Arguments against abortion
GOD’S GIFT OF LIFE
Amazing advances in medical knowledge and surgical techniques in recent years have forced many serious questions of morality upon all thinking and concerned people. For Christian believers there is the immediate need to examine the Word of God to see what principles it gives by which our thinking and attitudes must be governed.
The recent report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology, the Warnock Report, has brought into public debate matters which could never have been discussed only fifty years ago. It is not easy to speak sensitively and publicly in a Christian magazine on issues which, until comparatively recently, would have been mentioned only in a most private way. But the situation is so serious and so pressing that Christians must be made aware of the dangers and must be encouraged to make their views known to our legislators by every method open to them.
Staggering abuses committed as a result of the so-called reform of the abortion laws in 1967 have resulted in two and a quarter million unborn children being put to death in England and Wales alone in the last sixteen years. Most of these abortions were performed by violent and repulsive methods within the womb of the mother, some of them by deliberate actions after the children have been torn alive, from the womb. In 1982 alone 162.797 abortions were carried out with apparent legality in this country. This occurs at a time when ante-natal care has reduced the absolute necessity of abortion to save a mother’s life to a negligible figure.
This appalling destruction of life has had its inevitable consequences in progressively hardening attitudes in medical circles, so that now it is a fact that trained medical personnel who look for posts in the area of obstetrics and gynaecology find it increasingly difficult to gain employment if they are conscientiously committed to saving and caring for all life! The fact that they refuse to be involved in abortions places an extra load of work upon the rest of the staff and this appears to be sufficient reason for appointing those with fewer conscientious scruples.
Opinions in the non-medical world have become so conditioned by prevailing attitudes that it is now apparently acceptable to commit murderous brutality against the unborn child, the likes of which would produce an immediate outcry, or indeed criminal proceedings, if committed against those who are far better able to protect themselves. If anyone considers this an exaggerated comment they need only to consider the methods in use to procure an abortion – who would like to be sucked down a tube by a vacuum pump, or cut into tiny pieces by a sharp knife or poisoned by an infusion of urea?
Sometimes it is implied by pro-abortionists that all that is involved in abortion is “a blob of jelly”. This is utterly refuted when one considers the wonders of a child’s development within the womb. By the time a baby is 18 to 25 days old, long before the mother is sure that she is pregnant, his heart is already beating.
At 45 days after conception, waves from the baby’s developing brain can. be recorded. At eight weeks not only is there a brain, but the fingerprints on the hands have already formed and except for size will never change. By ten weeks the baby can squint, swallow and move his tongue. By twelve weeks he has finger nails, sucks his thumb and recoils from pain. All his vital organs are now present and what should follow is growth. How sad that at this very period when a baby is healthy and thriving in what is a perfect and usually safe environment, his life may be taken from him by a violent act.*
By a bitter irony, through extensive research into embryology, we are faced with almost unbelievable suggestions by which human infertility can be remedied. It is heartbreaking to hear that in some hospitals, in neighbouring beds, it has been known for one mother to be openly admitting to an abortion for the most trivial reasons whilst the next patient is in tears, longing for a child of her own and yet remaining childless.
These are indeed basic issues of life and death and believers must ask some fundamental questions. What is the Biblical view of life? A long quotation from an excellent article by Dr. Gordon Wenham M.A. Ph.D. and published by the CARE Trust lays down these principles very clearly:-
a. THE OLD TESTAMENT EVIDENCE
The Old Testament says nothing about deliberately induced abortion. However, in view of its general pro-life stance -“Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22,28) is the first command in the Bible-and its severe punishment of those who damage man’s procreative powers (Leviticus 22:24;
Deuteronomy 25:11-12), it is likely that Israel would have shared its neighbours’ attitude to abortion. According to Middle Assyrian Law 53, which originated in the same region as the Hebrew patriarchal homeland, a woman convicted of procuring an abortion was sentenced to death and her body was impaled on a stake. This impaling was not simply an exemplary deterrent, but was designed to prevent her soul resting in the underworld.
