The Legal Question Coming to Your State: When Is It Okay to Kill a Baby?

The Supreme Court in December heard a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

A common misunderstanding about this case is that it will DECIDE the issue of abortion. That is most definitely false. Instead, it will turn the question over to the states and (to a limited extent) the Congress, which can decide the abortion issue in federal spheres.

As such, it is quite possible that every state in the union will soon have to answer the question, “When is it okay to kill a baby?”

You may think that I am being unfair by posing the question this way. You may think that because I am pro-life (which I am), I will give an answer to this gotcha-question as “never.” But you are wrong.

You see, it wasn’t a “Gotcha” question at all. This is a plain statement of a legal question that actually has a very clear and reasonable answer. And I will answer it now.

So, are you ready?

Alright. Here it goes:

Question: When is it okay to kill a baby?
Answer: Whenever the baby poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.

Yes, that’s the answer. I’m serious.

Question: When is it okay to kill a baby?
Answer: Whenever the baby poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.

When you look at it, it is quite simple really. It’s just a more detailed version of common language that has been used in the abortion debate for years:

“health and safety of the mother”

See what I mean? But keen-eyed readers will notice that this rule sounds familiar. It sounds A LOT LIKE the legal prerequisite for the use of deadly force in self-defense against non-babies.

And you would be correct. The point that I would like to make is that the rules that should govern the abortion question should be the same rules we’ve had THE WHOLE TIME. The rule for babies is the same rule for non-babies, and these principles (and the disagreements we have about these principles) are established debates that can work for abortion, too.

Therefore, this post is going to talk about abortion, because soon — whether we like it or not — we will enter a legal free-for-all where states need to come up with RULES about abortion that WILL HAVE A REAL EFFECT, rather than to signal political positions.

This needs to be done, because for the first time in over 50 years, we’re going to have to come up with ACTUAL RULES about abortion, because for the past 50 years, we’ve just been playing politics.

As a part of the political game, pro-life people like me have often used the phrase “kill a baby” to put people at a disadvantage in a political argument. I’m not above doing that for clicks (and welcome to my blog, all you click-bait chumps, I’m afraid you’ll find it was not what you were expecting), but that type of posturing is not my goal. Therefore, from here on out, I’m pretty much going to drop that phrase here, except when it is actually appropriate (or generally funny, because I’m not above gallows humor).

Instead, we’re going to be talking about when it is okay to kill PEOPLE, because the lives of people are what we are talking about when we talk about abortion. And I want this to be USEFUL, not a hit-piece.

The way I’m going to address this situation is to give a general overview of relevant law on self-defense (which is the biggest category of when it is acceptable to kill people) and apply it to the issue of abortion. What we will get from this is a CONSISTENT AND USEFUL moral framework, that will guide us in the coming legal-free-for-all.

First: Answering an Objection

Before we get to the meat of the issue, we should probably address an objection for those who do not like the framing of my issue. Some people might not want to have a conversation about “persons” because people thing that a pre-viable baby is more like a bodily organ or human tissue, rather than an actual human being. That is an utterly unconvincing argument to me for two reasons:

  1. Is a fetus, embryo, and zygote alive?
  2. Is it a human fetus, embryo, or zygote?

If the answer to those questions are both “yes,” then you are dealing with “a human life.” There are some minor legal principles about what can and cannot be done with dead human beings, but that’s an argument for another day. This is about a real issue: abortion.

But if that pithy response wasn’t convincing to you, I think the objection deserves more attention. How do we address the issue of abortion if a fetus is merely “human tissue” or something like an organ or body part? Well, let’s address it.

From a practical perspective, it’s hard to see a real difference when it comes to the law. I’ve never seen someone get out of a crime because of the “amount” or “type” of human tissue that was removed. And with some small exceptions (abortion pills, etc.), it’s really not possible for someone to conduct an abortion on THEMSELVES. And so no matter how you treat the issue, we will ALWAYS be dealing in a category of human behavior that is CLEARLY regulated by law.

So, first, let’s treat the issue of “human tissue.” Giving certain assumptions about a fetus, embryo, or zygote being “tissue,” I can give someone the benefit of the doubt on their position. However, the problem is how CONFUSING this way of talking gets, and it gets confusing VERY quickly. Embezzling the human tissue of someone’s blood might be a theft of a medical facility, but robbing someone of blood is difficult to distinguish from murder or malicious wounding. I can acknowledge that someone might sign a contract authorizing a dentist to remove all of their teeth or amputate a healthy leg, but would we allow this for minors (who sometimes get abortions, you know)? Further, if we treat the baby like a malignant piece of tissue, like a “tumor,” this might help an argument for open abortion in the short term, but established legal precedent soon cuts back. When substances, activities, or actions CAUSE tumors, we ban those actions. Good luck legislating that.

