Dave Sterrett has become an outspoken pro-life advocate. He recently wrote a book called Aborting Aristotle, which I reviewed here. Dave has his pulse on the state of the abortion debate, and was kind enough to answer a few questions:
SEAN MCDOWELL: Dave, how would you assess the state of the abortion debate?
DAVE STERRETT: As far as the abortion debate goes, the pro-life side is winning, but we still have a lot of work to do. Planned Parenthood of Texas was exposed in a video released recently, for breaking the law again and doing partial birth abortions. But mainstream media is not reporting on this and the country is still divided on its beliefs about abortion. We need Christians to show up and vote this year for a pro-life Senate and especially a pro-life President whom we can trust to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices.
Anyone who doubts the growth of the pro-life movement just needs to show up to the March for Life and look at the hundreds of thousands of young people who passionately and courageously determined to abolish abortion in their lifetime. My life was changed in 2012 when I attended my first March for Life and asked myself, “Where have I been?”
On both the scholarly and the popular level, pro-life is winning—first and foremost, because the fact that “life is sacred” is true and biblical. I think it was Elvis Presley who said, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” For the longest time, Planned Parenthood and abortion advocates in academia and politics have tried to deny the truth and deceive the public about unborn children not being “persons,” but scientifically, this goes against virtually everything that embryology tells us about the unborn. In addition, more detailed videos and higher quality 3-D sonograms are showing us that the unborn really are people, and this is changing the minds of some skeptics.
Now, on a scholarly level, some abortion defenders like David Boonin in his book A Defense of Abortion actually acknowledge the humanity of the unborn. This kind of admission actually helps boost our cause on the pro-life side. Boonin wrote,
In the top drawer of my desk, I keep [a picture of my son]. This picture was taken on September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clear enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows [my son] at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.[i]
I will say that it does seem that some scholars who defend abortion like David Boonin are a little more consistent and honest than we’ve seen with what the leaders of Planned Parenthood are doing in our communities. And we’ve seen more and more videos exposing Planned Parenthood for not only lying to the general public about doing mammograms, but for lying about the fact that abortion videos are heavily edited. Today’s video showed that The Planned Parenthood organization also has shown its lack of judgment for acknowledging their awareness of the unborn being “fetuses” but still offering them as a line item for sale for profit.
The bottom line is that the pro-choice abortion movement is dead, but we still need to train believers to know how to defend the unborn. Only 12 of the 28 major Protestant denominations take a pro-life stand, and unfortunately, most Protestants are silent about training their students in pro-life apologetics. That’s why I wrote this book and am thankful that leaders like yourself, Sean, and people like Scott Klusendorf are training students to defend the personhood of unborn babies.
I’m so thankful for pro-life leaders who are now rescuing children in places like China. In the last few years, the pro-life movement has gained momentum among a lot of young leaders in organizations like Students for Life of America, Center of Medical Progress, Live Action, Save the Storks, and many more.
SEAN MCDOWELL: You recently wrote the book Aborting Aristotle. What makes your book unique compared to other pro-life books?
DAVE STERRETT: Aborting Aristotle is unique in the sense that it takes the most common pro-choice arguments and critiques them philosophically topic by topic. We start by sharing the need for Christians to be grounded in philosophy and metaphysics. I go back historically in this book and explain how the Christian Church father Augustine (354–430) taught that human beings were intrinsically valuable because they were human, not merely externally valuable for what they performed or what the state recognized.
During Augustine’s day, Rome believed that the government was the entity that decided personhood.As Richard Frothingham summarized, “The individual was regarded as of value only if he was part of the political fabric and able to contribute to its uses, as though it were the end of his being to aggrandize the State.”[ii] Boethius (480–524) believed that all human beings were persons because they were human. He said that persons were individuals of a rational nature. And when Boethius refers to concepts like individuality and nature, he is agreeing with some of Aristotle’s teaching on metaphysics. To defend the personhood of the unborn, we will need to examine and see how much of Aristotle’s teaching is still relevant.
SEAN: Dave, the subtitle of your book is “Examining the Fallacies in the Abortion Debate.” What are a few of those fallacies?
DAVE: One of the most common fallacies is when abortion advocates use self-refuting statements. For example, Dr. Paul Simmons, who writes on and on about why abortion should be legal, wrote, “the woman is the final arbiter in the abortion decision” because men “do not know personally or experientially the threat and burden of an unwanted pregnancy.”[iii] Again, we could apply a self-contradictory principle to Simmons and then ask, “Why is he, as a man, who does not know pregnancy personally or experientially, able to be an ‘arbiter’ on the abortion debate for anyone who disagrees with his view of abortion rights?” Also, if Simmons is correct that men should not have the “final say” or be the “arbiter” then has he invalidated Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision on abortion, because it was decided by seven men (7-2) on the Supreme Court in 1973.
SEAN: What are the most effective ways to make the case for the humanity and personhood of the unborn?
