A Christian Perspective on Abortion
When I approached my sisters about writing a response to the current abortion debate, we were all a bit hesitant. Our mission at Rhubarb and Rubbish isn’t political, not even close. However, the more we discussed it, the more we felt we needed to put it out in the world. First and foremost, abortion is a biblical issue, as it deals with life, creation, and our connection to others. Second, all three of us have experienced harassment over our pro-life views at one time or another. Third, all three of us have recognized that in most cases that harassment stemmed from a lack of understanding of why we hold our personal beliefs. Lastly, all three of us believe that the church needs to do more, not just in making sure people know the church’s stance on abortion, but in actually getting out of the pews and helping women, children, and families raise children.
What you will read below and in the next article is not an exhaustive discussion on a Christian perspective of abortion. Instead, this article will introduce the basic arguments and Christian responses. The second will be a call to action for fellow believers because we believe Christians aren’t doing enough, both in discussing the covenantal nature of sex and in coming alongside those in unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.
What did the supreme court decision actually mean?
For those of you who haven’t read the supreme court decision on Dobbs vs. Jackson, I encourage you to do so (https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2VsNiqZ-3lN_2Mz7WJiZpdJaSCW0AWatb0301spTF1s9P932xogQNQ_qY). Many of the arguments and reactions I have seen on social media and heard from friends regarding the case don’t reflect the decision as presented by the court. I won’t go into details of the decision, but as an overarching review, the court did not decide the legality or morality of abortion. The court’s decision reflected a reading of the constitution that indicates abortion is not a constitutional right and, therefore, must be decided at the state level. As someone who strongly believes in the power of the constitution and federalism, I agree with this interpretation of the constitution. However, I also recognize that it creates chaos as we now try to understand how best to approach this issue in individual states. Hence, the current hot debate about abortion.
A Biblical View of Abortion
I would be remiss if I didn’t address a few elephants in the room before reviewing some of the core principles that support a biblical view of abortion. First, if you are not a Christian, much of the rationale and reasoning presented here may not make sense to you or may even seem ridiculous. Each individual, whether religious or not, holds a worldview shaped by beliefs, experiences, social connections, etc. A biblical worldview holds a particular set of ideas about the world and its inhabitants that are based on the history of the Israelite people and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Second, even within Christianity, there are different worldviews. In a very basic sense, to be considered Christian, one must believe that Jesus Christ is part of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and came to earth to redeem people of their sin by dying on the cross. However, within the Christian community, there are various ways of approaching belief in Jesus Christ, which are most readily expressed in the variety of doctrines and theological teachings. In particular, how certain groups approach biblical interpretation causes some issues. My doctoral degree in organizational leadership emphasized Christian leadership, and as part of the degree, I was trained in doctoral-level exegetical analysis. While I learned a lot about biblical interpretation, the two things that resonated most with me included always seeking first to understand the meaning of the text for the intended or original audience and keeping the text within the larger meta-narrative of the bible. In other words, context matters greatly when reading the bible and understanding its meaning. In many cases, both pro-life and pro-choice, individuals use proof-texts rather than a full reading of the biblical meaning (Gorman). I would encourage you to read the following article by Michael Gorman (https://www.uffl.org/vol%205/gorman5.pdf). Gorman does a good job of reviewing the limitations of many of the proof-texts used by both sides and outlines an argument that biblical themes do a better job supporting the pro-life argument.
If you decide to read further, I would ask that no matter where you land in your belief, atheist, agnostic, progressive Christian, or conservative Christian, you suspend judgment and first seek to understand what is being said and how that might shape a person’s belief about life and abortion. This article has not been written to convince you to be prolife. You don’t have to agree with anything written here. The hope is that you read it and try to see how someone, based on their beliefs, might hold this particular perspective. If you do agree, perhaps there might be something here that can help you converse with others about the issue in a more loving and constructive way.
The following items include some of the most prominent arguments in the abortion debate. It is not an exhaustive list. I also am choosing not to utilize specific texts to counter the argument but rather thematic concepts within the larger biblical narrative to present a possible counter-position to the argument, as I agree with Gorman that while texts can reveal many things about a biblical worldview, reviewing those texts as part of the larger meta-narrative of God’s story proves more useful.
My Body, My Choice
Throughout the Bible, there is a tug-of-war between the concepts of freedom and bondage. We receive freedom from our sins, and we are no longer in bondage to them. However, the Bible does not ensure our freedom to do whatever we want and, more often, asks us to make a personal sacrifice for others, particularly those who are weak, in need, or powerless (Romans 6:7). Ultimately, a key biblical theme that surfaces is one of self-abandonment, where others’ needs and desires become more important than our own (Philippians 2:4; Galatians 5:13). In many ways, for the believer, our bodies are not our own. Rather, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and instruments of the work of God and are to be used in service to others and worship of God (See Paul’s discussion of the body as a temple and the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians; Romans 12:1).
