The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Part 2, by Stephanie Gray


The beginning of this series can be viewed here.

Another reason IVF ought to be rejected is that it treats human beings as commodities/objects. 

Consider this language from Genesis Fertility Centre, which does IVF: “We are now proud to be perfecting the use of elective single embryo transfer (eSET)…Using eSET we’re able [to] select a single perfect embryo” [emphasis added]. 

What happens if a child is less than “perfect”?  If they aren’t weeded out for destruction right there in the lab, then they may be killed in the womb: The Daily Mail in England reported that some IVF-conceived children who had Down Syndrome were aborted.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise, really.  When items we buy are imperfect, we return them to the store, expecting our money back, or an undamaged replacement.  If we view humans as objects that we can manufacture to our specifications, then when they don’t “perform” or appear as we wish, it follows from such thinking that one would dispose of the “object.”

Or consider this language from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART):  “you can donate your embryos to another woman with fertility problems.”  Since when is it ethical for one human to “donate” another human?  Objects, like an original painting, can be donated (to a museum, for example)—but not subjects.  Consider this: If a slave owner decided to “donate” his slave to another plantation, wouldn’t we be just as outraged as if he sold that slave?  Wouldn’t we acknowledge that either approach treats the slave—a human being—as though she is a possession owned by someone else? 

Some might raise a question here about the adoption of born children—isn’t adoption like what is being suggested by SART above?  There’s an important difference: When placing a child for adoption, society does not use the language of “donation.”  Adoption agencies do not say “You can donate your infant to other adults” because a donation is an object and infants are not objects.  Moreover, adoption is done for the good of the child, finding willing adults to open their hearts and their home to a child in need, whereas the IVF industry is ordered to create, or pass along, children to adults in want

If a couple opts against implanting some of their embryos in the mother’s womb, or in another woman’s womb, then SART explains the other options: “you can donate your embryos for laboratory research to help improve pregnancy rates for infertile couples in the future…you can ask that your embryos be thawed and discarded.”  Consider the experimentation on Jews and others during the Holocaust—some humans were researched on (and then killed) with the justification that the information obtained would be helpful for others.  Don’t we raise a collective outcry against this?  Why then would we embrace that same philosophy with human beings that happen to be younger than Holocaust victims?  Even if embryos were protected from death-inducing experimentation, and instead quickly “thawed and discarded,” such an act is still death-inducing, and treats humans as though they are disposable.  Would we ever do this to toddlers?  For example, consider the following paragraph and imagine that each time it references embryos [bolded for effect] it were instead speaking of toddlers:

“Freezing of excess good quality embryos after IVF…provides patients with a ‘back-up’ should the initial fresh embryo transfer not result in a pregnancy, at a much lower cost than starting IVF all over again and often with minimal medications. Frozen embryo transfers have allowed many of our patients to achieve more than one pregnancy from a single cycle of ovarian stimulation. Embryos can be frozen at any stage of development during the IVF process. Eggs that are fertilized can be frozen as early as 1 day after an egg retrieval procedure, but it is more common to allow embryos to develop for a number of days before freezing them.  This allows us to observe how well the embryos are developing so that we only end up with embryos in the freezer that we think have a good probability of establishing a pregnancy” [emphasis added].

Viewing humans as backup? 

Creating extra humans to save money? 

Watching the humans grow a little bit longer so we can select the fittest and kill the weakest? 

That is the language of commodity, not humanity.  If it were technically possible to treat toddlers this way we would respond that it isn’t morally possible to do so.  The same should be our reaction when it comes to how we treat embryos.

Click here for part 3 of the series.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Galina Fomina

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Part 1, by Stephanie Gray


Click here for the series introduction.

I recently watched a tragic documentary about men in China longing for wives but not being able to find a life partner.   Why is this happening?  According to 2016 statistics, China has 33.59 million more men than women, thanks to a culture that embraced a one-child policy and has a preference for male children. And this has led to an ugly byproduct: human trafficking.  There simply aren’t enough women to match the number of men and some are responding to this by going to desperate measures and treating women as property, trafficking them as modern-day slaves, forcing them into relationships they do not want.

There is no denying the understandable desire for an exclusive relationship with a life-long partner.  As the example above demonstrates, however, a legitimate and good desire does not give a person license to fulfill the desire under any circumstance—enslavement (even by a “kind owner”) being an obvious example.

The desire for children, like the desire for a spouse, is a natural and good desire too.  That’s why it’s heartbreaking when someone, longing for a child, is faced with infertility.  And honestly, the word “heartbreaking” doesn’t adequately capture the anguish such couples go through.  Having friends and relatives who have suffered with this plight, there really aren’t words that capture this cross.

