Not long after moving to Phoenix I picked up a copy of the Phoenix New Times to read an article a friend had written. As I flipped through the newspaper I realized why it was free–advertisements for escort services, strip clubs, and massage parlors permeated its pages. Though the advertisements were not written by journalists, they were telling a story, the story of sexual brokenness that found its tragic conclusion on the back page which offered cheap divorce lawyers and STD tests.
The tragedy deepens, however, when the fallout of sexual brokenness involves not only the relationship or health of sexual partners but the child they produce. Last week a story that began with an illicit relationship came to a head in an Indiana court room. Purvi Patel, a single 33 year-old woman who had been in a year-long affair with a married man, was convicted of feticide and child neglect. Pregnant from her affair, Patel sought illegal pills online to bring her unborn child’s life to an end. Whether the pills worked or not is unclear. Whatever the cause, Patel delivered a 25 week-old baby she claims was stillborn, made a brief attempt to breathe air into the child’s lungs, then placed the child’s body in a dumpster. All of this was uncovered after Patel went to the emergency room for subsequent bleeding.
This story is fraught both with emotion and ethical implications. If Patel’s baby had enough rights to lead to her sentencing, why are those rights not shared by other 25 week-old babies in 29 states? What is the distinction between the baby in the dumpster and the “medical organic materials” that abortion clinics dispose of? Why are pro-choice activists infuriated by Purvi Patel’s conviction of feticide yet comfortable with the same law if it convicts an unwelcome act of violence that causes a similar result?
Such questions reveal the moral inconsistency that plagues the current conversation regarding abortion. For pro-choice advocates, the determining factor between baby or fetus, blessing or burden, protected or vulnerable is the mother’s attitude toward her unborn child. Had Purvi Patel visited an abortion clinic five weeks earlier, she could have achieved her goal of ending the child’s life with full legal protection. Had she been attacked by someone in such a way that resulted in a stillbirth, her attacker would be convicted of feticide. Why? Because of her attitude toward her unborn child. Patel’s decision to take matters into her own hands apart from legally sanctioned means put her in a complicating middle ground and exposes the inconsistencies of any view that justifies ending her child’s life.
What does this expose for the church? It exposes our need to be both prophetic when defending the lives of the most vulnerable and compassionate when addressing the needs of women in distressing situations. It exposes our need to model sexual purity and to mercifully welcome the sexually broken. And, as we hear ethically confused arguments about “reproductive rights,” we need to be reminded not only of our ethical conclusions but also of the biblical foundations for those conclusions.
Toward that end, on February 22nd we will begin a 9-week course on the sanctity of life during the training hour. Raul Reyes, the Executive Vice President of Crisis Pregnancy Centers who spoke to us in October, will be leading us through the Bible’s teaching on the sanctity of life. Raul has been explicit that this is not a political, pro-life training but a holistic teaching on the biblical foundations for treating all life as valuable, from conception to natural death.
Let me strongly encourage you to at least attend the first class on February 22nd at 9:30 AM in the Fireside Room. You will get to know Raul and hear his vision for the training. My prayer is that our time in God’s word would lead to a more robust view of life, sexuality, family, and compassionate ministry to the hurting. May we become the type of church that will advocate for Purvi Patel’s unborn child while welcoming Patel herself with the merciful embrace of Christ.