By Dr. Matthew Cserhati
‘Unplanned’, a pro-life movie has recently come out detailing the inner workings of Planned Parenthood, the biggest proponent of the abortion industry in this country. The movie revolves around Abby Johnson’s involvement in an abortion clinic in Texas. Abby Johnson finally leaves the abortion industry to join the pro-life movement after witnessing an abortion firsthand in one of her clinic’s surgery procedure rooms. The movie details the fanatical lengths Planned Parenthood clinics will go to in order to procure abortions for women, for example right in the middle of a hurricane.
The main focus is on exposing Planned Parenthood, yet it has Christian overtones. Knowing this, I patiently waited for the Gospel message to come out at the end of the movie. Abby Johnson describes how she had had two abortions herself and oversaw the destruction of thousands of babies at her clinic. The movie had the world’s ear, yet sadly, the Gospel of redemption, of forgiveness of sin did not come out. I was very disappointed. I would have rated the movie 10 out of 10, but this way I could at best give it a 5 or a 6. The movie was good for educational value about exposing Planned Parenthood, yet it did not hit home the main message of the Gospel. “He that gathereth not with me scattereth”[i]. The reason for this might lie in the religious background of Abby Johnson herself, who is a Roman Catholic.
Roman Catholicism and abortion
The Roman Catholic church is the largest force within the pro-life movement in the United States. Roman Catholics also make up the majority of people at pro-life marches. It is important to note that the Roman church sets itself up as the moral teaching authority of the world.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that human life starts at conception, and that the fetus has the same rights as all other people:
“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”[ii]
Rome also teaches that abortion is a grave offense:
“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law”.[iii]
Furthermore, performing an abortion, or even formally participating in it is a grave offense. One who procures an abortion is automatically excommunicated:
“Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,’ “by the very commission of the offense,’ and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”[iv]
The pro-life movement as a vehicle for ecumenical conversions to Romanism
The Bible says “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners”.[v] In another place it says “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness?”.[vi] Let us take a look at what these verses mean, and how we must apply them to participation in the pro-life movement.
If there is one way to get Protestants of all sorts of denominations to work together with the Roman Catholic Church, it is via the pro-life movement. Both parties think that they are taking part in a vital mission to save the precious lives of unborn babies. Evangelicals think that on a pragmatic level they can join ranks with Rome in order to maximize their effectiveness in stopping the murder of unborn babies.
But then again, this is only human thinking, the same way good king Jehoshaphat allied himself with the corrupt idolatrous king Ahab when Israel was attacked by Syria in 1Kings 22:1-5. The prophet Micaiah warned the king that his alliance would end in disaster. It did, and the armies of Israel were scattered, and king Jehoshaphat barely escaped the battlefield with his life.
The devil at times comes as an angel of light.[vii] The danger that working together with Roman Catholics in the pro-life movement is that evangelicals might be impressed with Roman Catholic piety, and based on emotional impulse may be drawn into the Roman fold. We should never let our feelings supersede the authority of Scripture. Working together unequally yoked for the same cause brings with it the opportunity for Roman Catholic proselytizers to work on unsuspecting evangelicals.
When John Gresham Machen studied theology in Germany under liberal professors, he was actually surprised by the warmth that these liberal theologians had towards their own ‘Jesus’. But again, the ‘Jesus’ of liberalism is not the Jesus of the Bible, just as the ‘Jesus’ of Romanism is also not the biblical Jesus.
Having been present at several Walk for Life events as a street evangelizer in the state capitals of Lincoln, Nebraska and Austin, Texas, I can attest to the fact that such pro-life marches virtually turn into a Roman Catholic procession. Around 90% of the people present are Roman Catholic, with only small Protestant groups on the side. People hold crucifixes, chant the rosary in groups, and bear Roman Catholic images of Mary and the saints. The Knights of Columbus, have a high profile, leading the whole procession in in the Austin Walk for Life in 2018. Those Roman Catholics involved in the pro-life movement are the ones very devoted to their faith.
