Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
Three minutes. The time it takes to make toast, check your bank statement, listen to your favorite song. Three minutes. The time it takes for a pregnancy test to run.
Today, January 17, is recognized as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (SOHLS) by Americans, especially Christians, across the country. The first national Sanctity of Human Life Day was designated as on January 22, 1984, via a proclamation issued by then-President Ronald Reagan. Reagan wrote:
I call upon the citizens of this blessed land to gather on that day in homes and places of worship to give thanks for the gift of life, and to reaffirm our commitment to the dignity of every human being and the sanctity of each human life. … We are poorer not simply for lives not led and for contributions not made, but also for the erosion of our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual. To diminish the value of one category of human life is to diminish us all.
That day marked the 11th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, in which the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states. The day also sought to remember the more than 15 million unborn children, by that date, who had died in legalized abortions since 1973.
Following the Roe v. Wade ruling, and at the urging of Roman Catholic brothers and sisters already forming networks of aid, instrumental evangelical Christian leaders came together in the nation’s capital to pray and discern the best response to provide to communities reeling from the decision. The Christian Action Council (CAC) was subsequently formed under the guidance of Christian scholar Dr. Harold O.J. Brown and the influence of both the renowned pediatric surgeon Dr. C. Everett Koop and Christian scholar Dr. Francis Schaeffer. As one founding board member has recounted, their early team received hundreds of letters from evangelicals around the country essentially saying, “We know abortion is wrong, but how do we help women and families in our communities?”
Gospel-based, life-affirming pregnancy center ministries quickly sprouted up through the financial and volunteer backing of local churches nationwide offering hope and help – real, tangible, sustaining and life-giving help – to those facing unexpected and in many cases, unwanted pregnancies.
A lot can transpire during an initial three-minute pregnancy test and combined counseling appointment at a pregnancy center. Her future seems to hang in the balance – her hopes, her dreams, her life can flash before her eyes. And then if the test is positive, two futures can hang in the balance , one literally if it is an unwelcome pregnancy. Compassionate support and practical assistance that she needs can make a vital difference.
These pregnancy resource or pregnancy help centers have grown to be trusted and valuable sources of outreach providing an array of typically free services ranging from pregnancy tests, options counseling, and ultrasounds to prenatal, adoption, parenting, relationship and sexual integrity education to both women and men. Post-abortion healing ministry has also become an integral part of pregnancy center outreach to the multitude of women and men deeply wounded from past abortion experiences. According to national statistics, one in five pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) ends in abortion, so the need is tremendous.
Christian love in action is demonstrated through the work of pregnancy centers in a personal “coming- alongside” experience to minister to both mom and baby, and oftentimes to families. Core values which have remained unchanged over the 40-year period that the pregnancy center movement has been in existence are: commitment to compassion for women confronted with unwelcome pregnancy as well as a past abortion experience; a determination to spare unborn children from abortion; and, commitment to testify to the love of Christ through the faithful witness of their lives, their service and their words.
Affiliates of the three primary national pregnancy center associations (including Care Net which emerged from the CAC) now number 2,500 in the U.S. alone.
Though Sanctity of Human Life Sunday was established as a direct response to legalized abortion in the U.S., it rests on our foundational understanding that the sanctity of human life embraces the inestimable worth and significance of every human life as we are all created in the image of God. Accordingly, it celebrates the diversity and sacredness of human life at all stages from conception to natural death. This includes life in all its dimensions, whether unborn life in the womb; the elderly, the weak or strong; those with special needs, disability or illness; and even human life at the single-cell stage of development until natural death.
The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) has a deep belief and unbroken commitment to the value of every human life from conception to natural death. This was first reflected in 1978 when the Sixth General Assembly adopted recommendations that, among other things, encouraged presbyteries and congregations to give every assistance to Christian groups whose purpose is to help pregnant women, and encouraged all members of the PCA to seek legislation that would protect the unborn. Interestingly, the Rev. Curtis Young, the first president of the CAC and now a PCA pastor in Maryland, was a key figure who advocated for and helped to establish National Sanctity of Human Life Day.
Please join members of Westminster’s Sanctity of Life ministry and hundreds of thousands of other believers from across our nation who will be among those participating in the annual March for Life (MFL) in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 22 as we pray, remember the now over 57 million children whose lives have been lost to abortion since 1973, and honor and uphold the sanctity and dignity of each human life, including the men and women whose lives have been adversely affected by abortion experiences. The theme for the 2016 MFL is “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand-in-Hand.” Clearly this theme strongly resonates with our denomination and is reflected daily in pregnancy centers and other life-affirming ministries in our community that offer love, compassion and hope.
Moira Gaul is an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. This article is adapted from a notice she wrote for the weekly bulletin of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For more information on the history of the pregnancy center movement, see Margaret Hartshorn, Ph.D.’s book Foot Soldiers Armed with Love and the report A Passion to Serve: A Vision for Life (available at http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF09I51.pdf). A copy of the full Reagan proclamation can be found at http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1984/11384c.htm.