The Bible and abortion: Nine truths

Editor’s note. This appeared yesterday on the blog of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), National Right to Life’s state affiliate.

The pro-life movement is comprised of people of many faiths and no faith. So is MCCL. Ours is not a “religious” position. The facts of science (showing that the unborn is a living human organism) combined with sound moral reasoning (showing the equal dignity of every member of the human family) confirm the pro-life position that abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. This truth — like the truth that slavery is wrong, or that killing homeless people is wrong, or that kindness is good and praiseworthy — is accessible to everyone, regardless of religious conviction. (See, for example, SecularProLife.org.)

Having said that, Christians who embrace the Bible have additional reason to reject abortion and accept the pro-life position. From the Christian perspective, what we know from “general revelation” (science, natural law) is even further confirmed by “special revelation” (the teaching of Scripture). Below are the biblical truths most relevant to abortion, as best as I can discern them. These points should matter for anyone who believes the Bible is true or authoritative, and perhaps also for those who believe the Bible contains at least some truth or wisdom.

(1) Human beings are created in the image of God.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

It seems highly likely that we bear the image of God by nature — by virtue of the kind of creature we are, one made in God’s own likeness, with an inherent capacity (whether actualized or not) for reason, deliberation, love, etc. — and thus we bear that image at all stages of our lives. There is no biblical basis for thinking that human beings can gain or lose their status as divine image-bearers due to accidental characteristics or stage of development, or that some members of our species are made in the image of God but not others.

(2) It is morally wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being.

The fact that human beings are created in the image of God is the biblical grounding for human dignity and rights. This is made explicit in Genesis 9:6, which prohibits taking innocent human life on that basis. “Do not murder” (Matthew 19:18). See also Exodus 20:13 (the sixth commandment), Exodus 23:7, Proverbs 6:17.

Given the scientific facts of embryology — which show that the life of a human being begins at conception — it seems that the biblical prohibition on killing must include the killing of unborn human beings. Still, one could try to argue (as some have) that unborn humans are not meant to be included — that by “man” or “persons” (those who ought not be killed) the Bible means only more developed members of our species (perhaps those who can exercise higher mental functions), not those at the earliest stages of life. So consider point (3).

(3) There is a continuity of personal identity throughout the life of a human being, beginning at conception and including the embryonic and fetal stages of development.

“Surely I was … sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). “From my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Psalm 22:10). “[Y]ou knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” (Job 31:15). “Before I was born the Lord called me … [he] formed me in the womb to be his servant” (Isaiah 49:1,5). “Before I [God] formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Writers in both the Old and New Testaments use the same word to refer to unborn and already-born children (the Hebrew word yeled and the Greek word brephos, respectively). There is no distinction between them — children are children, whether born or unborn.

During Rebekah’s pregnancy in Genesis 25:22, “the babies [Jacob and Esau] jostled each other within her.” When Jesus is conceived through the Holy Spirit, Mary is said to be “with child” upon conception (Matthew 1:18). In Luke 1:41-44, the unborn John the Baptist (probably near the end of his second trimester in the womb) “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb when he entered the presence of the unborn Jesus (who was probably a several-days-old embryo at the time).

Thus, according to the Bible, each of us was once an embryo and a fetus. Moreover, God cares for unborn human beings just as he cares for everyone else. He knows them and has plans for their lives. So it is almost inconceivable that the prohibition on killing innocent human beings is not meant to include the killing of unborn human beings. To have killed the embryo I once was would have been to kill me, a human being loved by God and fashioned in his image.

We can put our reasoning like this: The Bible prohibits the killing of innocent human persons; the Bible regards the unborn as innocent human persons; therefore, the Bible prohibits the killing of the unborn. Alternatively, we can say that the Bible clearly assumes that what/who each of us is began at conception; moreover, the Bible teaches that we have dignity and a right to life (grounded in the fact we are made in God’s image) by virtue of what/who we are; therefore, we have our dignity and right to life from the beginning of our existence at conception.

(4) Children are a blessing.

“Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3). See also Matthew 18:14, Matthew 18:10, Deuteronomy 30:19. Child sacrifice is a particularly heinous form of murder (Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; Ezekiel 16:20-21, 20:31).

The biblical perspective is completely at odds with autonomy arguments for the permissibility of abortion, which claim that we have no obligations to our unborn offspring.

(5) Governments exist (in part) to protect innocent human beings from unjust killing.

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). See also 1 Peter 2:14.

Abortion — the killing of innocent, unborn human beings — should be prohibited by law.

(6) We ought to speak out on behalf of the oppressed.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11). “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).

Thus, we should not stand idly by while innocent human beings who cannot speak for themselves are killed by abortion.

(7) We ought to help those in need.

“And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

We should care about pregnant women who are facing difficult circumstances, not just as a means of reducing abortions, but for their own sake. The work of pregnancy care centers is vitally important.

(8) We ought to work to make our laws more just.

“Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15). “Seek justice. Defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17). We should be involved in politics and legislation in order to help restore legal protection for unborn children.

(9) God offers forgiveness through his son, Jesus Christ.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7). If you have been involved in an abortion (fathers, mothers, grandparents, abortionists, abortion clinic workers, etc.), the Bible says there is a solution. As Franklin Graham puts it: “[I]f a person is guilty of having an abortion, God will forgive them and will cleanse them, if they’re willing to come to him and ask for his forgiveness and receive his son Jesus Christ, by faith, into the heart.”

Conclusion

Gathering these nine truths together, here’s what the Bible tells us regarding the abortion issue, as far as I can discern: Abortion is a serious moral wrong and ought to be prohibited by law (this follows from points 1-5). Consequently, we should work to protect unborn children, to help pregnant women and others in need, and to make our laws more just (points 6-8). Finally, abortion is a symptom of a fallen world. All of us are sinners, and the only answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ (point 9).

It seems that one cannot consistently give the Bible much credence while also failing to be pro-life and, indeed, taking some sort of action on behalf of the pro-life cause.