Making the Case for Life
It may surprise some to learn that there is a significant number of professing believers who would call themselves pro-choice. Unsurprisingly, the group has rather weak biblical support for this position.
When teaching, it is often helpful to point out a counterexample and show why that example is wrong. In this article, we will look into several statements made by those who claim to be both Christian and pro-choice. Ultimately answering the question, “what does the Bible say about abortion?”
These statements should be judged in the light of the Scriptures. Why? Because the Scriptures are the final standard against which all propositions must be measured.
End Abortion Now stands firmly upon the Scriptures as the basis for the belief that all abortion must end immediately. The Bible is the authoritative and sufficient standard for life and godliness; therefore, the Bible is the source for determining proper ethics and morality.
The ultimate biblical text that condemns the practice of abortion is the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
The Bible unequivocally determines that life begins at conception. Look no further than Psalm 139:
For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.
— Psalm 139:13-16
With this in mind, here are a few common arguments used by pro-choice professing Christians to justify their position.
The First Common Argument
I am pro-autonomy. I am pro-independence. I am pro-choice. I am also of the opinion that my religion — or anyone’s religion—has no place in the affairs of other people. I don’t like Christ being used as a political cudgel, but here we are, in 2016, talking about the very personal decisions women make, and so, I feel compelled to write this.
— Charles Clymer, HuffPost
Among religious groups, the pro-choice position is nuanced, recognizing that most people believe abortion—as well as bearing children—are matters for individual conscience, not government or religious mandate.
The first common argument found among the pro-choice Christian movement is that religious preferences should not control the behavior of those who do not subscribe to that religion. To be clear, this argument applies to any woman who is pregnant, whether she claims Christ or not.
What the Bible Says about the First Common Argument
What is happening in this argument is a doctrinal sleight of hand. The sin of abortion is being relegated to a status of “tertiary” doctrine. Those who adhere to this argument do not believe that the Church has the authority to address the issue of abortion to any individual.
Therefore, the dilemma of whether or not to murder an unborn child is considered by this position as an issue of “conscience” akin to the choice of using tobacco or getting a tattoo.
It is impossible to faithfully read the Scriptures and believe that God does not command obedience to His law in all aspects of life, including the sexual and reproductive. Believers in Jesus Christ submit themselves to church oversight because they are loyal to Christ as Head of the Church.
The Church is called to stand firm against sin. The idea that the Church must not speak authoritatively into the lives of its members plainly contradicts the teaching of the New Testament.
In Matthew 18, for instance, Jesus instructs the apostles in church discipline, preparing them for the event that a member is found to be engaged in public sin. He bestows authority on the church to excommunicate the unrepentant.
Paul reiterates the practice in his first letter to the Corinthian church, ordering them to excommunicate a member found guilty of unrepentant sexual immorality. Regarding Clymer’s reluctance to see Christ used as a “cudgel,” one must not forget that Jesus informed His disciples that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
The Doctrine of Christian Liberty
Christian liberty is real, but it cannot be applied to clearly sinful behavior. In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that Christian liberty exists with respect to practices that are not outlawed by God in His Word but may nonetheless offend the conscience of a believer.
A common example of this is the drinking of alcohol. Enjoying a glass of wine or beer does not transgress God’s commands. Drunkenness, however, is clearly outlawed by God (Romans 13:13, Ephesians 5:18). A Christian recovering from alcoholism may be offended by drinking and must therefore stay away from alcohol.
To conflate the killing of a baby with a conscience issue of this level, however, is absurd on its face. Murder is not an issue of conscience. It is a clear and very simple law of God that is neither abrogated nor set aside by the coming of Christ.
God despises murder because He is the author of life; he is the Judge of all the earth, and He knows every baby from his or her mother’s womb because it is His creative work that brings that baby into the world.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Romans 13 defines the purpose of government.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
— Romans 13:1-4
The responsibility of the civil magistrate is to righteously punish the evildoer. To restrain human depravity, God ordains government to enforce the laws of civil society.
In the case of abortion, the notion that the government is improperly interfering in personal business is inaccurate considering that the government’s job is to protect citizens from assault and murder. It is most certainly within God’s definition of government for civil magistrates to defend unborn babies and punish those who murder them.
The Book of Exodus clearly indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person (Chapter 21:22-23). That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life.
This is not a correct reading of the passage. The lesser problem with this argument is that by their own admission, BeliefNet recognizes that the Word of God acknowledges that there is a punishment for carelessly causing a miscarriage by striking a pregnant woman. This implies that the Lord does consider the unborn person to be a victim. The larger problem is that the verses do not say what is reported in the above quote:
When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
— Exodus 21:22-24
In the above case, fighting men recklessly strike a pregnant woman, causing premature delivery. However, the caveat of “if there is no harm” exists to distinguish between a fine and a more severe punishment.
Premature delivery was harder on mothers in the days of the writing of this passage than it is now; even today, it is by no means easy. A potentially heavy fine is appropriate.
If the baby is harmed, then payment is “eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth.” In other words, if the baby dies or the mother dies, the one who recklessly struck the mother also dies.
