Life, Death, and the Gray
Updated: Jan 31
Intense debate abounds in the Church in areas of theology, morality, and doctrine which are perceived to be gray. Scripture does not always spell out the finer details and man therefore must reason his way through some sticky subjects. This reality provides ample opportunity for Christians to blur the line between righteousness and unrighteousness, so we must be very mindful of our hermeneutics, check our currently held beliefs against historical church doctrine and orthodoxy, always be open to challenge, and walk out our salvation with fear and trembling. But there are times when we believe scripture to be silent on a matter when actually it is not. The killing of unborn children is a stark example.
Many Christians have claimed that the Bible does not address the issue of abortion at all. In fact, recent surveys have shown about 52% of Protestant Christians and 58% of Catholics believe the Bible is ambiguous in its teaching on abortion while 50% and 57% respectively do not believe in the sanctity of human life. But in plain sight is actually a damning verse which simply cannot be ignored. Ironically it is one of the most cited passages regarding justice in all of scripture, found in Exodus 21. The passages is usually quoted in part, rendered as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." But strangely, most do not seem to be aware of the context of that phrase. This passage is regarding the justice demanded for the harm of unborn life. If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. -Exo 21:22-25 (NIV)
Now it is worth noting that in Old Testament Israel, murder was a capital offense punishable by death (see Lev 24:17), but typically manslaughter was not (see Deu 19:4-6). Like in our modern justice system, not all killing held the same legal definitions. The 6th commandment given to Moses by God was "thou shall not murder" (which is sometimes incorrectly translated as kill). Murder is typically defined as taking a human life intentionally while manslaughter is generally understood as taking a human life unintentionally. What is striking then in Exodus 21 regarding harming the unborn is that it is clearly referring to an unintentional act—a pregnant woman is an innocent bystander in that scenario. Yet the punishment is still death if the unborn child is killed (a life for a life)—a rare case of manslaughter being treated as murder in Old Testament law.
So if killing an unborn child unintentionally was punishable by death in the Old Testament, it is rather impossible to believe that intentionally killing an unborn child (abortion) would be viewed as anything other than murder and would therefore also be punished by death. While we tend to think of abortion as a modern practice, the reality is it has been performed since at least the 3rd millennium BCE. So, though the term may be relatively modern, it would have been a very familiar concept to the Old Testament writers. In fact, ancient Jewish tradition actually describes the teaching of abortion to humanity by demons. The book of Enoch, chapter 69, verse 12 states that the demon Kasdeja (one of the fallen angels of Nephilim fame) specifically taught mankind "the smitings of the embryo in the womb, that it may pass away." In other words, the Jews literally believed that abortion was demonically inspired—a practice devised by a particularly insidious group of demons. So it should be of no surprise that abortion has been universally viewed as murder by both the ancient Jews and the church throughout history... Until recently that is.
Ironically, it has been in the modern age of science that many in the church have become skeptical of the definition of human life and when that definition applies. When abortion was legalized in America, people thought fetuses were little more than globs of tissue and cells. But in the years since, science has discovered the intricacies of conception, the unique DNA of the separate person in utero, and witnessed the development of the fertilized egg into a living, feeling person. We now know when a baby's heartbeat begins, when their nervous system is developed and can feel pain, and know that babies have very developed cognitive abilities. They dream, respond to music and familiar stories, and recognize the voice of their parents and even begin language learning while in the womb. Sonograms, ultrasounds, and even 3D pictures and video of the unborn are now commonplace and the horrors of the actual abortion procedure and the excruciating pain it inflicts on its victims is well understood. Even non-Christians who claim to support abortion quickly recognize it as grotesque murder once they actually see it (short video below, no graphic content, but you can click here to watch the fairly graphic video they are shown).
Yet in the face of all this available evidence, many Christians deny the humanity of children in the womb and even argue that scripture does not take a moral stance on the subject. They conjure up convoluted arguments and abstract concepts to insulate themselves from the hideous reality which has even convinced doctors who perform abortions that it is an inexcusable practice (see Dr. Anthony Levatino's testimony before Congress). Beyond suddenly questioning thousands of years of moral definitions and ignoring the scientific evidence, Christians are even beginning to doubt the pro-life position on a pragmatic level, arguing that being pro-choice actually saves more lives and is more loving (see a Patheos article titled "How I Lost Faith in the Pro Life Movement"). But the so-called "moral pro-choice" arguments are almost always fundamentally flawed and often are seemingly unaware of the actual data.
