Earlier this week, Criminology professor Dr. Mike Adams participated in a public debate with self-declared “Christian Abortionist” Dr. Willie Parker at UNC-Wilmington. Parker has become something of a celebrity in recent years, as he defends his abortion provision in the name of Christ. With abortion back in the national conversation, Parker is a great poster-child for the modern pro-choice movement, which is looking for new ammunition to use in order to frame abortion as a common procedure that should be free of stigma, and in some cases, even celebrated, as the recent activist group “Shout Your Abortion” has proposed.
Because of this, Parker has gained recent notoriety among progressive Christian groups because of his abortion advocacy and outspoken “Gotcha” remarks that he makes when railing against pro-life Christians, comparing them to white supremacists, and asserting that they are trying to actively discriminate against women. These claims are almost always eaten up with pride by the “Woke” Christian community without further scrutiny.
It’s easy to see why this bizarre phenomenon is currently taking place when the views on abortion within the church are looked at closely.
According to data from the Pew Research group, published in 2018, many mainline Protestant denominations are nearly evenly split in how congregants view the legality of abortion.. My own denomination, The Presbyterian Church of America, has 54% of it’s members supporting the legality of abortion in all or most cases. Fifty-Four percent. Our liberal sister denomination, the PCUSA, stands at 65% support for legal abortions. Some PCA members have disputed the data, saying that many respondents may have mistakenly answered for the opposite denomination, but the support for legal abortion in a traditionally conservative denomination is still very high. It is also fairly consistent with similar data from the Gallup polling center.
That’s not the only denomination that’s mixed up. The American Baptist Churches USA stands at 47%. The National Baptist Convention? 57%. The Catholic Church? 48% support for legal abortion.
Clearly, there is a massive lack of clarity in a large percentage of American churches on the issue of abortion. Scott Klusendorf shares an even more dismal outlook on the problem, based on the students who visit Summit Ministries Worldview training camp:
“I teach the abortion sessions at Summit. For the last five summers, I’ve conducted an informal survey of attendees. I ask for a show of hands on a specific question: “How many of you, prior to coming to Summit, heard a pro-life apologetics presentation in your church aimed at equipping you to defend the pro-life view?” The numbers are remarkably consistent. Out of 1,800 students present each summer, an average of 45 have prior exposure to a pro-life apologetics presentation in their local churches. Let that sink in: 45 out of 1,800! That’s only 2.5%.”
This is inexcusable. Imagine if half the members of a denomination like the PCA believed that killing toddlers or domestic violence were legally and morally tolerable. Is this going to fly, especially if a national congregation was committed to following Scriptural commands, sola scriptura, including to “Love your neighbor as yourself?” Apparently, half of our church members aren’t even sure who counts as a neighbor.
This is a pretty bleak outlook, but it helps explain why we now have a “Christian Abortionist” using the Bible to justify his actions, to the nearly fanatical endorsement of some in the media and celebrities.
With this in mind, we now turn to the debate between Dr. Mike Adams and Dr. Willie Parker. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here.
Dr. Adams opened up the exchange. By stating the pro-life syllogism, Adams set the tone for the debate, and established the argument he would be making and then defending as the night went on:
It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.
Adams then argued the premises. Pointing out that few people will challenge the first premise, but will reject the second, Adams began citing the writings of both the leading embryologists, and some of the leading defenders of abortion, including David Boonin and Peter Singer. (For a list of the citations from embryologists, compiled by Dr. Maureen Condic, click here )
This set the tone for the exchange. This isn’t a debate over liberty, gender equality, political affiliations, and religious liberty, though all those topics can be impacted by how we answer the question: What are the unborn?
And that was the one question that drove the exchange. Can we kill the unborn? That depends: What are the unborn?
Adams highlighted what the pro-life argument was in the first part of his opening. In the second part, he proceeded to scrutinize Parker’s book Life’s Work. Pointing out how Parker has claimed that he speaks “as an authoritative voice on science and religion”, Adams notes that Parker can’t speak authoritatively about anything, because his book lacks even a single footnote.
Continuing on, Dr. Adams also highlights the other ways in which Parker’s rationalization of abortion falters. Adams highlighted Parker’s use(or, misuse) of viability as the standard that defines when an unborn human being has a right to life, by noting the absurdity of viability as the standard. It’s too episodic. Viability is the ability to survive if born premature due to the current state and availability of neo-natal medical care. Adams used a simple thought analogy to show the problem: If a woman who is 35 weeks pregnant(more than viable in most of the United States) gets on a jetliner and flies to a country where viability is 36 weeks until birth, her child would have to cease being considered a human being with a right to life until she returns to the United States. This is absurd, and is dangerous when life is on the line.
