BREAKING DOWN CARL SAGAN’S LOGIC ON ABORTION Part 7 “In 1800 there was not, so far as is known, a single statute in the United States concerning abortion“ (My 1995 correspondence with Sagan) Francis Schaeffer and the awakening of the modern pro-life movement



Whatever Happened To The Human Race? | Episode 1 | Abortion of the Human…

Carl Sagan may have been right about the absence of an active pro-life movement around 1800, but I would put forth the dramatic change occurring as the result of the publication of Francis Schaeffer’s books and films in the 1970’s especially. _

I was influenced by Francis Schaeffer’s books and films and Adrian Rogers’ sermons when I grew up. I want to make the point today that no one influenced the pro-life movement more than Francis Schaeffer!!! Sagan that I was coming from point of view especially because of my letter to him on 5-15-94 which I pointed to Sagan was the 10th anniversary of the passing of Francis Schaeffer.

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Francis Schaeffer and Adrian Rogers

Carl Sagan pictured below:


Recently I have been revisiting my correspondence in 1995 with the famous astronomer Carl Sagan who I was introduced to when reading a book by Francis Schaeffer called HE IS THERE AND HE IS NOT SILENT written in 1968. 

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Francis Schaeffer

I was blessed with the opportunity to correspond with Dr. Sagan, and in his December 5, 1995 letter Dr. Sagan went on to tell me that he was enclosing his article “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. I am going to respond to several points made in that article. Here is a portion of Sagan’s article (here is a link to the whole article):

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Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan pictured above

 “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”

by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The issue had been decided years ago. The court had chosen the middle ground. You’d think the fight was over. Instead, there are mass rallies, bombings and intimidation, murders of workers at abortion clinics, arrests, intense lobbying, legislative drama, Congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, major political parties almost defining themselves on the issue, and clerics threatening politicians with perdition. Partisans fling accusations of hypocrisy and murder. The intent of the Constitution and the will of God are equally invoked. Doubtful arguments are trotted out as certitudes. The contending factions call on science to bolster their positions. Families are divided, husbands and wives agree not to discuss it, old friends are no longer speaking. Politicians check the latest polls to discover the dictates of their consciences. Amid all the shouting, it is hard for the adversaries to hear one another. Opinions are polarized. Minds are closed.


Is it wrong to abort a pregnancy? Always? Sometimes? Never? How do we decide? We wrote this article to understand better what the contending views are and to see if we ourselves could find a position that would satisfy us both. Is there no middle ground? We had to weigh the arguments of both sides for consistency and to pose test cases, some of which are purely hypothetical. If in some of these tests we seem to go too far, we ask the reader to be patient with us–we’re trying to stress the various positions to the breaking point to see their weaknesses and where they fail.

In contemplative moments, nearly everyone recognizes that the issue is not wholly one-sided. Many partisans of differing views, we find, feel some disquiet, some unease when confronting what’s behind the opposing arguments. (This is partly why such confrontations are avoided.) And the issue surely touches on deep questions: What are our responses to one another? Should we permit the state to intrude into the most intimate and personal aspects of our lives? Where are the boundaries of freedom? What does it mean to be human?

Of the many actual points of view, it is widely held–especially in the media, which rarely have the time or the inclination to make fine distinctions–that there are only two: “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” This is what the two principal warring camps like to call themselves, and that’s what we’ll call them here. In the simplest characterization, a pro-choicer would hold that the decision to abort a pregnancy is to be made only by the woman; the state has no right to interfere. And a pro-lifer would hold that, from the moment of conception, the embryo or fetus is alive; that this life imposes on us a moral obligation to preserve it; and that abortion is tantamount to murder. Both names–pro-choice and pro-life–were picked with an eye toward influencing those whose minds are not yet made up: Few people wish to be counted either as being against freedom of choice or as opposed to life. Indeed, freedom and life are two of our most cherished values, and here they seem to be in fundamental conflict.

Let’s consider these two absolutist positions in turn. A newborn baby is surely the same being it was just before birth. There ‘s good evidence that a late-term fetus responds to sound–including music, but especially its mother’s voice. It can suck its thumb or do a somersault. Occasionally, it generates adult brain-wave patterns. Some people claim to remember being born, or even the uterine environment. Perhaps there is thought in the womb. It’s hard to maintain that a transformation to full personhood happens abruptly at the moment of birth. Why, then, should it be murder to kill an infant the day after it was born but not the day before?