Argument: What about rape and Incest?
Most arguments for the pro-choice position utilize appeals to emotion by focusing on heartbreaking situations like rape and incest. Because surely we wouldn't want to force a victim of such a heinous act to have to carry the resulting child to full term. This argument is flawed in at least two ways however. First, two wrongs do not make a right—as awful as rape is, murdering an innocent third party doesn't make the situation more just, it makes it considerably less so. Secondly, these cases are exceedingly rare—even according to the more liberal estimates by the Guttmacher Institute, only 1% of abortions are performed due to rape and less than 0.5% due to incest. According to the forms in Florida, the only state which tracks such data, only 0.27% of abortions are performed due to life threatening complications for the mother and another 1.48% due to non-life threatening complications. A mere 1% are performed due to alleged fetal abnormalities—note that pregnancy screenings are not always accurate, so it's possible to abort a perfectly healthy child in these situations. Curiously, many even defend partial birth abortions due to the mistaken belief that they could save the life of the mother. In fact, medical experts unanimously agree that partial birth abortions are never medically necessary—there simply are no medical scenarios where a mother's life could be saved by a partial birth abortion.
That leaves over 95% of all abortions unaccounted for, so what are the main reasons people kill their own children? Well 20% are performed for social or economic reasons while 75.4% are simply elective. People seem to kill their babies primarily because they want sexual intercourse without sexual responsibility—abortion is simply used as a retroactive contraceptive, despite widespread availability of actual contraceptives in our society. The Bible tells us that sex outside of marriage is sin and a dangerous thing for all parties involved—the mother, the father, and the resulting children. Marriage brings an economic, emotional and psychological stability with it which allows for parents to be be better equipped and prepared for children. This is clearly shown in the data as 86% of all abortions are performed on unmarried women according to the CDC. Over a quarter (27%) of all pregnancies end in abortion if you're single compared to a mere 4% of pregnancies if you're married. Sex outside of marriage is far more life threatening for the baby.
Argument: The Issue is Unwanted Pregnancies, Not Abortion
This is clearly true according to the statistics cited above, so making abortions illegal certainly won't turn all unwanted babies into wanted babies. However, it would certainly give the parents a chance to bond with their child and decide to keep them rather than defaulting to killing them out of convenience. We as a society cannot condone murder simply because many want to shirk responsibility. If people want to have unrestricted sex without the possibility of children, then they should utilize birth control methods which are widely available and either cheap or completely free in the US rather than using abortion as a defacto solution. By criminalizing all murder rather than just those outside of the womb, it would force people to take more responsibility for their actions and weigh the risks, knowing that having unprotected sex could result in a 9 month pregnancy and adoption process rather than a quick (and usually free) out-patient procedure at a local abortion clinic. Birth control pills are easily accessible, and either cheap or free with insurance. If prescription pills are too much of a hassle, condoms are literally available everywhere and are ridiculously affordable. At this point, high schools are even handing them out for free in our modern sex-crazed and STD-riddled society. No one has any right to choose to kill a baby when they could have chosen birth control instead.
Argument: Adoption Agencies and the Foster Care System are Already Overburdened
It is true that there are many children stuck in our current systems without potential adoptive parents, but this is a misleading argument. Adoption is absolutely a valid alternative to abortion because there is a waiting list, not a surplus of children, for parents wanting to adopt babies. The reasons are pretty easy to understand as integrating a teenager into your family is much more challenging than integrating a baby. Older children in the foster care system typically come from very dysfunctional families and backgrounds and have largely already formed their worldview and value systems. Babies on the other hand are largely blank slates ready for adoptive parents to nurture them and raise them in their families, their values, and their socio-economic culture. But even if parents weren't desperately trying to adopt babies in America and therefore most would end up in the foster care system until they age out, is anyone seriously arguing that death is a preferable outcome to a childhood in foster care? How many current adults who have aged out of that system would actually say that their lives have been utterly disposable and they wished they had simply been aborted?
