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Abortion: an indispensable right or violence against women?

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Published: 6 February 2007 (GMT+10)
Thanks to Janine Suter 4D ultrasound image of human baby in the womb, taken at 20 weeks
4D ultrasound image of human baby in the womb, taken at 20 weeks.

15 May 2013: We are reposting this article from 2007. We believe it is especially applicable due to current events.

Kermit Gosnell was an abortionist in Philadelphia, US, who was found guilty on 13 May 2013 of three counts of first degree murder, and one count of involuntary manslaughter, as well as hundreds of other counts, most of them involving illegal late-term abortions. His unsanitary abortion clinic was staffed by unlicensed employees, and has generally been described as a ‘house of horrors’. Gosnell has a record of practicing late-term abortions and killing babies born alive by what he and his staffers called ‘snipping’—that is, cutting their spinal cords. He was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a patient from an anesthesia overdose, and first degree murder in three cases of babies born alive, who he proceeded to kill. He was acquitted of killing a fourth baby, and four of his staffers have also pled guilty to third-degree murder. He will be sentenced to two life sentences in prison, with no chance for appeal or parole.

Gosnell also has been accused of performing a forced abortion on a woman who had a change of heart, and causing terrible injuries to mothers during abortions. While we will not focus on the gory details, as they are very disturbing (and having a clean abortion center with qualified staff doesn't make abortion any less horrific), the Gosnell case clearly highlights that abortion is violence against women. This is an important issue for Christians to be informed and engaged about. Recently Richard Dawkins stated that “…any [human] fetus is less human than an adult pig.” If leading scientists like Dawkins can sway public opinion in such a way, then there is greater risk that the abominations performed by the likes of Gosnell would be seen as no worse than killing animals.


Abortion-rights activists, especially among the modern feminist movement, proclaim abortion to be an important right for women. They often resort to scaremongering, claiming that if it were revoked, it would send the world back to the (largely mythical) era of back-alley abortions, and would represent a huge step backwards for women’s rights.

Early feminists opposed abortion

Of course, abortion activists who proclaim that a woman has a right to do what she likes with her own body are ignoring the fact that another body is involved. CMI has received much flak for calling abortion ‘baby-killing’ (see Offended by the term ‘Baby Killers’ and the other articles therein for evidence). However, the early feminists used exactly the same terminology! (The following statements are documented by Feminists for Life).

For example, The Revolution, the newsletter of Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), described abortion as ‘child murder’, ‘infanticide’ and ‘foeticide’. Victoria Woodhull (1838–1927), the first female US presidential candidate, said:

Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.

These comments were consistent with the strong opposition to abortion from other feminists. Anthony’s friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), who organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY (1848), called abortion a ‘disgusting and degrading crime’, and argued pointedly,

When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.

The mother of the feminist movement, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) had earlier written, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, where she condemned those who would ‘either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born.’

Are their views outdated?

It should be obvious that science has shown even more definitively that the unborn is really human, so the pro-life case is even stronger now. That is why former leading abortionist Bernard Nathanson became a pro-lifer (see the evidence—warning, rather graphic). 4D ultrasound is clearer still (see still shot, top right), and genetics evidence even forced the pro-abortion magazine New Scientist to admit (189(2543):8–9, 18 March 2006):

The task force finds that the new recombinant DNA technologies indisputably prove that the unborn child is a whole human being from the moment of fertilization, that all abortions terminate the life of a human being, and that the unborn child is a separate human patient under the care of modern medicine.

There are some conversions the other way, but they seem to be motivated by political opportunism rather than science. For example, the pro-life secular writer Nat Henthoff writes on one passionate black preacher who helped convince him that the pro-life cause was right:

‘There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life.’
‘That’, he continued, ‘was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore out of your right to be concerned.’

This passionate reverend used to warn: ‘Don’t let the pro-choicers convince you that a fetus isn’t a human being. That’s how the whites dehumanized us … The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify what they wanted to do—and not even feel they’d done anything wrong.’

This preacher was Jesse Jackson, and like a number of his political colleagues who also used to defend the unborn, he has moved to a pro-abortion stance — and they never even bothered to refute their own arguments for the unborn’s humanity.

Aborting baby girls

However, ironically for feminists, widespread abortion has greatly caused extreme violence against females in particular, that is, the availability of abortion in countries where sons are preferred to daughters is causing a huge rise in sex-selected abortions, which universally target females.

In some parts of the world, this has caused the male-to-female ratio to be skewed from the natural balance of around 105 boys to 100 girls to anywhere from 115 to 150 boys born for every 100 girls. This trend has permanently altered the male-to-female ratio in China. [Update 11 April 2009: The Courier Mail (Brisbane), p. 54, cited a study in the British Medical Journal, and reported:

Selective abortion in favour of males has left China with 32 million more boys than girls, creating an imbalance that will endure for decades, an investigation warns.]

This imbalance is also large in India. Many countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa also show signs of this trend.