Does the desire for children give a couple license to fulfill their longing under any circumstances?  As the opening analogy demonstrates, a good desire cannot be fulfilled if the way to achieve it is immoral.  For example, kidnapping a child would be an obvious example of an immoral means to achieve the end of parenthood.  Less obvious, in some peoples’ minds, is the means of IVF to achieve the end of parenthood.

Which leads to the theme of this blog series: Is it ethical for couples to use IVF to create offspring?  The short answer is no.  A common follow-up question is, “Why?”

Before answering that, it’s important to highlight fundamental principles that guide my thinking:

1)      Each human being is equal in dignity to another; each individual is unrepeatable and irreplaceable. 

2)      A human’s dignity is inherent to her being, which means the moment she begins to exist is the moment she has dignity.  Science teaches that beings which reproduce sexually begin their lives at fertilization.  Because this series is not about making that case, it is assumed that readers embrace this truth already, or that they will spend time reading the explanation for this point here, here, or here

3)      Because our dignity is grounded in who we are, that means how we were conceived has no bearing on our worth.  In other words, amongst a group of four humans, if one is conceived as a result of love, another from lust, a third via violence, and a fourth brought about through technology, while these “means” are not all equal, the “end,” each resulting human being, is.

4)      Parents are entrusted to meet their children’s needs and protect them from harm until they are independent adults capable of caring for themselves. 

5)      Humans are subjects, not objects; this means humans are not commodities and may not be owned, bought, or sold.

6)      We can understand how something should be by considering its designs (or nature) and then look at that through the lens of a moral framework of how one ought to live.

Agreement on the aforementioned principles provides the foundation to help one understand why IVF ought to be rejected.  Now, let’s flesh out the reasoning:

IVF endangers and disrespects the lives of pre-born humans.

According to Pacific Fertility Center, “Embryo freezing is a very routine part of the IVF process and approximately 60% of patients end up with some embryos in storage.”  According to Dr. Sonya Kashyap, medical director of Genesis Fertility Centre and a clinical assistant professor at UBC, “80 to 90 per cent of embryos survive the thawing process.”  IVF has resulted in more embryos being created than are implanted in their moms.  As a result, it’s been estimated that the United States has 1 million human beings in freezers.  And in the United Kingdom, a report came out revealing that 1.7 million embryos were destroyed in attempts to create other embryos via IVF

Here’s how that disrespects pre-born children:

a)      It intentionally creates and then kills some humans.   

b)      Even when pursuing the option of freezing rather than immediate killing, thawing endangers the lives of some embryos: 10-20% of them will be killed by that process.  Is it fair to endanger the lives of some children in an effort to create other children

c)      Even if all conceived children are implanted in the same cycle, what risks are being brought to these children’s lives?  Consider a testimony here: One couple went through three cycles in which they implanted 6 children each time, for a total of 18 offspring.  In the end, however, they only birthed two of the 18.  Had all 6 children progressed through pregnancy each time, that type of “multiples” pregnancy would have been a serious risk to the lives of those children, let alone the life of their mother.  Moreover, in such a situation, a “selective reduction” abortion is typically suggested where a doctor will kill several children in-utero to increase the odds of one or two developing safely to term.

I am not going to mince words here: Destroying humans from IVF, whether embryos in the lab or later in the womb when they have matured to the fetal stage, should be classified as intentional homicide.  It should be labelled as first degree murder.  Is that a bold statement?  It is, but can the following reasoning be refuted?  Destroying the youngest and most innocent among us in these cases is both intentional and premeditated.  One fertility website describes “selective reduction” as “a relatively safe procedure.”  But safe for who?  It certainly is not safe for the pre-born children targeted amongst their siblings where they will be victims of “the injection of a lethal chemical…directly into the heart chambers” [emphasis added].  Note the use of the term lethal.  The dictionary defines it as “of, relating to, or causing death” and “capable of causing death.”  But to cause death is to imply that prior to the death there was life.  Or consider the language of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the United Kingdom.  Regarding unused or leftover embryos it writes, “Some people prefer to discard their embryos. Embryos that are no longer needed are simply removed from the freezer and allowed to perish naturally in warmer temperatures or water” [emphasis added].  The dictionary defines perish as “to become destroyed or ruined: cease to exist.”  If we are making someone cease to exist, that means they did exist.  And so, the snuffing out of living, existing, entirely defenseless human babies who happen to be smaller and less developed than newborn ones is an entirely barbaric act.

Click here for Part 2 of this series.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Pritamprajapati9

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Introduction to a Series, by Stephanie Gray


Several years ago a colleague and I were debating a student on a Florida college campus.  We were discussing the science of when life begins and the student simply refused to accept the fact that human development begins at fertilization.  An interesting detail about the student’s own beginnings came out in conversation: She was conceived by In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). 

