse who almost single handedly made Barack Obama's opposition to Illinois' "born alive" legislation a big issue in the 2008 campaign). A "non-denominational Christian," she speaks around the nation and blogs at JillStanek.com.
My goal here was not to assess or challenge everything Jill said but to tease out one answer: why -- really -- do pro-life leaders resist birth control as a way of reducing the number of abortions?
The most important points in my email exchange with Stanek were:
1) She believes that contraception and sex ed increase the number of unintended pregnancies
2) Even if she could be convinced that sex ed reduced the number of abortions, she still would not support it.
a) "The logic behind them is hypocritical. Assuming you're married, would your wife send you out of town on a business trip after slipping a condom in your suitcase and saying, "Honey, I want you to be faithful, but here's protection just in case you slip up..."?
b) Contraceptives are the root of abortion. "Contraceptive" means anti-conception. Contraceptives establish a mindset of hostility toward the blessing of children.
c) Sex outside of marriage is a sin.... We do not say, don't murder but here's how in case you can't resist.... We do not say, don't commit adultery but here's how in case you can't resist. We have to resist the culture and think the same way about premarital sex."
I don't happen to think pre-marital sex between consenting adults is inherently sinful but as a thought experiment, I accepted Jill's assertion that sex education leads to various unfortunate consequences -- let's even call them sins: the sin of hypocrisy, the sin of devaluing the blessing of children, the sin of sanctioning premarital sex.
But here's what I don't get. Even if those are sins, aren't they lesser sins than murder, which is what Jill thinks abortion is? Wouldn't she accept more premarital sex in exhange for fewer abortions?
No -- and her reason is fascinating and important.
"The idea of authorizing 'lesser sins' to decrease 'greater sins' is not Scriptural. In fact, Scripture teaches the opposite phenomenon occurs: Little sins lead to bigger sins. They don't sate. You should know satan works in quite the opposite direction, enticing us in small, seemingly innocuous ways."
This surprised me. Most religions differentiate between the severity of sins, I thought. Is it possible that a different theology underlies some of the pro-life thinking?
I asked David Gushee, a moderate evangelical professor at Mercer University, to respond Stanek's scriptural interpretation. He wrote:
"At one level, all sins are the same, if we define sin as disobedience to God's will. All violate God's will and displease God.
But all sins are not equally weighty. This can be clearly shown from scripture, as when Jesus condemned certain Jewish religious leaders for "neglecting the weightier matters of the law." Wearing suggestive clothing is not as weighty as having extramarital sex. Slapping a face is not as weighty as killing someone. Weightiness has to do with the gravity of the sin as this is taught in scripture and also with its significance in impact on other people's lives and on our own life.
Moreover, sometimes lesser sins appear to be affirmed in scripture where they prevent greater wrongs. The Hebrew midwives lied to save the Jewish babies from murder, and they are affirmed. Rahab lied to save the Jewish spies. She is treated as a hero. Divorce is against God's will, but provisions are made for it in both OT and NT.
These examples are rare, but they do occur.
I think the category of concessions to sin is helpful. Jesus treated divorce as a sad concession to human sin and called his disciples to do better. But Matthew at least has Jesus saying that divorce is permitted (as a concession) to deal with sexual sin/adultery."