Emily Letts hums calmly, squeezing the hand of a nurse, as she undergoes the surgery. Donning a hair net and operating gown, Letts, 25, is shown lying on her back with a sheet draped over her midsection. The camera remains focused on her face and torso as she repeats, “I’m a lucky girl.”
“You deserve it,” the nurse says, commenting on the support Letts has received from her family and friends. “Everybody deserves it,” Letts responds.
At the conclusion of the operation, Letts exhales and exuberantly tells the doctors, “You guys are my heroes.” As she is wheeled out of the operating room, Letts exclaims, “I’m done. Yay! Thank you!”
Although the three-minute video documenting her surgery has been hailed by women’s health advocates, the video actually has nothing to do with women’s health. During those few minutes spent in the operating room, Emily Letts was not cured of any illness or freed from any vicious disease threatening to take her life. Unless, that is, a human life counts as either a dreadful illness or a devastating disease.
“Emily’s Abortion Video” does not grant us access to a woman’s journey from sickness to health. Instead, it depicts a gleeful young woman who giggles as she talks about her decision to terminate the life of her child and whose only regret is that she did not take birth control. In order to show women what it is actually like to have an abortion, Letts posted her intimate, non-graphic video of her procedure with the hope that women who decide to have an abortion will be less fearful about the process. Submitted to the Abortion Care Network as an “abortion stigma-busting video,” “Emily’s Abortion Video” was filmed “to show women that there is such a thing as a positive abortion story.”
As an abortion counselor in New Jersey, Letts encountered many women who either felt guilty after having an abortion — or who felt guilty about not feeling guilty. In an article on Cosmopolitan.com, Letts claims that these feelings of remorse are simply a result of the persistent social stigma attached to abortion. The purpose of her video is to diminish that stigma — to remove the idea that abortion is immoral and to “demystify” the practice.
Abortion is “a very common aspect of women’s health care,” Tara Culp-Ressler writes on ThinkProgress.org. Since abortion is a regular occurrence that one in three women will likely undergo at some point in their lives, Culp-Ressler believes that women should neither be secretive about abortions nor ashamed of them. In part, Culp-Ressler blames the supposed unfair treatment abortion receives on television, where they are “always” depicted as “dangerous, dramatic, and violent.” If only more people — like Emily Letts — shared their positive abortion stories, Culp-Ressler remarks, then the culture would realize that abortion is a common feature of women’s health care and not an act that women should feel wrong about.
As believers in a biblical worldview, which upholds the value and dignity of every human life, “Emily’s Abortion Video” is heartrending. Letts repeatedly comments about how good she feels about the procedure, saying, “I don’t feel like a bad person. I don’t feel sad. I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby. I can make a life. I knew that what I was going to do was right — it was right for me and for no one else.”
Despite her professed admiration for the gift of life, Letts did not hesitate to discard the life she was carrying. Although a human life is dependent on the mother throughout its time in the womb, it is never a maternal body part. If it were, then there would be fewer complaints about it being excised like a cancerous mole or a burst appendix.
From a biological perspective, there is no question that life begins at conception. The human being remains the same through every stage of development. Robert George, an expert on the subject, writes, “Unless severely damaged or deprived of a suitable environment, an embryonic human being will, by an internally directed process of integral organic functioning, develop to each more mature developmental stage along the gapless continuum of human life.”
Humans have inherent worth and dignity by virtue of their humanity. A genuine respect for humans, imbued with the image and likeness of God, requires that we treat them with respect, honoring their right to life at all stages. Since we are certain that life begins at conception, the issue at hand is not whether a woman can do what she wants with her body, but whether human beings without a voice have the same rights — the same worth — as the rest of us.
Unfazed by the destruction of a human life, Emily Letts gushes over her video: “I love it. I love how positive it is. I think that there are just no positive abortion stories on video for everyone to see. But mine is.” As someone who claims that women’s mental health is damaged — and their self-esteem crushed — because of abortion stigma, Letts is committed to reassuring women that they are still wonderful and beautiful even after willingly destroying a human life.
Shockingly, Letts seems to be utterly misinformed about when human life begins and how much worth each human life has. “[The surgical abortion] will always be a special memory for me,” Letts writes. “I still have my sonogram, and if my apartment were to catch fire, it would be the first thing I’d grab.”
Despite her claims to be awed by human life, Letts acted in the complete opposite manner by extinguishing life at its earliest stage. Even though human beings at the embryonic and fetal stages are hidden from our sight, they remain human beings — and nothing less. They too deserve the right to life — the right not to be crushed by a person who “wasn’t ready to take care of a child.”
Since 1973, 53 million abortions have occurred legally in the United States. At 2008 rates, one in four women will have an abortion by age 30. Women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions, and, tragically, 37 percent of women who have an abortion identify as Protestant, while 28 percent identify as Catholic. Most women report having abortions because they cannot afford the child, do not want their baby to interfere with work or school, or have problems with their significant other.
The taking of innocent human life is always tragic, and is especially so when it is described as a positive experience. As Christians, we ought to extend love and grace to those who have had abortions, working continually to promote the dignity of life, to inform women of alternatives to abortion, and to make abortions as rare as possible, with the hope of instituting laws that reflect the dignity of life.
We can be pro-life in our churches, where we encourage marriage and support struggling families. We can be pro-life in our neighborhoods, where we can volunteer at pregnancy centers and counsel women considering abortion. And we can be pro-life politically, by contacting our representatives and actively supporting pro-life legislation.
Respect for human life requires an encounter with Jesus Christ (Acts 22:3-9).
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’’ (Acts 22:3-8)
When Paul persecuted Christians, he believed he was acting in accordance with the Law of God. When he endorsed the killing of Stephen, Paul was sure that the action was justified. Yet it was not until Paul came face to face with Jesus Christ that he discovered that he was mistaken. What he previously considered morally acceptable turned out to be the exact opposite. His moral blindness, however, could only be cured by an encounter with Jesus.
Several times, Emily Letts defends her abortion, saying that it was the right thing for her to do. According to a secular worldview, human life is meaningless. Without an eternal soul, human beings are simply annoying pests trampling on the earth, who will be present one day and gone the next. And without God, everything is permissible. If human life is devoid of value and morality is relative, then it is completely acceptable for a woman to prevent her baby from being born.
But life is not devoid of value. Every human is imbued with the image and likeness of God and is accountable to God for his actions. And morality is not relative. The God who is lawgiver and judge declares what is right — for all people, for all places, at all times. In an increasingly secular society, these truths are no longer taken for granted. Instead, people who are ignorant of the biblical worldview — and ignorant of eternal truth — act according to their whims, oblivious to the consequences of their actions.
Unless we actively espouse a biblical worldview, living in accordance with it and sharing it with others, we will fail to bring the light of truth to those around us. And without the light of truth, our neighbors, like Paul before his encounter with Christ, will continue to operate according to a skewed ethic, which devalues life and scoffs at the idea of objective truth.