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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Abortion: Some thoughts for Christians

This is a long post. Here is a table of contents:What is abortion?
Is abortion murder? Exodus 21:22-23
Was killing babies considered murder in the Bible?
God knew us before we were born
What my church believes
Does human life begin at conception?
Must Christians have an explicit Biblical basis for opposition to abortion?
Abortion, conscience, and the law
Wrong tactics

What is abortion?
Abortion is an important issue. In the last part of the 20th Century, many conservative Christians, protestant and Roman Catholic, considered it to be the most important public policy issue. Many still do, although attention to the issue has declined somewhat.

What is abortion? Heres what the Wikipedia says: “Abortion is the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo* prior to viability. . . . An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced. The term abortion most commonly refers to the induced abortion of a human pregnancy.” The article includes a dozen or more quotations of definitions of abortion, from other sources, besides this one. This post uses that definition, and will not call a spontaneous loss of a fetus an abortion, but a miscarriage. Most writers make this distinction, but, unfortunately, some dont.
*A fertilized egg develops into an embryo. After about two months of development, it is no longer called an embryo, but a fetus. For clarity, this post uses baby to mean a fetus that has been delivered, born, and is no longer inside its mother. Until birth, its a fetus.

This post will not call failure to implant a fertilized egg in the uterine wall, no matter what causes the failure, an abortion. Some people believe that prevention of implantation is wrong, and it may be, but definitions are important. See the What my church believes section for more on this matter.
Why is abortion an important issue, for Christians and others? The main reason is that it is seen as a form of murder, and murder is prohibited by the Ten Commandments. In Matthew 5, Jesus went further than the Sixth Commandment, to say that “21 You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22  But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment;” (World English Bible, public domain. All scripture quotations, unless indicated otherwise, are from this source. Without a cause” was probably not in the original manuscript.) Most likely, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of our motives, related to murder, as being, for us, as or more important than carrying out the act.

Is abortion murder? Exodus 21:22-3
Is abortion murder? The Bible doesn’t explicitly say so, or that it isn’t murder. In fact, the Bible doesnt use the word abortion. Techniques to cause abortions were non-existent, or ineffective, and probably risky, and, most likely, the very idea of having an abortion would not have occurred to most people in Bible times.
One passage that is probably relevant is in Exodus 21:
22 If men fight and hurt a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, and yet no harm follows, he shall be surely fined as much as the woman’s husband demands and the judges allow. 23 But if any harm follows, then you must take life for life . . . (World English Bible, public domain)

We must be cautious about attaching too much significance to any one particular Bible verse. However, this seems to be the only passage in the Bible that gives any indication of how to treat someone who has caused the premature death of a fetus. (At least it seems to deal with that, according to  some translations.) This verse is in the middle of a group of miscellaneous laws, apparently given to Moses by God, on Mount Sinai. Exodus 20, the previous chapter, is the first setting forth of the Ten Commandments.

The Blueletter Bible gives several translations of Exodus 21:22. The King James Version uses the phrase her fruit depart from her, in place of the gives birth prematurely,” of the World English Bible, about the consequences of a pregnant woman being hit during a fight between men. Thats obscure, and could mean either a miscarriage, a premature birth, or possibly something else. The New KJV also says gives birth prematurely. The New Living Translation agrees, but has a text note, indicating that she has a miscarriage is a possible rendering. The New International Version agrees with the NLT, both in the translation given, and the text note. The English Standard Version says her children come out, which is ambiguous. Note that it says children, not baby or fetus. The New American Standard says gives birth prematurely, and, in a text note, says that Or, an untimely birth occurs; lit her children come out, which indicates that the ESV is translating literally in this case.* The Revised Standard Version says there is a miscarriage. There are five other translations given by the Blueletter Bible. They use her fruit depart, her children come out, she be delivered, her fruit depart from her, and gives birth prematurely. The New American Bible, approved by the U. S. Catholic bishops, uses she suffers a miscarriage. The Contemporary English Version says suffers a miscarriage, but has a text note with gives birth before her time.
*Literal translations are not always the easiest to understand. Consider, for example, trying to translate the phrase take a crack at, into another language. She would probably mess it up another phrase hard to translate if she translated each separate English word literally, into, say, Swahili!

The fine referred to in this passage suggests that the result was a miscarriage, not premature birth. Why assess a fine for a premature birth, unless it was so premature that the baby didnt live?