As a practical matter, this isn’t very important: Less than 1 percent of all tabulated abortions in the United States are listed in the last three months of pregnancy (and, on closer investigation, most such reports turn out to be due to miscarriage or miscalculation). But third-trimester abortions provide a test of the limits of the pro-choice point of view. Does a woman’s “innate right to control her own body” encompass the right to kill a near-term fetus who is, for all intents and purposes, identical to a newborn child?

We believe that many supporters of reproductive freedom are troubled at least occasionally by this question. But they are reluctant to raise it because it is the beginning of a slippery slope. If it is impermissible to abort a pregnancy in the ninth month, what about the eighth, seventh, sixth … ? Once we acknowledge that the state can interfere at any time in the pregnancy, doesn’t it follow that the state can interfere at all times?

Abortion and the slippery slope argument above

This conjures up the specter of predominantly male, predominantly affluent legislators telling poor women they must bear and raise alone children they cannot afford to bring up; forcing teenagers to bear children they are not emotionally prepared to deal with; saying to women who wish for a career that they must give up their dreams, stay home, and bring up babies; and, worst of all, condemning victims of rape and incest to carry and nurture the offspring of their assailants. Legislative prohibitions on abortion arouse the suspicion that their real intent is to control the independence and sexuality of women…

And yet, by consensus, all of us think it proper that there be prohibitions against, and penalties exacted for, murder. It would be a flimsy defense if the murderer pleads that this is just between him and his victim and none of the government’s business. If killing a fetus is truly killing a human being, is it not the duty of the state to prevent it? Indeed, one of the chief functions of government is to protect the weak from the strong.

If we do not oppose abortion at some stage of pregnancy, is there not a danger of dismissing an entire category of human beings as unworthy of our protection and respect? And isn’t that dismissal the hallmark of sexism, racism, nationalism, and religious fanaticism? Shouldn’t those dedicated to fighting such injustices be scrupulously careful not to embrace another?

Adrian Rogers’ sermon on animal rights refutes Sagan here

There is no right to life in any society on Earth today, nor has there been at any former time… : We raise farm animals for slaughter; destroy forests; pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; kill deer and elk for sport, leopards for the pelts, and whales for fertilizer; entrap dolphins, gasping and writhing, in great tuna nets; club seal pups to death; and render a species extinct every day. All these beasts and vegetables are as alive as we. What is (allegedly) protected is not life, but human life.

Genesis 3 defines being human

And even with that protection, casual murder is an urban commonplace, and we wage “conventional” wars with tolls so terrible that we are, most of us, afraid to consider them very deeply… That protection, that right to life, eludes the 40,000 children under five who die on our planet each day from preventable starvation, dehydration, disease, and neglect.

Those who assert a “right to life” are for (at most) not just any kind of life, but for–particularly and uniquely—human life. So they too, like pro-choicers, must decide what distinguishes a human being from other animals and when, during gestation, the uniquely human qualities–whatever they are–emerge.

The Bible talks about the differences between humans and animals

Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.

In some animals, an egg develops into a healthy adult without benefit of a sperm cell. But not, so far as we know, among humans. A sperm and an unfertilized egg jointly comprise the full genetic blueprint for a human being. Under certain circumstances, after fertilization, they can develop into a baby. But most fertilized eggs are spontaneously miscarried. Development into a baby is by no means guaranteed. Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult. So if a sperm and egg are as human as the fertilized egg produced by their union, and if it is murder to destroy a fertilized egg–despite the fact that it’s only potentially a baby–why isn’t it murder to destroy a sperm or an egg?

Hundreds of millions of sperm cells (top speed with tails lashing: five inches per hour) are produced in an average human ejaculation. A healthy young man can produce in a week or two enough spermatozoa to double the human population of the Earth. So is masturbation mass murder? How about nocturnal emissions or just plain sex? When the unfertilized egg is expelled each month, has someone died? Should we mourn all those spontaneous miscarriages? Many lower animals can be grown in a laboratory from a single body cell. Human cells can be cloned… In light of such cloning technology, would we be committing mass murder by destroying any potentially clonable cells? By shedding a drop of blood?


All human sperm and eggs are genetic halves of “potential” human beings. Should heroic efforts be made to save and preserve all of them, everywhere, because of this “potential”? Is failure to do so immoral or criminal? Of course, there’s a difference between taking a life and failing to save it. And there’s a big difference between the probability of survival of a sperm cell and that of a fertilized egg. But the absurdity of a corps of high-minded semen-preservers moves us to wonder whether a fertilized egg’s mere “potential” to become a baby really does make destroying it murder.

Opponents of abortion worry that, once abortion is permissible immediately after conception, no argument will restrict it at any later time in the pregnancy. Then, they fear, one day it will be permissible to murder a fetus that is unambiguously a human being. Both pro-choicers and pro-lifers (at least some of them) are pushed toward absolutist positions by parallel fears of the slippery slope.