As you can see, treating a pre-born baby as “tissue” gets incoherent REALLY fast, and so it’s just not at all USEFUL to treat a baby as ordinary human tissue. Write your own confusing treatise if you wish, I’m not going to do it for you.

So let’s move on to treating a pre-born baby as an organ. This certainly creates a helpful distinction when we talk about minors undergoing medical procedures, and we get some analogous rules. But that doesn’t solve the issue, and things get confusing again. For most organs, there is no difference between removing an organ and killing the person, and this is not at all analogous to abortion and pregnancy. However, for some organs — like kidneys, uteruses, gallbladders, and appendixes, for example — it’s at least somewhat similar.

However, this analogy actually works AGAINST the position we have with abortion now. This is due to laws that already exist on the subject. We don’t just randomly let people remove organs, and when it is allowed, there are some firm rules that are in place.

For example, you are allowed to donate a kidney, but you can’t sell one, even if it is your own kidney. Most all organs are transferred to other people after death, which is a biological necessity, but even for those times when it is not necessary, organs are transferred between people who are close genetic matches. Most often, they are transferred between family members when a specific need necessitates the transfer. No matter what happens, it is an EXTREMELY regulated sphere. Even if a pre-viable baby is like an organ, we simply do not have an “open season” on the removal of organs.

And so even this idea of equating a pre-viable baby with an organ — not “a person” — doesn’t negate the necessity of defining when terminating “a pregnancy” is acceptable. However, it is interesting to note that even when you think of how we treat organs — no sales, only able to be exchanged at death except for special circumstances, most exchanges between family members — it starts to resemble the custody of actual human children. Funny how that works, no?

Second: The Basics Rules of Defending Yourself Against a Baby

After you establish that there is a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm, that’s when the traditional rules of “Self Defense” kick in. You see, self-defense rules — which is the traditional rule for when we are allowed to kill people — normally have five elements. The person who uses the deadly force must have five things:

  • Innocence – you cannot be the cause of the dangerous situation
  • Imminence – the dangerous situation has to be a “now” situation
  • Reasonableness – you must act reasonably in the situation
  • Proportionality – you must use force proportional to the danger
  • Avoidance – if possible, you must flee from the danger

We’re going to go over each of these doctrines in the context of abortion, including certain laws that may or may not be passed when state legislatures will need to decide these issues. The first issue is one I’m sure you were dying to know about: What about Stand Your Ground laws?

“Stand Your Ground” Abortion Laws: Avoidance

This sub-title might seem hyperbolic, but IT IS NOT. I hope you can see how real this issue is about to come, unless the Supreme Court gets really really technical in the Dobbs decision (which is highly unlikely).

What a “Stand your Ground” law does is to use a statute to remove one of those elements of self defense: avoidance.

While “Stand your Ground” laws get a lot of news coverage, in the age of guns, the idea of “avoidance” is one of the least important aspects of this doctrine. It isn’t an issue AT ALL in the home, unless both the aggressor and victim live in the same place. In most states, you do not have to avoid a deadly confrontation in your place of work, either. And usually, when you’re actually in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, it is a situation where avoidance is NOT an option.

But with abortion, the question comes front and center. That is because abortion is not a question of what a person must run FROM. Instead, it creates an issue of what a woman seeking an abortion must run TO to avoid the use of deadly force.

In other words, when a baby poses an immediate threat of death or severe bodily injury to a woman, will the woman or her doctor be required to avoid the use of deadly force against the other person by retreating to:

  • The woman’s home?
  • A pharmacy?
  • A doctor’s office?
  • A telemedicine portal?
  • A planned parenthood clinic?
  • A hospital or facility with hospital admitting privileges?
  • One week of inpatient hospital care?
  • Bed-rest for the duration of the pregnancy?
  • A state with different laws?
  • An OBGYN who does not offer abortion services?
  • An intensive care unit?

Believe it or not, each and every one of those bullet points is a plausible “line” that could be the “acceptable” line. On the lowest level, you can take morning after pills or an abortion pill that is over-the-counter. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t comment on the safety of those options. But beyond that, these types of requirements are ALREADY IN EFFECT. The only difference is that now, they are all aimed at either allowing or preventing abortion. But once the Supreme Court ditches the current fortifications, we’re going to have to figure it out ourselves. While looking at a sonogram may have a certain amount of usefulness in our current abortion regime (for at least one side) it is a completely outdated and useless tool if Dobbs strikes down the right to abortion.

