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Gosnell Wasn’t Ghoulish, and Abortion Isn’t “Murder”?

This week Karen Swallow Prior, part of the Southern Baptist “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission,” wrote an article for Christianity Today called “Loving our Pro-Choice Neighbors.” She appealed for Christians to be more loving to those who practice abortion, and one practical example she gave was that we should stop referring to abortion as murder.

Here are her words:


“[R]eferring to abortion providers as “abortion ghouls,” clinic volunteers and workers as “deathscorts” or “bloodworkers,” and women who obtain abortions as “murderers” is worse than inflammatory: it is unchristlike. Calling legal abortion “murder” when it isn’t (it is, to our shame, lawful) is to say what isn’t true, at least in a civil (not church) context.

The purpose of language, its God-given raison-d’être, is to reveal truth, eternal and unfailing. It needs not the props of exaggeration or distortion of our feeble words. The truth about abortion demands no inflammation or embellishment. It is, rather, the purveyors of abortion who must veil the truth with charms. The hurt abortion causes to women and children and society can be communicated in plain terms.”

There is much to say about these paragraphs, and she has since given a clarification on the “murder” comment. But I am even more troubled that she says that abortion providers should not be called “abortion ghouls,” and then links to a post about Gosnell’s clinic as an example of what she calls “exaggeration” and “embellishment.”


Gosnell’s clinic the day of the police raid.

Gosnell, if you have forgotten, was a murderer even by Prior’s reasoning. He was charged, tried, and convicted of murdering three people, although at trial everyone pretty much granted he had done the same to countless others. His victims included at least one adult who was seeking an abortion. The grand jury called his clinic a “house of horrors.” It smelled of urine, had baby feet in jars, bodies in the fridge, and blood splattered all over the wall.

Prior says that we should not call that “ghoulish.”

Actually, the article that Prior links does not even call abortion providers “ghouls.” Here is what Ken Connor, who wrote the post that drew Prior’s ire, did call ghoulish:

“There simply is no way to put a gloss on this. Dr. Gosnell is a product of a culture in which the rhetoric of choice has too long gone unchallenged. He is the product of a political climate in which fear of offending the pro-abortion lobby led our president (while an IL senator) to oppose giving medical treatment to infants that survive abortion. Gosnell’s ghoulish practice of killing abortion survivors is the logical extension of such a policy.”

That is the only use of “ghoulish” in his post, and Connor was, of course, describing Gosnell’s low-budget way of doing abortions. He would simply induce labor, then clip the new-born’s spine (he called it “snipping”). Once he dropped a new born in the toilet and the nurses watched him try and swim.

Prior says that calling that “ghoulish” is “worse than inflammatory, it is unchristlike.”

Let’s move past Gosnell to Prior’s key sentence:

“Calling legal abortion “murder” when it isn’t (it is, to our shame, lawful) is to say what isn’t true, at least in a civil (not church) context.”

The assertion seems straight-forward: because abortion is legal, it is not murder.

There is a truth that Prior is reaching for—although her own words obscure it. Abortion in the United States is especially evil because it is legal. When a woman in another country gets an abortion, she is acting against God’s law and against her country’s laws. She is doubly a law breaker.

But in the United States, getting an abortion does not require violating man’s law—in fact, our government will even help you pay for it! That is especially evil.

Many in the pro-abortion world don’t understand that point. They think that pro-life people are trying to end abortions by their protests. But we are not naïve. I know abortions will always continue because people always sin. Yet a basic component of a Christian world view as much as is possible, civil laws should match God’s moral law.

Instead, Prior implies that abortion in the United States is not murder because The Supreme Court has spoken. She later posted what was simultaneously a doubling-down and a back-tracking:

“To clarify: I am unwavering in my belief that according to God’s law, abortion is murder, despite its current definition in civil law, and in my belief that God hates the shedding of innocent blood. Having volunteered 17 years at crisis pregnancy centers and offering help to women outside abortion clinics for 10 years, I was trained not to use the word “murder” in trying to persuade them to choose life. I continue to believe this is wise counsel. I continue to work toward the day when our civil laws on abortion accord with God’s law.)”

I am grateful for her clarification—although if a woman came to me who was genuinely considering abortion, I would most certainly use biblical language in counseling her against it. But I can grant that outside of clinics, more tact might be in order. Basically, if she has a decade of experience working on sidewalks pleading with women to chose life, I’ll defer to her on what language to use.

But the problem is that her original statement is not simply about how to be winsome in counseling, but is about the intersection of God’s law and our laws—and frankly it shows an inexcusable level of confusion about this intersection (in fact, her next paragraph says that calling abortion “murder” is relying on “the props of exaggeration” and amounts to “inflammation or embellishment”).

Christians are called by Jesus to go into all the world preaching the gospel, and calling people to repent from their sins and submit themselves to God’s law. We know that they know God’s law, because their conscience bears witness. And so we speak in those terms.

Herod’s remarriage may have been legal, but John was right to call it unlawful, because it broke God’s law. Jesus’ trial was a farce, but the Sanhedrin voted and Pilate washed his hands, yet his crucifixion was still murder.

Adultery is still adultery, even now that it is legal.

And Cain murdered Abel, even though the City Council did not yet have a quorum to declare murder to be against the law.

Of course abortion is murder. It is the process of violently ending a human life after it has begun. This is what the word means.


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