[This reflection was written by Peter Barry, who is a good friend of Rev. Ross Blackburn. Mr. Barry, his wife Elizabeth and their seven children live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They attend Christ Church at Grove Farm.]
“Is the Fetus a person?” The title of Dr. Roy Bowen Ward’s article at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice website (on the rcrc.org website circa 1999) reminds us of the defiant question put to Jesus by a certain lawyer who wished to justify himself: “And who is my neighbor?”
You know the text? Jesus did not answer this question directly. That is, He didn’t give the lawyer a test he could use to make a distinction between neighbors and non-neighbors. Instead, our Lord told a story, a parable: “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers . . .” Today, we refer to this as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Let’s back up for a moment. The lawyer, according to the text in Luke, “stood up and put Him to the test” with a question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered by making the lawyer look at the Scriptures: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”
The lawyer knew well enough what was written in the law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” said Jesus. “Do this, and you will live.”
But wishing to justify himself, the lawyer said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The question was astonishingly brazen. Why did the lawyer ask such a thing? Well, apparently, he wanted to know who qualified as his neighbor and who did not, because then he would know who he was required to love and who he was not required to love. As it happens, he would also know how to apply other commands, such as “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
The answer Jesus gave didn’t merely prevent the lawyer from justifying himself, it demolished the lawyer’s categories. The Lord wouldn’t grant the lawyer a system—any system—for separating neighbors from non-neighbors, for the purpose of loving some and not loving others. The test the lawyer wanted to apply to people—“Is or is not this person my neighbor?”—was improper, even subversive.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan does not establish that the man left for dead by robbers deserved to be helped because he belonged to the lawyer’s category called “neighbor.” Far from it. Jesus ignored the lawyer’s categories. The question Jesus asked at the conclusion of His parable does not invite us to put the hapless traveler into any category at all. A test is applied, but it isn’t applied to the victim. It is applied to the three men who had an opportunity to help him—the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan. “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”
We can recast the parable of the Good Samaritan to address a more familiar version of the lawyer’s question: Is a child in the womb really a “person”?
A young woman conceives a child. Her boyfriend says, “Here’s $300; get an abortion.” Her mother says, “This will mess up your life; get an abortion.” Her pastor says, “God understands; get an abortion.” The young woman goes to a crisis pregnancy center, and there a frumpy woman with a “Smile God Loves You!” button on her T-shirt says, “Your baby doesn’t have to die; we will help you.” Which of the young woman’s counselors treated the child living in her womb as a person?
Dr. Ward’s question is no less audacious than that of the lawyer who stood up to test Jesus. Is the fetus a person?
There is no chance we’ll hear an answer from the Lord that endorses a system of categories which exists to sanction the killing of certain individuals who have a human mother and a human father. The pro-aborts ask this question because they want to justify killing the innocent. Specifically, they want to justify the murder of children in the womb, who are not granted the status of “persons” in the pro-abort system of categories.
“Person” and “potential person” are categories invented to subvert justice. These categories are used by proponents of a modern and thoroughly godless attitude toward child killing. These categories are not derived from Scripture, nor from experience. No one can distinguish a “person” from a “potential person” as one distinguishes a dog from a cat. Why not? Because “person” and “potential person” are fantasy categories—purely subjective, infinitely adjustable, without correspondence in reality.
These categories are used to justify the shedding of innocent blood. We don’t need to prove that a child in the womb is a “person” as opposed to a “potential person.” The categories themselves are abhorrent. They are like “neighbor” and “non-neighbor”—utterly without virtue.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus,“And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” —Luke 10:25-37