  Upon my learning that, her unwillingness to accept the science of when life begins made more sense to me—because for her the topic was deeply personal.  What if she had always longed for siblings?  To admit life begins at fertilization is to admit she may have actually had siblings—but that her parents had kept them frozen, had them killed, or had them “used” for research.  What if she had a poor relationship with her parents?  What if she felt she was never “good enough” and could not meet their expectations?  To admit life begins at fertilization could lead to questioning why she was chosen from all the others that had existed alongside her.  To admit life begins at fertilization could make her wonder if her parents wished they had chosen a different embryo than her.  Sometimes painful realities can cause us to deny truth.

Sometimes—but not always.  Contrast that student with an audience member I met.  She was also conceived by IVF but she told me in no uncertain terms that while she loves her life, she does not agree with how she came to be: “My mom doesn’t understand,” she said to me.  “She doesn’t see how I can be against the very thing that made me exist.”  She carried on, “I’ve seen the paperwork.  We were all just numbers.”  This young woman was able to separate how she came to be with who came to be. 

The IVF debate is so controversial because it affects real people.  It has been reported that in the United States alone, almost 1 million children born were conceived by IVF or another assisted reproductive technology.  And so, whether we are aware of concrete cases or not, IVF-conceived persons are in our families, churches, workplaces, and interacting with us in the general public.  Moreover, even higher numbers of people—those who have tried IVF, whether they were successful or not—are in our families, churches, workplaces, and interacting with us in the general public.

This series, The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, will provide a moral commentary on this increasingly common reproductive technology.  Doing so on a topic that is not just theoretical but that affects people personally is challenging because there is a risk that some might feel offended by statements made.  There is a risk that condemning a way of thinking or behaving could be perceived (incorrectly) as condemning individuals involved. 

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he writes about some people seeking out messengers who tickle their ears with what they want to hear, but that Timothy, and we, have a responsibility to be faithful to do our duty in proclaiming truth, remembering that it is the truth which sets people free (John 8:32):

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.  As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

There is something more uncomfortable than being criticized for proclaiming the truth—it is avoiding being criticized by avoiding proclaiming truth.  There is something worse than being wrong—it is being wrong and not admitting it.  Look at the business world: The best businesses prioritize critiques and evaluation; they are constantly asking what they did wrong and how they can improve.  The ones that succeed are the ones that aren’t afraid to change course when facts and reason disprove what seemed to be good ideas. 

Our world that has made millions of human beings through IVF and thinks IVF is a good idea.  Is the world wrong?  This series will answer that.

Click here for part 1 of the series.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Suicide: To Assist or Not? That is the Question, by Stephanie Gray


     This past week my newsfeed filled with news of the suicides of two famous people, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.  It has struck me that there is consensus among the posts I see that these deaths were tragic, that the loss of their lives is something to be mourned, and that the cause of their death—suicide—is something to be prevented—or is it?

     As best we know, Spade and Bourdain died alone, at their own hands.  But what if they hadn’t been alone?  What if their suicides had been assisted?  What if their actions were aided by a physician?  In our confused culture, a subtle change of facts can make the thing we prevent the thing some assist. 

     Which brings to mind an experience I had on a plane last weekend.  I was flying to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to speak at a conference for physicians on the topic of assisted suicide, newly legal in Canada as well as in places like DC, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, The Netherlands, and Belgium, to name a few.  During my flight I read a phenomenal book on the subject by my friends Jonathon Van Maren and Blaise Alleyne: “A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.” Shortly before landing, a passenger next to me noticed the cover and commented to me, “That’s certainly not light reading!” he said.  In a brief conversation I learned that he had elderly relatives and his wife worked in healthcare.  “Would you like to have my copy?” I asked.  “It’s a short read—I finished it on this flight.”  He gratefully accepted it and promised to e-mail me his thoughts.

     Van Maren and Alleyne have brilliantly distilled the assisted suicide/euthanasia debate to this central question:

     Who gets suicide assistance and who gets suicide prevention?

     When the debate is framed that way it becomes difficult to give anyone suicide assistance—which is the point.  If we believe in human dignity and equality then everyone inclined to suicide should get suicide prevention, not suicide assistance.  Van Maren and Alleyne help explain it this way: A lot of times in the assisted suicide debate people will say it’s about choice, about the freedom of an individual to choose whether she herself lives or dies.  And yet, if we would try to prevent some people’s suicides (e.g., Spade and Bourdain) then it’s not about choice at all.  By trying to stop their deaths we are overriding their choice.  Which means rather than being about choice, assisting with some suicides is about judgment—about other parties making a judgment about whether someone’s life is worth saving—or not, about whether someone is better off dead—or not.  If person X would prevent Spade’s suicide but assist with grandma’s suicide, then person X is making a judgment about each person’s life and not valuing them equally.  And that’s the problem.