Another slippery slope is reached by those pro-lifers who are willing to make an exception in the agonizing case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. But why should the right to live depend on the circumstances of conception? If the same child were to result, can the state ordain life for the offspring of a lawful union but death for one conceived by force or coercion? How can this be just? And if exceptions are extended to such a fetus, why should they be withheld from any other fetus? This is part of the reason some pro-lifers adopt what many others consider the outrageous posture of opposing abortions under any and all circumstances–only excepting, perhaps, when the life of the mother is in danger.

By far the most common reason for abortion worldwide is birth control. So shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions. Instead, the United States is far behind other nations in the development of safe and effective methods of birth control–and, in many cases, opposition to such research (and to sex education) has come from the same people who oppose abortions.continue on to Part 3

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The attempt to find an ethically sound and unambiguous judgment on when, if ever, abortion is permissible has deep historical roots. Often, especially in Christian tradition, such attempts were connected with the question of when the soul enters the body–a matter not readily amenable to scientific investigation and an issue of controversy even among learned theologians. Ensoulment has been asserted to occur in the sperm before conception, at conception, at the time of “quickening” (when the mother is first able to feel the fetus stirring within her), and at birth. Or even later.

Different religions have different teachings. Among hunter-gatherers, there are usually no prohibitions against abortion, and it was common in ancient Greece and Rome. In contrast, the more severe Assyrians impaled women on stakes for attempting abortion. The Jewish Talmud teaches that the fetus is not a person and has no rights. The Old and New Testaments–rich in astonishingly detailed prohibitions on dress, diet, and permissible words–contain not a word specifically prohibiting abortion. The only passage that’s remotely relevant (Exodus 21:22) decrees that if there’s a fight and a woman bystander should accidentally be injured and made to miscarry, the assailant must pay a fine.

Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas considered early-term abortion to be homicide (the latter on the grounds that the embryo doesn’t look human). This view was embraced by the Church in the Council of Vienne in 1312, and has never been repudiated. The Catholic Church’s first and long-standing collection of canon law (according to the leading historian of the Church’s teaching on abortion, John Connery, S.J.) held that abortion was homicide only after the fetus was already “formed”–roughly, the end of the first trimester.

But when sperm cells were examined in the seventeenth century by the first microscopes, they were thought to show a fully formed human being. An old idea of the homunculus was resuscitated–in which within each sperm cell was a fully formed tiny human, within whose testes were innumerable other homunculi, etc., ad infinitum. In part through this misinterpretation of scientific data, in 1869 abortion at any time for any reason became grounds for excommunication. It is surprising to most Catholics and others to discover that the date was not much earlier.

From colonial times to the nineteenth century, the choice in the United States was the woman’s until “quickening.” An abortion in the first or even second trimester was at worst a misdemeanor. Convictions were rarely sought and almost impossible to obtain, because they depended entirely on the woman’s own testimony of whether she had felt quickening, and because of the jury’s distaste for prosecuting a woman for exercising her right to choose. In 1800 there was not, so far as is known, a single statute in the United States concerning abortion. Advertisements for drugs to induce abortion could be found in virtually every newspaper and even in many church publications–although the language used was suitably euphemistic, if widely understood.

I was curious why Sagan makes this point below and why he chose to send this article to me, but since I had sent him several letters  concerning abortion that included material from Francis Schaeffer this may be Sagan’s attempt to point out that today’s aggressive pro-life stand is a departure from the church’s historical position (see below)

But by 1900, abortion had been banned at any time in pregnancy by every state in the Union, except when necessary to save the woman’s life. What happened to bring about so striking a reversal? Religion had little to do with it.Drastic economic and social conversions were turning this country from an agrarian to an urban-industrial society. America was in the process of changing from having one of the highest birthrates in the world to one of the lowest. Abortion certainly played a role and stimulated forces to suppress it.

