Illuminating the Penumbra’s Shadow
Shadows hide things. Such is the nature of darkness. If light is forbidden entrance, sight is rendered powerless. Much like physical objects, words have the power to cast shawdows, not darkness discerenable on the sidewalk, but darkness discernable in lies and obfuscations. This has perhaps never been more apparent than in the line of reasonings and opinions issued by American Supreme Court justices over the last 50+ years to justify and defend abortion on demand. In those shadows lurk not only lies, but death.
Over the next several paragraphs, I invite you to journey with me on a brief tour through these shadows to see how the truth of the unborn’s inherent worth has been devastingly hidden from our eyes. As we journey, I ask you not to let politics color your perspective. It doesn’t matter which president from which party appointed which justice. That may be an interesting historical question and one that concerns political parties, but the Church is not a political party. Their platforms are too small. Their missions are too myopic.
As I have written before in this newsletter:
The Church’s great hope isn’t living wages, affordable education, renewable energy, and national security (although these may be fine cultural objectives). The Church’s great goal is not electing a certain politician or president (although these may be worthy aims). The Church’s great hope is Jesus Christ and His present and coming Kingdom and we would stake our life on this great hope a thousand times before we would settle for something less.
With that in mind, we turn our attention to the darkness to which we must bring the light of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The “right to privacy” is so pervasive today that many are surprised to learn that it is nowhere found in the Constitution, let alone being a right guaranteed by God! Imagine what evil would be committed under a general right to privacy, if the law had absolutely no domain over what people did in private! Jesus Himself told us, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:18). In other words, man hides evil in the shadows of privacy.
So, where did the idea originate? Ultimately, it finds its origins in man’s rebellion against God, but to limit our conversation to American justices, Justice John Marshall Harlan, in his dissenting opinion to Poe
wrote in 1961,
I believe that a statue making it a criminal offense for married couples to use contraceptives is an intolerable and unjustifiable invasion of privacy in the conduct of the most intimate concerns of an individual’s personal life.
It’s important that we read Justice Harlan’s words carefully. He’s not just arguing that the government shouldn’t prohibit contraception, he’s introducing a right to privacy that neither the Constitution nor God guarantees. And, to restate our aforementioned point, neither the Constitution nor God guarantees an absolute right to privacy because man is fallen and will use this right to conceal evil. This is precisely where abortion hides today, under a supposed absolute right to privacy
Penumbras formed by emanations
Four years later, Justice William O. Douglas embraced Justice Harlan’s rhetoric in his 1965 majority opinion for Griswold v. Connecticut, which threw out Connecticut’s law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives. Justice Douglas famously (or infamously!) wrote, “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.”
In other words, a right to privacy isn’t actually in the Constitution, but the Bill of Rights has penumbras (the partial shadow in an eclipse or the edge of a sunspot) formed by emanations (a gas made from radioactive decay) in which the right to privacy is hidden. In plain English, I can’t rule like I want unless I make up a right.
To bear or beget children
Seven years later in 1972, Justice William Brennan Jr., in his majority opinion overturning Massachusetts’ law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives, expanded privacy’s shadow:
If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.
Please note that this decision was solely over the sale of contraceptives, but Justice Brennan wrote that the right of privacy reached into a person’s “decision whether to bear or to beget a child.” Privacy now included the right not just to beget a child, but to decide whether to bear that child that had been begotten. The door for abortion was left ajar. Subtly and stealthily privacy’s shadow was being cast further over man’s doings.
No need to ask when life begins
With the door left ajar, it was easy for Justice Harry Blackmun in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case, to find a right to abort a baby in the womb. Writing for the majority, Justice Blackmun admitted,
The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however... the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution.
He further commented that the roots of such a right (not the right itself) could be found in various Constitutional amendments, and returning to Justice Douglas’ shadowy language, “in the penumbras of the Bill of rights.” The right to privacy lurked in the shadows; it didn’t stand in the light.
And when life began didn’t matter to the Court with Justice Blackmun going so far as to say, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” What mattered was man’s privacy. Period. If that privacy took a life, so be it. That would be the price of man’s coveted shadow.
Liberty means the right to define everything
In 1992 certain aspects of Roe were challenged, but were turned back in the majority opinion penned by Justices O’Connor, Souter, and Kennedy. Pay especially close attention to their words:
For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives…
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
It should be recognized, moreover, that in some critical respects, the abortion decision is of the same character as the decision to use contraception…
Notice the emphasis on the need for abortion as a backup to failed contraception (and the perceptive observation that abortion and contraception have some striking similarities) and on control. These should rattle the Christian’s conscience and force him to question some of the assumptions built into a contraception culture.
For our purposes, though, notice the emphasis on liberty – the right to define existence, meaning, the universe, and human life! Is this a right man truly has? Are we each a god? Would such a multitude of gods be governable? What could be done when these gods differed on their definitions? Would not the concept of objective truth (truth beyond us) become irrelevant? Would not culture be reduced to a struggle for power and influence? And is this not the culture in which we find ourselves? Truth has been lost in the shadows and the will to power is all that remains, and this will has taken the lives of over 52,000,000 babies (not counting babies killed through chemical abortions) since 1973. Justice Douglas’ penumbra of privacy has cast a long and sinister shadow.
What should we do? We begin with what we don’t do. We don’t reduce the Church to a political movement. Yes, Supreme Court justices matter because laws do more than limit, they also protect and teach. And good laws protect and teach well. We need good laws to protect life and to teach its value from the moment of conception. And we desperately need wise legislators and wise justices (wisdom ultimately rooted in the fear of the Lord) to write and uphold these laws.
But! The Church’s goal is bigger than the next Supreme Court justice. The Church’s goal is the Kingdom of God. Our final goal is not legislation from without (although a world in rebellion against God needs this for its own good), but legislation from within as God’s Spirit guides us through His preached and taught Word, as God reigns as King in our lives.
Sadly, many of the opinions of our justices have lengthened sin’s sinister shadow and left us blind to its ravages. For the sake of truth, life, and love, we need to bring Christ’s light into the shadows. God is God and we are not. Man bears His image from the moment of conception into eternity. What we do in private as His image bearers and to His image bearers matters. As Christ’s confessors, it is our commission to bring His light into the penumbra’s shadow. – Pastor Conner
 This is an astronomical term for the partial shadow formed by an eclipse. Why it is used in the title will become clear momentarily.
 Planned Parenthood directed this case at a Connecticut law prohibiting the sale and use of contraceptives. While contraceptives have been widely embraced today, it was not always so and dissenters had (and still have) thoughtful, cogent arguments for their rejection of contraceptives. The question before us, however, isn’t the legality or even the morality of contraceptives, but where the “right to privacy” finds its origins. Further, this case was never technically heard because the individuals being represented by Planned Parenthood hadn’t actually had this law enforced against them. So, Justice Harlan’s opinion was unnecessarily offered.