     Van Maren and Alleyne write,

     “Most people who support assisted suicide also support suicide prevention. This is The Split Position… [which] considers suicide and assisted suicide as totally separate topics. People who hold to this position have often never tried to reconcile their conflicting beliefs. Our goal in responding to The Split Position in conversation is to attack this cognitive dissonance – to pit their own beliefs in preventing suicide and assisting suicide against each other, and show that The Split Position is a basic human rights violation because it splits people into protected and unprotected classes. Suicidal despair is always a symptom of some other unmet need. The desire to die is changeable, suicide prevention is a human right, suicide assistance is a human rights violation, and our moral duty to the suicidal is to prevent self-harm, never to facilitate it.”

     In articulating why the “Split Position” should be rejected (as well as the position which favors suicide assistance for anyone), Van Maren and Alleyne explain the pro-life position of total suicide prevention:

     “In a society that truly values each and every human life, we have a responsibility to view the desire for suicide as an opportunity to love that person better, and to love that person more. What someone is saying when they express the desire for suicide is that they are in pain, and that they feel unloved. We have a responsibility to respond. From a personal and social standpoint, we need to ask questions such as: What is our duty to the suicidal? Are we responsible to care for and love those who cannot love us back? How can we love this person better?

     “Opposing assisted suicide does not mean a refusal to recognize how dire situations of extreme suffering or how painful the final days of terminal illness can be. It simply means rejecting assisted suicide as an ethical, humane, or life-affirming response to those circumstances. Instead, we propose that treatment centred around the person (rather than ending that person’s life) be implemented.”

     They further observe,

     “John Paul II wrote that ‘the world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love.’  Suffering unleashes love, it demands our creative response, and a response to alleviate suffering, but never to eliminate the sufferer. Our duty to the suicidal is suicide prevention, and even in the face of a terminal prognosis or incurable condition, never to ‘quit’ on someone and give into suicidal despair. Rather, we must work to relieve unbearable suffering and apply our creativity and imagination to improve quality of life, even when it is in short supply, even in a person’s darkest moments or final days.”

     And so, in the wake of the tragic deaths of Spade and Bourdain, let us remember that just as they deserved suicide prevention—not assistance, so do the elderly, the disabled, the sick, and the dying.  To further understand why, get a copy of Van Maren and Alleyne’s book today.  It is the best apologetic I’ve read on the subject.  




Ireland: This is Your Road to Jericho, by Stephanie Gray


     Babies are being killed in my city of Vancouver today.  And soon the Irish will say the same about their cities.  As I reflect on Friday's vote of some of the Irish people to abolish protections for the youngest, most vulnerable in the Emerald Isle, I think about those who fought so valiantly for a different outcome and what they must be wondering: 

     "How could this have happened?"

     "What about all the prayer and fasting--why didn't these work?"

     "We tried so hard."

     These reactions take me back to an experience I had last October.  A friend reached out to me because one of her business associates was pregnant and planning an abortion.  I messaged my friend tips for what to say.  Then we spoke on the phone at length about how she could appeal to the heart and mind of this woman.  Then my friend met with her, listened and shared.  My friend even offered to adopt the child.  And of course we prayed.  Hard.  The morning of the scheduled appointment we didn't give up.  We went to the site of the clinic before it opened to bring prayers of light to a dark place, hoping the Holy Spirit would hold her back from killing her child.  Then we went to Mass, calling further on the intercession of Almighty God.  

     I wish I could tell you she chose life.  I wish I could tell you her baby was newly born.  I wish I could tell you the woman has sung the praises of my friend for saving her from a deadly choice.  But that's not what happened.  Instead, on the eve of All Saint's Day, a tiny soul nestled safely in her mother's womb was detached and starved by a chemical abortion, ultimately to be flushed down the toilet.

     And we, like the pro-life Irish are now asking, wondered, 

     How is it possible?  We tried so hard.  We did so much.  We called on God.  We believed.  Why didn't it work?  Why do some interventions save some lives and others don't?

     I don't have all the answers.  But I do know this: There is no appropriate alternative to trying.  We won't have to give an accounting for what others did, but we will have to give an accounting for what we did (or didn't do) to "love the least" (Matthew 25).

     When I studied the abolitionist movement led by heroes like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, and read in-depth about the inhuman cruelty of slavery, I remember thinking, "Not much has changed in our world.  We have simply switched one victim group (Black people) for another (pre-born people); but victimization still exists.  Since Cain killed Abel humans have been killing others."  In light of this reality of the human experience, the questions each of us are left with are the questions that the robbers, the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan were left with when they came upon a fellow traveler on the Road to Jericho (Luke 10:30):

     *Do I hurt this man?

     *Do I ignore this man?

     *Do I help this man?