Since 1994, the UN has recognized that son preference is discriminatory to women and girls, and the Beijing Platform for action includes sex-selected abortion among incidences of violence against women. So which is it: is abortion an indispensable right that makes women more equal to men, or a practice of violence against women? Noticeably, an October 2006 UN Violence Against Children study ignores abortion entirely.

The feminist dilemma

If society cannot interfere with a mother’s choice to abort for any reason she wants (‘abortion is between a woman and her doctor’), how can it be wrong for her to abort based on the sex of the baby? If it is okay for her to abort because she doesn’t want a baby, why is it wrong for her to abort because she doesn’t want a girl? In fact, the ability to choose the sex of a child is a logical extension of the ‘right to choose’ if that ‘right’ exists. If abortion is not objectionable in and of itself, why should we be troubled by the growing trend of baby girls being aborted in disproportionate numbers? After all, it is the woman’s choice!

The eugenic idea of aborting babies with defects also logically contributes. This teaches that it is acceptable, or even right, to abort children for birth defects such as Down’s syndrome, blindness, deafness, sickle-cell anemia, spina bifida, although many with such conditions live worthwhile lives. If a genetic defect is a valid reason to abort a child, why is it not acceptable to abort babies for what many in these countries consider the genetic ‘defect’ of being female?

The underlying problem

In reality, the horrific problem of sex selected abortions, and abortions in general, is due to the rejection of absolute moral laws, in turn due to the rejection of the absolute moral Lawgiver (see Bomb-building vs. the biblical foundation). The teaching of evolution from ‘goo to you via the zoo’ has undermined this foundation in the eyes of many.

There is no reason, under their own belief system, for evolutionists to see males and females as equals. Males and females faced different selection pressures, so natural selection is unlikely to produce sexes of equal worth (if a term like ‘worth’ can even have meaning in this belief system). In fact, many animals show huge differences between the sexes. Indeed, historically, evolutionists have seen females as the inferior sex (see The history of the teaching of human female inferiority in Darwinism).

And corollaries of evolution pose another problem for women. Nowadays, it’s fashionable in the educational and media system to teach moral relativism, where there is no absolute right or wrong (except that it’s wrong to claim there is right and wrong!). This is a logical deduction from evolution, as admitted by Richard Dawkins, a leading atheistic evolutionist and a eugenicist. But if all moral viewpoints are equal, then how can it be morally wrong to devalue women?

A related fashion among the secular intelligentsia is cultural relativism, which teaches that we should not judge other cultures (except the absolutist culture of Christianity of course!). Following this worldview, it would be wrong to judge the many societies throughout history that have tended to prefer sons over daughters, and have endorsed infanticide or abortion to eliminate unwanted baby girls. The modern feminist-pushed abortion industry has merely made this easier.

The solution

Conversely, the Bible affirms the value of women, despite the claims to the contrary (see one CMI refutation, ‘Female inferiority’ raises questions). The fact that men and women are both created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–7) disproves a common radical feminist claim that the Bible is anti-women. Jesus’ chosen Apostle, Paul, (maligned by many feminists as being anti-women), affirms that spiritual privileges in the body of Christ come equally to both sexes (Gal. 3:26–29).

Indeed, the Bible honours many women. E.g. the Old Testament honours Ruth, Esther, prophetesses Deborah, Huldah and Hannah; Miriam who celebrated the Exodus in song; and the splendid woman in Prov. 31, inspired advice King Lemuel’s mother gave him. In the New Testament, even higher honour is given to women. Mary bears the God-man in her womb, while other women were the first witnesses to His resurrection. Paul praises many women, such as Dorcas, Eunice, Lois, Priscilla, Phoebe and Julia, as ‘servants of the Church’.

Photo: Heather Airy; sticker from bumpertalk.com Pro-life bumper sticker
Pro-life bumper sticker

This is even more astonishing considering that many ancient texts reflect a misogynistic view of females, but this is noticeably absent in the Bible. In fact, the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament had protections built in for females, and many of the provisions in the Law that are commonly seen as misogynistic to the modern eye were actually beneficial to women when looked at in its cultural context. See Does Christianity Squash Women? and Women in the Heart of God for in-depth discussions. [Update 11 April 2009: see also my subsequent articles Bible Society reports that the Bible is not anti-female: is this news? and What’s in a pronoun? The divine gender controversy.]

Thus simply passing laws to prohibit sex-selected abortions won’t fix the problem in cultures where females are seen as intrinsically less valuable. And as shown, it is illogical to claim both that abortion is an unconditional right for the mother for any reason she chooses and that abortion should be forbidden if the reason is that the baby is female! There must be a fundamental change in how people perceive women and the sanctity of life. And historically, this change has been effected by the Gospel.

I’ll leave the final word to the famous anti-slavery activist Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896), author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). In another book, Woman in Sacred History (1873), she stated in the Introduction (p. 11):

The object of the following pages will be to show, in a series of biographical sketches, a history of WOMANHOOD UNDER DIVINE CULTURE, tending toward the development of that high ideal of woman which we find in modern Christian countries.