A proponent of “biblical patriarchy” is drawing fire among conservative religious homeschoolers for his view that abortion is never morally justifiable, even to save the life of the mother.
One recent blog urged fellow homeschoolers to stop linking to Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum Web site and refrain from buying his curriculum, saying his opposition to terminating ectopic pregnancy poses a danger to women.
An ectopic, or tubal, pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches outside the womb, usually to a fallopian tube. It is the classic case used by people who oppose abortion except in circumstances where doctors say a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life.
Phillips says that argument reflects scare tactics from pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood instead of a biblical world view.
In 2003 Phillips wrote an article comparing the “life of the mother” argument with convicted murderer Paul Hill’s flawed justification of killing a doctor who performed abortions in order to save unborn lives. Both arguments, he said, “are terribly guilty of borrowing from pragmatic, non-biblical arguments, and twisting the Scriptures to justify a desired result.”
“First, a baby is not a willful aggressor,” Phillips wrote. “This ends the debate on justifiable homicide. A baby neither intends the harm, nor acts aggressively against its mother. (In fact, if ‘blame’ is to be passed, it should rest on the mother, not the baby, since it was the mother’s body which produced the circumstances in which the baby has found himself.) The Bible makes no provision for executing an innocent party (one which lacks intent to harm) in order to help another.
“Second, while the unborn baby in the case of an ectopic pregnancy may pose a threat which could materialize into a harm to the mother, the threat is not imminent in the classic sense, nor is it conclusive that the baby’s presence necessarily will cause harm. All that is known is that it might cause harm. Consequently, the murder of the baby takes place in anticipation of a statistical possibility. Here again, the biblical requirements for justifiable homicide are not met.”
In another article Phillips described a woman who would abort to save her own life with an analogy about a mother in a lifeboat with food and water enough for only one throwing her child overboard.
“Shall we bless a mother who kills her own child to save herself?” he asked. “Are we proud of such a woman? Shall we sing of her virtues? Perhaps we should just chalk-up her decision to feed her son to the sharks as ‘an unfortunate, but necessary evil.’ After all, she was just acting in self-defense. It was either the mother or the child. One would live and the other would die. Who could blame Mama for wanting to fight for her life, even if it meant that her son would be torn to pieces in the darkness of night?”
“In point of fact, this woman’s behavior is utterly despicable,” he answered the hypothetical question. “Susie is a criminal. Her behavior is indefensible. To murder another is wrong, but for a mother to murder her own child as an act of self-preservation is a crime of unspeakable ignominy.”
Phillips uses those kinds of case studies in an annual Witherspoon School of Law and Public Policy, a four-day crash course for students, attorneys, lawmakers, pastors and fathers “with a Reformation understanding of the Scriptures as the source book for law and liberty and the only sure foundation for addressing the challenging ethical questions of the 21st century.
Along with Phillips, speakers for this year’s school, held May 27-31 in Fredericksburg, Va., included his father, former Constitution Party presidential candidate and Nixon White House staffer Howard Phillips; former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore; and Jerry Corsi, co-author of the 2004 No. 1 New York Times bestseller Unfit for Command–Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry and staff reporter for WorldNetDaily.com.
Another speaker, William Einwechter, wrote an article in 1999 supporting the stoning of rebellious teens.
Phillips, founder of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, sells homeschooling materials through his Vision Forum Ministries, which advocates “Biblical Patriarchy,” a view that God ordained for wives to be subordinated to their husbands.
Given the number of homeschooling conferences where Phillips and his supporters speak and promote their message of “militant fecundity,” blogger Karen Campbell said “it will only be a matter of time before someone’s wife or mother dies because of this foolish position on ectopic pregnancy.”
Campbell, who blogs as thatmom, said Phillips has moved beyond his own 2002 “Declaration of Life,” in which he rejected “theories which justify the killing of the unborn child on the basis of the circumstances of conception (as in the case of rape and incest), or even the life of the mother (ectopic pregnancies.)” He said they are “based on unbiblical and humanistic ethics, unbiblical definitions of ‘self defense’ theory and a rejection of the personhood of the child.”
Daniel Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life, admits that ectopic pregnancy is a “serious medical condition” and that at present there is no technology to treat both the mother and the child in the life-threatening situation when the embryo attaches to the fallopian tube.
The Association of Pro-Life Physicians opposes chemical abortions for patients with early ectopic pregnancies, where the fetus may still be alive, opting instead for “watchful waiting” for a surgical alternative if still necessary after the embryo is likely dead.
“It is only ethical to remove the tubal pregnancy if spontaneous resolution does not occur after watchful waiting and if the physician is 100 percent certain that there are no twins,” says the group’s Web site. “At this point, the embryo in the fallopian tube is likely to be dead and, even if not, the death is unavoidable and unintentional, and the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother.”
While there is no record of a successful live birth from an embryo attached to a fallopian tube, which is what happens about 98 percent of the time, there are rare instances of live births of an embryo attached to some other tissue than the uterine wall, like the abdomen.
Such “miracle” births, however, are far rarer than the 40 maternal deaths from tubal pregnancies that occur each year in the United States alone. Due to improved medical treatment, the rate of maternal death in the U.S. has declined from 35 per 10,000 ectopic pregnancies in 1970 to fewer to four per 10,000 in 1989, though the risk of death remains higher for non-white women.
Campbell said homeschooling families should stop patronizing Phillips’ Web site until he recants his “dangerous position” on ectopic pregnancy. She said it is “outside the orthodox view of Biblical Christianity and the sanctity of human life.”
“Doug Phillips has become a threat to the very lives of homeschooling mothers, and it should be known,” she wrote. “Take cover immediately.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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