     A gang chose to hurt.  Two chose to ignore.  Another chose to help.

     We don't know if the robbed victim ultimately survived.  We know he was taken to an inn and cared for; we know that the Samaritan pledged to return to cover the expenses of further care.  But we don't know if this ultimately led to the victim's restoration of health.    But we do know who helped, who harmed, and who ignored.  We do know the example we are to follow, regardless of the success of the effort.  Perhaps that's what St. Mother Teresa meant when she said, "God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful."

     That's essentially what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus said over a decade ago, and which I shared on my Facebook the morning of the Irish referendum results: 

     "Hope is a virtue of having looked unblinkingly into all the reasons for despair, into all of the reasons that would seem to falsify hope, and to say, 'Nonetheless Christ is Lord. Nonetheless this is the story of the world. Nonetheless this is a story to which I will surrender myself day by day.' Not simply on one altar call, but as the entirety of one's life, in which every day is a laying of your life on the altar of the Lord Jesus Christ being offered up in perfect sacrifice to the Father.

     "And will we overcome? Will we prevail? We have overcome and have prevailed ultimately because He has overcome and He has prevailed. There are days in which you and I get discouraged. On those days I tell myself — I suppose almost every day I tell myself, sometimes several times a day — those marvelous lines from T. S. Eliot's 'East Coker,' where Eliot says, 'For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.'

     "For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. Some people read those lines as lines of resignation, kind of shrugging your shoulders and saying, 'What can you do?' But I read them as lines of vibrant hope. The rest is not our business. The rest is God's business.

     "Thank God, we are not God. Thank God, God is God."

     And so, for those "fighting Irish" who fought with such commitment, courage, and love for the youngest among us and who are now tempted to despair, know this: 

     As you stand on the edge of your Emerald Isle turning red with the blood of innocent children, continue to make the God of St. Patrick your God and entrust the transformation of your country to Him.  This is your Road to Jericho and in this moment you are to ask, Do I harm? Do I ignore? Do I help?  And then continue to choose the one thing you chose leading up to the referendum, the one thing you can control: Choose the way of the Samaritan and help; then leave the results up to God.


Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Composite of three pictures showing countryside near Stratford, County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland on June 12th 2005. Photographer: Harald Hansen.



Present at a Birth, by Stephanie Gray


     I couldn’t have known when I said yes to a speaking commitment 8 months ago, that it would allow for a Divine Appointment that would make one of my dreams come true—a dream I had been waiting for since 2006.  On April 28, 2018, twelve years after writing my dream list in which number 37 was “be present at a birth,” I was the unexpected support person for my friend’s out-of-town—and emergency—caesarean section.  As a quote attributed to Paul Carvel says, “To witness the birth of a child is our best opportunity to experience the meaning of the word miracle.”

     Last August, I agreed to speak in Michigan this past April 24.  Being so close to Windsor, after the event I drove across the border to visit some of my Ontario friends.  As it should happen, my friend’s cousin, also a friend of mine, planned to join us for my last weekend there.  Angie came with her 4 born daughters and her 37-week baby girl in-utero.  She brought her family’s only vehicle, leaving behind in her small town her husband and 4 sons.  The plan was to go to a banquet dinner Friday night and have a girls shopping day Saturday.  But when Angie started having contractions soon after arriving, it seemed like the weekend was not going to go exactly as planned.

     First there was the hospital visit to be checked out.  Then there was the hospital admission.  Then there was the 4am assessment from the doctor that that baby needed to come out, that morning, and by C-section. 

“This is my body given for you” -Luke 22:19

     Journeying with Angie through the process reminded me of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani.  Hers was a real suffering: She was in pain; her husband was not there; she wasn’t where she lived; her own doctor was not present; she didn’t want to be cut open; she wanted to try a VBAC.   It wasn’t supposed to happen at this time, in this way.  The prayer of Jesus became her lived experience: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  So surgery would happen.  After Angie was prepped, I was brought into the operating room to sit next to her, and for those unaware of how a C-section works, the mother’s arms are stretched out like she’s on a cross.  As she lay there, riddled with anxiety about being aware while being cut open, her experience was once again like Christ’s: “This is my body given for you.”  Angie would do what motherhood has continually called her to do—to be other-focused, to lay down her life.  In short, to love.  But with the impending arrival of her baby, soon a resurrection would follow this type of crucifixion.

     I don’t know what was going through the mind of the Ob/Gyn and his resident as they performed surgery, but if I could have selected a “soundtrack” for them as they cut into the person of Angie to retrieve the person of Mackenzie, it would be these words of Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty:

     “The most important person on earth is a mother.  She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral.  She need not.  She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body.  The Angels have not been blessed with such a grace.  They cannot share in God's Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven.  Only a human mother can.  Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures.  God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.  What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: To be a mother?”