That is when these self-defense categories become so useful. A state may require a woman to go to a medical professional to determine if the choice is medically “reasonable.” A state may require a woman to go to a licensed clinic to see if the issue is “imminent.” A state may require a woman to “retreat” to a hospital if there is no clear danger (yet), or “retreat” to a hospital for an extended period of time. A woman could also “retreat” to a state with different laws, except that the Congress could prevent traveling across state lines to commit an act that would be illegal in the original state.

In other words, the issue is complicated, and we will need to debate this issue to come to a consensus.

If you want to know what I think, I don’t really have a huge opinion on “Stand Your Ground” laws in general, because most of the time, “Innocence, Immanence, Reasonableness, and Proportionality” does the real work of separating morally permissible killings from morally impermissible killings. I imagine the same thing will happen with “Stand Your Ground” laws and abortion, except that I tend to think a doctor should be involved, because I really don’t know much about the safety issue at all. That’s beyond my pay-grade, so I think we can just drop the issue.


Of course not, we’re going to fight about that one forever.

“Proportional” Abortion Laws

Deadly force being “proportional” is also an issue in self defense.

Proportional force is usually not a problem in an age of guns, but it was a very big deal in an age of fists. If someone hit you with a fist, it was disproportional to respond with a sword. But if someone came at you with a fist, it would likely be proportional to respond with a staff. On the other hand, if a man came at a woman with a fist, it would probably be proportional to respond with a sword. Depending on the size of the people, the age of people, the sex of people, the soberness of people, and a host of other factors, this factor gets difficult.

However, this was probably a much more hotly debated topic before Samuel Colt fixed the issue of “proportionality” by raising most all fights to “deadly force.”

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The same issue is at play here. “Proportionality” may be an issue when we talk about inducing early labor, or whether a pregnant woman can have a glass of wine. However, it is not really an issue in the abortion question. All proportions have been raised to deadly force.

“Reasonable” Abortion Laws

As we have all heard, there are MANY reasons that women get abortions.

As I would like to clarify as a staunchly pro-life person, abortion can be acceptable when there is an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. But the next question comes: what actions in response to this threat are REASONABLE?

That’s a very good question, and to answer it, we need to speak with ABSOLUTE CLARITY. Life gets complicated, but the rules we need to make need to be clear. So, we need to think not only of the person who could get killed, but the surrounding situation, too. So I will ask some very serious questions that typically surround abortions that should help us narrow down the moral and ethical dilemmas into bite-sized pieces.

  • How afraid must one be to make it reasonable to kill a person who is not threatening you?
  • Is it reasonable to kill a person if they won’t feel any pain when it happens?
  • Is it reasonable to kill a person if they would be a burden on society if they lived?
  • Whose opinions matter when it comes to the reasonableness of killing a person?
  • Does the reasonableness of killing a person change if nobody would know that the person died?
  • What deformities allow someone to be reasonably killed by another person?
  • What level of threat must one face from one person to make killing a different person reasonable?
  • What level of social rejection and shame must one face killing a person reasonable?
  • What level of poverty and destitution makes killing a person reasonable?
  • What level of educational achievement is makes the death of a person to be an reasonable trade?
  • What type of career and salary that would otherwise be lost is an acceptable substitute for a person’s life?
  • If the ability to terminate parental rights through “safe haven” laws exist in every state in the union, as Justice Amy Coney Barret pointed out, is it ever reasonable to kill a person due to the burden of caring for that person?

As you can see, some of these questions are easier than others, but all of these questions are very real. They don’t always arise in abortion, but they do arise in many strange issues like conjoined twins, suicide, and issues of widespread risk of government policy. However, some of these are clearly issues that deal with abortion, and state legislatures may soon have to address them, whether they want to or not.

But even though some of those questions might be touchy, let’s move to something a little less controversial. I’d like to notice that abortion became a federal right in 1973, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, preventing discrimination on the basis of sex in the workplace, was only passed in 1964. Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities only came about in 1990. Even with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, only recently has the right for women to breastfeed in the workplace been clarified in the law.

In other words, the law has NOTICEABLY CHANGED since abortion was enshrined as a legal right, but the abortion issue has been completely sheltered from these legal developments.

