Abortion: An Ethical Discussion

The debate of abortion in America has raged for many decades now. The act of ending the development and life of an unborn child has fallen under the umbrella of a woman’s autonomous rights to privacy. Why is there such controversy over the issue of abortion if indeed it is all about a person’s rights? Is the unborn a person, or is it just some prenatal tissue that becomes human in the post natal world? The answer lies within what determines personhood and whether or not the case can be made for or against it. There is much data available both biblically and extra-biblically to make a case for determining personhood. King Solomon, in all of his wisdom, made the conclusion that there is nothing new under the sun. And this is true. Mankind, at the core of his nature, has basically been the same throughout the ages. We mourn over the remembrance of the Holocaust carried out by Adolf Hitler, yet that was not the first time genocide was carried out. Or in this day and age, if a couple wants to wait to have sex until they get married they are thought of as old fashioned and out of date. Yet, the act of fornication (sex outside of marriage) is as old as dirt. People may come up with “new” ideas but I am positive that if one looks deeper they will find that even the ancients had thought of that idea and practiced something similar. So it is with abortion. Abortion has found its place even in ancient history. The Romans and Grecians accepted it as commonplace. Like today, public opinion of the unborn was not counted as a person and was easily disregarded if it impeded convenience. Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers in world history, even believed in abortion when he wrote in his Politics, “…when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation.” To Aristotle, abortion was a viable solution to limit the size of the family, but even then he held that it must be done only before quickening and under investigation as to whether it was too late for abortion. The Mosaic law forbade it and guarded life, “Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria (12th cent. BC) punished women who caused themselves to abort. The Greek physician Hippocrates (5th-4th cent. BC) opposed abotion with an oath: “I will nether five a deadly drug to anyone if asked for, nor will I make suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give a woman an abortive remedy.” Something similar to abortion were the child sacrifices made to the pagan god Molech. In ancient times many people who worshipped this false god would sacrifice their newborn baby on the red hot iron hands of the statue of Molech to appease him or to make an offering for superstitious reasons. This is well documented in both the Old Testament and secular history. While child sacrifice to Molech is not directly related to abortion, it is similar in that many people today just as easily abort the unborn child for reasons of convenience, fear, or lifestyle with complete disregard of that child’s rights to life.

Nineteenth century England, like Aristotle argued, practiced abortion only prior to quickening or if the life of the mother was in danger. If abortion was carried out after quickening it was punishable by death. Unfortunately, however, the death penalty was overturned only a few decades later. From that point on legislation began to evolve allowing a somewhat open-ended interpretation of what it meant for the mother’s life to be endangered. In early American society, abortion was much more of a taboo since fornication was heavily restricted. At one point, early in the twentieth century, abortion was outlawed in all fifty states; yet only seven decades later was this law overturned and ruled unconstitutional in the controversial case Roe v. Wade in 1973. This ruling favored a woman’s autonomous rights over her body, thus allowing women the right to abortion and denying state interference to that right. Since that Supreme Court ruling, America has been responsible deaths of 1.5 million unborn children annually. That is over sixty-million babies since then! Let’s say we erred on the conservative side at forty to fifty-million since 1973, even twenty-million, that is still an outrageous number of innocent lives taken. God only knows what affects this has caused on our nation economically, and much more, spiritually. On the world stage, a staggering 45.6 million abortions were recorded in 1995, 41.6 million in 2003, and 43.8 million in 2008, with the highest rate in China and third world countries. A survey of only three different years adds up to 131 million innocent lives taken.

Unfortunately, such an emotional appeal does not reach the ears and hearts of pro-choice adherents. The whole argument, either for abortion or against abortion, hinges upon whether or not the unborn fetus is a person. If the unborn is not a person, then abortion is justifiable, much like surgically removing the appendix. However, if the unborn is a person, then society has legalized murder of the worst kind. And what was thought to unshackle women from the perceived restraints of the law was, in all actuality, a suppression of life for the unborn. If the argument can be made that the fetus is an actual person upon conception then it is no longer a debate about the autonomous rights of a single woman, but it would then become a debate about the autonomous rights of two individuals. In this essay I would like to discuss the arguments for abortion and answer those arguments with scripture and sound logic proving that the unborn is a person that deserves the right to live just like everyone else.