It is noteworthy that the first-century Jewish writers, Philo and Josephus, explicitly condemn abortion and infanticide, contrasting Jewish attitudes with their pagan contemporaries. Josephus says “The Law forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the foetus; a woman convicted of this is regarded as an infanticide, because she destroys a soul and diminishes the race”. Both he and Philo evidently regard Exodus 21:22, which provides for the punishment of a man who accidentally causes a woman to give birth prematurely to a child, as by implication condemning any deliberately induced abortions.
b. THE NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE
Again, the New Testament says nothing explicit about abortion, but it may be implicitly condemned in Galatians and Revelation. Among the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:20) are sorceries (Greek pharmakeia), while among those excluded from the heavenly city in Rev. 21:8, 22:15 are the sorcerers (pharmakoi). Now a more exact translation of this term would be medicine men, i.e. of the African witch-doctor type. These were men who prescribed drugs not just for healing but for more aggressive purposes as well.
In ancient times these included abortifacient drugs which induced abortion. That the New Testament may include abortion-inducing potions among sorceries is suggested by two observations. First, pharmakeia often has this meaning in early Christian literature. Second, the New Testament contexts make it a suitable interpretation of ‘sorceries’. In Galatians the works of the flesh stand in contrast to loving one’s neighbour as oneself: some unneighbourly act is
clearly involved in sorcery. Similarly in Revelation the sorcerers are linked with fornicators and homicides. Fornication in ancient and modern times is a frequent reason for abortion, and early Christians and Jews identified abortion with homicide.
c. EARLY CHRISTIAN EVIDENCE
If the direct biblical evidence is uncertain, this is not true of the earliest Christian writers. Some of the writers quoted here may have had first-hand acquaintance with the apostles. Indeed the Didache may have been written before some of the New Testament. The Didache says: “You shall not slay the child by abortions. You shall not kill what is generated”. The Epistle of Barnabas says the same. The Apocalypse of Peter mentions a pit of torments for women who have caused their children to be born untimely. Clement of Alexandria said Christians do not take away human nature by hastening abortions and applying abortifacient drugs. Athenagoras said “we Christians say that all who use abortifacients are homicides and will account to God for their abortions as for the killing of men. For the foetus in the womb is not an animal, and it is God’s providence that he exist”. Similarly Minucius and Tertullian explicitly condemn abortion, the latter even the therapeutic abortions which some ancient gynaecologists defended.
d. THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE
Why did the early church so quickly adopt such a firm stand?
There are two main reasons and at least two supplementary
First and most obviously the Bible forbids the taking of human life, save that of convicted criminals. The sanctity of human life is underlined with peculiar emphasis in the Old Testament. According to Genesis 9:6, man is made in the image of God, therefore anyone who takes human life must himself be put to death. This principle is worked out carefully in the legal sections of the Pentateuch, which restrict the death penalty (in so far as it is the proper punishment for the taking of life) to premeditated murder and not to accidental killing.
e. LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION
Second, the Bible assumes that human life begins at
conception, not at birth. This is the presupposition of the
narratives of the birth of Esau and Jacob and Samson. The struggles of Esau and Jacob in the womb of Rebekah prefigured their struggles in later life, according to Genesis 25:23. Samson’s mother was told to abstain from alcoholic drinks during her pregnancy because her son was to be a Nazarite, a man forbidden to drink wine or strong drink (Judges 13:7).
The Psalms too recognize that life begins at conception. David notes that his sinful character may be traced back to his conception. “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51 ;5). Similarly Psalm 139 affirms the reflection of God’s care for the writer in his pre-natal state (vv. 13-16). He praises God for the fact that though he was unseen by human eyes. God still cared for him and protected him. “My frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret” (v. 15). If God was with him then, David is assured that wherever else he goes. God will still look after him. In other words this Psalm presupposes the continuity of life before and after birth: the child in the womb is a human being enjoying a personal relationship with God.