DAVE: I think we need to show people who the unborn truly are, and what a horrible thing abortion actually is. We use clarity in logic, but we also clearly show with images just what abortion actually is. One of my close friends just recently made the decision to become 100% pro-life when he saw a diagram depicting what an actual D&E abortion is. Here it is below:
Also, we need to talk about what abortion actually is. In Katha Pollitt’s book on abortion, she begins on a personal note: “I never had an abortion, but my mother did… Abortion. We need to talk about it” (p.15). But she never really talks about abortion. What her fans have hailed as a “passionate” defense of abortion rights is little more than an articulate rage about Christians, Republicans and God: “If fertilized eggs are persons, God is remarkably careless about them” (p.69).
So we need to talk about what abortion actually is. It may not be the most comfortable topic for us to discuss, but we can help change people’s minds and hearts.
Dr. Anthony Levatino, who specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology, completed 1,200 abortions before becoming pro-life and ceasing to perform abortions. On a number of occasions, he has spoken before members of a congressional committee and described performing a second trimester Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) abortion:
…The toughest part of a D&E abortion is extracting the baby’s head. The head of a baby that age is about the size of a large plum and is now free floating inside the uterine cavity. You can be pretty sure you have hold of it if the Sopher clamp is spread about as far as your fingers will allow. You will know you have it right when you crush down on the clamp and see white gelatinous material coming through the cervix. That was the baby’s brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times a little face will come out and stare back at you.” Levatino added, “These procedures are brutal by nature.[iv]
Yes, abortion is brutal, and one way to expose its evils is to reveal the truth about the inhumaneness of the abortion process.
We also need to argue philosophically that all humans are persons because of their intrinsic human nature and not because of their functions or levels of consciousness. However, many critics of pro-life believe that one’s essence comes out of existence depending upon the proper function. No doubt, there is a big physical difference between a child and a grown adult or an acorn and an oak tree. Obviously the latter in each case is much bigger and fully mature; however, the substance of each remains the same.
I was once a little baby at 5 pounds, but now I weigh 225lbs and can dunk on Sean McDowell (ok, maybe not). I am still Dave Sterrett, even though my properties have changed. Let’s consider another example: a barking dog. The barking of the dog is a function that is normative to a vast majority of dogs. However, if a defective dog is born without the ability to bark, it still remains a dog. A little baby with a disability or mental handicapped still remains human, even though their may be a physical limitation. We must protect the least of these, rather than kill them.
As Proverbs 24:11-12 says, “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?”
SEAN: What can the marriage movement learn from the pro-life movement?
DAVE: We need clarity, compassion and conviction in both movements. The marriage movement needs to be inspired by the pro-life movement not to give up. The pro-life movement is a lot stronger than it was 40 years ago. 40 years ago, my denomination, the Southern Baptists, were in favor of abortion, but now most Southern Baptist preachers are pro-life. So we’re making progress.
I also believe that we need to defend marriage and the unborn through natural law in the public sphere. Sometimes pastors, with good intention, try to preach a strong divine command theory in the public sphere arguing that same-sex marriage is wrong because the Bible forbids it. I disagree with that approach. Although it is clear that immoral acts like murder and same-sex marriage are contrary to Scripture, I believe murder was wrong long before the Bible was ever written and God revealed to Moses, “Thou shall not murder.” Cain was guilty of shedding innocent blood because he acted in complete disobedience to God’s unchanging eternal law that was prescribed in natural law or as Romans 2 says, “written on the heart.” So murder is not only wrong because the Bible says, “Thou shall not murder.” But murder is wrong because it violates the natural law that was prior to God ever speaking to Moses.
I think it is very effective to defend marriage by using a natural law defense as Girgis, Anderson and George do defending marriage as “between man and woman to become husband and wife in a comprehensive union, while also emphasizing the link to offspring and the children’s welfare.” I think this natural law approach is good to defend the ethical and metaphysical natures of the question “What does ‘marriage’ mean?,” just as I defend the question “What does it mean to be a ‘person’?” We need to be aware of the biology, but the disagreements lie in philosophy. I will add that churches and parents should also dive into what the Bible says about marriage, human dignity and law.
Sean, your book with John Stonestreet called “Same-Sex Marriage” does a great job of addressing both natural law and the Bible. I would just close by saying that the marriage movement can learn from the consequences of having 57,000,000 million children murdered that ideas and politics have consequences. Abortion is not just a “private” decision, but also an ethical and legislative decision that affects the liberty of other persons.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.
[i] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press, 2002), xiv.
[ii] Frothingham, R., The Rise of the Republic of the United States (Boston: Brown, 1910), 6.
[iii] Dr. Paul Simmons, “Religious Liberty and Abortion Policy: Casey as ‘Catch 22’” Journal of Church and State 42.1 (Winter 2000): 69-88.
[iv] See “House Judiciary Committee Continues Hearings Investigating Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Business,” October 8, 2015: http://www.nrlc.org/communications/releases/2015/release100815/.