Many of these Romanist pro-life organizations, such as Priests for Life, or the Pro-Life Action League testify of the effectiveness of their organizations’ bringing people of other denominations to Rome, including not a few Protestant pastors:
“There is a new ecumenism that’s being brought about by this [pro-life] movement… It’s brought a lot of converts to the Catholic church too. A great number of pro-lifers have started out … in another faith have come over to the church and have brought a lot of people into the churches.”[viii]
Trying to save babies from abortion mills is a great thing, which is something that this author has done over the past two years. Yet we must always keep in mind that eternal life is much more important than physical life. Jesus says in this in the Gospel of Matthew: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”[ix]
Being pro-life doesn’t necessarily mean that one also has eternal life. Jesus also says: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”[x] The big question is: do we love Christ better than our own family? Our own parents, or even our own children: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”[xi]
One such story of an evangelical converting to Roman Catholicism is the case of Norma McCorvey, the ‘Roe’ in the 1973 Roe vs Wade court case, which ‘legalized’ abortion in the United States. In 1995, McCorvey, and professed faith in Christ and was baptized by the Reverand Flip Benham, the national director of Operation Rescue. McCorvey went on to work for Benham’s ministry until 1998, when she converted to Roman Catholicism. This was due to the prolonged contact with Father Frank Pavone, head of the Roman Catholic Priests for Life organization. Surprisingly, her conversion was also endorsed by Reverand Daniel Vinzant, pastor of Trinity, an evangelical church.[xii] There are many similar stories of evangelicals converting to Roman Catholicism due to the influence of Roman Catholics in the pro-life movement.
Does Roman Catholic teaching stop abortion?
All this being said, is Rome’s teaching effective in stopping abortions? This is an important question, since if a worldview, such as the Roman Catholicism is based in reality, its moral teachings must be able to have a tangible effect on those who profess it.
Let’s look at some statistics. Catholic women in the United States have abortions at the very same rate as the population as a whole. The Guttmacher Institute reports the percent of American women who underwent abortions were 28% Roman Catholic, and 37% Protestant (see figure 2).[xiii] Only a mere 14% of American Catholics agree with their bishops that all abortions should be made illegal. Majorities of Catholics in Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico (66, 54 and 69%, respectively) feel abortion should be allowed in some or even all cases. In Italy, which is 97% Roman Catholic, 74% of people think that the drug RU-486 should be allowed to induce early stage abortions.[xiv]
What this tells us is that the ages-old teaching of the Roman Catholic church on abortion is that it has no effect on the Roman Catholic flock. In fact, there may actually be a small influence in inducing Roman Catholics to get abortions, since the proportion of Roman Catholics in the United States in the past decade has been between 20-28% (assuming 24% on average). In comparison, 49% of the population of the United States (see figure 2), is Protestant, yet they procure proportionately less abortions. This means that there is about a 20% higher chance that a Roman Catholic will get an abortion compared to the general population, whereas there is a 25% less chance that a Protestant will get an abortion compared to the general population. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s statistics, Roman Catholic women are 29% more likely to get an abortion than Protestants.
What does the Bible say about abortion and the sanctity of life?
According to Genesis 1:26-28, God created man in His own image: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Furthermore, God says at the end of the sixth day: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”[xv]
Only man has a special relationship with God. No animal species was created in God’s image. As such, we are special in God’s sight. God loves us, simply because we are His creation. This means that all human life is valuable, from the very point of conception. We are not just a clump of cells that can be done away with at whim. Furthermore, it is God’s explicit command to multiply and be fruitful. Abortion works directly against this. No man has any right whatsoever to quench the life of another human being.
A recent survey also confirmed that 96% of 5,577 biologists confirm that life begins at conception.[xvi] This is irrespective of the ideology of the biologist asked this question.
Also in the Old Testament we read about the status of the unborn according to the moral laws of the Israelites: “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life”.[xvii] If a woman is harmed due to two men fighting, a man’s life must be given for the death of the child. An unborn child enjoys the same rights as a full-grown adult man.