In the mind of the pro-choice advocate life does not begin until breath enters the body. Since the whole argument for abortion stands or falls on whether or not the fetus is considered a person before or after birth, they hold that life does not begin until breath has entered the body. Ironically, pro-choice advocates use biblical verses to back up these claims. I am reminded of Psalm 50:16-17 that says, “But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth? For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you.” Regardless, some pro-abortionists use scriptures to justify their position that life and personhood do not begin until breath has entered the baby’s postnatal body. They say Adam became a living being only after God breathed life into him (Genesis 2:7). Citing Job 34:14-15, they say mankind would perish if God withdrew his Spirit and breath. Isaiah 57:16 is used to further show that breath is the beginning of life. Also, Ecclesiastes 6:3-5 in reference to a baby that is miscarried or still born is not really considered a living person. They even quote Jesus who said it would have been better if Judas had never been born (Matthew 26:24) implying that, again, life begins at birth, not prior to.

Since personhood is in view when arguing that breath determines life, it is important to know that in answering the biblical arguments used for abortion, all one has to do is consider the context of the passage cited and use some common logic. So then, when it comes to Adam, once God gave Adam the breath of life, he was only one day old. He was created directly by the hand of God as a grown man, and therefore bypassed the womb. If he became a living being at that moment, then conception of a fetus is no different since the essence of humanness is established at that moment. Furthermore, if a person dies and stops breathing, are they much less a human being just because they stopped breathing? Why are funerals held, the dead remembered, and why do graveyards exist if a person who died is no longer a person? It seems superfluous to carry on memories of the dead if they are no longer humans. I believe this argument confuses the idea of when life begins verses observable human life. Norman Geisler writes, “Birth is the human debut into the world. These passages speak about the beginning of observable human life, not the beginning of an actual human life.” Scriptures that do offer as the rebuttal for those often quoted by pro-choice advocates are Philippians 1:23, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Revelation 6:9 Ps. 51:5, Matthew 1:20, to name a few.

Eve speaks of Cain in continuity from conception to birth (Gen. 4:1). In Job 3:3 the Hebrew words for born and conceived are synonymous. Jeremiah 1:5 is God saying that He knew Jeremiah before he was born and that He had set him apart as a prophet in his mother’s womb. This shows that God relates to the unborn in terms of personhood. In reference to the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 49:1 records that He was set apart before He was born. If someone is spoken of in this way, then clearly there is no difference between relationship in unborn status to adulthood. In Psalm 51:5 David declares that he has a sinful nature from conception. Also, I think what most people overlook is the fact that God himself said that life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). Though this verse does not directly prove personhood, it does make a strong case that life is existent upon conception. These all clearly state that breath is neither the beginning nor the end of a person’s life. On the contrary, breath is but a medium by which God uses to allow a human being to function and exist on the physical earth.

Perhaps the more common arguments for abortion are the extra-biblical ones. These, too, can find rebuttal in common logic. One stance is that self-consciousness determines personhood, thus abortion is permissible prior to self-consciousness. But what about people in comas, or in REM sleep? Are they non-existent merely because that? When does a person become self-conscious for the first time? Two years old? If self-consciousness is a determining factor for personhood then there would be no problem with killing a person as long as they are not awake and operating in a self-conscious state. Imagine how many people would be killed if that were true!

Another argument is one that falls more under a woman’s autonomous and privacy rights which are protected by the Constitution. And that is the baby’s physical dependence upon the mother. Since the baby is dependent upon the mother’s womb to incubate it and provide shelter in order to grow, it is part of the mother’s body. Therefore the mother has the right to terminate the “appendage”, so they argue. But is it true that a baby is merely an extension of a mother’s body? Science can clearly refute this assertion seeing that upon conception a fetus“…is a genetically distinct entity with its own genetic code, and early on in the pregnancy it has its own heart and circulatory system.” Francis J. Beckwith brilliantly puts it this way:
“Although the unborn entity is attached to her mother, it is not part of her mother. To say that the unborn entity is part of her mother is to claim that the mother possesses four legs, two heads, two noses, and with the case of a male conceptus, a penis and two testicles. Furthermore, since scientists have been able to achieve conception in a petri dish in the case of the “test-tube” baby, and this conceptus if it has white parents can be transferred to the body of a black woman and be born white, we know conclusively that the unborn is not part of the pregnant woman’s body. Certainly a woman has a right to control her own body, but the unborn entity is not part of her body. Hence, abortion is not justified since no one’s right to personal autonomy is so strong that it permits the arbitrary execution of others.”