Francis Schaeffer more than any other person is responsible for the pro-life activism of today’s evangelicals 



How the Evangelical Church Awoke to the Abortion Issue: The Convergent Labors of Harold O. J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop

Editors’ Note: Dr. C. Everett Koop was a founding board member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. You can purchase this month’s featured resource, Classic Koop, which includes the essay referenced below, here.
With the news of C. Everett Koop’s death last week, we are given the occasion to return to a question raised only a few months ago by a blog post on which provoked reactions far and wide. The question concerns exactly when and how evangelicals came to embrace the pro-life (or as it was known then, the right to life) position.
A week before the presidential election this past fall, Jonathan Dudley (author of Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics, 2011) surprised many people with his provocative blog piece for CNN entitled: “My Take: When evangelicals were pro-choice.”(1) Citing well-known statements in 1968 by Bruce Waltke printed in Christianity Today – and referring to the Southern Baptist Convention’s express endorsement of abortion in 1971 – Dudley concludes that evangelical faith did not and thus does not entail a pro-life position (Waltke later changed his position, a fact Dudley fails to mention). Rather, Dudley would have us believe that the rise of the pro-life movement in evangelicalism was a late addition rooted not in core convictions, but in power politics. 
In his first piece, Dudley claims it was Jerry Falwell who “spearheaded the reversal of opinion on abortion in the late 1970’s,”(2) a statement that does not bear the weight of scrutiny but conveniently served to shake the faith of wavering pro-life evangelicals days before they went to the voting booth. Several responded to Dudley, including Mark Galli at Christianity Today and Al Mohler on his blog, and Dudley quickly backtracked in a follow-up piece for The Huffington Postin which he acknowledged, though somewhat dismissively, the ‘right to life’ work of Francis Schaeffer and a group called The Christian Action Council prior to Falwell’s entrance on the political scene. Dudley discounts the impact of those early efforts, however, returning to his thesis that the evangelical church was slumbering on the abortion issue up to the time when, “[i]n 1980, Falwell used his unparalleled platform to change all that.”(3) 
It is true that the evangelical church was slumbering for several years after the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision. But it is not true that “Falwell changed all that.” Instead, Falwell and the several other figures who took the lead of the pro-life movement in the 1980s were standing on the shoulders of three men whose paths and voices converged for a brief period of time in the mid-to-late 1970s, forming a powerful trio that finally awoke the evangelical church to the necessity of speaking up for the unborn.
And this past week, with the death of C. Everett Koop, the last of these three figures went to be with the Lord. Preceding him were Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) and Harold O. J. Brown (1933-2007). Together, Brown, Schaeffer, and Koop “successfully called evangelical leaders back from their flirtation with abortion,” writes Allan Carlson, the President of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. “These three men made opposition to abortion a defining characteristic of late twentieth-century Evangelicalism.”(4) 
Harold O. J. Brown
A Harvard-educated historian and theologian, Brown was working as the associate editor of Christianity Today when the Roe v. Wade ruling was announced. Harold Lindsell, then editor of Christianity Today, let Brown write the lead article in the magazine’s next issue, “Abortion and the Court” (CT, Feb. 16, 1973). In his response to Dudley last November, Galli quotes from this editorial denouncing the Roe decision and hails the piece as “one of the finer moments in CT history.” Unknown to readers, however, is that Brown was its author.(5)
Undeterred by initial and surprising indifference among evangelicals to abortion, in 1975 Brown became the editor of The Human Life Review, founded by James McFadden. No story of the nascence of the evangelical pro-life movement is complete without reference to the influence of this review, which early on included such illustrious contributors as William F. Buckley and Malcolm Muggeridge (and eventually Ronald Reagan).
Dudley mentions in his second piece the founding of The Christian Action Council in 1975 (which became the leading Protestant ‘right to life’ advocacy group on Capitol Hill), but he does not mention who founded it. Once again, Harold O. J. Brown was the tip of the spear. With meeting space provided by Billy Graham in Montreat, Brown met with C. Everett Koop for the initial planning meetings that led to the launch of the CAC in July, chaired by Brown. It is true that the early efforts of the CAC ran up against a brick wall of evangelical indifference (and even suspicion), but it was not from Falwell that help would arrive.
Francis Schaeffer
The story of how Brown met Schaeffer in 1961, and how Brown then arranged for the relatively unknown ‘man from Switzerland’ to come to Boston in 1964 to give the second annual ‘Christian Contemporary Thought’ lectures on Harvard’s campus, is a remarkable one that has been documented by both Barry Hankins (2008) and Colin Duriez (2008). As a result of this relationship, Schaeffer was introduced to the American evangelical scene and quickly achieved an unparalleled celebrity status that he would leverage to draw attention to the right to life issue. 
