Is the Bible anti-abortion?
This week was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the US Supreme Court decisions which made abortion legal through the entire pregnancy. Current estimates are that in the past 40 years, 55 million children have been murdered by abortion in America alone. It’s notable that the two women involved as test cases for the pro-abort side, Norma McCorvey (‘Jane Roe’) and Sandra Cano (‘Mary Doe’) now want that decision reversed.1 Surprisingly, some Christians think that abortion is not against the Bible. Henry D. from Romania writes in, saying:
I have been in an email exchange with [internet apologist] about his abortion article, where he stated, ‘It must be counseled that, “Thou shalt not kill” is not a very good verse to use against abortion; “kill” has the connotation of killing after the manner of a predatory animal, and while one might (in some cases properly) ascribe predatory motives to those in the abortion industry, this doesn’t help as much in addressing the act itself.” When I asked him what he meant by it, he responded, “What I’m saying only is that it’s not a good verse to use in arguments, not that it isn’t actually true. The reason is that it gets into the issue of the motives of abortionists, which can turn the debate away from the main issue of the moral wrong of abortion. My point is argument tactics, not the moral background.” Also, to confuse matters further he says, “Abortion opponents have painted abortion as a ‘predatory’ act, and whether they are right is dependent on the identity of the fetus. If a fetus is human, they are right: a life is erased for predatory (that is, personally advantageous) purposes (convenience, for example) barring other circumstances (life of the mother, for example).” In a way, this could be said to contradict his statement in the abortion article.
It seems that the command not to murder in the 10 Commandments cannot be used in biblical arguments against abortion, and yet all the articles on your website do exactly that. Your biblical argument against abortion depends on that command, which cannot be used against abortion at least according to [apologist’s] comments. Also, since fertilization happens in the fallopian tube not the uterus, some abortion rights supporters might say that according to the bible life begins at implantation, since the Bible does mention the womb in relation to when God formed the unborn child. How would you respond to this? And since “Thou shalt not murder” from the 10 Commandments cannot be used against abortion what other prohibitions against murder can be used in anti-abortion biblical arguments or what biblical principles can be used to prohibit abortion? The argument that different punishments imply differences in personhood fails, root and branch, both in the larger ancient Near Eastern legal context generally and in the Bible specifically. In fact Exod 21:22 contemplates only an unintentional, negligent assault on a pregnant woman, not an intentional assault on the fetus. One may ask, what biblical passages say that the fetus cannot be destroyed? The overall question can be: what is the biblical basis for Christians being against abortion?
Thanks for writing in. The apologist you cited is clearly pro-life; he would only use different passages to defend the position for tactical reasons. But he can defend what is written on his own site, so I’ll just answer what you’ve addressed to us. So: what does the Bible say that applies to abortion?
First, it must be said that the attitude toward pregnancy in the Old Testament is such that one should not expect or need an explicit condemnation of abortion.
There are also important cultural considerations. In that society, children were one’s ‘retirement policy’. If you didn’t have children, particularly sons, to take care of you in your old age, you were going to be in dire straits. Most people were agrarian, meaning they either farmed or tended flocks, and large families meant more hands to help, and that meant a better chance at survival. So your average Israelite needed to be told “Don’t abort your children” about as much as a person needs to be told today, “Don’t set fire to your life savings”. The Scriptures see pregnancy and many children as an unmitigated blessing, and there was hardly anything more shameful than barrenness. Why on earth would anyone cause herself to be barren through abortion in that culture?
The Canaanites who Israel displaced were guilty of sacrificing their little ones to Molech. In a twisted way, this might be viewed as ‘ultimate devotion’, to sacrifice the most valuable commodity that most people would have. But God views it as an absolute abomination and without exception commands death for this crime. Leviticus 18:21 says that it “profanes the name of your God”. The command for the death penalty for such a person in Leviticus 20:2 is particularly strong; God says that if the community does not put that person to death, God will go even further and be against the whole clan for their disobedience. There is no other way to interpret this other than: God hates baby killing.
Just as we should not expect or need the Old Testament to condemn abortion explicitly as opposed to implicitly, we shouldn’t expect or need the Old Testament to go into the particulars of the very early stages of pregnancy. Before advanced medicine (and even today in many parts of the world without access to advanced medicine), it is impossible to tell a woman is pregnant before she misses her cycle, and even then her pregnancy is not evident to others before she begins to show. If the Bible had gone into the particulars of fallopian tubes and endometrial linings, it would have been incomprehensible to the people in that day, as well as impossible to put into practice. But the Bible’s positive statements about pregnancy, the positive view of children, and the harsh penalty for idolatrous infanticide all are pro-life.
The early Church was unanimously pro-life, condemning ‘potions’ that were intended to cause miscarriage and the exposure of unwanted babies to the elements (going so far as to take in exposed babies and raise them themselves). And a convincing argument can be made for taking the word ‘sorcery’ in Galatians 5:20 to mean, among other things, making abortifacient potions. I’m unaware of any possible pro-abortion interpretation of any New Testament text.
From a biological point of view, it is clear that life begins at fertilization, when for the first time there is a unique individual with his or her own genetic code. The location will change from the fallopian tube to the uterus, and then to the outside world 9 months later if the pregnancy is allowed to continue, and the baby will grow and develop, and become more visibly and obviously a person, but he or she became a person at fertilization. To intentionally abort (whether through the morning-after pill or a surgical abortion) is to kill one of the tiniest and most helpless human beings on the planet. How can anyone read Scripture and think that God would be okay with this?
It’s vital to understand that biblical doctrine and morality are not confined to explicit statements, but extend to what can be logically deduced from them. As we have shown, the prohibition against abortion follows logically from two premises that are indisputably in Scripture:
- the unborn baby is human
- it is wrong to murder innocent humans
Even the passage you brought up in Exodus 21 is actually a strongly pro-life passage. See the analysis on our site—the letter from Jeannette P. and response in the article Abortion ‘after birth’? Medical ‘ethicists’ promote infanticide; there is no need to repeat here.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. Some pro-abortion activists characterize pro-life people as only caring about the unborn, and not caring about the mothers—I’m not aware of any respected pro-life activist with this view. I’m aware that there are a lot of desperate women, in financial and familial situations where keeping the baby doesn’t seem to be an option, and that abortion seems to be the only way out. I think we should be merciful and seek as Christians to minister to these women, but it is neither merciful nor biblical to tell these women that it is okay to kill their babies. In America and other countries, Christians have been at the forefront at starting crisis pregnancy centers which can give the woman other options besides abortion, and provide her with the resources to either be able to raise the baby herself, or to arrange an adoption.
We’ve got quite a bit to say about the issue of abortion, and it goes way beyond “thou shalt not kill.” I’ll invite you to browse the related articles and our Q&A pages listed below if you’re interested in more of our thoughts.
- Jalsevac, J., Two women are behind legalized abortion in America: now both of them want it reversed, lifesitenews.com, 17 January 2013. Return to text.
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