God has laid out the blueprint for each of his creatures through DNA. The human body naturally follows the God-given ability to carry out those blue prints and construct the life form He intended. This is evident in the field of genetics. Dr. Geisler sums it up perfectly when he wrote, “It is a genetic fact that a fertilized human ovum is 100 percent human. From the very moment of fertilization, all genetic information is present. All the physical characteristics of an individual being are contained in the genetic code present at conception. The sex of an individual child is determined at the moment of conception as well. A female ovum has only twenty-three chromosomes, and a male sperm has twenty-three chromosomes, but a normal adult human being has forty-six chromosomes. At the very moment of conception, the when the make sperm and female ovum unite, a new, tiny, forty-six-chromosome human being emerges.”

If science can clearly demonstrate that the fetus stands alone as a separate entity from the mother then how is the unborn not protected under the Constitution? Whats more is that the law does not make provision for a person to hire a prostitute in private, do drugs in private, commit homicide in private, or commit assault and battery in private. In each of these cases, if the authorities know these things are taking place then it is their duty to arrest the person. That person will then have to go through the legal system and pay the fine and or jail time. This logic should carry over in the case of abortion. The right to an individual’s privacy is not a license to commit immoral and illegal activity. (On a side note, in relation to the law, people who murder a woman with child is charged with double homicide, or with homicide if the baby is killed by shear force while the mother is spared. Yet, it is perfectly acceptable to kill a baby via abortion. This is irrational and hypocritical). So then, a woman should not have the right to privacy when it comes to ending the life of the unborn child in her womb. We are witness to the fact that, “Historically in Western society, when life and freedom (choice) have been in conflict, life always has taken precedence. Only if the fetus is not a person does a woman have a right to make a choice that would result in its death. But if the fetus is a person, then very few freedoms would take precedence over its right to life.”

Just because the Supreme Court ruled in favor for abortion on that fateful day in 1973 does not necessarily mean they were right in saying the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to the fetus. Citizens are in view of the Fourteenth Amendment and apply to them, yet it was wrong to consider blacks as less than human and non-citizens prior to the civil rights movement. Further, it would still be unjust to afflict foreigners who reside within the U.S. boarders merely because they are not citizens. Likewise, the unborn child located within the boarders of the mother’s womb who is located within U.S. boarders should be protected by the same inalienable rights by our Constitution.

Another argument is safety for the mother. Many fear that if abortion was illegal women would resort to non-licensed physicians to perform illegal abortions. “Figures ranging from five thousand to ten thousand maternal deaths from illegal abortions are offered as evidence.” However, as Scott Rae, associate professor of biblical studies and Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology, puts it, “The statistics on the number of women who died procuring illegal abortions are clearly inflated, at times even by the admission of pro-choice advocates…roughly forty women died from such abortions in 1972… In fact, the number of deaths from abortion-related consequences decreased consistently since 1942.” He further states that these procedures were not performed by unqualified physician, but rather “90 percent of abortions were performed by licensed physicians in good standing with their state medical boards.”

What about rape? Should a woman be forced to carry out the pregnancy if she was raped? While I sympathize greatly with a woman who is impregnated by means of rape, and could not imagine what kind of emotional and mental stress she would experience, I still believe abortion is the wrong decision. While this is more of a valid concern, there is still option to offer the child up for adoption. Or how about if the child will be deformed and handicapped? Would it not be better to abort it knowing it would create a life of difficulty for the child and parents? While this may sound merciful on the surface, it is not justifiable to kill a child because of the mere probability a handicapped life might be difficult. We are humans and cannot foretell the future. There have been many handicapped people in this world that have brought joy and happiness and have contributed to society. What if Steven Hawking’s parents aborted him? How many scientific contributions would we lack with if he never entered this world? I do not agree with his evolution paradigm, but the point is his body is severely handicapped while his brain is not. This is a powerful testimony that even the handicapped are capable of magnificent things.

In relation to those who believe that a fetus is a potential human, as opposed to not human at all, they offer some interesting arguments. For instance, they say that since personhood is determined by personality and personality develops gradually (even unto adulthood) then there is a point at which abortion is justifiable since it is not really a person just yet. However, does this mean that since personality determines personhood other people considered less human than others just because one is more developed than the other? For instance, a five year old would be less than a human than a forty year old because the forty year old is further along in development. But this is not so. Personhood is the essence of humanness, personality is not. While personality does gradually change, it is not the determining factor of whether or not they are human or not. A fetus is not like an acorn that is a potential oak tree, as they argue. A fetus is a person that is at the beginning stages of development; its essence is always existent.