Going to commentaries, I have found some important ones that comment on this passage. The Pulpit Commentary treats the matter as a miscarriage. Adam Clarke says this:
And hurt a woman with child - As a posterity among the Jews was among the peculiar promises of their covenant, and as every man had some reason to think that the Messiah should spring from his family, therefore any injury done to a woman with child, by which the fruit of her womb might be destroyed, was considered a very heavy offense; and as the crime was committed principally against the husband, the degree of punishment was left to his discretion. But if mischief followed, that is, if the child had been fully formed, and was killed by this means, or the woman lost her life in consequence, then the punishment was as in other cases of murder - the person was put to death; Exodus 21:23.

John Calvin believed that a miscarriage was equivalent to murder. Keil and Delitzsch, on the other hand, were convinced that the loss of a fetus was not equivalent to the death of a person who had already been born. Some of the commentaries I looked at didnt consider the matter.

I am not a Hebrew scholar, and, in this case, it wouldnt matter if I was. Some other Hebrew scholars would disagree with me, no matter how I translated this passage, as documented above. But there is one conclusion from all of this uncertainty: it is possible, perhaps even likely, that Exodus 21:22 means that an accidentally caused miscarriage was not treated in the same way as an accidentally caused death. The Mosaic law covers accidental killing (Numbers 35). If such occurred, the person who did the accidental killing was forced to flee to one of the cities of refuge, and, if he left there, he could be killed by a relative of the person he had killed life for life, even in the case of an accident. There is no suggestion of such a result in Exodus 21. If an accidental miscarriage was not treated in the same way as an accidental death, then, most likely, an abortion, if such had occurred, would not have been treated in the same way as an intentional murder.

Added January 26, 2016: Ken Schenck, Bible scholar, has dealt with abortion in general, and with the Exodus 21 passage in particular, here.

Was killing babies considered murder in the Bible?
There are Old Testament passages that indicate that little children were not specially protected, at least not in war:
Numbers 31:15 Moses said to them, . . . [about the Midianites] 17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.

Deuteronomy 2:32 Then Sihon came out against us . . . 34 We took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed every inhabited city, with the women and the little ones. We left no one remaining.

Psalm 137:8 Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
he will be happy who rewards you,
as you have served us.
9 Happy shall he be,
who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

Isaiah 13:13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place in Yahweh of Armies’ wrath, and in the day of his fierce anger. . . . 16 Their infants also will be dashed in pieces before their eyes. Their houses will be ransacked, and their wives raped. 17 Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, who will not value silver, and as for gold, they will not delight in it. 18 Their bows will dash the young men in pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb. Their eyes will not spare children.

Jeremiah 20:14 Cursed is the day in which I was born.
Don’t let the day in which my mother bore me be blessed.
15 Cursed is the man who brought news to my father, saying,
“A boy is born to you,” making him very glad.
16 Let that man be as the cities which Yahweh overthrew,
and didn’t repent.
Let him hear a cry in the morning,
and shouting at noontime;
17a because he didn’t kill me from the womb;
and so my mother would have been my grave 

Hosea 9:14 Give them—Yahweh what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

15 “All their wickedness is in Gilgal;
for there I hated them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house!
I will love them no more.
All their princes are rebels.
16 Ephraim is struck.
Their root has dried up.
They will bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth, yet I will kill the beloved ones of their womb.” 

Hosea 13:16 Samaria will bear her guilt;
for she has rebelled against her God.
They will fall by the sword.
Their infants will be dashed in pieces,
and their pregnant women will be ripped open.

(In these quotations from Hosea, “Them” refers to the Northern Kingdom. So does “Samaria.This is God, speaking through Hosea.)

The passages above indicate that abortion may not be murder, since God directed, or Gods people carried out, infanticide, the killing of babies, as part of warfare against the enemies of Israel.

However, there's also this passage: Amos 1:13 Yahweh says:
“For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, yes, for four,
I will not turn away its punishment;
because they have ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead,
that they may enlarge their border. ...

God knew us before we were born
On the other hand, there are passages that indicate that God is concerned with us, from the time of birth, even before birth:
Judges 13:5 for, behold, you shall conceive, and give birth to a son. No razor shall come on his head; for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb. He shall begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. (This is about Samson. This idea, about Samson, is repeated elsewhere in Judges.)