After this, Dr. Adams then goes on to show that Parker has admitted to performing abortions after the point of viability(according to Parker, 22 weeks gestation). As Adams clearly showed, Parker has, by his own admission, intentionally killed innocent human beings with a right to life.
After showing the other problems with Parker’s book(And showing that he knew Parker’s arguments better than Parker knew them), it was the “Christian” Abortionist’s turn to offer a defense of his position.
That defense turned out to be a confusing one. Parker opened by quoting several of his heroes, and pointing out that there are different definitions of life. We then get a nice bed time story about the difference between the “biological and religious” definitions of life, and life from an evolutionary context. This is a common ploy among many street level pro-choice activists(and very unbecoming of someone with advanced degrees in medicine). Wax eloquent about the definition of life, how it has “a multitude” of definitions, and then proceed to try and cast doubt on the pro-life position. Amusingly, these same activists wouldn’t make the same excuse if they suddenly found their life on the line; if someone suggested intentionally killing pro-choice activists, we’d suddenly get rousing defenses of the right to life of human beings again. The assertion is just silly.
Parker also ignored the may times pro-choice thinkers, like David Boonin and Peter Singer, have admitted that, yes, an unborn human being is killed in the abortion procedure. Instead, he used many euphemisms more appropriate for Twitter. And it showed.
The only real challenge we get to the pro-life argument is that Adams “failed to argue that a fetus is a person”. This is another popular ploy, but outside of undergraduate introduction to philosophy courses, it also doesn’t fly.
Personally, I would have challenged Parker’s contention that “personhood” is separate from one’s human nature, by noting that many of the alternative views of personhood (Sentience, the ability to think, the ability to have memories, etc.) Tend to have explanatory hurdles that they are unable to clear, and lead to bizarre and disturbing results for all human beings, not just unborn ones. (For more on this, see Christopher Kaczor’s excellent book The Ethics of Abortion, along with Patrick Lee’s Abortion and Unborn Human Life)
The substance view of the human person that Adams defended(and as coined defended by philosopher Francis J. Beckwith in his book Defending Life) is more than adequate to handle the challenges of functionalist views of personhood, by pointing out that while functions can change, human nature does not; and functions are a reflection of human nature, not exceptions to it.
Adams did the smart thing by not taking Parker’s bait. It was unclear whether Parker was familiar with arguments regarding fetal personhood, but Adams stuck to his syllogism. This meant the debate stayed on topic, and kept Parker from raising further smokescreens.
Parker closed his opening statement with the parable of the Good Samaritan, noting how a woman in a crisis pregnancy is similar to the traveler who was beaten up and left on the side of the road. He states that a sermon on this passage, given by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is what propelled him into providing and performing abortions.
Adams was livid, and for good reason: Given what we know about the unborn, using the parable of the Good Samaritan to advocate for intentionally killing them is obscene.(At which point a female in the audience shouted “You’re obscene”, and Parker, to his credit, called her out for her inappropriate outburst). The unborn is our neighbor, just like her mother, and she is in as much need of our support, even if we suffer as a result.
Again, Adams was well-ready and equipped. He took Parker’s argument from Roe v. Wade and carefully but clearly explained the rationale behind the case, making it very apparent Parker had not done his homework. He pointed out how the Roe court acknowledged that the “right to choose” was dependent on when life begins, but that the Court refused to even look into the issue, claiming that no one knew. In turn, this means no one knows the extent of a “Woman’s right to choose”.
Parker’s rebuttal wasn’t any better than his opening remarks. He brought up personhood(again, same issue involved with trying to make a distinction) and made the bizarre statement that “Being pro-life is not the same as being anti-abortion. I to am pro-life.”
We don’t get much of an argument, although Parker’s explanation is incredibly specious. This is becoming a very popular assertion to make, but it is a rather stupid one. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” if you are in the business of intentionally killing innocent human beings, something Parker admits to at the end of the debate. Otherwise you are only “pro-life” for human beings who fall into your group, but tolerate or even support intentionally killing those who don’t qualify. We have a term for that: bigotry.
He also asserts that because a woman is denied her “personhood” when she isn’t allowed to choose an abortion, that fetal personhood is essentially a denial of her very humanity.
This is as outrageous as it is stupid. Are we really to assume that a woman’s very human nature is being denied when she can’t have a procedure done to “end” a process that is totally natural, namely, pregnancy? Are women only persons when they can legally kill their unborn children in a way that goes against their own bodily design? Why on earth should a reasonable person believe such a thing?