“It’s like watching fire.”

     After I got to cut the cord, I held 6 pounds and 3 ounces of pure goodness up to Angie so she could see her little one.  While the doctors were still working on Angie’s abdomen, she did what she could from her awkward angle to plant tender kisses on Mackenzie and we both just stared in awe.  Then Angie said, “It’s like watching fire.”  Having just come out of a long winter where I had sat in the presence of more fires than usual, I thought about how fire draws one in.  Fire captivates.  It hushes people to silence.  It comforts.  It leaves you in wonder.  On a cold winter evening, in the presence of a fireplace, you’re drawn into the present moment, into what is in front of you, and everything else fades away.  That’s what this silent, tiny, vulnerable little baby did for us.

Reverent Silence

     As the doctors were finishing sewing Angie up, a nurse asked me to bring baby Mackenzie and follow her to the recovery room.  After she helped me get the surgical gown off, she walked away, leaving sweet one and me alone for about 15 minutes.  Blown away with incredulity of all that had just happened, I was tempted to immediately text my 3 best friends from childhood, all of whom are doctors and have regularly experienced what was a first time for me.  But then I thought, “No, the time for communicating with others is for later.  Now is the time to just be with Mackenzie and revel in the gift of her life, in the gift of her presence.”  And so together we simply were.  Me cradling innocence and beauty.  Someone who was unrepeatable and irreplaceable.  Never was before.  Never would be again.  Perfectly unique. 

     Robert Cardinal Sarah once wrote, “Through silence, we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant face of God.”

     Was this what it was like for Mary cradling baby Jesus?


     Mackenzie breathed gently.  Her one eye opened while the other was sealed shut by the vernix yet to be cleaned off.  At one point she rooted (“Sorry, baby girl, on that front I can’t help you!  Momma’s coming soon!”). 

     As we waited, I prayed. Tracing the sign of the cross on her forehead, praying over her future… that she would always love the Lord… that she would resist temptation to sin… that she would run to the mercy of Christ when she failed…that her earthly journey would ultimately take her to her Heavenly home.

     And then music came to my heart, and so I sang: “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hands have made…Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art.”

Love Doesn’t Divide.  It Multiplies.

     My flight to Vancouver was scheduled for that afternoon, and so a few hours later I found myself on a plane home.  Mackenzie’s birth was to finish my two week work trip which began with debating an abortionist at the University of California, Berkeley, in front of 200 of his students.  As I thought about how my trip began—and how it ended—I wished that those students could experience what I just had, that they could know intimately, personally, the pure gift of life, that they could experience the awe and wonder that comes with pregnancy and birth—if we allow ourselves to see it.  That they could understand that new life isn’t to be feared but instead to be revered.  That they could believe that when a woman becomes a mother she isn’t reduced to the status of slave but is instead lifted to new heights of love. 

     My wish for the students is that they could come to know what Angie texted me today: “Being open to life and being gifted all these babies, I believe is a testament to how God’s love multiplies. When you have one kid, you can’t fathom having enough love for another one—but you do.  And so it is with each subsequent child.  It makes it easy to understand how much God loves me!!! (And you) :).”



What Will Make Christians Care About Abortion? by Stephanie Gray

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler

     Last week I spoke at Church of the Resurrection, a thriving Anglican church in Wheaton, IL, with a fantastic shepherd, Bishop Stewart Ruch.  During Q and A, I was asked about how people can appeal to their fellow Christians to take abortion more seriously; in particular, I was asked what influences Christians to respond adequately to the plight of pre-born children.  I believe there are three factors in particular:

1.      Conviction,

2.      Education, and

3.      Courage

     Conviction is a strong persuasion or belief.  It is deeper than intellectual assent.  It involves capturing the heart.  And in the context of Christianity, it's not simply knowing about Jesus, or about His commands; it requires a personal relationship with Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  This way, just as we care about the things that people we care about, care about, a personal relationship with Jesus will naturally draw forth from us a deep concern for what concerns Him.  As the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong United declares, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.”  Abortion destroys God's creation that is more than good--it is "very good" (Genesis 1:31); it destroys life made in His image (Genesis 1:26); it destroys the result of His command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).

     I am reminded of an allegory I once heard about two people who recited Psalm 23.  The first was a professional orator who declared “The Lord is my shepherd…” with drama and exaggeration.  When he finished, the crowd jumped to its feet and clapped with much enthusiasm.  Then a humble pastor got up.  He lowered his gaze and bowed his head; then he slowly and reverently prayed, “The Lord is my shepherd…”  When he was finished the crowd was struck with silence—the only sounds being gentle weeping from a people profoundly moved.  The conclusion?  The orator knew the psalm but the pastor knew the shepherd.