Psalm 22:9 But you brought me out of the womb.
You made me trust while at my mother’s breasts. (Similar thought in verse 10. The phrase,
out of the womb, and similar wording, probably means from birth, not prenatal, in the Bible.)

Psalm 71:6 I have relied on you from the womb.
You are he who took me out of my mother’s womb.
I will always praise you.

Psalm 139:13 For you formed my inmost being.
You knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Although most, or all, of the passages in this section are probably about young babies, this one seems to be speaking of a fetus, or even an embryo. There are only two other passages in the rest of this section that seem to be about a fetus, not a baby.)

Isaiah 49:1 Listen, islands, to me.
Listen, you peoples, from afar:
Yahweh has called me from the womb;
from the inside of my mother he has mentioned my name. (Similar thought in verse 5)

Jeremiah  1:4 Now Yahwehs word came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.
Before you were born, I sanctified you.
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (This one, too, is apparently about a fetus or embryo.)

Luke 1:15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy! (This doesnt definitely say that John the Baptist was aware of Marys entrance, and recognized Jesus as a fetus, but it may have been so. I know from personal experience that fetuses can react to sounds, so it is possible that fetal John the Baptist was just responding to Marys voice.)

Galatians 1:15 But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, 16a to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles
There may be other passages, that I have missed, related to the status of either unborn, or very young children.

What my church believes
Heres what my own church, The Wesleyan Church, has to say about abortion:
The Wesleyan Church seeks to recognize and preserve the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and, thus, is opposed to the use of induced abortion. However, it recognizes that there may be rare pregnancies where there are grave medical conditions threatening the life of the mother, which could raise a serious question about taking the life of the unborn child. In such a case, a decision should be made only after very prayerful consideration following medical and spiritual counseling. The Wesleyan Church encourages its members to become informed about the abortion issue and to become actively involved locally and nationally in the preparation and passage of appropriate legislation guaranteeing protection of life under law to unborn children. (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church, 2012, Special Directions, A. Christian Social Concern, paragraph 410:11.)

Notice that only one exception is allowed, namely when the life of the mother is at stake. The reason for that seems to be that, unless someone elses life is saved by having an abortion, an abortion takes a life, so it is wrong.

There are other religious bodies, and, no doubt, some individual Wesleyans, who believe that abortion is permissible in some other circumstances, such as after a rape, or as the result of incest. Some people believe that it would be permissible to abort a badly deformed fetus, or one who would be badly deformed at birth. There are, of course, even those who believe that abortion is allowed if the mother is unable to care for the baby, or as a means of birth control. And there are some people, perhaps some of them Christian, who say that a woman should be able to have an abortion for any reason at all, because we are talking about her body.

One of the universities owned by The Wesleyan Church plans “to sue [the federal government] over the Affordable Care Act, specifically, over mandates that require employee health plans to include all FDA approved contraceptives. . . . the university doesnt have a problem with conventional birth control, its the morning after pill and the week after pill . . . that destroys human life.” (source)

The Discipline, which contains the official doctrine of my church, does not say so, but apparently officials of this university believe that human life begins at conception, and, therefore, should be protected. They do not believe that using a birth control method that prevents conception is wrong. (This would include condoms, diaphragms, and regularly used birth control pills.) As I understand the Roman Catholic position, they believe that abstinence from sexual relations, entirely, or during a womans fertile period, is the only acceptable means of birth control.

Does human life begin at conception?

This is an important question. But it is not a scientific question. Its a policy question, a legal question, a theological question, a philosophical question. And it isnt exactly the right question. The real question is, How should we treat a fertilized human egg? Because it doesnt matter so much whether a fertilized egg is a human life, or not, as it matters how we deal with such. It would be possible to agree that human life begins at conception, but deny that a fertilized egg deserves any protection. The same question applies to treatment of an embryo, or fetus, at whatever stage of development you please to consider.

OK. How, then, should we treat a fertilized human egg — a zygote? The Bible does not speak to this question directly. But the discussion above, about whether abortion is murder or not, is relevant. If an induced miscarriage is not equivalent to killing an adult, then it makes no sense to say that destroying a zygote is murder. But the discussion above indicates that the Bible doesnt give firm guidance on the matter.