Furthermore, the notion that pregnancy pits the interests of individuals against each other is ridiculous. If given the choice between execution and pregnancy, pretty much everyone would say pregnancy, and most people would think the question itself absurd. Many people will refuse to suffer a great bodily injury a second time, but many women will jump for joy when finding out they are pregnant again. Friends and family will squeal with delight at the notion their friend, sister, daughter, wife, or other loved one is pregnant again. This makes the “Denying abortion is a denial of a woman’s personhood” assertion even more farcical, if pregnancy is deemed a great and beautiful thing by many women.
Pregnancy may lead to a limit on certain lifestyle choices and decisions, but those lifestyle choices are only limited to a certain amount of time. Killing, on the other hand, permanently and irreversibly prevents any and every action a person can choose to engage in, as Don Marquis points out. It seems then, that Parker’s own claim actually works against his abortion advocacy. If it’s wrong to prevent someone from experiencing any good or freedoms, then it must follow that permanently ending every opportunity someone has to experience good and exercise freedom is a great evil. So, it follows abortion is a wrong against the unborn child.
Adams took this win again easily. It became incredibly apparent that Parker hadn’t done his homework. Adams took Parker through the descriptions of abortion, cited by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and abortionist Dr. Warren Hern. In doing so, he gets Parker to make the admission: The abortion procedures described in Dr. Hern’s book Abortion Practice were accurate. I have had pro-choice advocates, including a Planned Parenthood employee, tell me the book is out of date. And yet, we have in 2019, a practicing abortion doctor affirming that Hern’s book is still accurate. It’s terrifying that many who support an issue which impacts life and death decisions haven’t done their homework on the very procedure they trumpet as a “right”.
Audience Q/A wasn’t anything really worth listening to. Bad pro-life and pro-choice arguments were raised by questioners throughout this part of the debate. However, I would like to briefly talk about two of them.
The first question asked was by a gentleman, for Dr. Parker. He asked Dr. Parker what the average age of women who come into his clinic was, and how many were pressured into getting an abortion, or were distressed by the decision.
Parker answered that the average age was about twenty, and that he worked to ensure that women were not pressured into the decision.
I sort of agree with Parker on this one. A patient being pressured into a surgical procedure tells us nothing about the morality of the procedure. If women were regularly pressured into getting facelifts or breast implants, it would say nothing about the morality of such procedures, even though the pressure to get them done would be clearly wrong.
The morality of abortion is dependent on the answer to the question, “What are the unborn?” Even when Parker tried to dismiss Dr. Adams sources as merely being “his facts”(While not providing any reason to reject them in favor of what the actual evidence from embryology is), the point still stands. We can kill the unborn, if the unborn are not human.
The second question was one asked by a young woman, very emotionally charging Adams with forcing women into suicidal acts because of postpartum depression. Adams didn’t get much time to offer a response, and seemed a bit taken aback at first(probably because of the stress of the debate, or other factors), but personally, I would have turned the question around: Why just abortion if postpartum depression is so severe? Why not allow women to strangle their infants if they have postpartum depression? Isn’t the answer to help women suffering from their depression instead of killing someone? To use a thought experiment, suppose a woman comes home one day to find out her husband ran off with his secretary. This leads to her having suicidal thoughts. Is the acceptable answer to let his wife kill his mistress in order to alleviate her suicidal thoughts? Why just stop with killing someone in abortion to alleviate the feelings of a suicidal person? As is often said in discussions about suicide, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. So is abortion.
Adams and Parker gave their closing remarks. Parker continued to try(and often, failed) to wax eloquent about “personhood” and religious liberty, claiming Adams was a “Christian supremacist” who wanted to impose his narrow religious beliefs on women in a religiously pluralistic society. Again, Parker begs the question, and forgets that his own abortions are “imposing” the religious beliefs of his patients on the innocent human beings they are carrying, in a lethal and gruesome manner.
Adams re-stated his argument, and summarized the premises and their support clearly and concisely. This was a clear win for Dr. Mike Adams, and the pro-life position at large. Dr. Willie Parker’s arrogance really showed, and his position was clearly exposed for the farce that it was. The best he could do was attempt to cast doubt on Dr. Adams position by highlighting “Religious opinions are often different”, even though the only time Adams went to the Bible was to clarify and show how Parker was twisting it to justify a horrendous violation of human rights. Parker clearly thought that showing up and repeating pro-choice soundbites that one reads on Twitter or on a blog post would carry the day. He was dead wrong.