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Abortion is a sensitive issue for many. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it, talk about it and act on it. It’s not my intention to stoke up emotions in this post, but to explore the issue from a Biblical perspective.
The following are figures gleaned from Christian Medical Fellowship documents and references.
- There are about 180,000 abortions in the UK every year. That’s about three times the capacity of Twickenham stadium.
- There is one abortion for every four births.
- Of the 180,00 abortions 50,000 happen in London and over 3,500 in the boroughs of Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth where CCB is located.
- Estimates suggest that 55 million abortions occur every year in the world. That’s the population of the UK. This is not a small problem.
- Apparently one in three women has had an abortion.
And so it’s very likely that many of us have been personally affected by abortion in one way or another. It’s a personal issue for me. My Mother was adopted and not aborted. For that I am very grateful.
The arguments are often polarised and heated. Feelings run high. The protagonists often occupy deeply entrenched positions and are either staunchly ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’. If someone is ‘pro-life’ they think that abortion is murder and unite under the banner of the ‘right to life’. If someone is ‘pro-choice’ they support the woman’s ‘right to choose’ whether to give birth or not. Though of course they’re not happy to extend choice to the women they terminate in abortion.
As I understand it the Bible has four main things to say on the subject.
1. the Bible prohibits murder as a general principle
In Exodus 20, the sixth commandment states ‘you shall not murder’. God is the Lord of life. He is the one who gives life and He is the one who retains the prerogative to remove life. We may not take life without His authorisation. In other words on the occasions when we do it must be ethically permissible.
The sixth commandment essentially teaches that life and death are God’s business. We should therefore respect all life out of reverence for God. And we should especially respect human life because we’re made in His image.
The commandment uses a word that means ‘murder’ rather than ‘kill’. But the Mosaic application of this general principle applied to manslaughter and negligent homicide. And so God does not just tell us to abstain from murder. He commands us positively to take precautions to avoid the unintentional loss of life. There’s nothing unintentional about abortion. Abortion is the deliberate destruction of an unborn child.
2. the Bible teaches the value of the unborn child
The Bible doesn’t mention abortion specifically. There’s no text that explicitly prohibits taking the life of a child in the womb. Though as John Frame points out when he quotes Meredith Kline, it was considered so abhorrent that it didn’t need to be mentioned. Kline writes,
As we observed at the outset, induced abortion was so abhorrent to the Israelite mind that it was not necessary to have a specific prohibition dealing with it in the Mosaic law. The Middle Assyrian laws attest to an abhorrence that was felt for this crime even in the midst of the heathendom around Israel, lacking though it did the illumination of special revelation. For in those laws a woman guilty of abortion was condemned to be impaled on stakes. Even if she managed to lose her own life in producing the abortion, she was still to be impaled and hung up in shame as an expression of the community’s repudiation of such an abomination. It is hard to imagine a more damning commentary on what is taking place in enlightened America today than that provided by this legal witness out of the conscience of benighted ancient paganism!’
Though there’s no text that explicitly prohibits taking the life of a child in the womb, the Bible does speak implicitly about the value of an unborn child. It regards the unborn child as a personal human being. Some argue that the baby is only a part of the mother’s body and not an independent life. Therefore she’s free to do with her body as she pleases. But that’s not the Bible’s view of the person inside her womb, nor is it the Bible’s view of the correct attitude to her body. The unborn child is made in the image of God and to be respected as such. And our bodies are not our own property to do with as we choose.
In Exodus 21 the accidental killing of an unborn child was regarded as serious as killing a pregnant woman. It was a capital offence. Abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child and so abortion would be regarded by the Old Testament as even more serious.
In Psalm 139 David refers to his own unborn life as fully personal. This is not an isolated text. There are several others that represent the view that unborn children are persons. On the flip side there are no texts that speak of unborn children as anything other than persons.
In Psalm 51 David again refers to his unborn self in first person pronouns, as a sinner and he traces that sin right back to the moment of conception. So David regards the unborn child as a person from the moment of conception.