I believe a key issue that gets overlooked in the abortion debate is the use of abortion as a form of “convenient” birth control. First, I do believe there is a difference between traditional birth control in the form of pills or shots to change your cycle and abortions. Many within the church may disagree with me on this point, and that is fine. However, by changing your cycle, you are hopefully ensuring that the ability to become pregnant is eliminated or greatly reduced. In an abortion, you are taking an already fertilized egg and destroying it (see below when life begins).
In an article published by USA Today in 2019, women seeking abortions indicated several reasons for their decision. Seventy-four percent indicated that their reason is that it would dramatically change their life, 73% said they couldn’t afford a baby, 48% said they were having relationship problems, and 38% indicated they had completed their childbearing (Dastagir, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/24/rape-and-incest-account-few-abortions-so-why-all-attention/1211175001/). Babies do dramatically change lives. Babies do cost money. Babies add a layer to all relationships. Babies take a lot of energy and space in our lives. It would be hard to make any judgment on the necessity of these abortions without knowing the details of each individual mother’s life. However, the elephant in the room isn’t the abortion, it’s how we as Americans view sex and the relationship between a man and a woman. From a biblical perspective, the relationship between a man and a woman is a covenant relationship that should be entered into with reverence and commitment and only consummated following marriage.
I’ve worked on a college campus for my entire career. What I can tell you is that young people enter into sexual relationships without any thought of the covenantal aspect of that type of relationship. Instead, they are exploring their sexualities, expressing their newfound freedom, and trying desperately to feel connected to someone or something. I was one of these college students. Birth control was readily and freely available to me, but I chose not to use it. Despite my lack of reverence for the covenantal relationship between and man and a woman, I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl, and given the honor of being responsible for her life and upbringing.
I believe, in rare cases, women do not have access to appropriate healthcare and birth control, but I don’t think that accounts for the nearly 63.5 million babies aborted since Roe v. Wade in 1973 (according to Guttamacher Institute 2019). How many of these babies were aborted out of convenience, unwillingness to make both personal and financial sacrifices, or a desire not to take responsibility for personal actions related to sexual activity? My guess is quite a few. From a biblical perspective based on service to others, personal sacrifice, and personal responsibility, aborting a baby for convenience, unwillingness to sacrifice, and not being willing to take responsibility aren’t supported.
When Does Life Begin?
Before we discuss when life begins, we need to understand our relationship with God. First, we are created in his image (Genesis 1:26-27; Ephesian 2:10). Second, we are his children, whom he loves (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1; Romans 8:17; Romans 8:14). Finally, children have special honor in the scriptures (Psalm 127: 3-5; Mark 10:13-16).
Again, even though one can cite several verses about children and babies, God’s hand in our creation, and his knowledge of the prophets and their lives (Psalm 119:17a; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 1:3-4), none of these specifically addressed when life begins or abortion. Regardless, if we take the themes of creation by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere creator God, the emphasis on the sanctity of life throughout scriptures, the call to serve those who are unable to help and defend themselves, and that children are a gift, we have a good foundation to believe that first, life is precious, and second, that there is something miraculous about life. Please read the article at the following link for more detail on the biblical support for these concepts (Kaake, 2022, https://blog.equalrightsinstitute.com/what-pastors-need-to-know-about-abortion/).
Give me just a moment to take us on a field trip away from the overarching themes and focus on the potential miracle of life from a scientific basis. After ovulation, a human female’s egg is only viable between 12-24 hours. The average woman menstruates every 28 days, meaning she would ovulate only 13 times yearly. Thirteen times means that an egg is only in a position to be fertilized 6-12 days out of the year, which is 1.6-3% of the time in a year. In nature, once fertilized, an egg still only has a 25-50% chance of becoming an embryo and living to maturity (Jarvis, 2020; 2016, https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/conception-how-it-works). Are you seeing how small the chances are of getting pregnant in the first place? Do you see how even a fertilized egg has a natural difficulty reaching maturity? Now imagine all the people in the world having sex. I wasn’t able to find any statistics on the sex-to-pregnancy ratio. Looking at the stats provided here and thinking about it, I err on believing every pregnancy is miraculous and a baby living to come into the world even more so.
What About Rape and Incest?
I do have to say that this one is the hardest for me, simply because the victim of rape and incest had no choice in the outcome, and that adds a burden that seems so unbelievably unfair and cruel. However, first, I believe it is important to understand that these cases are rare. According to the same USA Today article published in 2019, only 1% of abortions are due to rape and .5% due to incest (Dastagir, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/24/rape-and-incest-account-few-abortions-so-why-all-attention/1211175001/). Please know that this does not reflect how many people are victims of rape or incest or even the number that becomes pregnant from such situations, only the number of people seeking abortions because of rape or incest.
