Pollution and the Death of Babies: How 'Green' Evangelicals Imperil the Pro-Life Movement

Evangelical Environmental Network President and CEO, the Rev. Mitch Hescox, along with Kristen Hayes and Alexei Laushkin participate in March for Life, on Jan. 25, 2013. | (Photo: Courtesy of Alexei Laushkin)

The Bible makes a stark and fundamental distinction between intentional and accidental killing.

When God instructed Israel to provide "cities of refuge" in the Promised Land, He said:

"If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past — as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies — he may flee to [a city of refuge] and live, lest the avenger of blood … strike him fatally, though the man did not deserve to die, since he had not hated his neighbor in the past. …

"But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die." (Deuteronomy 19:4–6, 11–12)

Most legal systems today incorporate this fundamental ethical distinction, e.g., by distinguishing accidental, negligent, intentional but not premeditated, and premeditated homicide, inflicting no penalty on the first and graduated penalties on the rest.

Some American evangelicals fail to make this distinction today, and their failure weakens the pro-life movement.

Recently the Evangelical Environmental Movement (EEN), which professes to be pro-life, launched its "Pro-Life Clean Energy Campaign." It promises to "organize half a million pro-life Christians to participate" in efforts to curb pollution by demanding a switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar to "Free our children from pollution all across America with 100% clean electricity from renewable resources by 2030."

It calls this campaign "pro-life."

Whatever the merits of its arguments that pollution from generating electricity from fossil fuels endangers children — a question to which we shall return — the reasoning is ethically fallacious.

Like most ethics professors, when Dr. Beisner taught ethics in seminary he made sure his students understood that proper ethical judgment considers carefully both the intent and the outcome of our acts. But EEN's campaign ignores that distinction and twists the facts about the outcomes.

The ethical differences between abortion and pollution are glaring:

1. The intent differs.

a. In abortion, the intent is to kill a baby.

b. In energy production, the intent is to provide energy people need to sustain life and health, and pollution that is a byproduct of energy production is an unintended risk — like the risk of the axe head flying off the axe while cutting wood.

2. The factual outcomes differ.

a. In abortion, the outcome of every "successful abortion" is a dead baby.

b. In energy production, the outcome of the energy produced is enhanced human health and life, while the outcome of the pollution byproduct is (compared with the immediate death of babies in abortion) slight reduction in health — certainly not enough to outweigh the intended outcome.

The term "pro-life" was coined in the 1970s to designate those who sought to restrict abortion, and ever since then that has been its primary sense. To apply it to efforts to reduce the relatively small risks from pollution from electricity energy generation in the United States is to cheapen the term.

But in the case of EEN's campaign, it does more than cheapen the term. The present campaign is an extension of efforts EEN began four years ago with its "Mercury and the Unborn" campaign.

In that campaign, EEN claimed that mercury from power plant emissions put 1 in 6 American infants at risk of "devastating … permanent brain damage." In reality, the number exposed to enough mercury to have detectable effects was closer to 1 in 1,000, and the risk was of a delay in neurological development so slight as to be detectable only by trained specialists, disappears in most by age 7, and in none exceeds about a half-point reduction in IQ — a difference common in identical twins raised in the same household.

Ironically, too, EEN's demand for "100% clean electricity from renewable resources by 2030" would, if implemented, likely reduce the health of or even kill more people than the pollution it prevented. By raising the cost of electricity, even just the mercury regulations (which EPA eventually did implement, though the Supreme Court struck down the regulation), are calculated to cost about 2,500 to 4,250 deaths per year. Getting 100% of our electricity from "renewable sources" (basically wind and solar) would cost multiples more.

Nonetheless, by morally equating the risks from power plant emissions with abortion, EEN justified applauding members of Congress who supported the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed mercury regulation as "sensitive to pro-life concerns" and chastening members who opposed it as not "sensitive to pro-life concerns."

So whom did EEN applaud as "sensitive to pro-life concerns"? Among 13 named, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin (both D-MI), both with 100% pro-abortion voting records in the 110th Congress (2007–2008), and Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (both R-ME) and David Pryor (D-AR), all with 78% pro-abortion voting records. Only 2 of the 13, Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), and Cong. Bob Latta (R-OH), had 100% pro-life voting records.

By broadening the definition of "pro-life" as it does, EEN obscures its meaning. By describing people with 100% pro-abortion voting records as pro-life because of their environmental views, EEN divides the pro-life movement.

The consequence? Making it more difficult to identify and elect truly pro-life people to office, and so postponing or preventing victory in the long struggle to end the intentional slaughter of hundreds of thousands of babies every year (over 52 million since the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973) in the United States.

Further, by presenting its environmental concerns as "pro-life," EEN draws activists away from truly pro-life work into environmental causes tightly tied to the population control movement, which promotes abortion all around the world.

By all means let us be good stewards of God's creation. Let us seek ways to reduce risks posed by pollution while still providing the abundant, affordable, reliable energy indispensable to lifting and keeping whole societies out of poverty.

But let us not, while seeking to reduce relatively small and unintentional risks, undermine the effort of truly pro-life people to end the killing of millions of babies here and abroad every year.

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a former professor of theology, ethics, and interdisciplinary studies at Covenant College and Knox Theological Seminary, is the author of Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate and Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future

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