     It’s like the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: When the priest and Levite saw a half-dead robbed victim on the road to Jericho they passed by on the other side.  The Samaritan man, however, was moved with compassion and cared for the wounded soul.  It was as though the priest and the Levite knew the law, but the Samaritan knew the law-giver.  We need to foster more than simply knowing about Jesus, but actually being in relationship with Him so that the cry of our hearts becomes the cry of the blind man Bartimaeus to Jesus: “Lord that I may see” (Mark 10:51).

     Just as the Good Samaritan “saw” with his eyes, and his heart, the plight of his neighbor, we should pray “that we may see” the plight of our pre-born neighbors just as Jesus sees it.  We should allow ourselves to come face-to-face with their broken bodies and allow their dismembered limbs to communicate to us what their silent screams could not.  We should pray to “see” their beauty and fragility, and the corresponding destruction of what abortion did to them, so as to respond with the broken heart that God Himself responds with.

     Following conviction, there can arise within us a fear of how people will respond if we act on such conviction, which is why education is so necessary.  The more people are equipped to “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) the more readily people will share.  We need to help people gain confidence in their beliefs, helping them both understand and articulate the rationale behind the pro-life claims.  The better prepared people are to rebut objections, to explain things clearly and persuasively, the more they will increase in confidence, which means they will naturally decrease in fear.

     But fear won’t necessarily be entirely eliminated.  Which is why we need courage too.  I once heard it said that “courage is not the absence of fear, but a will to do what is right in spite of your fears.”  How do we instill courage?  I firmly believe we are more likely to be courageous when we surround ourselves by people who are.  There is something inspiring about the example of people who are other-oriented, especially when there’s personal cost involved.  The courage of others is magnetic, and draws that same virtue out of those who are exposed to it.

     That’s why I encourage communities of believers to immerse themselves in the inspiring examples of heroes and role models who responded to injustice in their midst and advocated for the vulnerable.  Movies like Schindler’s List, Gandhi, Sophie Scholl, Beyond the Gates, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, and Eyes on the Prize are not about abortion, but they are about good people responding to injustice.  That’s what we need in response to abortion, and watching these examples and then discussing how the past can relate to our present, will instill the courage Christians need to make a better future.

Christians and Birth Control, by Stephanie Gray


     When I present about abortion, I’m sometimes asked about birth control. There are those who think that if one is against abortion one should surely be in favor of birth control; after all, wouldn’t increasing the latter decrease the former? Actually it does not, as I address here. I think a more fundamental question, though, is not “Will birth control decrease or increase abortion?” but rather, “Is birth control morally acceptable?”

     That came up at a recent presentation I gave at a Christian church in my home city of Vancouver, Canada. This topic is often framed as a Catholic-Protestant debate, with the Catholic church teaching contraception is morally wrong and many Protestant churches accepting some forms of contraception. This difference, however, is a new phenomenon. And by “new” I mean the last 90 years. The history of churches of various denominations claiming to follow Christ for the previous 2,000 years has been one where contraception has been rejected—until the Anglicans first embraced it in 1930. I therefore believe a solid, Biblical case can be made for objecting to birth control—appealing to all people who claim to follow Christ, regardless of denominational differences. A series I wrote, accessible in this PDF, will endeavor to do just that.


Header image source: Wikimedia Commons, BruceBlaus



When Someone is in Darkness, Your Light is Blinding, by Stephanie Gray


     In my 16 years of full-time pro-life work I have met some of the most incredible people around the world.  For all the criticism abortion supporters have about the pro-life movement, portraying pro-lifers as having no concern for the less fortunate, as not caring about children after birth, as being mean-spirited, etc., I have encountered a movement of people that is the exact opposite.  I have met pro-lifers who have adopted children domestically and internationally. I have met pro-lifers who have adopted not one but several children, including sibling sets all at once. I have met pro-lifers who fostered children who otherwise had no place to go.  I have met pro-lifers who have welcomed pregnant women into their homes.  I have met pro-lifers who have adopted and/or birthed children with special needs and embraced these lives as pure gift.

     This striking contrast reminds me of a podcast interview I recently listened to where Patrick Coffin and Jordan Peterson discussed Peterson's viral interview with Channel 4 journalist Cathy Newman.  Peterson described Newman's approach to him as "grilling [an] imaginary opponent."  He said, "She was interviewing a figment of her imagination and not noticing, even for a moment, that it bore no resemblance to me.”

     I have seen that same phenomena in how some abortion supporters represent pro-lifers--seeing the pro-lifer not as he or she actually is, but as a figment of the abortion supporter's imagination.  Why is that?  Perhaps it's because when you're wrong about something and don't want to admit it, that by demonizing those who hold the opposite perspective, you can feel justified in maintaining your false views.  Perhaps it’s also because when someone is in darkness they close their eyes at light, and that prevents them from seeing things as they are.