Argument: Conservatives aren't Really Pro-Life, They're Just Anti-Abortion
This argument essentially moves the goal posts and redefines terminology in order to make the pro-life stance seem as the less humane position. This argument asserts that in order to actually care about life, one must care about the quality of life after birth and therefore support large-scale social welfare programs to ensure that the children who weren't aborted are well taken care of by the state. Of course this argument ignores the fact that private charity options abound—the government is not the sole entity which can or even should take care of people. According to this logic, one couldn't truly support the 1st Amendment either unless they also supported a massive government program which provided printing presses and houses of worship for every citizen. This of course is absurd as the right to speech and religion—like the right to life—does not require government subsidies in order to exist, it simply requires the government to allow citizens to flourish without interference and only intervene if their right is being infringed upon by another party. Abortion certainly qualifies as an infringement upon the unborn human's right to life, so the law should protect the most vulnerable of our society and be an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
Argument: Outlawing Abortion Won't Decrease Abortions
Many people claim that criminalizing abortion wouldn't decrease abortion numbers, it would only make abortions more dangerous as people would seek out unsanctioned options or unqualified and unlicensed practitioners. This argument essentially asserts that an immoral action should be lawful because if it isn't lawful, it might be more dangerous for the perpetrator to carry out the immoral act. The purpose of law is usually to protect the well being of the victim, not the perpetrator. By protecting the perpetrator you actually incentivize the behavior and therefore increase the number of victims. This is the opposite of justice. But the reality is that criminalizing an act actually does dramatically reduce the prevalence of the behavior in question.
The notion that people will get an abortion regardless of availability or legality flies in the face of everything we know. According to all the available data, abortions in the US were practically unheard of before they were legalized after Roe v Wade. In 1963 abortion was universally illegal in America and a total of 390 abortions occurred nationwide. In 1964, abortion really came to the forefront of the national discussion as a women's right issue resulting in a significant uptick to 823 abortions—a trend which would continue as in 1966 a grand total of 1,028 abortions were performed in the US though it was still illegal in every state. Colorado became the first state to legalize abortions in cases of rape and incest in 1967 which caused the abortion number to double to 2,061 that year. A handful of other states soon followed suit in the late 1960's, decriminalizing abortion in certain cases. This led to dramatic increases of abortion in 1968 (6,211 abortions) and 1969 (27,512 abortions). In 1970, Hawaii became the first state to legalize elective abortions upon request with New York, Alaska, and Washington following that same year. Unsurprisingly abortions shot up to 193,491 that year. Then, in 1973, Roe v Wade fully legalized abortion across the US and numbers skyrocketed to 744,610 cases that year. Cultural trends then pushed those numbers higher and higher throughout the 1970's and 80's to a peak of over 1.6 million babies being aborted in 1990. On average, nearly 1.3 million babies have been killed each and every year since Roe v Wade compared to less than 1,000 per year when abortion was illegal. To put those numbers in perspective, the total death count of Americans from all armed conflicts from the Revolutionary War to the present adds up to just over 1.1 million. Abortion kills more children every year than war has killed in our 244 year history combined.
To further elucidate this point, there has actually been at least one study done which looked at the effects of legality on abortion. The study was authored by economists Phillip Levine and Douglas Staiger and appeared in The Journal of Law and Economics in 2004. Their findings provided overwhelming evidence that the incidence of abortion is greatly affected by its legal status. Levine and Staiger found that countries where abortion is legal only to save the mother's life or for specific medical reasons have abortion rates that are only about 5% of the level in countries in which abortion is legal upon request. In other words, de-legalization essentially eliminates all elective abortions—it does not simply push abortions underground. This should be obvious to anyone who understands the deterrent effect of criminal penalties and the social stigma associated with it.
The Bible and Life in the Womb
The biblical texts go further than simply criminalizing the killing of unborn children, it also beautifully describes life in utero and confers humanity upon the unborn. This should not be surprising as scripture puts such a heavy emphasis on the blessing of children and the importance of the family, a case which is made in the article "Generational Genocide." But is it still interesting and humbling to see the language used in the many passages which talk about the humanity of life in the womb.
Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you... -Isa 44:2
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth... -Psa 139:13-16
Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. -Psa 22:9-10
Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb? -Job 31:15
Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. -Ecc 11:5
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” -Jer 1:5
Listen to Me, O islands, and pay attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. -Isa 49:1
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace... -Gal 1:15
Because he did not kill me before birth, so that my mother would have been my grave, and her womb ever pregnant. -Jer 20:17
In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. -Hos 12:3
For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. -Luk 1:15
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. -Luk 1:41
The Consequences of Shedding Innocent Blood
The ramifications of over 60 million children being mercilessly slaughtered in America cannot be overstated. The "shedding of innocent blood" is a sin which God not only holds against an individual, but against a nation which allows it. God demands righteousness and justice, and has grace and patience, but eventually He judges nations for their corporate sin—unless that nation repents. Note that repent means "to turn from," so for a nation to repent, it does not require a change of heart by every citizen, but rather a change of law and enforcement of that law which upholds justice. God does not judge nations based on the actions of a few via guilt by association, He judges a nation based on the corporate behavior of its government and culture as they are a reflection of one another.
Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance... Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you. -Deu 19:10, 13
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people. -Pro 14:34
When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Isa 1:15
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. -Jer 18:7-8
Of course blood doesn't get much more innocent than that of a baby. The killing of innocent children was actually one of the primary reasons God judged the people of Canaan and sent the Israelites into the Promised Land with strict instruction to utterly wipe them out. Many people when reading of the conquest of Canaan wonder why God would even allow, let alone command such destruction and annihilation of a people, but the reality is that God was patient with the Canaanites for hundreds of years giving them ample opportunity to repent. In Gen 15:12-16 God promises the land to Abram, but with a time delay of 400 years. Why must the descendants of Abram be stuck in Egypt for four centuries? Because the sin of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure (v16). God was patient with the people in the land of Canaan and gave them 400 years to repent, but they did not, so His righteous and unyielding judgment came through the nation of Israel when the sins of Canaan had reached a tipping point.
What was the sin which characterized the people of Canaan? The Abarbanel, a 15th Century Jewish scholar, summed up the numerous Old Testament characterizations of the Canaanites by stating they were morally derelict in the abuse of procreative power through sexual immorality and the sacrifice of children. In other words, they were promiscuous and they killed a lot of the resulting babies. Does this sound familiar in our current cultural context? In a recounting of Israel's history, Psalms 106 describes Israel's sin of not eradicating the Canaanites, instead opting to join with them in their abhorrent practices.
They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. -Psa 106:38
The idol of Canaan referred to here is Molech, who was depicted as a man with the head of a calf. Rashi, a 12th Century Jewish scholar describes the ritual in his commentary on Jeremiah: "Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved." This account describes babies literally being cooked to death on a brass platform preheated to searing temperatures like hamburgers on a griddle. Today we don't burn our babies to death on hot metal, instead we burn them to death in the womb with chemicals (saline injection). That is until we discovered more efficient ways to kill unborn babies, but the new methods certainly are no more humane. Now we rip their arms and legs off one by one before finally crushing their skulls (dilation & evacuation). Indeed, we're just as barbaric as the Canaanites, we're just slightly more sophisticated.
The heart of man hasn't improved over the millennia, it just partners with the mind to create clever new methods to commit the same old sin. While the killing of babies in Canaan might be dismissed today as religious or superstitious nonsense, actually the similarities to the issue of modern abortion are striking. Both were born of a culture which had rejected all sexual restraint and morality which of course came with some rather obvious but unintended consequences about 9 months later—consequences which are often rather troublesome outside the stability and sanctity of marriage. Then there's the murder itself which presents itself as a solution. True, the Canaanites were involved in idol worship, and your average mother seeking an abortion today probably wouldn't claim to be doing so on the basis of religious belief. But ultimately the motivation is nearly identical. The Canaanites believed that by killing their babies, Molech would bless them—specifically that he would financially prosper them. Today, the motivation is typically the same—mothers get an abortion because they aren't married and therefore don't have the financial stability to care for the child, or don't want to be burdened and not be able to pursue their education, career, and dreams. The vast majority of abortions in the US are not medical necessities, but rather the sacrifice of children at the altar of financial gain. Like the Canaanites, we kill our babies to improve our lots in life because man is a fundamentally selfish and broken creature.
But God is a forgiving God, full of grace and mercy for those who repent. There is no condemnation in Christ for those who have had an abortion and repented of (turned from) that deed. But our nation has not repented of abortion. In fact it continues to push the envelope further and further, now calling for partial birth abortion, more federal funding, and greater access to this "right." That is not to say that there aren't people and politicians who are adamantly opposed to abortion, but it remains the law of the land and in less than 50 years Americans have killed incalculable more babies than the Canaanites did in over 400. I do not claim to know the calculus that God uses to weigh a nation in the scales in order to determine the timing and magnitude of His judgment. What I do know that the slaughter of 60 million babies is going to be held against us and if God's wrath against Canaan is any indication, it will not be a mild judgment.
"Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged? No, I will not.” The Lord dwells in Zion! -Joe 3:21