A True Story of How a Child of the Religious Right became Pro-Choice by Jeremiah Vance, Guest Author
I was raised in an evangelical Republican home with parents that voted for Richard Nixon twice and were in love with Ronald Reagan and the whole religious right homeschool culture. It was a one voter issue home, and that issue was abortion. My parents listened to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity daily.
I was raised in the epicenter of evangelical purity culture in the Bible belt and I was a good Sunday school student too. Since my parents were Bible college and Seminary graduates, I always knew more Bible even than the Sunday school teachers and pastors. My father taught me New Testament Greek when I was six.
Like a good Sunday school student I drank all the Kool-Aid. I bought the whole system, hook, line and sinker. I went to Bible College.
It was in Seminary that I discovered that I had been lied to both by purity culture and also anti-abortion dogma. My first crack in the egg shell of purity culture was when my Hebrew professor took a whole class to teach us that in the original Hebrew version of the story, Ruth and Boaz had premarital sex.
First Inklings That the Dogma Was Wrong
It was in theology of anthropology that I first saw through the anti-abortion dogma. My theology professor had invited in the president of the most prominent prolife organization in America to talk to the class about abortion. My whole life I had always been indoctrinated to think life happens at conception and we are 100% certain of that. People even treat that dogma with more conviction of certainty than they treat the resurrection of Christ. I believed it too. But when the guest speaker was asked, when does science say life begins, he answered with candor, that science can’t determine the exact point where life begins. He admitted to the class we don’t know when for sure.
He went on to say to the class that the prolife position was in fact no longer that life happened at conception. He said advancements in cloning has made this an indefensible position. Any cell in your body can be used to create a whole new you. He said, the prolife position has changed from life at conception to life at cell division, from one to two cells. For a boy who had grown up on right wing prolife Kool-Aid, with life at conception as a rallying cry of dogma, the implications of this were important to me.
If he admits that science can’t tell for sure that life happens at conception. And he admits, we just changed the whole thing we told everyone was sacrosanct, then to me, they were just guessing and didn’t know what they were talking about.
No Brain Activity, No Life
After Seminary I went into medicine as a board certified surgical neurophysiologist. I read EEG activity for a living. It moved from an ethereal conversation to one of actual consequence. EEG activity matters. I do a job where I know that if I tell the surgeon I’m assisting that the patient has gone isoelectric, they will stop life support and call time of death. It is accepted without question based on years of neurodiagnostic studies that when the brain dies, the person is dead, regardless of a working circulatory system. The circulatory system can be prolonged after brain death, therefore a circulatory pulse is not alone indicative of life. We stop life support at brain death without attribution of moral guilt for murder because we know the person is no longer alive.
EEG activity is the same standard used in NICU to save a premature delivery and usually not before 20 weeks because 20-22 weeks is the gestational development of EEG activity. No brain, no life.
And this is the actual development of gestation. Life cannot begin at conception. It’s a physiological impossibility:
Many fertilized eggs do not have compatible DNA and RNA and do not form a cell. Many formed cells do not divide. Many dividing cells do not implant in the uterus and are ectopic or uterine septic. Many implanted embryos do not develop EEG activity and are stillborn. At no point in this gestational development is an embryo alive. Incompatible DNA and RNA do not make a person. One cell that doesn’t divide doesn’t make a person. A dividing cell that never implants isn’t a person. An implanted embryo with no central nervous system is not a person. No EEG activity, no life. For adults too. These are just medical facts.
What the Bible Says About Abortion
Then I researched, for myself, as an 8 year college and grad school trained Bible professional, what the Bible and religious tradition actually teaches on abortion. I found that the Bible explicitly condones a potion induced abortion in the context of questioned paternity in Numbers 5:22. Don’t bother trying to say this isn’t about an abortion. I’ve spent hours on this one verse in Hebrew because of social media arguments alone. It is 100% a condoned abortion. This is supported by scholarship and Jewish tradition. The Bible also says 3x specifically that aborted embryos were never living people, Job 3:16; Eccl 6:3-5; Ps 58:8. And that’s why in Jewish tradition, for the first 40 days the embryo is considered nothing more than fluid and grants abortion as a reproductive right.
The Bible actually describes a two stage process in both Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37. First the matter is formed. Then secondarily the matter is animated with the breath of God. Ancient Mesopotamian studies show the context for this is called an “Open Mouth Ceremony.” Which describes the stage of animation by the spirit of God, and then personhood, as a secondary subsequently developing stage of gestation. It would seem then that the Biblical context is actually very consistent with modern medicine determining life animating at a secondary stage of gestational development, at around 20 weeks, that is discernible with active EEG activity.
I also searched Christian tradition. I discovered that there was no big argument over life at conception. It was perfectly acceptable in Christian tradition to believe life did not begin at conception. In fact, it was the Christian position to be pro choice and pro reproductive freedom before the 1970s.
Segregationists Used Fetal Personhood and “Abortion is Murder” as a Grift
When segregationists in the southern evangelical right could no longer dog whistle their base with a race baiting narrative they invented this idea that abortion is murder as propaganda to raise political donations and support. People had meetings where this idea was planned and discussed as a grift using propaganda. People that were there and contributed, but have since regretted their actions have told the story of these origins: pushing pushing the idea of fetal personhood at the time of conception and pushing abortion as murder. The roots of racism in the prolife movement are well documented. Much has been published on this now. Whistleblowers that contributed have come forward and given testimony.
The Sacrosanct Right You Have With Your Doctor
As a health care professional, the medical privilege you have with your doctor is perhaps the most sacrosanct right you possess. It’s literally more important than attorney-client or priest-parishioner or husband-wife. Nobody should get to tell anyone what’s right for their body but their doctor. And nobody should get to force their religious ideology on someone else with different religious beliefs.
Scientifically, Theologically, Biblically, I came to believe what are just the facts. Prolife propaganda was invented by segregationists in the 1970s and it is soundly contradicted by rational thought and factual education. Abortion isn’t immoral. Sperm is not some kind of incurable virus. Abortion isn’t murder. And the idea of taking away someone’s medical privilege for anything in the world is just slavery. You don’t even get to take a kidney from a dead corpse to save an adult human without consent. Medical privilege IS a God given human right that must be protected.
(Note: If you would like more information and the sources for the conclusions made by Jeremiah Vance in his blog post, please email email@example.com so I can email those cites to you.)