Abortion has become the “issue of all issues” in the “culture wars” in America today; it is one of the most polarizing and contentious matters in modern political and cultural discourse. Over the past fifty years abortion has been a major battleground regarding views of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in terms of both the child in the womb as well as its mother. The issue of abortion, by its very nature, attracts powerful emotions and energy on all sides; a dispassionate examination of the subject is nearly impossible. In truth the matter of abortion, how it is viewed, how it is justified or condemned, and how the women in the middle are treated, indict our culture as a culture of death, with very few truly interested in cultivating a true culture of life which honors God and all of His children. Let us explore the matter of abortion according to God’s purposes made known in Christ and in the Scriptures.
What Is Abortion?
Since so much rhetoric regarding abortion is layered with euphemism, we do well to forthrightly set forth what abortion is and what it involves. Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the removal of an embryo or fetus from a woman’s uterus. In many situations an abortion is unintentional; we consider these situations to be miscarriages. Any time a woman intentionally has an embryo or fetus removed is called an induced abortion. Induced abortions themselves can be delineated between “therapeutic,” on account of health conditions of the woman or the child, or “elective,” when chosen by the woman for other reasons. In modern discourse, elective induced abortions prove most contentious and are generally what people refer to when speaking about abortion, although many aspects of therapeutic induced abortions prove controversial as well.
Abortion can be induced by different methods. Medical abortion involves taking pills increasing levels of hormones which produce a hostile environment for the child, leading to the death of the child and the woman expelling the child and related tissue. Surgical abortion might involve suction or vacuum aspiration, which involves sucking the child out of the uterus; dilation and curettage (D&C), involving the opening of the cervix and scraping out of everything along the walls of the uterus with a curette; dilation and evacuation (D&E), which involves opening the cervix and cutting out or vacuuming out the child and the related tissue matter; or intact dilation and extraction (IDX), which involves opening the cervix and physically removing the child from the uterus (IDX is banned in the United States). Sometimes labor is induced and the child is killed; this method is very rarely used in the United States but is more prevalent in some European countries.
We can see that a range of actions and methods are in view when we discuss abortion.
Primary Arguments Regarding Abortion
Arguments regarding abortion fall primarily into two camps: those against abortion speak of themselves as “pro-life”; those who wish for abortion to remain legal speak of themselves as “pro-choice.”
Arguments against abortion focus on the life of the child. Most people who are against abortion believe that life begins at conception or implantation; therefore, any elective choice to end a pregnancy after conception or implantation is the act of taking the life of the child, and thus equated with murder. In the pro-life view, since the child is a living being, the government should consider its right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and therefore has a compelling interest to defend the life of the child through legislation making elective induced abortion illegal. Some would go further and make illegal many forms of therapeutic induced abortion.
Arguments for the legality of abortion focus on the choice of the mother. Some people who advance a pro-choice view are truly pro-abortion and have few if any qualms about the procedure; in such a view the life of the child is entirely in the control of the mother, and the mother’s right to decide whether to carry the baby to term or not is absolute. Others who have a pro-choice view do maintain qualms about abortion to some degree or another, wishing it did not have to be, or even being personally pro-life, but do not wish for the government to impose legislation against the procedure, instead relying on individual conscience on the matter.
The Scriptures on Abortion
In the Old Testament the Law made provision in one specific case of abortion:
And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:22-25).
We would generally classify any such abortion as a miscarriage since it was not at all the woman’s desire or intent to end the pregnancy. We do see that the Law considers the offender guilty of harming life, and ought to pay at least a financial penalty, and perhaps even death.
This is the only passage which explicitly and directly relates to any kind of abortion.
Murder is condemned as sinful in both Old and New Testaments:
Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13).
And because they had not the mind to keep God in their knowledge, God gave them up to an evil mind, to do those things which are not right; Being full of all wrongdoing, evil, desire for the goods of others, hate, envy, putting to death, fighting, deceit, cruel ways, evil talk, and false statements about others; Hated by God, full of pride, without respect, full of loud talk, given to evil inventions, not honouring father or mother, Without knowledge, not true to their undertakings, unkind, having no mercy (Romans 1:28-31).
The word translated “unkind” in Romans 1:31, astorgos, has the meaning of “without natural affection,” and a good argument can be made to relate it, at least in part, to Roman birth customs in which any child who was not accepted by the head of the household (paterfamilias) for whatever reason was taken out and exposed to die.
