As I was rallying for life with several thousand other Texans at our state capitol, a few dozen pro-choicers insisted on parading through with “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology” banners while screaming “Keep Your Rosaries, Off our Ovaries!” That’s pretty standard irreligious stuff, but at the West Cost March for Life, marchers were subjected to a chant with a different wrinkle: “Save the Earth, Don’t Give Birth!” It’s a particularly unfortunate slogan, for it risks obscuring the connections between welcoming the unborn and caring for creationconnections long noted by heroes of the pro-life movement and well worth remembering today.
Carl Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today and a giant in neo-evangelical history, wrote “Abortion: An Evangelical View” in 1971. That pre-Roe time saw a cascade of states liberalizing their abortion statutes, while some mainline denominations were taking on the cultural view that the fetus was just “tissue” that did not merit protection. Proper Protestant churchgoers wanted to avoid the uncomfortable topic. Henry offered this assessment: “I maintain that abortion is not a completely private medical problem, any more than pollution of the environment can be dismissed as a purely chemical problem.”
Henry does not develop the analogy at length, but at a time when things like Earth Day were alerting America to the nasty spillover effects from the scientists’ single-minded quest to provide “better living through chemistry,” not much explanation was needed. There were broader considerations that he felt should transform the calculus surrounding what were often presented as specialized decisions fostering personal convenience.
Henry argued that because pregnancy involves “interpersonal relationships with a second party, and through conception to a third party, and indeed to human society as a whole” it was “too late” at that stage to “justify abortion on the basis of self-determination.” Henry’s early work laid a foundation, but it was left to Francis Schaeffer with How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (made in partnership with future Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop) to build evangelical abortion opposition into a robust edifice at the close of the 1970s.
At the start of that decade, however, Schaeffer was putting pen to paper to address the ecological crisis and the flawed, but not utterly meritless, cultural response to it. In Pollution and the Death of Man, he called for an attitude of self-control: “We must not allow ourselves individually, nor our technology, to do everything we or it can do.” Schaeffer specifically connected sex and consumerism saying, “A girl should not be treated as a sex object to be used simply for pleasure. A man should not be treated as a consumer object simply for bigger profit.” The Church should instead be a “pilot plant” that models “substantial healing in every area affected by the Fall,” including the broken relationships between man and woman and humanity and nature.
There is plenty of reason to keep both eyes open, a fact I was reminded of when perusing The Environmental Handbook, a 1970 mass-market paperback prepared by Friends of the Earth. The final page is a tear-out petition to President Nixon urging that “at least 10% of the defense budget must be allocated to birth control and abortion in the U.S. and abroad.” Yes, there is reason to step carefully when on green turf, but the ground is of such strategic value that we should not abandon the field completely. Sex is too important to be left to the hedonists, and the care of creation is too important to be left to the misanthropes. March on.
John Murdock is a former natural resources attorney who helps direct Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship as well as the Earth Stewardship Alliance. He now writes from Texas and his work is catalogued at johnmurdock.org.