1 Kings 3:3-14 [16-28]
Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice (1 Kings 3:27-28).
Perhaps you know the story. Two prostitutes each gave birth to a son. One baby died in the night, and his mother switched him for the living one. Predictably, the mother of the living baby knew that the dead one was not hers. The matter was brought before Solomon, who decided the simplest solution was to cut the living child in two, dividing him between the two mothers. One woman objected, the other concurred. Solomon gave the boy to the woman who refused to let him be killed—“she is his mother.”
How did Solomon know which baby belonged to which woman? Wisdom is not some supernatural ability to know what to do in a particular situation, but a general and keen understanding of how things are, how the world works, how we work. Solomon simply recognized the bond between mother and child that caused the real mother to make the most difficult of decisions for the welfare of her baby. Even if it cost her a lifetime of wondering, not knowing what would become of her son. It mattered not that she, a prostitute, bore the baby out of wedlock. He was her son.
If Solomon could be so sure of the bond between mother and child, why does this bond now appear so fragile that 1.2 million times each year it fails to protect the unborn child? Has human nature changed?
Let me make two comments. First, we live in a culture increasingly hostile to life. For example, our culture expects that sex should be readily available, and without consequence, especially the consequence of pregnancy. Supporting this commitment to consequence-free sex are the twin pillars of contraception and abortion. While abortion advocates generally deny that abortion is used as a means of birth control, it is noteworthy that the Supreme Court used precisely this reasoning in arguing for the legitimacy, even the necessity, of abortion. According to Planned Parenthood v. Casey,
[t]he Roe rule’s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.
That the Court is using abortion to protect, even promote, sexual license could not be clearer. And, lest we assume this is simply an issue in the secular world, the Christian community, in its (often unreflective) acceptance of contraception, has also largely separated sex from pregnancy. When we accept the notion that sex can be rightly separated from childbearing, pregnancy often becomes an unexpected event, something that has gone wrong. Such thinking can only weaken the bond between a mother and her child. In the end, the commitment to sexual license requires that we ignore the bond between mother and child.
Secondly, we too readily assume that a mother who has aborted a child actually desired that abortion. Recently, I read an article which dismissed the suggestion that a clinic intake interview should include the question “Are you the one who wants this abortion?” The writer claimed the answer would be obvious. Well, perhaps not. We know that, generally speaking, the chief reason a mother undergoes abortion has to do with her relationships. While the bond between a mother and her child is real, that relationship is not the only one that bears upon her decision. The bond between a pregnant woman and the father to whom she has given herself is often also very deep, as are her relationships with her family and sometimes others. It is far from unusual for a mother to choose abortion due to pressure from someone(s) who is important to her—people who don’t have the same bond with the unborn baby that she does.
One of the most important things the church can do for our culture is to make plain, in our lives and from our pulpits, that life is a blessing, that sex appropriately leads to pregnancy, and that, despite the cultural effort to blunt it, the bond between a mother and her child is real. For the mother who came before Solomon was not unusual. The bond she felt is felt by women today. The difficult and often lasting effects of abortion upon women testify to the strength of this bond. We might deny it, but we cannot make it go away.