Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
Girl hiding on the sea shore

Betraying Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Espousing Abortion

Bonhoeffer opposed abortion but the president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute argues for it

Rob Schenck is an evangelical minister and president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington. He is author of Costly Grace, the title of which is taken from Bonhoeffer’s profound contemplation on suffering and the Cross. Schenck has a long and honorable career of fighting for the rights of children in the womb—he has been at the forefront of the pro-life movement.

No longer.

Writing in the New York Times, Schenck decries the new Alabama “heart-beat” law protecting children in the womb:

Over the last decade, I have changed my view on Roe. I’ve come to believe that overturning Roe would not be “pro-life”; rather, it would be destructive of life. I have witnessed firsthand and now appreciate the full significance of the terrible poverty, social marginalization and baldfaced racism that persists in many of the states whose legislators are now essentially banning abortion. If Roe is overturned, middle- and upper-class white women will still secure access to abortions by traveling to states where abortion is not banned, but members of minorities and poor whites will too often find themselves forced to bear children for whom they cannot adequately care.

Rob Schenck, “I Was an Anti-Abortion Crusader. Now I Support Roe v. Wade.” at New York Times

Schenck is offended that minority and poor white babies will die at a lower rate than upper-class babies. Spin that as you will, that’s what he said. More deaths of minority and poor white babies in the womb would, by Schenck’s explicit reasoning, be a big improvement.

There’s a callousness in abortion advocacy that almost defies belief.

Rich or poor, black or white, children are born into and raised in difficult circumstances all the time and everywhere. In fact, if you consider the intact, middle-class American family as the standard, most children in the world are born into circumstances less favorable, and often much less favorable, than those of the stable American middle class.

Schenck bemoans those less fortunate than himself:

… primarily members of minorities and poor whites—whose daily lives consisted of one crisis after the next. Many of them lacked even the most rudimentary life skills, including what it takes to raise a child. They were in a state of perpetual panic about money, about the bewildering circumstances they found themselves in, feeling victimized by their very existence. Some spoke to me of their children, agonizing over how helpless they felt in providing anything for them.

Rob Schenck, “I Was an Anti-Abortion Crusader. Now I Support Roe v. Wade.” at New York Times

Around the world, billions of people are in a perpetual panic about food and clean water, not to mention money. Are their children better off dead? Would the world be a better place if large swathes of Africa, Asia, and South America—where entire nations struggle with food and water and shelter and education—were exterminated?

Does the word “exterminated” seem too harsh? It’s accurate. Abortion is no natural process, no disease, no accident. It is a deliberate calculated decision to kill, greased by an exchange of money. On an individual basis, it is the decision of a mother to violate her most basic trust—her bond with her baby. On a societal basis, ‘extermination’ is accurate.

If, since 1973, Americans had slaughtered 60 million kittens, extermination would be just the right word.

I see no sane, let alone valid, argument for abortion-on-demand. I don’t support abortion under any circumstances, including to protect the life of the mother, although the ethical issues in the case of genuine immediate threat to the mother’s life—which is exceedingly rare—are complex and reasonable people can disagree.

The argument that fetuses aren’t human beings is scientifically ignorant, and if offered by a scientist, just a lie.

The argument that fetuses don’t feel pain is no less a lie. I treat very premature babies—they can feel excruciating pain, and colleagues who do fetal surgery always ensure that the fetus, as well as the mother, has sufficient anesthesia during the operation.

The argument that personhood depends on intellectual development is morally abhorrent.

The argument that some children will lead such difficult lives that they are better off dead (Schenck’s explicit argument) has a history. In the 1920, a German jurist and a psychiatrist published Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life), in which they advocated exterminating children and adults with handicaps who led difficult lives. Their arguments closely paralleled Schenck’s: they argued that ending unhappy lives was in the best interest of all concerned—the child, the family, and society.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Schenck’s arguments echo the defense summations of the 23 leading German physicians and administrators for “willing participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity” at the Nazi Doctors’ Trial in 1946.

Schenck’s conversion to the dark side is difficult to fathom. Many of those on the anti-life side don’t really understand the issues—they don’t understand the biology or the ethics or the history, or they have been so blinded by pro-abortion propaganda that they can’t be held fully accountable for their advocacy.

Schenck cannot claim that defense. He knows the issues, the facts, the ethics and the history. And he chose the culture of death. It’s fully culpable advocacy of deep evil.

Ironically, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), after whom the Institute that Schenck runs (hopefully not for much longer) is named, was hanged in 1945 for resistance to Nazi activities (including abortion and euthanasia). Bonhoeffer was a passionate foe of abortion:

Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And this is nothing but murder.

John Piper, “Bonhoeffer on Abortion” at Desiring God

Abortion is, indeed, nothing but murder. Bonhoeffer chose to sacrifice his own life, rather than kneel to the monsters who deprive innocents of their lives.

Bonhoeffer fought the Nazis of his time. Schenck sounds here like he has joined them.

Also by Michael Egnor: The Junk Science of the Abortion Lobby Fetuses not only experience pain but experience it more intensely than do adults


How the internet turns coffee klatches into mobs. A philosopher sheds light on how the Covington high school kids became America’s Most Hated

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.

Betraying Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Espousing Abortion