Some biological facts are relevant.
1) A unique human genotype is established at conception, or fertilization. In identical multiple births, all the siblings have that same genotype.
2) Identical twins, and other identical multiple births, come from one and the same zygote, which splits into two at some point after conception. The Dionne quintuplets were the most famous identical siblings. They were the result of splitting of a single embryo. At least 6 such splittings must have occurred, in their case. (One split - 2 embryos; a second split, three embryos, a third, four embryos, a fifth, five embryos, and a sixth, six embryos. A sixth fetus was miscarried, during the pregnancy.) In this, and other cases, it is not exactly correct to say that a human life began at conception. It began, in the case of identical siblings, some time after conception.
3) Various critical stages in embryonic development take place after conception. For that reason, some have suggested that we say that human life begins at one of these stages, or that, at and beyond this particular stage, the embryo or fetus should be protected from harm, as much as is possible. These stages include implantation in the wall of the uterus, which takes place at a week after fertilization, or later; a beating (but not fully functioning) heart, which occurs later, at about four weeks; blood movement, at about five weeks; or brain waves, which come still later, at about six weeks after fertilization. It is almost certain that an embryo, at that stage, is not undergoing what we call thinking. It is not even certain that a late stage fetus is capable of what we experience as thought. See here for information on brain waves during development. I wont try to define thought, but, of course, such a definition would be important if the ability to think was a criterion for being human. One reason that it might be so used is that some believe that it is necessary to be able to think, in order to have a soul. I wont try to define a soul, either, nor, in this document, to discuss the question of whether the soul is part of the brains functioning, or is a separate entity of some sort. Many others have discussed such questions!

Quickening, when the mother can feel the movement of the fetus, comes still later, and has sometimes been proposed as the point at which we should say that human life begins, and begin to give the fetus human rights. Viability, meaning that the fetus has matured to the point where it would have a good chance of survival if the mother gave birth prematurely, is another point at which we might begin to treat a fetus as a human being, with rights. In fact, the Roe v. Wade court decision, famous for making abortions legal, does just that. Roe v. Wade forbids abortion at and beyond the point of viability. Viability depends, in part, on how good hospitals are at keeping a premature baby alive, and it is to be expected that, as new techniques become available, the point of viability will become somewhat earlier. Finally, of course, some have proposed that birth is the time at which someone should be treated as human, and protected.

Cloning needs to be defined. Heres one definition: The process of creating an exact copy of a biological unit (e.g. a DNA sequence, cell, or organism) from which it was derived, especially by way of biotechnological methods . . . Cloning can be natural or artificial.

The production of identical siblings is one type of natural cloning. Cutting off a piece, or pieces, of a plant, so as to grow more plants, is another. Creating an exact copy of a DNA sequence is not directly related to the topic of abortion, and creating an exact copy of a cell may not be, but creating an exact copy of an organism is. How so?

The Wikipedia says that Therapeutic cloning involves cloning cells from an adult for use in medicine and transplants, and is an active area of research. Reproductive cloning would involve making cloned humans, for couples wanting to have a child, but cannot naturally.

There has been a fierce debate over proposals to use human embryos, produced by in vitro fertilization, to produce embryonic stem cells. (The embryos would be destroyed, or at least not allowed to develop past an early embryonic stage.) Many people, including, but not limited to Christians, have opposed this sort of research as a type of murder. See here for the Wikipedia article on stem cells.

One type of therapeutic cloning, which has not been developed very far, is to take the nucleus of a human cell, from an adult, and place that nucleus in an unfertilized human egg. Under the right conditions, such a cell can develop, and, apparently, begin to turn into an embryo. Embryonic stem cells were produced, and, in further experiments, might be harvested and used. (See here for a recent report on these experiments. Harvesting didnt take place in the procedures reported on.) If embryos produced normally should be protected in the same way adults and children should, should embryos produced in this way also be protected? The article says that most scientists trying to produce stem cells for therapeutic purposes are developing techniques to reprogram adult cells so that they turn into cells like embryonic stem cells. Such research poses no danger to human embryos, and there is little or no ethical or religious objection to it.

In vitro fertilization is not the same as cloning, but there are similar ethical and religious issues. In a fairly common scenario, a woman is induced, by the use of hormones, to produce several eggs at the same time. These are fertilized, perhaps with her husbands sperm, perhaps with sperm from a sperm donor, and the resulting embryos are allowed to develop for a few days, after which an embryo is inserted into the woman, and, if all goes well, a baby is born in the usual way. The ethical and religious objections are to discarding, or indefinitely storing, human embryos that are not used.