Therefore, it seems that the questions we just asked about the “reasonableness” of abortion in certain situations is just part of a crazy we have created. In the days before radio, food preservation, and modern transportation, a hotly debated topic was when it was morally permissible to kill and eat another human being. Technology has since solved the problem and made the issue moot — not by making it easier to kill and eat other human beings, but by eliminating the need to ever do so in the first place.

With that knowledge, why on Earth is “being pregnant” a burden on educational and career achievement? I know that there are some jobs that are high-demand and therefore pregnancy is similar to “being sick,” and it will make it difficult, but those are the tough issues. Let’s go for the low-hanging fruit.

In an ideal world, what undergraduate (or graduate) institution should EVER be allowed to make it difficult for a pregnant woman to complete her education? Seriously. I’m no expert on being pregnant, but I know that before the internet, women (like my mother) picked up cross-stitch when pregnant because they just needed something to do with an enormous belly and temporarily ill-fitting clothes. With technological advances like Yoga Pants and “the internet” how on EARTH are women not able to continue their education because of “pregnancy”? Financial situations, I can understand, but “pregnancy” alone? That doesn’t make sense. I went to high-school with a guy WHO WAS BLIND AND IN MARCHING BAND and I went to college with a woman WHO WAS BLIND AND HAD A BRAILE LAPTOP.

And despite these things I’ve seen with my own eyes, I’m supposed to believe that American ingenuity cannot solve the “being pregnant and in college” conundrum?

Come on people. We’ve literally been to the moon. We can do this.

If we give maternity leave rights to women in the workplace through the Family and Medical Leave Act, WHY ON EARTH isn’t “guaranteed readmittance next semester” black-letter-law for undergraduate and graduate women in America? We don’t have to fight on everything. Some things are pretty obvious.

“Innocence” and the Issue of Rape

When it comes to abortion, a key sticking point is the issue of rape.

“Innocence” is an important factor in self defense, but that is about starting fights, not getting pregnant. The easy way to address this issue is to say that if you purposefully have sex, you have “assumed the risk” and the issue of self-defense goes away. I don’t like that idea, but I’ll let those people make that argument for themselves. I’m not going to do that here.

Instead, I want to tackle the hard argument. I want to talk about the issue of rape. No matter who is talking, this is obviously the point where there is MAXIMUM INNOCENCE when it comes to a woman being pregnant. This brings us to some weighty issues about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to rape and the death of a person.

This is where things get REALLY STRANGE, and it is shocking to look at the historical context. In previous eras, rape was almost universally punished by death. At least in Western Culture, it was always the rapist who was punished. In some eras and cultures, the woman who was raped also was faced with death, either through suicide in shame or through a homicide of an honor killing to preserve the dignity of the family.

Our modern culture is somewhat unique in this respect from all previous cultures. We truly have broken from all previous cultural and legal systems. Honor killings are not allowed, but that is nothing unique. Suicides are possible, but they are a genuine issue of concern that everyone attempts to prevent. That fact is nothing special about us.

The STRANGE thing about our country is that four years after the right to abortion was enshrined in law, the Supreme Court in Coker v. Georgia stated that it was “cruel and unusual punishment” to punish the forcible rape of an adult woman by an escaped convict (who was already in prison for rape and murder and kidnapping) with the death penalty. Even stranger is the fact that the 8 of the 9 justices on the Court were the same. Only Justice Burger decided that abortion was a constitutional right and rapists were constitutionally protected from death. Even as a lawyer, that one is hard to explain. It makes absolutely no sense. Further, In 2008, the Supreme Court even found that it was “cruel and unusual punishment” to give the death penalty for the rape of an eight-year-old child. Once again, I don’t get that. Read the cases yourself if you want an explanation. To me, this is nuts.

As such, our highest court has completely removed “death” as a societal punishment for “rape” because that is “cruel and unusual.” However, at the same time, the Court has continued to hold that when a human being arises from a rape, this is a special case in which MORE LEEWAY is given through the law to potentially kill that person.

I’m sure many future legal historians and anthropologists will be fascinated by this curious cultural shift. But that’s an issue that future generations must judge. Now, I must return to the question at hand: How does “innocence” factor into abortions regarding rapes.

First, there is absolutely nothing in law or history (except for honor killings, preexisting biases, and mistaken identities) that even remotely corresponds to a practice of deliberately killing someone after a rape who is not a rapist.

