On Sept. 2, Religion News Service published an opinion piece by Rabbi Danny Horwitz titled “Texas’ abortion ban is against my religion. As a rabbi, I will defy it if necessary.”
The article certainly impressed me with its provocative title. However, I found its reasoning to be both inconsistent and perfunctory.
In the second paragraph, Horwitz writes: “Judaism teaches that potential life is sacred. Nevertheless, our religion also teaches that potential life is not the same as actual life, that a fetus is not a human being. This is directly derived from Scripture. Therefore, even during labor, the pregnant woman’s life has precedence over the life of the fetus. And if we have reason to believe a pregnancy will be a serious threat to the woman’s well-being, whether that be mentally, physically or otherwise, then she will be counseled to abort the fetus, and to do so in a way that maximally protects her own health.”
Later, he explains a case where he once counseled a woman whom he thought was not physically or emotionally equipped to carry to term a pregnancy: “Thus, when this woman came to me for direction, I told her not that she could have an abortion, but that she must have an abortion, that the God of my understanding would want her to do it. My action would likely be considered a violation of SB 8, the new Texas law making it illegal to assist someone in pursuing an abortion. Thus, this law is a restriction on the practice of my religion. And it would likewise impose a religious standard upon anyone from any religion who believes abortion is not always the evil our state officials believe it to be.”
I find that this trained religious leader has novel understandings of the concepts of religious liberty, the sanctity of human life and personal responsibility.
Rabbi Horwitz offers an intentionally selective interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. I agree with him that “potential life is sacred.” I also happily concede that “if we have reason to believe a pregnancy will be a serious threat to the woman’s well-being,” then sometimes an abortion is necessary to save the physical life of the mother (such as in the case of an ectopic pregnancy).
But I disagree with Horwitz’s additional criteria of “mentally … or otherwise.” And Horwitz and I quickly diverge in his next sentence: “Nevertheless, our religion also teaches that potential life is not the same as actual life, that a fetus is not a human being.”
I possess no right to conclude anything concrete about the ethics of Horwitz’s religion, nor am I competent or qualified enough to remark on modern Judaism’s teachings in this matter. As a Christian who believes in the Christological unity of the Scriptures in what we call the Old and New Testaments, I can, however, remark that I believe Horwitz’s interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, once “weighed in the balances,” will be “found deficient” from either a Jewish or Christian point of view.
“Horwitz offers no scriptural citations to support his claim.”
Horwitz offers no scriptural citations to support his claim. Whether the blatant omission of texts from the Hebrew Bible — such as Psalm 127, Psalm 139 or Jeremiah 1 — is intentional or coincidental is unclear. What is even more puzzling is that this absence persists even amid his claim that his thesis is “directly derived from Scripture.”
This approach is nearly identical to Christian fundamentalists who appeal to Scripture without ever citing it, expounding it and interpreting it. With such an approach, Scripture is not a divinely breathed word against which we must wrestle within the community of faith, but a brute assertion to be employed in argument — cleverly disguised as a supporting claim.
In this way, Horwitz appears as dogmatic and graceless as those against whom he directs his piece.
The designation of fetal life as “potential life” creates new ethical categories virtually unknown to every major monotheistic tradition. If fetal life is not “actual life,” or human life, then what is it? Certainly, fetal life possesses all the sufficient properties of living things (such as an ability to reproduce and respond to stimuli). If a fetus is not a human being, then what is growing inside the womb? How else might we conceive of fetal life? Surely human beings do not produce anything other than human life.
Placing the debate about the nature of fetal life aside, Horwitz also demonstrates a flawed and self-refuting view of religious liberty: “This law is a restriction on the practice of my religion. And it would likewise impose a religious standard upon anyone from any religion who believes abortion is not always the evil our state officials believe it to be.”
Conveniently, Horwitz does not comment on the current debate raging around the Hyde Amendment, a legal protection guarding the consciences of many people of faith from complicity in taxpayer-funded abortion — something we perceive to be a violation of our religious practice.
For many of us whose religious beliefs lead us to oppose abortion, it is either the case that elective abortion is immoral and should be illegal or that elective abortion is moral (not just permissible) and should be legal. Both propositions are mutually exclusive, and it cannot be the case that both are true at the same time and in the same manner.
“Horwitz fails to understand that the sword of religious liberty cuts both ways.”
Horwitz fails to understand that the sword of religious liberty cuts both ways. He appears to be an advocate of religious liberty for me, but not for thee. The moment Horwitz complains that pro-life laws threaten his religious beliefs, he is making a religious claim and an interpretative claim regarding his Scriptures. Likewise, people who share equally sincere religious beliefs who feel compelled to oppose abortion because of their faith also make these claims. It would appear, then, these two positions would be at an impasse. But I do not believe this is the case.
One of the key problems here is the matter of “choice,” which we see in the rabbi’s advice to the woman from his congregation. In advising this stressed mother whom he believed would not make it through another pregnancy and the burdens of parenthood, Horwitz told the congregant “not that she could have an abortion, but that she must have an abortion, that the God of my understanding would want her to do it.”
Here, the concept of “choice” is a myth. Horwitz does not see God offering this woman a choice but instead a requirement. Thus, the taking of a human life becomes akin to sacrifice. I am no Hebrew Bible scholar, but if my memory serves me right, God specifically, repeatedly and vehemently condemns such a practice.
One thing is certain: Advising a woman that she must abort her child to avoid the inconveniences and burdens of parenthood is not about “choice.”
“Advising a woman that she must abort her child to avoid the inconveniences and burdens of parenthood is not about ‘choice.’”
We must treat post-abortive parents with kindness and compassion. But we cannot and must not pretend that human life is not, in fact, human life, nor can we be under any illusions that there is anything sacred about the deliberate taking of such. We cannot preach of God’s glories to a “generation yet unborn” if they will not live to see it.
Nor can we as Baptists in the great tradition of non-conformity surrender that our precious distinctives such as freedom of conscience, soul competency and religious liberty bestows anyone a valid choice to deliberately take human life, let alone an obligation.
The moment we bind the conscience of another image-bearer of God, we see that religious liberty and the freedom of the conscience are not our true priorities, but the ever-alluring temptation to enforce our religious beliefs onto others with the sword of government power.
David Bumgardner is known to those attending this year’s SBC annual meeting as “The A/C Guy” because of his moment of fame at a microphone. He is a 22-year-old senior at Texas Baptist College, theologian-in-training, evangelist and content creator from Fort Worth, Texas. He is passionate about gospel-focused theology and Christ-centered expository preaching. He is a member and minister at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, where Dwight McKissic is pastor. Follow him on Twitter @david_bumg.
If Jesus could be changed by a sass-mouthed woman, maybe legislators and governors can be too | Opinion by Laura Mayo
It’s 1984 in Texas | Opinion by Terry Austin