But perhaps most informative and explicit of all are the infancy narratives of Doctor Luke. He uses the same term ‘baby’ (brephos) to describe the unborn John the Baptist, the newborn Jesus, and the infants brought to our Lord for blessing (Luke 1:41.44; 2:12,16; 18:15). A careful reading of Luke 1 shows that John the Baptist three months before his birth was filled by the Holy Spirit and leaped for joy, when Mary, then a week or two pregnant, came to visit Elizabeth. John’s jumping is not to be equated with quickening, the occasion a mother first feels her baby move, that must have occurred several weeks earlier. Luke is describing a special movement inspired by the Spirit. The importance of this chapter to our theme is such that it deserves closer examination. According to the angel’s promise, John was to be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (1:15). This could mean from the moment he was born, but the commentators agree that the alternative meaning “from inside his mother’s womb and subsequently” is what Luke means. This is clear from verses 41,44. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and the babe leaps for joy. Joy for Luke is a sign of the Spirit’s presence. So clearly he thinks of the six-month old foetus of John the Baptist as already Spirit-endowed, someone who can respond to the coming of Jesus or possibly Mary. Who is it that prompts John’s joy, the two-week-old embryo of Jesus, or Mary? I incline to the
former. Generally throughout the gospels and Acts it is the coming of Christ that occasions joy. Certainly in this passage Elizabeth calls Mary, “the mother of my Lord” (v.43). This could be merely anticipation, but in the light of what Luke has just told us about the annunciation I think he understood it literally: Mary is already mother of Christ.
Matthew (1:20) too traces the earthly life of Christ back to his conception. And this has been the confession of the universal church down the ages whenever the Apostles’ creed is recited. “I believe in Jesus Christ, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost”. If our Lord’s life began at conception, so did ours. Christian theologians have argued. To many in the church today, this argument from the Incarnation is conclusive.
The humanity of the unborn child is therefore clearly taught in the Bible. It is important that this doctrine be expressed in practice, most obviously by avoiding direct abortion. But even in those cases where termination of pregnancy is necessary on medical grounds, and the baby [despite our efforts) dies, his humanity must be publicly recognized. He deserves a decent burial, not to be unceremoniously incinerated. Such treatment is a denial of his humanity, that he is made in the image of God. The life of our Lord has forever hallowed the prenatal state and this must profoundly influence our treatment of the unborn.
f. THE IMITATION OF CHRIST
The sanctity of human life and its origin at conception are sufficient reasons for Christians to oppose abortion ….. A further basic principle of bibical ethics is that Christians should imitate Christ in their daily relationships, especially in their most intimate personal relationships. In marriage this means the man plays the role of Christ, the wife the role of the church. Similarly, parents and children are called to act out the divine drama in the family circle. The parents take the place of God, and exercise the love and discipline towards their children that the heavenly Father displays towards His children, the church. To seek to abort one’s child is not only a denial of parental affection, but a repudiation of the love we have experienced as the children of God.
The idea that Christians are imitators of Christ is peculiarly relevant to the medical profession. Our Lord is the archetypal doctor: His whole ministry was one of healing –
both the physically afflicted and the spiritually sick. When doctors practice abortion they are rejecting this divine model for their profession: they are reverting to the pagan concept of medicine and becoming like the pharmakoi of revelation, who offered life and death for a fee.**
Another quotation from. Abortion, a matter of life and death, stresses the amazing wonder of the beginnings of a new life from a scientific point of view.
THE BEGINNING OF HUMAN LIFE
When the ovum and sperm unite during the first hours of fertilization, they bring together twenty three chromosomes from the mother and twenty three chromosomes from the father. These chromosome sets carry some 15,000 genes from each parent cell. In the first quiet hours of our human existence, the genes like letters of a divine alphabet, spell out the unique characteristics of the new individual. The colour of our eyes, hair and skin, facial features, body type, sex, and certain qualities of personality and intelligence are all determined by this genetic coding. This quiet, yet sacred, act of conception has produced, not a potential human being, but rather a human being with tremendous potential.
Human life begins at conception. This is not an opinion, a subject for debate or a matter of religious faith. It is a scientific fact. Conception is the only event to which we can point and say, “That is when I began. That is when I started being me.” There is no other occasion of which this is true. Quickening’, viability, even birth itself are simply incidents in a life which is already well advanced. A new human life begins at conception and will continue until natural or violent death. So abortion kills a human being. No scientist can deny this fact.
This amazing description of the earliest days of life force us to the question -What is the status of the fertilized human egg? quotation from the report of the Religion and Morals cornmittee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland puts matter briefly and clearly:
We have no sure guide other than the Word of God. This shows man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26,27;
9:6; James 3:9), his soul lives for ever (Ecclesiastes 12:7;
Matthew 10:28) and soul and body will yet be re-united at the general resurrection (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:12,13;
John 5:28,29; Matthew 22:29-32; 1 Corinthians 15).
