Editorial: Revisiting “all those babies”

This is a photo of a dad with his hands in a heart shape holding his 3 week old infants feet.

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Last week’s editorial,  “Get ready for all those babies,” created quite a stir. It propelled traffic on our website, prompted pro and con letters to the editor, popped up all over Facebook and packed my email in-box.

Some readers responded reflexively, and some missed the point. (One later admitted he wrote after reading only 10 percent of the editorial.) But most respondents—both those who agreed and disagreed with me—offered thoughtful, passionate insights. So, although we rarely produce sequels to editorials, this seems like a good time to bend that policy. In a minute, we’ll consider key questions and issues raised by readers.

knox newEditor Marv KnoxBut first, a recap: The editorial anticipated passage of a Texas law banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and including provisions that will cause most women’s health clinics that provide abortions to close their doors. It noted how, ironically, states like Texas that are bastions of Bible-believing Christians do worse than their so-called secular “pagan” counterparts in protecting the weak and vulnerable. It called on us to do a better job caring for these children, offering specific suggestions for adoption, parenting, nutrition and education.

Now, here are some reader responses, followed by reflections:

“Get specific. Where do you stand?”

One reader wanted a bumper-sticker “I believe __________” answer to the debate. A few others instinctively interpreted the editorial as political commentary on the Texas Legislature’s abortion bill.

As my record on editorials shows, I do not favor abortion. I wish no girl or woman ever felt she needed to abort a child. In fact, I don’t know a woman who has had an abortion who is “for” abortion. But we live in a broken world. Brokenness demands Christians faithfully, compassionately and humbly seek God’s redemptive will. That means extending grace to those with whom they do not agree and loving care to women and girls in awful situations.

The editorial did not address the new abortion bill, except that its passage means more babies—some unwanted, some born into desperate circumstances—are on the way. As the Legislature’s second special session began, passage already was foregone. The important questions are: What are we going to do about those babies? Will we do right by them?

“Your numbers are wrong. And those health centers won’t close.”

A couple of readers indicated few abortions actually take place between the 20th and 24th weeks of pregnancy, the timeframe banned by the new bill. Also, they added, pregnant women now will seek abortions earlier than the 20th week. Others predicted abortion clinics make so much money, they’ll comply with the new regulations and stay open. So, we won’t really see an influx of new babies, both groups insisted.

These arguments beg an obvious question: If the new law won’t prevent abortions, why did we endure all this trauma? Some Texans wonder whether Gov. Rick Perry produced the special legislative sessions and the new law to sate the Republican Party’s right wing and enhance his 2016 presidential bid. If that’s true, then this was one of the most callous political manipulations of all time.

Whatever the case—people of goodwill have studied the numbers and calculated various predictions for how many abortions will be prevented, and God only knows if the governor is running for president—the editorial and its proposals would be valid even if an abortion bill had not been presented.

Texas is strongly pro-birth but not pro-life. We do not do enough to care for and support the weakest and most vulnerable among us now, much less later. Whether the abortion rate drops or rises, we need to take steps outlined in the editorial to help those people Jesus called “the least” and admonished us to serve.

“Maybe we’re not ‘helping’ them.”

If pregnant women and the men who got them that way were more responsible and self-reliant, they would be better off, several readers noted. This issue breaks into two parts.

First, the editorial focused on children—the babies who would be born instead of aborted. We have a moral obligation to help children, no matter what we think about their parents. So, simplifying and streamlining adoption, ensuring prenatal and childhood nutrition, training parents and improving education are valid pursuits. And in case you’re wondering, adoption, parent-training and education all increase self-reliance.

Second—and this is counter-intuitive to many Texans—the states that excel in supporting human welfare produce lower rates of teen pregnancy, illiteracy and dropouts. They help create stronger individuals who don’t need to rely on others. Texas and other small-state, pro-self-reliant states rank among the worst in teen pregnancy, illiteracy, hunger and related maladies. We need to help.

“Teach personal responsibility. Make it tangible.”

A thoughtful reader suggested requiring the fathers of babies to do their part. “Strengthen child-support laws,” he wrote. “When a child is born to a single mom, paternity is required. The attorney general’s office is expanded to make sure that young man gets the bill for child support.  … Enforcement is swift. Young dads go to work camp if they aren’t able to find work and pay child support.  …  This will work against the mindset of many teens that having children is not an expense, since government will pick up the tab. This is teaching and enforcing personal responsibility.”

“We’re not all that bad. Your comparisons are wrong.”

At least one reader pointed out if we account for “demographics,” our poverty-and-pain statistics aren’t so bad. They’re comparable to states that spend more on combating child hunger, education and medical care.

That argument can only be translated one way: Hispanics and African-Americans don’t count. If we only consider white people, we’re OK. That, of course, is doubly problematic.

The lesser issue is practical. All the people who live within our state live within our state. If they’re hungry, they’re hungry. If they’re poorly educated, they’re poorly educated. All their problems and challenges impact our state and, consequently are our problems and challenges.

The greater issue is theological. God created all people equally and loves all of us the same. Jesus taught us to consider all people as God considers them. If we discount Texans because of their skin color, language or national origin, we blaspheme our Creator. God help us. 

“It’s the church’s job.”

Some readers recoiled at the notion government should be involved in providing aid for poor people, babies among them. This is a serious political and sociological notion, and almost anyone who reads broadly and converses widely understands the background. At least in part, it’s been advanced by examples of government incompetence and malfeasance. It’s also supported by the theory government should be limited to a few specific tasks. But, like other issues, this one merits two considerations:

First, churches just aren’t doing that job. For years, I’ve asked for an example to the contrary: Send the budget of a church that is doing its prorated share of meeting the nutritional, educational and medical needs of all the people in its community. Not happening. Several readers reported church budgets are strapped these days, and I concur. But their assertion proves the point—if we leave these tasks to the churches, increasing numbers of people will suffer. The task is bigger than all churches’ ability—and most churches’ desire—to respond.

Second, Christians must influence society for the common good. We do not abrogate our congregational duty to serve the poor if we also advocate for public programs that meet their needs. People of faith should be up to the task of promoting these programs and also demanding oversight to ensure they’re operated responsibly.

“You missed the obvious: Reduce the number of pregnancies.”

This is an excellent point, even if it is sensitive for Baptists and other Christians who don’t want to provide a whiff of support for premarital sex. We can preach abstinence until curfew time—and we should affirm the biblical view of sexuality. But if we care about reducing abortions, we’ll also practice clear-eyed pragmatism and make birth control readily available to the groups most at-risk for abortions.

“I didn’t know Christians—much less Baptists—cared like this.”

That statement, and numerous similar comments, broke my heart. As the editorial circulated, I heard from young people who think Christians hate them because they either made mistakes or disagree with traditional Christian thinking.

Several times, I replied: “If my church treated me the way people who claim to be Christian apparently treated you, I wouldn’t have anything to do with the church, either. But most Christians are not judgmental and mean, and Jesus is gracious and loving.”

We can’t expect to speak with credibility to unbelievers unless we first demonstrate our generous, unconditional love. Let’s start by loving Texas’ babies and children.

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Care to comment? Send an email to our interim opinion editor, Blake Atwood. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.