Abortion – from the point of view of the Bible

Abortion is never mentioned in the Bible. Abortion, infanticide, infant abandonment (“exposing” the child) were all permitted under Roman law.

Scripture verses that might speak to the question: Psalm 139:13-14 “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Is. 44:24 “… The Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb.” Jer. 1:5 “before I formed you in the womb I knew you… I set you apart as a prophet Gal. 1:15 (Paul) – “But when God who had set me apart before I was born, and called me through his grace…”

Exodus 21:22-25 “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judge determines. If any harm follows, they you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

This is an accidental miscarriage – not a planned abortion, but there is a clear difference between the fetus and the woman. For the fetus – a fine is paid; but if the woman dies, it’s “life for life.” There is no parity between the two. The woman is treated as a person, but the fetus as property.

Numbers 5:11-31 – Abortion is actually the expected consequence of adultery on the woman’s part. If a man suspects that his wife has been unfaithful and is pregnant by that other, he is told to take her to the priest, who will make a beverage for her to drink. If she has been unfaithful, “her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry.” If she is innocent, the drink will have no effect. Clearly, a fetus that does not “belong” to a married man has no “right to life” at all.

The Bible connects life and breath – A fetus has not breathed, is not yet “human”.

“Thou shalt not kill” did not even apply to many living human beings, let alone to a fetus.

The Law of Moses commanded killing for cursing one’s mother or father, (Ex 21:17) or for being a stubborn son (Deut 221:18-21) – or even for picking up sticks (working) on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-35).

The Bible promotes capital punishment for conduct on 21st century civilized society would consider criminal at all. Mass murders were committed or approved of routinely – See Numbers 25:4-9 where God ordered Moses to kill 24,000 Israelites.

The injunction against killing forbade only the murder of already born Hebrews who were otherwise in faithful relationships with the community –

See Psalm 137:9 “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.”

Deuteronomy 2:34 “At that time we captured all his towns and, in each town we utterly destroyed men, women and children.”

1 Samuel 15:3 (Samuel said to Saul…) Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all they have; do not spare them but kill both man, woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey…”

Is. 13:16 (concerning Babylon) – “Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; …”

Belief that “a human being exists at conception” is a matter of faith not fact.

It is also unreasonable to think that the biblical writers – any of them – thought that abortion was a terrible evil but simply forgot to include anything about it. The law included some 600+ laws about everything from clothing to food, to behavior – but not one word about abortion, even though it was known and practiced in every society.

Abortion and the church

Abortion is not condemned by Judaism – and wasn’t by Protestant Christians either until recently. Episcopalians never forbade it, but urged women to make abortion decisions in consultation with other people, medical and religious, and not to do so lightly.

Roman Catholics opposed abortion – and do still. But this wasn’t really as clear-cut as it seems. Sex itself is a complicated issue in a Church where all power resides in celibate males. Sex between men and women were traditionally tolerated only if the possibility of having babies existed. Sex for pleasure alone was deemed to be sinful, even for married couples. That is why it also opposed/opposes contraception. Abortion was opposed because it nullified the only reason for having sex: procreation.

BUT – A fetus was not considered to be “ensouled” even by medieval Catholics in the time of St. Thomas Aquinas until “it was formed” – which he thought happened at 40 days for males, and 80 days for females – or until “quickening” – when a pregnant woman feels the movement of the fetus. Even in the Catholic Church abortion was NOT considered wrong until after that time – until there was a “soul”. Nevertheless, abortion was widespread and socially accepted in Europe – St. Antonius, Archbishop of Florence in the 15th century, defended abortions that were medically necessary for a pregnant woman or before “ensoulment”.

Not until 1588 when Pope Sixtus V came to power was it absolutely forbidden – at any state of pregnancy. However, he did not make any effort to enforce this – and he explicitly did not want women who had procured abortions to be treated as if they committed homicide.

In 1591 the new pope reversed that stance – and Pope Gregory XIV said that it was only forbidden after “ensoulment” which he determined to be 166 days into a pregnancy – well over halfway through the second trimester.

Pius IX reversed the decision yet again in 1869 and made any abortion after conception a sin that automatically excommunicated anyone involved in it – He believed that a fetus was not a person until ensoulment, but that it was a potential person – and so should be protected.

However even within the Catholic Church today many clergy and lay people point to the traditional “primacy o conscience” – which requires each adult to listen to the voice of God in their own conscience and make decisions based on that in complex circumstances.

Protestants traditionally have supported the individual conscience as well – and even conservatives like the SBC supported Roe vs. Wade when it was passed.



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