It is in the light of this dignified and panoramic view of man that we must consider the fertilized human egg. While we may not with certainty ascribe personality to the fertilized human egg. i.e. the possession of a soul, this does not detract from its humanity, dignity, potential and importance (cf. the case of a human corpse, to which we do not ascribe personality; yet we ascribe dignity to it, because of its humanity).
Therefore the utmost possible respect should be given to the human embryo from the moment of fertilization. It should not be considered expendable. Its dignity and humanity should not be undervalued, nor should its potential be endangered.
There are very important consequences which must flow from this Biblical and dignified view of the fertilized human egg, and of the human embryo.
A) The human embryo must be viewed with the deepest respect at all stages of its development from the moment of fertilization as carrying within itself all the essential elements of a new life.
B) Abortion is utterly abhorrent to Christian believers and contrary to the spirit and teaching of the Word of God. The Abortion Act of 1967 should be repealed and laws enacted which forbid abortion in all but the most extreme cases of medical complication where the mother’s life is genuinely in danger. (This could hardly be called abortion since every effort is being made to save both mother and child).
C) All experimentation on fertilized human eggs should be condemned wherever there is the intention that, ultimately, such fertilized eggs should be destroyed.
D) Whilst Christians will show the deepest and most prayerful concern for married couples who are apparently infertile they will, at the same time, reject those methods which seek to cure this infertility which involve the deliberate discarding and destruction of the fertilized human egg. Another quotation from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland Report expresses this concern:-
The “spare embryo” policy adopted in the Warnock Report is the source of major ethical dilemmas which could easily be avoided by abandoning such a policy. The disposal of such embryos is the major dilemma, and the Committee of Inquiry’s solution to destroy them after 14 days’ development (11.22) is irresponsible and wicked.
E) Fertilization by a donor, by whatever method, is a breach of
the Biblical principle of the sacredness and uniqueness of the
marriage bond, and ultimately has the same result as adultery
i.e. an illegitimate child.
F) Biblical principles forbid any attempt at trans-species
fertilization involving human gametes (Lev. 20.16).
G) It is repugnant to Christian feeling and conviction to
produce gametes or embryos for sale or storage.
H) A.I.H. (Artificial Insemination by the Husband) after the
death of the husband is to be rejected because the Biblical
teaching is that the marriage bond is broken at death (Romans
I) Surrogate motherhood or womb-leasing is clearly contrary
to the Biblical principles of marriage and child-bearing.
Much more could be said about the detailed problems, both ethical and legal, which arise from this modern situation but this must suffice to alarm and alert believers to the present dangers. The British Government is in the process of examining the proposals of the Warnock Report and it is essential that Christian opinion be plainly and loudly expressed. There will be no hesitation on the part of humanistic and atheistic pressure groups in voicing their opinions and in seeking to influence governmental decisions.
A recent Bill introduced into Parliament by Mr Enoch Powell deals with some of the points made above.
Our readers within the United Kingdom are urged to write to their local Member of Parliament expressing their concern about both abortion and problems in embryology. Let every Christian pray without ceasing against all proposals which fail to stress the Biblical principle of deep respect for all forms of life, particularly human life. Let us support these organisations like CARE Trust and Evangelicals for Life which seek to express Christian principles, and wherever necessary let us show the deepest compassion to those who suffer physical and moral harm as a result of society’s hardening attitudes in such
matters. May God have mercy on a nation which has condoned the wholesale destruction of life in the womb, and deliver us from the prospect of medical experimentation, even ultimate medical control, in the most intimate and sacred aspects of married life. It is but a short step from destroying human embryos, to disposing of the new born handicapped child through use of drugs and starvation. It is but another short step to euthanasia for the elderly and then another short step to euthanasia for the incurably ill. This is a situation not so remote
as some may think; a situation in which not only Biblical principles are ignored but in which also the basic principles of the Hippocratic Oath are blatently rejected.
* From Abortion, a matter of life and death, being a report of the Public Morals committee of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Copies of this and other liiterature can be obtained from Evangelicals for Life, 118-120 Warwick Street, Leamington Spa, Warks. CV324QY.
**Copies of this and other useful material on this subject can be obtained from CARE Trust, 21 a Down Street, LONDON W1Y7DN.