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God’s Justice in a Secular Society:
Personhood, Rights, & the Law
Katie Breckenridge, M.S. | 22 March 2021
In Planned Parenthood's 2019-2020 annual report, it states that 38% of their revenue was obtained by government reimbursements and grants, for a total of approximately $618 million. [i] Included in this revenue are the reimbursements Planned Parenthood received through the Medicaid program, [ii] which compromised roughly 90% of the $618 million. [iii] Many argue that federal funding is not used to pay for abortions, but yet, Medicaid, which is used to fund abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, comes from taxpayer-funded, general tax revenues. Furthermore, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 33 states and Washington DC fund abortions through Medicaid in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest. Four of those states fund abortions for fetal impairment, and four for abortions that are "necessary" to prevent damage to a woman's physical health. But we already have an exception for actual life endangerment. "Physical health," then, suspiciously sounds like it could refer to almost anything, doesn't it? South Dakota alone funds abortions only in cases of life endangerment. As for the last 16 states, these pay for all or most "medically necessary" abortions. Nine of these states are required by court order to pay for all or most "medically necessary" abortions. [iv]
Since 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has fought to eliminate Planned Parenthood from the state's Medicaid program, [v] since Planned Parenthood is not a “qualified provider under the Medicaid Act” due to their violations of federal law in order to obtain fetal tissue. [vi] The Texas government also, and rightly so, has an interest in preferring childbirth over abortion. [vii]
For several years, there have been objections to eliminating federal funding of abortions, and such arguments have again risen in response to Texas’s efforts. One of the prevalent arguments in this debate includes the opinion that low-income patients, particularly those of color, will be unable to access healthcare elsewhere. [viii] Not only are there approximately 1,300 Federally Qualified Health Care Centers in the United States, but, [ix] in Texas alone, there are over 5,000 providers for low-income women and fewer than 50 Planned Parenthood locations [x], proving this argument false. Further, focusing particularly on low-income patients and patients of color promotes the belief that if people are economically disadvantaged or belong to a minority population, they should absolutely be able to kill their children with no restrictions. This racist and classist mindset tells society that minorities and economically disadvantaged persons are not deserving of equal respect and dignity as human beings. This condescending mindset tells society that such persons are essentially hopeless without Planned Parenthood and should be pitied because so many cannot rise above their circumstances.
Another prevalent argument in the discussion of defunding Planned Parenthood is that blocking federal funds from funding abortions is an affront to "reproductive justice." In a secular society, and even, unfortunately, among some misguided persons of faith, [xi] "reproductive justice" is the ability for every person, whether they belong to a minority population, identify as belonging to the LGBTQ community, or are economically disadvantaged, to access any health service that they require without any “bias or barrier.” [xii] The issue with this view of “reproductive justice” is that it requires society to continue to regard preborn persons as having no sense of identity or recognition at all before the eyes of the law. In this case, we are no different from the ancient Romans, who “adopted the term ‘persona' to distinguish holders of full civil rights from those who lacked such civil personhood: women, children, slaves, and foreigners." Preborn persons are not granted the title of "persona" in today's society and are considered incomplete people, undeserving of any sense of personhood. [xiii] In a society so focused on the dignity and equality of all persons, how then, would it be true justice to enact such bias and barriers to the right to life and treat any human being, even the smallest among us, as if he or she is not a person?
Moreover, our view of justice in today's society is often focused on "getting what one deserves" through retaliation, retribution, and vengeance. [xiv] What would naturally accompany the view of reproductive justice, then, would be the belief that if a woman feels that she has unjustly had a fetus "forced" inside her body because she did not seek to get pregnant despite engaging in the life-creating conjugal action, then she has every right to retaliate against this invader of her body. This view of justice creates a slippery slope that leads to people seeking "justice" against any person they feel has wronged them and is often based on hateful revenge.
Contrarily, God's justice is not based on hateful revenge, but in mercy, as "mercy is sorrow that is moved by grace and bends to all with sympathy, and it does not return the harm to him who deserves it although it overfills him who deserves good." [xv] In the Ancient Church, the understanding of justice is that everything is in the right order in relation to God. As stated by Orthodox priest Father Stephen Freeman, "Justice is the return of the equal," [xvi] or, God's justice is about His coming to straighten out that which has gone wrong in His just order. After all, God's reestablishing order over chaos is the story of our salvation in Christ, and God's purpose in his justice is to cleanse and purify us. [xvii] His judging light illuminates the just ordering of creation to bring forward the truth---the truth which is ultimate love. Ultimate love, as stated by Abba Ammonas, "...is not in enmity with anybody, it does not abuse anybody, it does not detest anybody, neither believer nor unbeliever or foreigner or fornicator, or unclean. On the contrary, it loves more the sinners and the weak and the negligent, and for their sake, it toils and mourns and weeps... Therefore when He wanted to show us which is the true love, he taught saying, 'be then compassionate as your Father is compassionate' (Luke 6:36)." [xviii]
This "setting right" of creation and showing God's compassion on the weak and vulnerable would then involve recognizing preborn human beings as persons worthy of not being killed and would certainly not involve taxpayers being required to fund this killing of human beings. This required funding should violate the consciences of every right-worshipping Christian who believes in the truth. Jesus proclaimed, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6). Therefore, let all that we do be motivated by seeking God's righteous, restoring justice, and not motivated by the desire to seek vengeance or convenience to fulfill our self-righteous egotism.
Katie Breckenridge, M.S.
Operations Manager; Them Before Us
Society of St. Sebastian - 2021 Academic Fellow