Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Is Gov. Huckabee Right?

To be fair, since earlier this summer I wished Sen. Lindsey Graham a Happy Birthday (here), I am now wishing ex-Governor Mike Huckabee a Happy Birthday.
Huckabee celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday, and as I said in the article about Graham, in some places (such as Japan and other Asian countries) one’s 60th birthday is considered especially momentous.
I am writing this, however, mainly to question one of Huckabee’s recent assertions. We all know that he is very much on the political right. But is he right (correct) in all he says about the highly controversial matter of abortion?
During the August 6 Republican presidential debate, Huckabee declared, “I think the next president ought to invoke the Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother’s womb is a person at the moment of conception.”
And then in stringent criticism of Planned Parenthood, he stated, “It’s time that we . . . protect children instead of rip up their body parts and sell them like they’re parts to a Buick.”

The Constitution is quite clear in affirming personal rights: part of the Fifth Amendment states, “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
And Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment says, “No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
It is by no means clear, however, when “personhood” begins. How does Huckabee “clearly” know that personhood begins at conception?
If he were a Catholic, he might claim to know that because it is the Church’s dogma. The Catechism of the RCC states, “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(2270).
But Huckabee is a lifelong Southern Baptist, and not long before his 16th birthday the SBC adopted a resolution that expressed support for abortion in cases of “rape, incest, clear evidence severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

In a 1974 resolution, the SBC adopted an official position that “reflected a middle ground between the extreme of abortion on demand and the opposite extreme of all abortion is murder.”
And Foy Valentine, the executive director of the SBC’s Christian Life Commission at that time, was particularly vocal in his support of abortion rights.
I was a SB missionary in Japan in those years, so I was not at the 1971 and ’74 annual meetings of the SBC. But I would, no doubt, have voted for the resolutions had I been there.
What does Huckabee know about the beginning of personhood now that Baptists didn’t know then?
What new scientific, or other, discovery in the last 40 years clearly substantiates the claim that a human zygote or embryo is a person, qualifying for protection under the Constitution?
None that I know of.
Even though I disagree with many (most) of his political and some of his ethical views, I am serious in wishing Gov. Huckabee a Happy Birthday. I affirm the sanctity of his life—and of all persons who have been born, as he was 60 years ago yesterday.
But I still insist that he is not right in his beliefs about when personhood begins.


  1. You can read "Huckabee returns to Arkansas for 60th birthday" from Arkansas Online at http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2015/aug/24/huckabee-returns-arkansas-60th-birthday/

  2. Huckabee's book "God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy" was published last year. He doesn't say much about abortion (or personhood) in it, but here is one quote from that book:

    "So here we have it--a government that wants to control salt, sugar, soda, smokes, trans fats, and much more in the name of 'protecting' us, but not to protect a perfectly innocent unborn child from being dismembered in its mother's womb? If the government wants to 'save lives,' let it start with saving babies." (p. 67).

  3. Good column, questioning Huckabee's assertion. It's striking how absolutely correct so many anti-abortionists think they are. In addition, Leroy, what most people don't realize is that abortion was legal in the U.S. until the latter part of the 1800s. In part, it was the medical profession's concern to get control of a medical practice (abortion) that they didn't control that led to the institution of some anti-abortion legal policies.

    1. Thanks, Anton, for your comments (and kind words). (Thanks, too, for linking to my article on your Facebook page this morning.)

      I didn't know about that part of the history of abortion in this country, so thanks also for sharing that.

  4. I'm conflicted on this issue. My main, "pro-life" argument used to be: If you were out hunting, and you saw something moving in the bushes, and you weren't sure whether it was human or not, would you ever be justified in shooting, claiming it was okay because you weren't sure? By that argument, I thought, being agnostic on the question gave me the more justified, "better safe than sorry," moral high ground.

    I continue to wrestle with the tension between wishing to defend the rights of the woman and the rights of the tiny individual. But Leroy, you're right to ask what Huckabee knows about the beginning of human life today that Southern Baptists didn't know back in 1974, when they took a middle ground position.

    It's unlikely that a middle ground position could also claim that personhood begins at conception. It's certain that no Bible passage makes that claim.

    There are a host of theological and scientific nuances and questions raised by the issue: Are we likely to meet billions of never-lived souls in heaven who are the product of natural, spontaneous abortions? Is the beginning of human “life” the same as “ensoulment”? If "ensoulment" happens at conception, then what do we have with identical twins who started together in one egg before they split, half-souls? Why are the Jewish positions so different from the Christian ones?

    And here’s a big question raised by Leroy’s blog today: Is it possible for a politician to deal with nuances, not just sound-bite-worthy pronouncements that appeal to his base?