Many people oppose the use of reproductive cloning in humans. (Reproductive cloning has been successfully done in various kinds of mammals, but not, so far, at least, in humans.) There are many reasons for this opposition. One objection is that, when carried out in animals, there are a significant percentage of defective organisms produced, and this would probably be the case in human cloning. Another objection would be that such a technique would involve discarding unused embryos. Another is that cloning someone who is alive, or was, might lead to unfortunate comparisons between the original and the clone. Another objection is that such a technique, if developed, might lead to a form of slavery, where a cloned persons organs or tissues might be harvested so as to prolong the life of the original person. For these, and other reasons, the Wikipedia says that Most scientific, governmental and religious organizations oppose reproductive cloning.

Cloning raises another issue, perhaps a bogus one. That is this. If, through cloning, it would be possible to take the nucleus of adult cells, and use them, such that an embryo, a fetus, and, eventually, a baby would result, should human nuclei from, say, muscle cells, be protected, in the same way that many people think a fertilized egg should be? If protection of embryos is because of their potential to develop into adults, should we similarly protect, for example, tooth cells, when a dentist removes them, when extracting a tooth? Given proper treatment, such cells might be capable of development into an adult, after all!

Must Christians have an explicit Biblical basis for opposition to abortion?
In a word, No! Why this response? One reason is because of another issue. The Bible doesnt say, in so many words, that slavery is wrong. It was common in Bible times, in the countries where Bible events took place. Jesus said nothing against it. Paul seems to have been expecting Onesimus to return to slavery under Philemon. Nonetheless, Christians, in North America and elsewhere, came to realize that it is very wrong. There are Biblical principles that were invoked in the struggle to overturn slavery. The Bible says that we should use the Golden Rule: Matthew 7:12 Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets. Would we want to be treated as slaves? Not if we are normal. So why should we treat someone else a slave, or allow such treatment?

Now, clearly, slaves are human beings (although they havent always been recognized as such). And, as such, they fall under the purview of the Golden Rule. If human fetuses or embryos are human beings, they should, too, and no normal person would want to be, as it were, flushed down a hospital sink. So why should we do this to a fetus or embryo, and why should we allow others to do so?

The abolitionists also noted that the Ten Commandments include a prohibition against taking what doesnt belong to you, and argued that slavery was taking someones life, or at least their freedom, away from them.*

Suppose that we arent sure that most, or all, abortion is murder, but realize that there’s a possibility that God may consider it so. Wouldnt it make sense to avoid abortion, in that case? Why take the risk? But even if we are sure that it isn’t murder, there are reasons for opposing most or all abortions.
Abortion, conscience, and the law
Throughout the centuries, Christians have held that what God tells them to do, or not do, is more important than what the law says, and disobeying, under various kinds of threats, even death, is proper behavior. (Although the Bible says that, under most circumstances, we should obey laws.) There are some laws, or orders, given by a person in authority over us, that Christians should disobey. Carefully and respectfully. Currently, under U. S. law, abortions are legal, up to the point of viability. (Viability means that a baby born at that stage of development would have a good chance to live.) See the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Here is an attempt to give guidance on some special circumstances:

No Christian, or other health professional, should be required to participate in performing an abortion. This includes training in the procedures. An exception would be if the womans life is in imminent danger, and there is no one else who can perform the abortion. (Performing an abortion without training would also put the woman at risk, but that risk would have to be calculated. Especially in third-world countries, health professionals are often called upon to perform procedures that they haven’t been trained for, and taxi drivers have sometimes had to deliver a child.) Refusal to participate should be done with the realization that doing so may have career consequences of various types, up to and including losing a job.

The paragraph above would also apply to pharmacy workers, and provision of devices or medicines to assist in birth control, except in some special circumstances. (See above not every Christian thinks that the use of all birth control devices or medicines is sinful.) These circumstances are of two types. One, the person wanting birth control material should be able to obtain it at another location without undue hardship. Two, refusing to participate should be for the sake of conscience, not a political statement. Does that professional believe that consumption of alcohol or tobacco, or looking at pornography, is sinful? If so, do they refuse to participate in selling such material, if their place of business offers these items for sale? If they arent bothered by doing that, or wouldnt be, if their place of business began to sell pornographic magazines, tobacco, or alcoholic beverages, even though they considered the use of these to be sinful, then refusing to dispense birth control material seems to be more a political statement, rather than a refusal for consciences sake. 