But second, there is a doctrine in criminal law that may apply in the case of rape, but it is complicated. You see, if someone robs a store with a gun, someone can almost always respond to that crime with deadly force. The store owner can pull out his own gun and shoot at the robber. But what happens if the store owner is a bad shot? What if the bullet misses the robber and hits someone behind him? Did the store owner murder the other person? In general, the answer is no, because of the doctrine of “transferred intent.”

And believe it or not, “transferred intent” is VERY RELEVANT to the issue of rape and abortion. No pro-life person in history has ever claimed that semen and eggs are “persons” in any shape, form, or fashion. The personhood of a baby starts at conception/fertilization. That’s the earliest stage.

But….. when exactly IN REAL LIFE does conception happen? That’s a good question, and the answer is unclear. While I’m no doctor, the internet says that since sperm can live in the female reproductive tract for “about five days,” this means that “pregnancy,” (which is when the fertilized zygote implants into the wall of the uterus), can happen as far as one week after sexual intercourse.

And here is where things get complicated. You see, when it comes to the issue of abortion and rape, we should note that there is a medical intervention to prevent pregnancy. It is a hormone called levonorgestrel. It gets a little complicated, and so you should read something like this to get some basic technical details, but we can skip that to the point. Levonorgestrel does three things:

  1. Prevents ovulation (which is when a mature egg is released from the ovary)
  2. Prevents fertilization (aka conception, which is when the sperm connects with the egg)
  3. Prevents implantation (which is when the zygote implants into the uterus to develop throughout the pregnancy)

The first two effects of this drug is what everyone would call “not an abortion” and therefore “not killing a person.” The last one is where things get sticky, because preventing implantation causes the person to die. Therefore, it is possible that when defending against a pregnancy can cause the death of a third person. This is why the analogy of the shopkeeper who misses is very relevant for the issue of abortion and rape.

So when state legislatures debate this issue, it may be difficult to understand the medical reality of what is going on with different drugs and different circumstances (and this review is EXTREMELY short). However, if you want to do some work on your own about the difficult questions of abortion after rape when you DO have a person at various stages of development and in all other types of real world situations where other people may be involved, we can ask questions like the following about innocent methods of defense:

  • Can the shopkeeper defend himself with a .22?
  • Can the shopkeeper defend himself with a shotgun?
  • Can the shopkeeper defend himself with an AR-15?
  • Can the shopkeeper defend himself with a grenade?
  • Can the shopkeeper defend himself with nerve gas?
  • Can the shopkeeper defend himself by consuming everyone around in a blazing inferno by lighting the entire gas station on fire?

I’m not here to connect these analogies to real-world situations, and I’m not here to be hyperbolic. Instead, I’m just interested in creating a spectrum of “reasonable” to “that’s ridiculous” along which reasonable people can talk and disagree.

But on the specific issue, I think the most relevant fact in abortion and rape is not “what” but “when.” This is when the doctrine of “imminence” applies.

You see, no jury in their right mind would convict a shopkeeper of murder if he shoots an armed robber and accidentally kills a person standing behind that robber. However, no jury in their right mind would FAIL to convict a shopkeeper who shoots that same armed robber and accidentally kills a person standing behind that robber…. …seven months later.

See what I mean?

“Imminent” Threats and Abortion

Another thing that should be addressed is the “imminence” of when it is okay to kill a person. This is a relevant fact in all self-defense cases. But it also applies to abortion, despite what you might think.

You see, for regular people and self-defense, the issue of “imminence” is usually a question of distance and timing. For pregnancy and abortion, the issue gets flipped on its head. The “distance” thing isn’t a factor at all. However, whenever you start to talk about “high-risk pregnancies,” the idea of “imminent danger” is suddenly a very relevant medical fact.

And unfortunately, our current jurisprudence doesn’t talk about this AT ALL. Instead, we tend to treat the periods of LEAST danger (early in the pregnancy) as the times when it is MOST acceptable to kill a person. Perhaps the most reasonable time where “imminent” danger and our current abortion regime coincide is in the instance of an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube, rather than the uterus. When this happens, the more the person grows, the more of a danger the baby is to the mother, and it can lead to severe and even fatal loss of blood if left untreated. That is a textbook “imminent” threat of “death or severe bodily harm.”

However, apart from that, things get complicated. While I am no doctor, the internet says that these four common pregnancy complications become “imminent” at times when we currently think that abortions are LEAST acceptable: after 20 weeks or so. Additionally, this complicated by the fact that continuing a pregnancy CAN be beneficial for the baby, but harmful to the mother, and inducing delivery early CAN be beneficial for the mother, but harmful to the baby. So I’m not going to dive deep into this one. All I’m going to say is that these fact-specific situations are usually not covered by black-letter law. Instead, the law usually requires a reasonable person (like a doctor) to help the relevant party (like a patient) make an informed decision based on known risks.