  5. Here are comments received early this morning, from a local Thinking Friend:

    "And such a general assertion on personhood and abortion in 1974 by the Christian Life Commission helped bring about the demise of the SBC as you knew it to be in 1974.

    "So, just to be clear, Leroy Seat still believes if a viable, third trimester, healthy baby is going to be an emotional burden to the mother it is well within that mother's rights and the rights of a doctor to kill that baby within the mother's womb? And do you believe such an act as this is morally right?"

    1. The abortion issue was certainly one among several matters that fueled the fundamentalist opposition to the Southern Baptist seminaries and SB Convention leadership in the 1980s (and afterward).

      As I indicated, I am comfortable with the 1974 SBC statement (that I cited in my article) that “reflected a middle ground between the extreme of abortion on demand and the opposite extreme of all abortion is murder.”

      You can read more about my position on pages 226-235 of my book "Fed Up with Fundamentalism."

      If you agree with Gov. Huckabee's extreme position, are you going to bring murder charges against women in Liberty, and, who knows, maybe even Second Baptist Church, who have had an abortion this year?

  6. Another local Thinking Friend sent these thoughtful comments:

    "Doesn't spirit mean breath?

    "I happen to be quite comfortable with this definition of life -- http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/19/1285933/-Bible-Life-Begins-at-Breath-Not-Conception .

    "I believe that the one thing all sentient beings have in common is a connection to the atmosphere, to this fragile film of life giving vapor around our planet. Until we actually break free and draw our first breath, we are still a apart of our mother, a parasite, by scientific definition.

    "I'm not saying a fetus is not precious, but I don't believe it should be considered a person until it is born."

  7. And then I received the following substantial comments from Charles Kiker, a Thinking Friend who lives in Texas:

    "(1) A fertilized egg, whether human, chicken, canine, bovine, equine or whatever, is alive. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it contains life.

    "(2) A fertilized chicken egg is or contains chicken life. It is not bovine, canine, equine or whatever life. But a fertilized chicken egg is not a chicken. When I was a youngster on the farm my mother broke open eggs and put them in the skillet for breakfast almost every morning. Those were free range eggs, and there were roosters on the range with the hens. Most of those eggs we had for breakfast were fertilized eggs. But we had fried eggs, not fried chicken, for breakfast.

    "(3) It would seem to me to follow that a fertilized human egg is, or contains human life. It is not canine, bovine, equine etc. life. It is, or contains, human life.

    "(4) It does not follow that that egg which is, or contains human life, is a person. It is a fertilized egg.

    "So when does it—and I use the indefinite pronoun very intentionally—when does “it” become a person? I would suggest that it becomes a person when it has developed sufficiently to biologically survive outside the womb. Up to that point it is a part of its mother’s body, a part of its mother.

    "It does not follow that I favor abortion on demand. I would broadly agree with the Southern Baptist position before abortion became at least as much a political issue as a moral issue. I would suggest that for Governor Huckabee the issue is as much political as moral, and he is pandering to his base in his extreme position.

    "Abortion is never explicitly mentioned in the Bible. There is one passage that implies abortion, at least in most translations (Exodus 21:22 ff.) It is in 'case law' in Exodus—“In case this occurs, then that shall be the legal consequence.” (“If men are fighting and a pregnant woman miscarries—NRSV rendering—then the husband of the woman shall pay recompense.) This rendering treats the aborted/miscarried fetus as property. Some prolife advocates say it means a premature birth but the child lives. I have studied the Hebrew, which is somewhat obscure. It says if it “goes out.” The prolife interpretation is possible, but it seems to me that the NRSV rendering of miscarriage is more natural. That may be my prejudice. I am not aware of any instance in the OT or NT concerning intentional miscarriage or abortion."

    1. Elaborating on my reply: pushed to its logical conclusion, the current "prolife " position would outlaw all forms of birth control. (Santorum seems to want to go there.) After all, that uterine egg prior to fertilization is also alive. Anything that artificially prevents its development is logically anti-life. Likewise the sperm. It is definitely alive as it swims in diligent search of an egg to fertilize Even the rhythm method, while not mechanical or chemical contraception, does counter conception. And it dooms hundred of eggs and millions of sperm from fulfilling their full potential..

  8. Former local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, who now lives in Chicago, shares these comments:

    "I too do not believe that personhood begins at conception; to do so legally would lead to all sorts of problems. That said, however, there is no question that abortion is a serious moral issue. Just outlawing it does not solve the problem. We must be willing to address the causes of unwanted pregnancies and to provide real support to women and their babies after birth. Note that it is not wealthy or well-educated women who find themselves with unwanted pregnancies.

    "One of the ironies is that many Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood, but Planned Parenthood has probably prevented more abortions than any other organization in America by providing birth control, prenatal and postnatal care, and education. Defunding Planned Parenthood seems very shortsighted.