Whilst we should always be careful about hitching our wagon to the scientific wagon, it’s worth noting that the relevant scientific data supports the biblical material. From the point of conception unborn children have a full complement of chromosomes, half from the Mother and half from the Father. So the unborn child is not part of the Mother’s body. The baby’s genetic nature is different from hers. So she cannot treat the unborn child as we treat hair or toenails and cut them off at our will. The vast majority of abortions are carried out because it’s inconvenient and we cannot treat human life so cheaply. 82% of abortions result from sexual activity outside of marriage and so abortion appears to be thought of in the same category as contraception.
It is sometimes argued that the unborn child is dependent on the mother for life support and so in this respect is similar to other parts of the Mother’s body. But that remains the case even after the birth of the child and so this ought not to be used as a reason to justify their termination. Interestingly Peter Singer, an Australian ethicist has argued that if abortionists want to, they can use the same arguments to support infanticide. He does. The Bible doesn’t.
3. the Bible encourages caution in taking human life
None of the texts quoted provide a watertight case that proves that every human being is a person from the moment of conception. I’d argue that they make a formidable case. But some Christians still maintain that the Bible does not categorically teach that the foetus should be regarded as a person. And so abortion is permitted.
However, the sixth commandment demands not only that we avoid murder but that we should also guard very carefully against the possible destruction of human life. So where carelessness can lead to tragedy, we must take precautions. Abortion does not fit that description.
John Frame uses the illustration of two people going out hunting. Imagine that it’s us. Suppose that we decide to split up in order to better track and kill the animal. If both of us have guns what are we to do when they hear a rustle in the leaves? Do we shoot or do we exercise caution? If we shoot and kill the other person is it good enough to say it’s their own fault or do we bear responsibility. We’re to do all that we can to avoid unnecessary death.
And so we’re to take precautions against the loss of life. It’s perverse that in a world obsessed with Health and Safety risk assessment we can’t spot the utter inconsistency with regards to abortion. When in doubt we should avoid any action that might destroy human life.
4. the Bible allows abortion in some circumstances
There are situations however when the sixth commandment does not apply. There’s the Old Testament case for capital punishment and the ongoing case for a ‘Just War’. On that basis some have argued that abortion is warranted where the psychological health of the Mother is at stake, to deal with deformity in the child, for reasons of population control or for economic need. But we cannot compromise the biblical principle that unborn children should be treated the same as those already born. There is however one exception to the general principle and that involves the situation where the continued existence of the child threatens the physical life of the mother. I won’t say any more about that here given time constraints. Much of the discussion of abortion centres on hard situations. We mustn’t duck them. There are always hard situations and I don’t want to minimise the level of personal distress caused by some of them.
We need to say that to those of us who’ve had an abortion that though our decision is regrettable it’s not the unforgivable sin. Christ died for our mistakes, he died for our decisions to terminate an unborn child and he did so because he loves us. Forgiveness for our sinful rebellion against His rightful rule over us is freely available to all who trust him as their Saviour and follow him as their Lord.
Christians have a special obligation to defend the weak and the helpless. God cares about the poor and the needy. He wants His people to do likewise. It’s hard to think of a group who more appropriately fit that description than those unborn children who have no voice. John Frame has written,
‘Arguably the unborn are the weakest, poorest, most helpless people that there are. They have no political or economic strength, not even voices to plead their own cause. Today, these under vicious attack by the dominant forces of society: the educational establishment, the media, the Government, including the courts which should be demanding justice. Even the most influential ethical thought of modern society is against them. And the most terrible part of this is that these children are under attack from their own mothers’ John Frame Lecture Course Notes, The Sixth Commandment: Protecting Life, p679
So what can we do?
None of us alone can do the job that needs to be done but we can all do something.
Sign the petition.
Continue to support Pregnancy Resource Centres in our prayers, perhaps by volunteering and certainly in our giving.
Christians need to be at the forefront of providing assistance to those who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and providing homes for thosethat otherwise would be detsroyed.
Become informed on the issue, especially if you’re a woman. Men are often banned from the debate by our opponents. We’ll stand right with you but our voice may not be the one that’s listened to.
The Christian Medical Fellowship has articles and news here.