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The arena lights dim to total darkness. Music thunders from sub-woofers and smoke machines add to the mystique as a pair of spotlights begin writhing through the blackness, their beams twisting across the crowded bleachers, across the hardwood court, then finally focus at the university logo painted in the middle of the court.

Approaching individually from the home team bench the starting five are introduced, literally stepping into the light as cheering fans get louder and louder with each introduction. Hands are slapped. Hugs are exchanged. And in this era of college sports players perform rehearsed gestures and dance moves as part of their personal walkout routines. These days the college game adopts much of the frenzied showmanship and spectacle of the pro game.

And apparently much of its violent shadow as well.

In his recent introduction, University of Alabama basketball freshman standout Brandon Miller used his spotlight moment pre-game to approach a teammate at center court as usual, then raise his arms for the teammate to ‘pat him down’ as though checking for a weapon. Mildly amusing perhaps, except for the fact that Miller had been implicated in the violent shooting death of Jamea Jonea Harris only a month earlier. Ms. Harris was a 23-year-old mother killed with a handgun provided to the shooter by Miller’s older teammate, Darius Miles. Moreover, according to investigators, delivery of the weapon to Miles that very night was accomplished by none other than young Brandon Miller himself. Angry jealousies reportedly were behind the shooting.

But scheduled into our national calendar between that young woman’s tragic death and the basketball phenom’s foolish walkout routine was this year’s installment of the American tradition formally known as “An Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union.”

An informal and unofficial review of the last thirty years’ State of the Union addresses can show you that the universally recognized ‘good things of life’ are valued talking points for USA presidents making this speech. Education is credited as a key to a better life. Freedom means a new and more prosperous life for refugees who come to our shores and borders. The American way of life is portrayed with a sort of individualistic yet united nobility to it. Live-and-let-live-but-let’s-surely-pull-together-when-facing-opposition. Chief Executives shine those concepts up and trot them out each new year.

However life in the womb is a topic much more avoided than elevated and abortion remained, throughout these past three decades, largely a political third rail when State of the Union time came around. Word search statistics bear this out.

The word “abortion” was spoken only six times in those thirty years, once each by Presidents Biden and Obama and twice each by Presidents Trump and Bush. The words “rights” and choice” were used not at all since 1993 in this context (although “choice” was used frequently, and by both major parties’ presidents, most often in addressing two topics: schools and affordable health care.) “Terminate” and “abort” have not been spoken in the few, short, State of the Union spots where pro-life/pro-choice paragraphs appeared. And the one-time citation of “birthright” referenced an endowment to young Americans who will enjoy the “benefits of a technology revolution.”

Presidents Bush and Obama uttered the word “abortions” in noting the declining number of them, and President Obama’s single use of “abortion” and “choose” and “right” came within a rather centrist and conciliatory segment of his 2015 SOTU speech.

If we're going to have arguments, let's have arguments. But let's make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country. We still may not agree on a woman's right to choose, but surely we can agree it's a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows and that every woman should have access to the health care that she needs. January 20, 2015

Sort of pro-life. Sort of pro-choice. Sort of a blessed plea for peacemaking.

As you might recall Presidents Bush and Trump used language opposing partial-birth abortions. Our nation seemed to find some unanimity in regard to that vicious practice.

Now though, on two occasions of making State of the Union remarks, our current President Biden has staked out his pro-abortion position and championed his constituencies, largely on the political left.

Folks, advancing liberty and justice also requires protecting the rights of women. The constitutional right affirmed by Roe v. Wade, standing precedent for half a century, is under attack as never before. If you want to go forward not backwards, we must protect access to health care, preserve a woman's right to choose, and continue to advance maternal health care for all Americans. March 1, 2022

Congress must restore the right that was taken away in Roe v. Wade and protect Roe v. Wade. Give every woman the constitutional right. The Vice President and I are doing everything to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient safety. But already, more than a dozen States are enforcing extreme abortion bans. Make no mistake about it: If Congress passes a national ban, I will veto it. February 7, 2023

Insofar as State of the Union speeches then, the third rail status of abortion is no more and the bully pulpit has been co-opted. Meanwhile violence in our cities and towns grows steadily and even decorum in the chambers of Congress tilts toward the brusque and brutish.

We ought not be surprised at society’s devaluing of human life.

In 2018-19, Planned Parenthood performed 133 abortions for every one adoption referral, per page 35 of their 2019-2020 Annual Report, and their ten-year ratio was recorded as approximately 129 abortions for every one adoption. Standards regarding human life trend downward, and now an American president defiantly promises protection for abortive practices as a right.

Presbyterians Protecting Life calls Christians, especially those of us in the Reformed and Presbyterian family of believers, to champion human life at every stage. We call ourselves and our colleagues to be bold in opposing abortion, while also being care-filled and understanding as we encounter those caught up in its temptation and those left hurting in its wake.

Thoughtless, insensitive behaviors from a college freshman can be excused.

Heck, they can be expected.

But the deliberate declarations of the leader of the free world call for immensely more careful consideration, particularly in our time when violence runs rampant.

It wasn’t always so upside-down. The history and record of State of the Union addresses reveals one former national leader’s own reading and righteous understanding. On the evening of January 24, 1995, hearkening to our founders’ principles, President William Jefferson Clinton cited treasured, historic words in his speech to the joint Session of the Congress.

Over two hundred years ago, our Founders changed the entire course of human history by joining together to create a new country based on a single powerful idea: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Our society’s sin still clings so closely, to be sure. But may the decay of our culture’s words and actions be reversed, by God’s grace, and may our standards for life’s preciousness be restored.

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