     That is what came to mind a couple weeks ago when I presented in Oregon.  An audience member mentioned that she had two children with special needs.  She expressed that complete strangers have walked up to her and said they would have aborted children like hers.  She has been hurt and taken aback by such rude remarks and wondered how to handle them.  This was my response:

     "What comes to mind as I'm hearing you speak is that when someone is in darkness, your light is blinding.  When someone is in darkness your light—and you have light—is blinding.  If this room was pitch-black dark and I flicked on movie-studio, high-beam lights, what would you do?  You'd say 'Ouch, that hurts, shut it off' or you'd close your eyes.  But eventually what happens when we wake up in the morning and we kind-of experience that with our bathroom light?  Our eyes adjust, right?  So there will be that initial reaction of rejection, but ultimate adjustment.  And I would say when someone says, 'I would have aborted that child' it's very possible what they're non-verbally saying to you is, 'I did abort that child and how dare you remind me of what I did.'  Because your light hurts in their darkness. 

     "And so what I recommend is that we never take this hostility personally, that we pray for these people and we sit in their pain by allowing them to tell us their stories without any agenda to try to convince them of anything… [So when] you're ever in a situation where someone says, 'I would abort' …ask open-ended questions like, 'Why is that?' or 'What would scare you most?' or 'Do you know anyone who's aborted in this type of situation and what has that experience been?' And just let the story be told.  And what they will remember is your light and how you reacted to their darkness, with gentleness and with compassion—and that will draw them out to where you are."

To watch that particular answer click on the video below and go to 59:07:


Image source at top of blog: Wikimedia Commons, Feliciano Guimarães, Guimarães, Portugal, Light at the end of tunnel




When Does Parenthood Begin? by Stephanie Gray

uva debate.jpg

     In a recent debate I participated in against the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Nadine Strossen, we were asked to respond to the question “Should abortion be legal?” As is my usual practice, I believe the best way to teach people is to answer one question by asking more questions.  Typically I would ask my audience to first consider questions like, “When does life begin?” and “How ought we treat humans whose lives have begun?”  But instead I framed my message this way:

Q: What do civil societies expect of parents? and

Q: When does parenthood begin?

     If you google the terms “Parents abuse, kill, starve, children” you will come up with news stories like these:

·         From California: “Parents arrested after cops find 12 siblings shackled to beds”

·         From Denver: “Abused children's cries for help were ignored”

·         From Iowa: “Baby found rotting in swing; parents charged with murder”

     As I told my audience, I know there is consensus in the room that these are horrifying headlines.  We all agree on that because we all agree that in civil societies parents do not harm their children; instead, they help their children, they meet their children’s material and emotional needs.

     Moreover, I suggested, we all know that the more vulnerable a child is, the greater a parent’s responsibility is.  I asked the students to imagine they go home for the holidays and ask their parents to feed them three meals/day.  If the parents refuse we might be sad for the college student, but we would not pursue criminal charges against the parents.  But what if, I asked the students to consider, the child requesting food isn’t a college student?  What if the child is four years old?  What if the 4-year-old asks her parents to feed her and the parents continually refuse—at that point do we think the parents should be charged with neglect?  Absolutely.  So what is the difference between a child who is a college student and a child who is four?  The latter is a dependent, and by virtue of the neediness, weakness, and vulnerability of such an individual, we expect more of the parents—not less.

     Again, I said, I do not believe this is a point over which we have a dispute.

     Therefore, if we can agree on a civil society’s expectations of parents, then I think we can agree that the response to the debate question, “Should abortion be legal?” ought to be one simple answer: “No.”  In order to elaborate on that, I asked and answered the question, “When does parenthood begin?”

     A basic understanding of reproduction tells us that the next generation of a species which reproduces sexually will begin at sperm-egg fusion.  When a man’s body produces sperm or a woman’s body produces eggs, we know these are mere parts of the body from which they came.  But when those parts are combined, what is produced is something entirely different from that which is a part of a female or a part of a male.  In fact, what is produced is a female or a male.  What is produced is not something but someone.  What is produced is a whole new individual who can be genetically traced as the offspring of the parents—a part of their lineage, but not a part of their person.  What is produced is a separate person.

     Since parenthood begins at fertilization that means the responsibilities of parents begin then too.  From the moment a child exists, parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety and care of that child.  And if one day they wish to relinquish those responsibilities, the only moral way to do so is to ensure another party takes care of the child.  In the absence of a proper “transfer of care” (e.g., adoption) the parents would be neglectful in their duty to help, not harm, their children.

     So should abortion be legal?  The answer to that question is obvious once we ask, “What do civil societies expect of parents, and when does parenthood begin?”