How the professional would act would depend, in part, on what type of material was being asked for. A professional might have no objection to the use of ordinary birth control pills, but object to so-called morning after medication.

No religious organization should be required to help provide birth control material, or financial support for abortion, that they cannot participate in in good conscience. (See the case above.) They should understand that such refusal may lead to loss of governmental, or other, support or various kinds.

 Here are four tests, in the matter of acting according to conscience, even against laws and directives:
1) Would such an action be a political statement, or truly a matter of conscience? (see above, in this section.)
2) Is the person contemplating disobedience obedient in other areas? Does she pay taxes completely and honestly? Does he abide by traffic laws? If the answer to any of these is no, then refusing to support abortion or birth control for the sake of conscience is suspect behavior. Where was that conscience when he went 55 in a 35 mile zone? When she didnt report all her tips, or took something as a business expense when it wasn’t?
3) Is the person willing to condone people of different beliefs acting according to their conscience? For example, even though I am not a Muslim, and believe that Muslims are wrong in many of their beliefs, especially about salvation, and the role of women, I believe that a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear clothing according to her conscience, so long as this does not assist in some sort of violence. Muslims should be allowed to build mosques, and Jews should be allowed to build synagogues, and have their own religious holidays. (As I understand it, U. S. law does not allow certain practices, which some say are essential to practicing their religion. These include animal sacrifice, or polygamy. Our respect and tolerance for others does not need to include such practices.)
4) Are you really acting for Christ? Do you measure up to the Biblical signs that you are a Christian? (Not being a habitual sinner; maintaining a relationship with Christ, and Christs followers; keeping Christ's commands; bearing fruit. See here for more on this.)

There are people who have been arrested, jailed, or otherwise inconvenienced, because of their conscientious opposition to abortion. Even Christians who may not agree with their views, or their tactics, should respect such persons, so long as they havent engaged in any of the wrong tactics indicated in this post.

There are also Christians, who, at least partly because of their views on abortion, have adopted children, thus making the motive of not being able to care for a child a little weaker. They, too, are to be commended. It seems to me that, if a Christian is against abortion, that, in addition to whatever action might be taken because of that, he or she should strive to be especially charitable toward poor and/or ignorant women who have no other practical means of birth control, toward women who have been raped, or toward women whose health is threatened by pregnancy.

As indicated above, Jesus considered motives to be critical, in assessing whether an action was permissible or not. One question, not only about abortion, but about all other important acts that we might carry out, or not, is Why do I want to do, or not do, this? 

Many abortions seem to be undertaken for frivolous, selfish reasons. Even some people who are not opposed to abortion, in general, are opposed to abortions so that a woman can take a ski vacation, for example. Some abortions are undertaken to avoid having expenses, even when these expenses could really be handled, but would prevent the person living a more lavish life style. This seems selfish. Some abortions are undertaken to avoid the consequences of another kind of wrong-doing, sexual relations outside of marriage. Many people think that two wrongs do not make a right. (Although the Bible doesnt explicitly say that.) A few abortions take place because the woman has been raped. It might, indeed, be quite difficult for a woman to accept, and love, a baby produced by such an act. Other abortions take place among poor women who have not engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage, but who cannot afford, or do not understand, the use of birth control methods other than abortion. Sometimes, such women also fear the health consequences of a full pregnancy. Is sincerely believing that you cant afford to take care of another child, or that having another child will make life considerably harder for children you already have, a selfish motive? Thats a hard question.

Wrong tactics
Those who oppose abortion have, unfortunately, sometimes engaged in wrong tactics. The most obvious is murder, or attempted murder, of physicians who perform abortions, or bombing abortion clinics. The Wikipedia has an article on anti-abortion violence. There are other wrong tactics. Politicians who oppose abortion have said some outrageous things. Todd Akin, candidate for the US Senate, infamously said that, in cases of what he called legitimate rape, women hardly ever get pregnant. In the first place, there is no such thing as legitimate rape. In the second, there is no special biological mechanism to defend against pregnancy, that is put into action in case of rape. (Akin had implied that there was.)