The film and lecture tour for How Shall We Then Live (1976) served to awaken many evangelicals to the roots and implications of their own core convictions, and concluded by connecting the right to life issue to those core convictions, as Schaeffer parsed the Supreme Court’s Roe decision in terms of his famous ‘line of despair’. This pro-life material was considered risky, and Francis Schaeffer took some persuading to include it, as his son Frank has recounted in his controversial memoir (2007). But an old friend of the Schaeffer family took notice and soon joined them in what would become the tipping-point of this story.
C. Everett Koop
A renowned pediatric surgeon in Philadelphia, Koop, who had recently come to Christ under the preaching of Donald Grey Barnhouse at Tenth Presbyterian, treated  the Schaeffer’s daughter, Priscilla, in 1948. Upon learning that they were to leave as missionaries for Switzerland in a few short months, Koop opened up about his own newfound faith, and a friendship was formed that would remain through the years.
Early on, Koop was convinced that “abortion amounted to taking a sacrosanct human life” (which explains his teaming up with Brown in 1975 to found The Christian Action Council). (6)
But on one Saturday in 1976, after spending the entire day operating successfully on three newborn babies that otherwise would have died, he sat in the hospital cafeteria with two of his colleagues and said: “You know, we have given over two hundred years of life to three individuals who together barely weighed ten pounds” to which one of his residents answered: “And while we were doing that, right next door in the university hospital they were cutting up perfect formed babies of the same size just because their mothers didn’t want them.”(7)
Koop says he knew then and there that, as a surgeon, he had to speak up more forcefully for the unborn. So he rose early the next morning and began to write, and by evening the next day had completed his 120-page treatise entitled The Right to Live; the Right to Die: Famous Pediatric Surgeon Speaks Out on Abortion and Mercy Killing. “I aimed the book primarily at Christian readers,” he recalls, “as I sought to awaken the evangelical community to a vital moral issue they were choosing to ignore.”(8)
Koop evidently kept Brown’s articles close at hand as he put his own thoughts to paper. He quotes from Brown more than from any other source (other than the Bible), often whole paragraphs at a time. Koop’s The Right to Live; the Right to Die would sell over 100,000 copies in the first year alone, and another 100,000 in the years that followed. 
After writing the book, Koop reconnected with the Schaeffers (father and son) to produce Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Released in 1979, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? did what no effort over the previous six years had succeeded in doing: it broke through. 
The Evangelical Embrace of the Pro-Life Position
Dr. Jean Garton, reviewing Whatever Happened to the Human Race? on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Roe, remembers, “As a result, there was a dramatic change in the abortion landscape. The powerful message of both the screen and printed versions of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? educated and energized an up-till-then largely uninvolved constituency-the Evangelicals.”(9)  Brown himself remembered with great appreciation the impact of Schaeffer’s and Koop’s joint efforts: “Shown in churches, schools, and homes around the country, [the film] so thoroughly aroused viewers that the term evangelical has come to be synonymous with anti-abortion.”(10)
In the years that followed, a ‘second generation’ would take the helm of pro-life advocacy, and we are familiar with their names: Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, and a host of others. And after their few years of potent convergence, Schaeffer, Brown, and Koop faced futures as different as their pasts. Schaeffer would die in 1982. Brown’s Christian Action Council, of which he remained chairman, would shift its primary focus to founding Gospel-centered crisis pregnancy care centers with remarkable results (the organization is now known as CareNet).(11) Upon his death in 2007, Brown was remembered in Christianity Today as one whose “most prominent work was helping form and intellectually arm the pro-life movement.”(12) As a reward for his pro-life efforts, Koop would be appointed by Reagan to be his Surgeon General in 1981, but pro-abortion advocates made Koop’s confirmation hearings so tortuous that he emerged less interested in being a figurehead for the pro-life movement, choosing instead to make campaigns against smoking and AIDS the hallmarks of his appointment. He is widely remembered as the most famous Surgeon General in modern memory.
Perhaps it is because none of these three carried the mantle of the pro-life movement in the 1980s and 1990s that we hear relatively little of them as pro-life champions today – except recently, when the last of them has departed from us. But it is reasonable to suppose that without Brown, Schaeffer, and Koop, there may not have been a pro-life movement in the 1980s at all, nor in the years that followed. And while it’s unlikely we’ll see any monuments in the near future singling out these three remarkable individuals, we would not only be forgetful, but truly ungrateful, if we did not remember their courageous efforts to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 13:14).
Rev. Matthew S. Miller is the Senior Pastor of the Greenville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He is currently working on a ThM at Erskine Theological Seminary.
4. Allan C. Carlson, Godly Seed: Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973 (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2011), 154.
6. Koop, Koop: The Memoirs, 333.
7. Koop, Koop: The Memoirs, 332-333.
8. Koop, Koop: The Memoirs, 334.
10. Brown, “Protestantism, America, and Divine Law,” 19.
11. This change in focus was largely attributed to the vision of Curt Young, who served as the Executive Director of the Christian Action Council from 1978-1987.
12. Susan Wunderlink, “Theologian Harold O. J. Brown Dies at 74,” Last accessed November 23, 2012.



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