Abortion The Issue that Will Not Go Away

For most of the life of this work which we call Does God Exist?, we have had to deal with questions related to abortion. A major part of that, of course, is due to the fact that the Roe vs Wade decision was made some 30 years ago and we have been doing this work for over 35 years. Abortion has always been an issue however, and while the legality of it in this country has a short history, there have always been people who wanted to support abortion and in fact abortions have always been available--legally and illegally. In recent years other concerns have been brought up in relationship to the issue of abortion, especially things that seemed to make it desirable--stem cells, AIDS, prenatal testing, and many other factors. Because of the continued debate about abortion, perhaps we need to look again at what the facts are, and what we can say biblically and logically about this issue.

unborn child From a religious standpoint, the main question about abortion revolves around when a human is a human. In China it has been traditionally believed that a baby is human at conception, and in fact in ancient times a person might celebrate their birthday as the day of their conception. Some Jewish writers have stated that a human is not a human until they have drawn their first breath. Notice how different these beliefs are, and how vastly different the abortion issue would be for each of them. If you believe that a human is human at conception, then any abortion is the taking of a human life. If you believe that a person has to be breathing to be human, then killing a baby before it draws that first breath would not be murder no matter what part of the pregnancy the baby is in when it is killed. For those who believe in the biblical teachings of how we should live, what is the answer?

Infant sleeping There is no direct statement in the Bible that answers this by saying a baby is not a human until. (a certain time). If we are going to answer this question, we will have to do so by looking at indirect evidence as to what God considers a human to be and when. There really is not much doubt about this question. Jeremiah indicates that he was known by God before he was born (Jeremiah 1:5). Job indicates he was fashioned as a person in the womb (Job 31:15). David indicates he was conceived as a person in Psalm 51:5. Children are referred to repeatedly in the Old Testament as "fruit of the womb" indicating a personage while there (Genesis 30:2, Psalm127:3, Isaiah 13:18 ) A baby killed while inside its mother demanded the death of the person responsible (Deuteronomy 22:25-27 and Exodus 21:23). Jacob and Esau contended and struggled while in their mother's womb in Genesis 26:22-23. When someone is pregnant in the Bible they are said to be "with child" not with an appendage of their body or something not living (see Genesis 16:11; 19:36 Exodus 21:22, 2 Kings 8:12, Matthew 24:19, and 1 Thessalonians 5:3. In the New Testament the evidence continues to be strong that children are humans long before birth. In Romans 9:10-11 the reference is made to "children not yet born" which strongly suggests that they are children, not blobs of flesh without human identity. In Luke 1:41-44 John the Baptist "lept with joy" with that phrase coming from the same word used for Jesus in Luke 2:12,16; 18:5 and 2 Timothy 3:15. The context shows a uniquely human response to what is happening. We are also told that John was "filled with the Holy Spirit" in Luke 1:15 long before he was born.

All of these references tell us that the Bible writers considered an unborn child to be human. God alone makes things alive (Deuteronomy 32:39) and the idea that a baby is not human until some time during birth or sometime after birth does not fit at all well with these passages. What is the scientific evidence?

Studies done on unborn children show that from a very early time they are thinking, functioning humans. Brain wave studies show that a vast percentage of human function is operative long before birth. When a mother has been abused by her husband during pregnancy, the baby will frequently scream at the sound of the father's voice after it has been born. There have also been studies that show that babies make intelligent responses to what is going on in the outside world long before birth, and remember certain sounds they heard during the time they were in the womb and are able to recognize them after birth.

toddler in a crib From a genetic standpoint, a baby is an individual, not an extension of its mother's body as some would claim. A baby is not a clone. It does not have the same genetic pattern as its mother. It has its own genome and that set of genetic markers are different than any other individual on the planet. This unique genetic make up was established when the sperm met the egg--not at birth. It is true that during the first several weeks of pregnancy there is very little that would lead you to recognize a human physically as human, but even that situation changes rapidly as small feet and hands develop early and a face with clearly human characteristics can be identified early during the first trimester. If a person who is 30 years old is disfigured in some terrible accident, do we cease to recognize them as being human?

From virtually any direction you consider this question, you have to realize that aborting a baby is the killing of a human being. Our society has decided that the killing of a innocent human is acceptable as long as certain criteria are met. At the moment we consider that moment to be sometime before birth depending upon what state you live in. In China there is a different acceptance which does not even recognize birth as a limitation. In ancient Rome, unwanted pregnancies were ended by simply throwing the baby out in the street and letting it die. We tend to be highly critical of that practice, and rightly so, but it is difficult to condemn it when the same mentality is being used to cull unwanted children from the population in the United States.

There are acceptable alternatives to abortion. Functional sex education with an emphasis on morality and responsibility and adoption would take care of a vast percentage of the problem. The advances in modern medicine make medical intervention an alternative in many other cases. No one is minimizing the difficulty that comes with any stand for what is right and what is wrong, but in this case the issue is clear and the solution of abortion is the worst of all options. 

--John N. Clayton

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