    "As my wife says (and today is her birthday, BTW), many of the supporters of the 'pro-life' movement are actually pro-birth, but not particularly pro-life."

  9. This morning I posted a link to this article on the Facebook page of a group known as Progressive Baptist Conversation. To this point the only response I have received there is from Mike Greer in Kentucky. He wrote,

    "Leroy. I appreciate this post. I believe Huckabee is, like the other Southern Baptist Cruz, cashing in on fundamentalists' seithing anger and for purely political purposes. The triumphs of progressivism have left ultrconservatives with this issue as a 'last stand' against the various unstoppable American movements for personal and civil freedoms.

    "The intentional alliance with militantly conservative Catholics for political purposes certainly contributed to a hardening of these Baptists attitudes and agendas. The coronation of a fundamentalism that consigned women to a subservient status also added to the rightward movement on this issue.

    "In my opinion, The assumption that the fetus should be classified as a human being is deeply flawed and irrational. The confusion of potentiality with actuality is ridiculous. There is a reason why Huckabee and Cruz will not follow their illogic to the obvious conclusion that any woman who has an abortion should be tried for murder. Their whole line of thought is corrupted by a larger agenda - asserting their will over the rights of others."

  10. I would like to expand on three comments above. First Anton Jacobs mentions doctors lobbying to restrict abortion in the late 1800s to "get control." This was an early version of the Uber vs. taxi cab companies struggles of today. The doctors' opponents were the midwives, who since the days of Shiphrah and Puah in Exodus, had functioned as the Planned Parenthood of their time. The doctors did not want the competition, which was pretty fierce since midwives actually had a better record of safe home deliveries than the doctors did with hospital deliveries. You know how those hospital infections are.

    Charles Kiker makes a good point that Exodus 21:22 makes it clear that a fetus has legal standing comparable to a piece of property. Critical is the point that if a miscarriage results, the husband of the woman involved will be paid damages by the men involved in the fight. Note that there would be no point in damages if the jostling simply resulted in a live birth. There are a couple of other scriptures that also have a tangential relationship to abortion. Numbers 5, most of which concerns a test for a woman suspected by her husband of adultery, ends with the thighs rotting with a guilty woman, which many scholars interpret as a miscarriage (no protecting the innocent unborn here). The other is Genesis 8, which concerns the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. His widowed daughter-in-law unexpectedly gets pregnant, and Judah orders her to appear for judgment. Judah intends to burn her (no concern for the innocent unborn here), but she proves he is the father of her unborn, so Judah lets her live. Three times the Bible avoided an opportunity to oppose abortion, leaving standing three precedents that imply just the opposite.

    Finally, Mike Greer, points to the political nature of abortion as a right wing wedge issue. To this I would like to reference back to a post I made October 28, 2012, about the book "Sex, Mom, & God" by Frank Schaeffer, son of Evangelical guru Francis Schaeffer. In the book Frank Schaeffer confesses he personally helped create the anti-abortion crusade as a political issue. Traditionally, evangelicals had considered abortion a "Catholic" issue and kept their distance from it. On page xi of the Prologue, Schaeffer states the following:

    "I changed my mind. I no longer ride around 'saving' America for God, nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days. Nevertheless--like those two bad mice who later felt remorse and so put a 'crooked sixpence' in the doll's stocking to pay for the damage they's caused--I'm determined to acknowledge the destruction I contributed to before Lucy [his grandchild] grows old enough to inherit the vandalized 'dollhouse' that she'll soon discover lurking beyond her childhood horizon."

  11. Here are significant comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson, who gave me permission to post them here:

    "Quite clearly, life begins at conception. Whether personhood beings there would depend on what 'person' means. In my mind person signifies capability of interacting with others. When would a fetus reach that point? On this I’ve become more 'conservative' as I’ve seen ultrasounds of my grandchildren at ten weeks. They were fully formed, and I would find it hard not to think of them as persons.

    "Nevertheless, I know from a long life that we often have to make difficult choices involving sometimes the need to sacrifice one person for the sake of saving another, in this case, a fetus for the mother. Only the mother can make such a decision."

  12. Huckabee (and many others) seek absolutes to reinforce their faith. In the absence of proof of their absolutes, they mistakenly brand their opinions as absolutes. An opinion is "a belief held often without knowledge or proof." Also, "an evaluation based on special knowledge," like a verse from the Bible (obviously often a belief by an author without knowledge or proof). Politicians, priests, Baptist preachers (I'm one) all speak with authority, but none have ever experienced first-hand an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, in the face of public disdain (by the "church"), emotional rejection (by a family, or neighborhood, or community,or "church" {again}), future financial upheaval, or even possible traumatic physical results (permanent after-effects, or death).
    For every unfortunately pregnant woman, there is an impregnator, usually scot-free. Enough, already.