Furthermore, the logic behind the commandment against murder is based on life as being a gift of God, and something which is not to be taken lightly:
Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man (Genesis 9:6).
Anyone who has hate for his brother is a taker of life, and you may be certain that no taker of life has eternal life in him (1 John 3:15).
Early Christians did explicitly condemn abortion and infanticide, and did so under condemnation of murder:
“Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery”; thou shalt not commit sodomy; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use magic; thou shalt not use philtres; thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide; “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods” (The Didache, 2.2).
Whereas no passage in the Bible explicitly identifies the moment at which life begins, many passages in the Old and New Testaments speak of life beginning in the womb:
For thou didst form my inward parts / Thou didst cover me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks unto thee / for I am fearfully and wonderfully made / Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well.
My frame was not hidden from thee / When I was made in secret / and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance / and in thy book they were all written / even the days that were ordained for me / when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13-16).
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations (Jeremiah 1:5).
And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy (Luke 1:41, 44).
Therefore, it must be recognized that the Scriptures do not have much to say explicitly about abortion. Nevertheless, there is nothing within the pages of Scripture which give any reason to conclude that elective induced abortion is acceptable to God, and much to cast aspersions against it. Early Christians recognized elective induced abortions to be a form of murder, and we do well as Christians today to maintain the same conclusion.
The Challenges of “Choice”
In light of the Scriptures it is impossible to Biblically sustain the full-throated argument of the pro-choice movement regarding the absolute right of choice of the mother. God has made the mother and has given life to the mother, and the life of the mother is to be valued and respected as equal to the life of any other human being (Genesis 9:6, Galatians 3:28, 1 Timothy 2:4). Yet, as David proclaimed, God is also giving life to the child in her womb, and the life of that child is to be valued and respected as equal to the life of its mother and to the life of any other human being (Psalm 139:13-16).
The moral force of this argument is strong, and recognized as much by its opponents, who seek to dehumanize the child as an “embryo” or “fetus,” “protoplasm” entirely dependent on its mother for life, and therefore hers to decide whether it ought to continue or not. Furthermore, throughout time, the argument has hinged upon when life begins: it is recognized that if it is not yet life, no fault can be found in terms of what happens to it.
It is recognized that the life of the child in the womb is dependent on its mother; such is why abortion remains a special case with distinctions which are not maintained for those who take lives outside of the womb. And yet the child is more than just protoplasm or a bunch of dependent cells; by implantation the child has everything it needs within itself to be alive, and with continued maternal sustenance will grow and flourish. It is increasingly difficult to argue against life starting at any point after implantation.
Attitudes toward children in the womb often manifest the culture of death in which we live. Life ought to be worth more than money or time. Even in the heartbreaking cases of impregnation from rape, should not life have some value? The woman will be traumatized by the abortion or by having the child; is the means of conception at all the fault of the child, and yet, in abortion, who would bear the brunt of the suffering?
Our culture of death is also manifest in the valuation of life according to utilitarian measures. Untold thousands of children are being aborted because they are female, and therefore considered of less value to the family than a male child would be. We are beginning to see selective abortions of children who are found to be at risk of Down syndrome and many other genetic conditions, with parents choosing to end those lives because they will not be fully “normal”. In such decisions life is not being honored as a gift; it is being seen as a burden.
The absolute right to choice is a very American and modern individualist idea, but it is not a Biblical one. In Christ life is about glorifying God through whatever we experience, for God has given us life and all things. In all things we ought to uphold and honor the value of life, even at the expense of choice.
Pro-Life or Just Anti-Abortion?
As Christians we do well to uphold a consistently pro-life outlook, for God has given life as a gift, and we ought to hesitate to take it or devalue it. The temptation to devalue life is not restricted to the pro-choice movement.
We must be careful about how thoroughly we identify abortion as murder. As noted above, the definition of abortion is expansive. It technically contains every form of miscarriage. Therefore, unintentional abortions, known as miscarriages, are not only not sinful, but extremely traumatic experiences for women who ought never be shamed or condemned for what they have suffered.
Some aspects of therapeutic induced abortions prove problematic, as noted above, since “therapeutic” is now including selective abortions for “genetic abnormalities.” And yet there remain instances, such as with ectopic pregnancies, in which the child will never successfully be brought to term and the life of the mother is in great peril. Other similar conditions may come about. If we are truly pro-life, then the life of the mother is as valuable as the life of the child, and it is not for us or the government or any other institution to impose upon that mother the demand for her to sacrifice her life on account of the child.