I’m sure we’ll be fine on this front. Nothing to worry about. [Insert joke here about Dr. Fauci, the COVID-19 pandemic, and informed consent between doctors and patients about reasonable risks]

Yeah, we’re totally going to be fighting over this one forever.

Finally: The Real Battle on Abortion

Now that this review is over, I’d like to speak a little about my own thoughts on this issue. My thoughts and attitudes are heavily influenced by my own relationship to the problem of abortion and prenatal testing for genetic diseases, as I have cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that is able to be detected before birth. If you look at this study titled “Prenatal genetic testing for cystic fibrosis: a systematic review of clinical effectiveness and an ethics review,” you can see that prenatal testing for cystic fibrosis and diabetes shows noticeable increases in abortion.

Though this issue was previously endured in secret, the internet has let people anonymously speak in public. I’ve seen posts from parents sharing their reasons for abortion in light of a cystic fibrosis diagnosis. Unlike the normal abortion debates, there are no high-minded arguments about “constitutional rights” or “my body, my choice.” If I had to summarize the connecting threads I picked up by reading these dark corners of the internet, I would have to list these themes:

Sadness, Fear, Guilt, Shame, and Anonymously Asking Strangers for Forgiveness

Sitting in my shoes, and reading these words, the idea of “killing a baby” like me, precisely because it was “like me” doesn’t make me angry. It doesn’t make me want to crusade. It doesn’t make me want to argue. Instead, it makes me want to weep. I know how they feel, and it doesn’t make me angry. It makes me sad.

The current abortion regime doesn’t seem to be in the category of “self-defense.” It seems to be in the category of “war.” People who kill in self-defense do not typically feel shame. Sadness? Yes. Guilt? Perhaps. They may need to work things out with a therapist, but they do not anonymously ask strangers for forgiveness. That sounds more like soldiers drafted into a war that is far greater and more terrible than they could imagine. At the end of it, they are shocked at what they have done, even though they hated doing it when it was happening.

We read in scripture that we are in a war, but it is not a war of parents against children or Democrats vs. Republicans or liberals vs. conservatives, all of which the Bible would call “flesh and blood.” Instead, we read:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

The “spiritual forces of evil” that we fight in the heavenly places are angels and spirits and demons and Satan, who lead men and women and entire nations to desire and love and fear certain things. Paul describes the work of Satan earlier in this letter:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7)

In other words, we have been unknowingly drafted into a war over this world on a different level — beyond the level of land and territory and flesh and blood. We’re fighting in a war over spirits — unseen influences that affects on the visible world — and we will either fight for Satan, be a slave to Satan, or stand with Jesus Christ. There are no other options.

In this war between Christ and Satan, from the very beginning, men and women have been deceived by Satan into thinking that certain living things that grow among us — which we have been commanded to tend and keep, but not touch, take, or consume — are ours, and can be taken, through our autonomy over our bodies. All of us have taken and eaten. We have all fallen.

Regarding this battle, the apostle Peter says the following:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11)

The issue of abortion is one of “war.” Whether we like it or not, this world has been drafted into a war of “desire.” These are desires to avoid pain, desires for success, desires to be loved, and fears of loss, shame, and the unknown. They are more powerful and fatal than any human weapon.

The answer to these weapons of spiritual war (because that’s what this “desire” thing is — a SPIRITUAL war) are not “argument” or “laws” or “facts” or “logic,” even though these items have their place, much like “food” and “toilets” and “laundry detergent” had their place in the invasion of France in World War II. The weapon of our Lord is light and love an courage. The weapon of our Lord is his Spirit, and:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

So when the question of “when is it okay to kill a baby” comes to your state house, realize that the true enemy is not the person of flesh and blood marching or voting or campaigning against you. Your enemy is far more sinister and powerful than that person, and your advocate is far greater and powerful and gracious than your enemy. As for the person who is not standing with Christ? Do not call them to shame. That is not one of the weapons that our side uses. We may see shame, but we do not use it.

Instead, call them to courage. Call them to joy in the midst of suffering. Call them to peace that passes understanding. Call them to kindness. Call them to goodness towards the helpless. Call them to Christ. And with Christ as our example, whose forgiveness is greater than anything in our power to demonstrate, let us forgive one another for wrongs that have been done in this terrible conflict.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and all nations. (Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address)

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