While I have never been the victim of rape or incest, and I cannot imagine the pain and shame associated with such acts of malevolence, I do know that the bible is clear about the healing of our wounds and sin. God can heal the deepest wounds we can imagine (Jeremiah 30:17; Psalm 147:3; Philippians 4:19). As well, according to the Bible, we all must bear personal responsibility for our own actions (2 Corinthians 5:10). Regardless of what decision pregnant victims of rape or incest make regarding the pregnancy, women who find themselves victims of either of these situations need to be surrounded by love and given hope. We must walk beside them, comfort them, and pray for them.
One idea that has helped me to navigate this was presented by Edward Welch (1997) in his book When People are Big and God is Small. Welch discusses two concepts: sin shame and victim shame. Sin shame is the shame we feel when we sin. Victim shame is the shame we feel when we have been sinned against. Both cause us to feel the nakedness of our human existence. However, we must realize that the shame of being a victim of rape or incest doesn’t go away by getting rid of the physical evidence. My question for you is…does adding the potential sin shame of ending a life ease or add to the shame of being a victim? I can’t give you an answer. I can only say that God reveres life and it is evident throughout his story.
What about ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages (dilation and curettage)?
I have seen this argument bandied about by both pro-choice and pro-life individuals. My research has indicated that neither of these situations is considered an abortion but rather a medical procedure. Neither of these has become illegal in any state following the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision, as far as I am aware (please correct me if I’m wrong). As well, in either of these situations, the life of the mother may be in danger, and the fetus or baby will not ever be viable or is no longer viable. Given the bibles support of the sanctity of life, I believe there is no moral question of right or wrong in completing these procedures, as the mother’s life, the only viable life, given the situation, will be saved. I don’t believe these arguments should be part of the abortion debate.
Loving Those Who Have Had Abortions
I came of age as a young adult in the late 90s and early 2000s. I know quite a few young women who have had abortions. As a young college-aged single mom, I know exactly where they were and why they made that decision. I chose not to get an abortion, but I do not stand in judgment of them. I love them all. I have compassion for them. I see them.
I could list a hundred verses from the bible about loving others—I’ll save a bit of internet space😊. Our job as believers is to love and serve them in a way that reflects the light of Christ and the truth of who God is and will always be. Our question as believers is, even after an abortion has occurred, how can we love and serve that person to heal if healing is needed, to change direction so that a situation isn’t repeated, to come alongside in the darkness and be a tiny flicker of hope, acceptance, and love?
As I noted, this overview is nowhere close to an exhaustive discussion of the issue. However, I hope that no matter where you land on the debate, the article either helped you better understand some of the main tenets of a biblical perspective of the abortion debate and raised the importance of engaging in discussions with a clearer understanding of how the bible views life. My pro-life beliefs are not based on specific biblical texts but on the overall themes of who God is, what he has done for us, and who he calls us to be in the world. Life matters. All life.
Next week, we will lay out a call to action for fellow believers to help in supporting life and health in our families.
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Dastagir, A. (2019). Rape and incest account for hardly any abortions. So why are they now a focus?
Retrieved on 8/8/2022 from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/24/rape-and-incest-account-few-abortions-so-why-all-attention/1211175001/.
DOBBS, STATE HEALTH OFFICER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. v. JACKSON WOMEN’S HEALTH ORGANIZATION ET AL. (2022). Retrieved on 8/8/2022 from https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2VsNiqZ-3lN_2Mz7WJiZpdJaSCW0AWatb0301spTF1s9P932xogQNQ_qY.
Gorman, M. J. The Use and Abuse of the Bible in the Abortion Debate. Life and Learning 5/140, 184.
Jarvis GE. (2020). Misjudging early embryo mortality in natural human reproduction. F1000Res. 2020 Jul 14;9:702. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.22655.1. PMID: 33224477; PMCID: PMC7670474.
Jarvis GE. (2016). Early embryo mortality in natural human reproduction: What the data say. F1000Res. 2016 Nov 25;5:2765. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8937.2. PMID: 28580126; PMCID: PMC5443340.
Kaake, A. (July 14, 2022). What pastors need to know about abortion. Retrieved from https://blog.equalrightsinstitute.com/what-pastors-need-to-know-about-abortion/#more-10517.
Stanford University Medical Center (2010). Which fertilized eggs will become healthy human fetuses? Researchers predict with 93% accuracy. Retrieved on 8/8/2022 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101003205930.htm#:~:text=In%20humans%2C%20it’s%20about%2030%20percent%2C%22%20said%20Reijo%20Pera.
Welch, E. (1997). When People Are Big and God Is Small. P & R Publishing.