I have seen distortion, perhaps deliberate deceit, in an anti-abortion ad campaign. Im not an expert in this area, but Im pretty sure that there have been other cases of exaggeration, distortion, and deceit by the anti-abortion movement. Unfortunately, most likely some of these have been deliberate. (Of course, these tactics have almost certainly also been used by pro-abortion advocates. But that doesnt excuse their use, especially in the name of Christ.)

Everyone has biases and prejudices, including this author. Many writers try to work around these, and be fair to other views. This post has tried to do that, looking at what the Bible says, rather than mostly at what others say it says. Unfortunately, it is difficult, nearly impossible, to find good unbiased sources about this particular subject. Most conservative Christian writers are convinced that abortion is murder, although the Bible isn't clear on the matter.

This post has dealt with some difficult issues, and I am not certain that my conclusions are correct, but here they are:
1) I conclude that the Bible is not clear as to whether abortion is murder.
2) Even if it is not clear, Christians may legitimately believe that most, or all, abortion is wrong, based on the Golden Rule, on Gods concern for at least some babies, even fetuses and embryos, and on avoidance of selfish acts, acts for the wrong motive.
3) Christians should not engage in questionable practices, including violence, acceptance of rape, or deceit, because of their opposition to abortion.
4) Under certain circumstances, Christians may refuse to participate in carrying out medical procedures, including provision of medicines, that violate their beliefs.

This post is an expansion of part of a post on medical ethical questions that Christians should consider. I am grateful to the Bible, and other sources that have influenced this post, and to one of the pastors of my church, who provided the impetus for this post and the one on medical ethics. (Most likely, he and I dont agree on all points.) All the mistakes, in position, Biblical interpretation, citation and grammar, are my own.

Thanks for reading! Comments would be appreciated.

*This paragraph was added on November 9th, 2013, after I heard a discussion of the origin of my church, The Wesleyan Church, which began as primarily an anti-slavery church, by Bob Black, historian of my church. I thank him.

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Added August 25, 2014. 
After the post above was written, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled, in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, that "closely held" corporations could be exempt from the Affordable Care Act's ("Obamacare's") requirement "to cover certain contraceptives for their female employees." The Green Family, owners of Hobby Lobby, claimed that doing so violated their beliefs, and the Court upheld that claim.

Unfortunately, the facts suggest that Hobby Lobby's objection to contraceptives was more political than religious. Here's a summary article, stating that, by a Christian writer. The article has links to evidence that Hobby Lobby sells lots of merchandise made in China, which, beside having terrible working conditions, which a Christian ought not to tolerate, and officially denying religious freedom, has millions of abortions every year. 

The company's retirement plan seems also to show serious hypocrisy. It invested in companies that make the abortifacients that Hobby Lobby claimed it didn't want to pay for for its employees! See here and here. Oh, dear. 

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Added September 29, 2014: National Public Radio reports on studies around the globe, indicating that making abortions illegal doesn't seem to stop them -- it just means more women die or are hurt by the procedure.

Added October 1, 2014: Here's a sensitive article on abortion, which shows sympathy for all sides of the issue. 

Added December 10, 2014: The passage from Amos 1, above, was added. 

Added on January 8, 2015: Abortion is, in part, a political issue. I have posted on what's wrong with the political left and right in the US. 

Added on June 13, 2017: quotation from Hosea 13.


Martin LaBar said...

For a shorter post, that aims to end political controversy over abortion, see this from Joel Edmund Anderson:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for discussing the topic. Too many bury their head in the sand. I've heard a "christian" pastor say that the bible says nothing about abortion, and you nicely sight many instances. Playing his falsehood out, I guess he might say the bible says nothing about chemical weapons, or intentionally flying a plane into a building. God is the author of life.

Early in your article you post:
"Techniques to cause abortions were non-existent, or ineffective, and probably risky, and, most likely, the very idea of having an abortion would not have occurred to most people in Bible times."

Unfortunately, abortion was understood even back then, with abortifacients. The outcomes were not as reliably deadly as the abortionist is today. I'd draw your attention to the original Hippocratic oath which was against both abortion and euthanasia. And the Didache, written in the time of the apostles, was also firmly against abortion.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you for your comment, Anonymous. I stand corrected.