An Open Letter to Ben Carson on Abortion

Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson addresses supporters at Spring Arbor University in Spring
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson addresses supporters at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich., , Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Dear Dr. Carson,

You seem like a sincere person who wants to do the right thing. And I can certainly agree with you that nobody should be allowed to kill a baby. As an ordained minister and a person of faith, I can appreciate the seriousness with which you take on the mantle of being 100 percent "pro-life," even denying exceptions for rape victims. For after all, if abortion is killing a baby, how could that ever be right, no matter how the baby was conceived?

However, I also used to teach Constitutional Law. And I did my dissertation on the separation of church and state. So I'd like to ask you to think about a couple of things that just maybe no one in your circle has ever discussed with you.

First of all, if it is as simple as all that, and all abortions were about killing a baby, how do you explain the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade? This was a 7-2 decision. It was not simply liberals versus conservatives. Do you think the members of the Court's majority were under the influence of Satan? Because if you believe all abortions kill babies, then you've just called seven distinguished Supreme Court Justices baby-killers. Have you ever asked yourself why they ruled the way they did?

The Supreme Court made a distinction between a late-term abortion, where there is an actual baby who could be born and survive outside the mother's womb, and an abortion in the first trimester, where you really must agree to the science here, that a cluster of cells or a less than half ounce fetus is not anywhere close to a definition of an actual baby. It is a potential baby, but it is potential. There is no real functioning brain, therefore no real humanity. I understand the brain is your specialty. So surely you know all about fetal brain development.

The Supreme Court allowed states to limit late term abortions, where the fetus really is a baby with a functioning brain, and may decide to allow abortions then only to save the life or health of the mother. When the Court ruled in Roe, they invented a new way to look at pregnancy, where the closer the fetus came to actual human life with a functioning brain, the more rights it gained. But early on, when the vast majority of abortions are performed, science calls these fetuses and not babies for a reason.

You think God tells you all abortion is murder. You would be the first to say you base your position on your interpretation of the Bible. Well then, you are free to try and convince others of the righteousness of your cause. You are free to try and convince a majority. But until you do, to the extent that you could actually pass a constitutional amendment banning abortions, you are stuck. This is a terrible position to be in, because you honestly think you live in a country where people regularly kill babies. But I live in a country where I think the government regularly decides to take money that could be used to save the lives of born children, and instead of spending it on their care, decides to spend more money on the military. This is also a terrible position to be in for me, because I can cite you chapter and verse all over the New Testament where Jesus doesn't just suggest we take care of the poor, he commands it.

So here we are. Two deeply religious people, on two different sides of an issue. The only difference being, if your side ever wins, then my daughter and her daughters will be forced to stay pregnant, when their life circumstances, their own physical and mental health, would be much better served if they could safely terminate a fetus of one or two month's gestation, about half the size of the palm of your hand. And at this point, when my side has won, we haven't forced your daughter, or her daughter after her, to do anything against her will.

This was the decision the Supreme Court came to in Roe v. Wade: the individual liberty of a born person, the woman, had to be balanced against the interests of what is, at two months gestation, in the view of science, not a particular religion, still just a fetus. Yes, some religions believe that a fetus is a baby at the moment of conception, but other religious groups agree with the scientific view. The Court cannot take into account the view of one religion over another; that is the whole point of forbidding an establishment of religion. The Court can only take into account the unbiased view of science, because that's the way the Constitution allows for us to debate what is a rational restriction on human liberty. We may be "one nation under God" but we have never been "one nation, under the control of a single church."

Those religiously opposed to abortion in the first two trimesters are free to not have them. Those, like me and my brothers and sisters in the United Church of Christ, who don't see the Bible the way you see it, are free to make their own choices, under their own lights. And isn't that freedom of religion, too, Ben? Isn't it?