This text thereby confirms the personhood of the unborn baby, as it makes no distinction between the penalty for causing harm to the mother or the baby. The consistent enforcement of this statute would have led to Israelites taking a great deal of care in the presence of expectant mothers.
The Second Common Argument
Anti-abortion believers are often accused of fixating upon abortion to an undue degree in light of the many social problems in the world today.
My disconnect with the “pro-life” message, aside from the obvious autonomy issue, is that very rarely have I seen my pro-life friends argue as passionately for children’s healthcare or universal healthcare or refugees or against the death penalty or poverty or for mental health advocacy or homeless advocacy or for VA reform, etc.
This argument asks how a believer can meaningfully claim to care about the rights of the unborn when they do not care about other issues.
What the Bible Says about the Second Common Argument
Skipping over the “autonomy issue” that Clymer mentions, the primary thrust of this argument is that his opponents are hypocritical because they become animated about abortion while purportedly not caring sufficiently for his preferred causes.
When making ethical judgments, the Christian’s first and only source of truth is the Word of God. Psalm 19 says that the law of the Lord is perfect. Clymer’s opinion about what the church should prioritize accounts for nothing in comparison to God’s revealed will.
Some concerns mentioned here are issues with which believers are gravely concerned. Others, such as “universal healthcare,” stem from political agendas that Christians generally oppose.
The idea that Christians must be uniformly enthusiastic about all social evils is absurd. This implies that evils are homogenous. If a person were faced with a dilemma between saving someone from being hit by a train and feeding someone who had not eaten a few days, there is an obvious difference in the urgency of those two situations.
Taking care of the poor is a top priority for the Church. They actually do it a lot. The fact that babies are intentionally murdered in the thousands every single day is a far more urgent and grievous evil than the gradual starvation of the poor. Although American Christians ought to address both issues, the former must be opposed with significantly more vigor.
Abortion draws heavy attention from many Christians because most Americans already agree that poverty, mental health, and other social problems need to be addressed. Abortion, on the other hand, is an action with its morality in question.
Many non-believers do not believe that abortion is wrong. Many professing Christians are confused about the issue. Therefore, the fight is not merely about stopping the practice of abortion, but clarifying that the practice of abortion is sinful and will be judged by God. Once this truth is universally acknowledged, the outlawing of abortion will promptly follow.
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.
— Genesis 9:6
The Third Common Argument
I’m sure there is a genuine and grave concern over “the unborn,” but I feel what truly separates this issue from all other matters of life and death— what provokes such ire — is an implicit, religious need to control and shame women’s sexuality.
It is because we believe in the sanctity of human life that we believe a child has the right to enter the world wanted and loved. Because we believe in the sanctity of human life we are sensitive to the effects of an unwanted pregnancy upon individual women, upon their loved ones and their families, and we recognize that they, not we, must determine what is best for those directly concerned and involved.
This argument asserts that the mother should have autonomy because she has to bear the physical burden of pregnancy and raising the child. Since the fetus grows within her body, she is likewise entitled to make the final decision on carrying the baby to term and deciding on if she will love the baby or not.
What the Bible Says About the Third Common Argument
Clymer’s claim that Christians have a pathological need to control women’s sexuality is offered without any evidence. Also, note the scare quotes around the word “unborn.”
This is meant to imply that such a concept only exists in the mind of his opponents and that he is using it ad hoc because he doesn’t agree that the concept is real. He apparently considers the existence of the anti-abortion movement as sufficient evidence to conclude that the Church simply wants to impose its will on everyone.
This is an imprecise claim. Ultimately, God is the one who defines human sexuality and reproduction. The Church seeks to act in a way that is consistent with God’s precepts; it, therefore, agrees with His revealed word about any given subject, including sexuality.
Biblical sexual ethics limits intercourse to married heterosexual couples (Matthew 19:4-6), who conceive and care for babies as blessings from God (Psalm 127:3). Parents do not have the right to withhold love and care for their babies. Such a position is not popular in modern American culture.
Fornication is a sin; being a victim of a sexual crime is not a sin. It is for this reason that some believers are comfortable with making exceptions in the case of rape and incest to allow for abortion. The baseline, however, does not change.
A baby innocent of any sin of volition is nevertheless dying. The baby did not rape anyone. The baby did not choose to have consensual sex irresponsibly. All people of both sexes are required by God to exercise self-control and keep sex within the boundaries that God has wisely established.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.
— 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
Sexual sin is not unique to women. Apart from the redemptive work of Christ, anyone who commits sexual sin should be ashamed. A man who fathers a child and departs is still the father of that child. He will be judged not only for his sexual sin but also for abandoning his child and the mother.
What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?
The Bible roundly condemns the practice of abortion.
This has been the clear position of the Church since the days of Christ’s earthly ministry. For a handful of professing believers to suddenly “discover” that the Bible does not condemn abortion is a ridiculous claim. Asserting allegiance to God and yet supporting the practice of abortion is untenable.
The only proper choice remaining for such people is to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. The Lord is able to forgive the sin of abortion. He is able to forgive the sin of supporting abortion.
He will even forgive supporting abortions done in His name. But, He is also a perfect judge, and the blood of the innocent cries out to Him for justice.
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
— Mark 1:15