Having an unplanned child is difficult, but once another human life comes into the equation, nobody has any right whatsoever to do away with human life, even in the case of rape and incest. Every human life is planned in God’s sovereign site. God does not make mistakes. We must trust God with all of our decisions and mistakes. Psalm 139 describes how God watches over our every single move. Verse 13 also describes how God was present when each and every one of us was created: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb”.[xviii] “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”[xix]
Conclusion: filling in what “Unplanned” left out
As Roman Catholics do so many times when protesting at abortion clinics, they recite the rosary over and over again, as though this would cajole or convince pregnant young women to change their minds about getting an abortion. Is this useful? Jesus tells us that this is not the proper way to pray: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”[xx]
Sadly, Rome does not have the true and wonderful Gospel of grace alone through faith alone. Therefore, the only thing Roman Catholics can do is to fall back on repetitious rote prayer. Religion cannot save, only the Savior Jesus Christ.
In John 8:2-11 we read about the account of the woman caught in adultery. Men bring her in front of Jesus and demand from Him what should be done with such a woman. Jesus’s reply is full of wisdom: if there is any man who is without sin, then he may cast the first stone upon the sinful woman. After examining themselves, the men all leave, one by one. Jesus however remains, because without sin, He would be able to judge the woman. The meaning of this passage of Scripture is not to judge others because of their sin, since we ourselves are sinners. Only God can judge, and here Jesus tells the woman that neither does He condemn her, but that she should go and sin no more and mend her ways.
This verse tells us of the great mercy and grace of God that God shows us despite our dreadful sins. Abortion is a sin, a terribly selfish sin of murdering an unprotected baby in the womb. Yet still, God sent His Son to die for our sins on the cross. Jesus died so we wouldn’t have to get abortions. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”[xxi]. So, there is forgiveness, even after an abortion. There is no sin so great that cannot be forgiven. God’s love is greater than our sin. God forgives us because of Jesus’ righteousness and sacrifice on the cross. But afterwards we should remember to live holy lives in the light and knowledge of God’s great love and mercy.
Lastly, we should also remember not to be unequally yoked with Rome. Following the Bible is always better than trying humanistic, pragmatic strategies involving the apostate Roman Catholic church. Yes, the sad reality is that even the best veteran pro-life Roman Catholics are just as lost as the abortionists who kill tens of thousands of unborn babies. If Protestants get involved in the pro-life movement, they must do so without any kind of association with the Roman Catholic Church. We must love Jesus more than even our own families and children. Eternal life is worth much, much more than mere physical life.
- Ralph Ovadal, More Than These, 2004.
- G. Hart, Still Protesting, 2018.
Figure 1. Norma McCorvey, the ‘Roe’ in Roe vs Wade, convert from lesbianism to evangelical Christianity to Roman Catholicism via the pro-life movement. Source: Wikipedia.
Figure 2. Percent of Protestants vs Roman Catholics of the general United States population, and the percent of women who procure abortions who are either Protestant or Roman Catholic.
[i] Luke 11:23
[ii] Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2270.
[iii] Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2271.
[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2272.
[v] 1Corinthians 15:33
[vi] 2Corinthians 6:14
[vii] 2Corinthians 11:14
[viii] Part of speech by Joseph Scheidler at the 2000 Pro-Life Conference in Toronto, cited in: Ralph Ovadal, More Than These, Heart of the Matter Publications, Monroe, WI, 2004, p. 183.
[ix] Matthew 10:28
[x] Mark 8:36-37
[xi] Matthew 10:37
[xii] Ovadal, pp. 192-99.
[xiii] Guttmacher Institute. Facts on Induced Abortions in the United States. 2011.
[xiv] Catholics for Choice. The Truth about Catholics and Abortion, Washington DC, 2011.
[xv] Genesis 1:31
[xvi] Steve Jacobs, “I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn’t Popular”, Quillette, October 16, 2019.
[xvii] Exodus 21:22-23
[xviii] Psalm 139:13
[xix] Romans 8:28
[xx] Matthew 6:7
[xxi] Ephesians 2:4-5