Thus there will be times when abortion will have to be induced in order to preserve life. Women who undergo such experiences ought not be shamed or condemned but fully supported, encouraged, and comforted on account of the traumatic experiences they have endured.
Great care ought to be exercised in regards to the legislative goals of the pro-life movement. If abortion were outlawed in America, it would not end abortion; it would be made illegal. Making abortion illegal would most likely reduce the number of abortions that take place; this is a worthy goal. Yet how will abortion be made illegal? Will the women who search out abortions be the ones punished, or just the providers? Will there be a blanket condemnation, which may lead to the death of women who need therapeutic induced abortion to survive, and if so, is that really honoring life? In some countries in which abortion is banned many women who miscarry are accused of abortion and forced to suffer further humiliation and punishment, adding trauma on top of trauma. And, ultimately, will there still be concern about abortion and the lives of women and children if abortion is made illegal? There is not unanimous agreement on these matters among the various parts of the pro-life constituency. We must never forget that it is the Gospel, not legislation, which provides salvation (Romans 1:16); life will not be honored merely because it is illegal to do otherwise, and our government does not have the greatest track record when it comes to respecting life anyway.
If Christians would not be hypocrites they must give some thought to the condition of women and their children. Many women who consider abortion do so out of desperation; they need support and care, and we ought to search them out and provide it (Galatians 6:10). If the concerns are economic, we ought to meet them. If the concern is an inability to raise the child, we ought to adopt them, or better yet, empower and encourage the women to be able to raise their own children (James 1:27). If the child is born with medical conditions, we must rally around the family and comfort, strengthen, and sustain them through the trials they endure, and celebrate their sacrifices to honor life.
We must also give consideration for how we speak of and treat those who are guilty of sexually deviant behavior, especially those who practice sex before marriage. Many who profess Christ have undergone abortions so as to eliminate the source of shame which would come upon them from the disapprobation and shaming they would experience from fellow professors of Christ. Such does not excuse adding sin upon sin; nevertheless, if we truly wish to honor life and reduce abortions, we must avoid shaming or marginalizing women who are pregnant out of wedlock and find ways to encourage them to choose life and incorporate them into the community of the people of God.
Abortion is a complex and contentious topic, and has bearing on many others; we have only begun to scratch the surface on these matters, and have left many more aside.
As we have seen, God gives life and loves life, and as people made in the image of God, we ought to honor life. Elective induced abortions disregard the honor of life, valuing choice, personal autonomy, economic conditions, etc., over the value of life. Elective induced abortions are more like murder than they are akin to anything else.
Yet, to truly honor life, we must recognize the equal value of the life of the mother, and be careful lest opposition to abortion trump our concern for the lives of women. Women suffer terribly from miscarriages; some will have to endure therapeutically induced abortions to survive. For that matter, many women who have undergone elective induced abortions live with great trauma and guilt over their decision and come to regret it and repent of it. As Christians we must value and honor women as we value and honor children.
As of now, abortion is legal in America. We must be careful in our rhetoric against abortion lest we are found to have misrepresented the situation. There is a difference between abortion being an option but not mandated, and mandated abortion, such as in China’s previous one child policy. If the government mandates abortion, it has blood on its hands; if a government allows abortion, it may be guilty of upholding a culture of death, but the blood is on the hands of those who shed it.
As Christians we must honor the government and its rulers despite disagreement with its policies (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18). We ought to uphold a culture of life and thus condemn elective induced abortion, and forms of therapeutic induced abortions which do not honor life. We can, and should, make good, strong arguments upholding a culture of life; it would be even better if we modeled and embodied those arguments. Yet, in all things, we must manifest the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:17-24). The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20); righteous indignation about the fate of so many aborted children must be tempered with this wisdom from the Lord’s brother. We must remember that the Devil and the powers and principalities over this present darkness are our true foes; those who advocate for abortion are deceived by these forces (Ephesians 6:12). And we must never forget those who find themselves in the middle of this great controversy: the women who contemplate abortion. We do well to find them, encourage them, and show them the value of life in a community which honors life, and all to the end of encouraging all such people to find what is truly life in Jesus (John 10:10, 1 Timothy 6:19). May we uphold the Gospel and its culture of life, and obtain the resurrection of life in Jesus!
Ethan R. Longhenry