How about considering, from a pro-life stance, the obvious fact that a human being only produces another human being? If any reasonable person were to look at a dog fetus that was aborted, would they really say that it was not a dog? If we can recognize an animal fetus for what it is then that logic should carry over to humans, as well. How about considering premature babies? Babies have been known to be born well before their forty week term is up, in fact this is common. Is a baby that wasn’t a person at twenty-five weeks all of a sudden a person because it is outside of the womb? A change of location is not an argument for determining personhood. What about the impact abortion has had on our economy? Would our national debt remain so high if we had not aborted those fifty or so million babies? Those babies would, in turn, produce more babies who would contribute even more to society. It is reasonable to not calculate all fifty million babies since it is not possible to know how many would contribute to society. However, it is also reasonable to conclude that many babies would contribute something to society.

If a such a case can be made against abortion and for determining personhood both logically and biblically, then what is left to ask is: what is behind the fight of pro-choice advocates? Is it really women’s rights? Do they really care for a woman to make personal private decisions without interference from the law? Do they honestly feel that women are suppressed when the law prohibits them to make a decision to abort their unborn baby? Is it really denying women’s rights to legislate against abortion? Is it something else behind their motives? Is it money? Is it power and politics? Is it pure immorality? Why would somebody be so adamant to fight for the right to kill a fetus via abortion all in the name of woman’s rights? I believe these are some hard questions that need answers.

As stated before , the debate for or against abortion really hinges upon the question of personhood of a fetus. Is the fetus an actual human being that possesses unique characteristics and personality all the way from conception to death, and as the Bible reveals, after death? Or is the fetus only a human being upon exiting the womb and taking its first breath of air? I believe the case for the former has been made.

Why is the topic of abortion so important? From a theological standpoint, man was made in the image of God (Imago Dei). God is a moral being, and therefore we, being made in His image, are moral. Since we are moral beings then it is our duty to carry out morality that directly flows from God’s character and to fight against immorality when we see it. God is the author of life; He is the source of life; life is in His bosom. So when we choose life, we really are choosing God either directly or indirectly. If we honor the sanctity of life then we will be honoring God Himself. It stands to reason that, “man is a moral being. He was created without a sense of accountability to his Maker. When he does right, his heart assures him; when he does wrong, his heart condemns him.”

The issue of abortion, like any other ethical issue, will be dealt with in the realms of logic, philosophy, religious morals, and economics. Many who enter this debate will find the arguments are unceasing. Therefore, we must remember that we need to wrestle with these issues in prayer. In order to overturn the tide of legalized abortion in this country and even the world, it is essential to win the hearts and minds of the people. Since mere legislation Will not completely abolish abortion, then an appeal must be made to the conscience of the people. Jesus said that the light came into this world but the people loved the darkness more than the light. Therefore it is not always just a matter of argument and logic that has failed to win this argument, but it is a matter of the heart. It is probable that what lies behind the arguments for pro-choice is a refusal to come into the light. Of course, the secular world will not accept this reasoning, but this is the truth. It is simple, if an individual has the right morals aligned with God’s character then that individual will act righteously and choose life. Furthermore, since a society is made up of individuals, and if the majority of individuals are governed by God then, and only then, will a society truly abolish abortion. We can throw facts and reasoning all day long at people who are for abortion, but if a person has made up their mind that abortion is okay and that it should be a right given to a woman, then no amount of reasoning will ever sway that person. As we love the Lord our God with all of our minds, and we are diligent in logic and philosophy and theology, we must also be diligent in prayer when debating the people who hear our arguments. For it is a work of God, the Holy Spirit, to convict someone of sin. The Holy Spirit brings conviction and awareness to truth. Therefore, if we are actively praying for those people who are, in reality, pro-death, there is a greater chance that we will win them to the truth as we battle on two fronts–the mind and the spirit.

References

Aristotle, Politics. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.7.seven.html

BBC, Ethical Guide: Historical attitudes to Abortion. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/legal/history_1.shtml

Beckwith, Francis J., Personal Bodily Rights, Abortion, And Unplugging the Violinist. https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Francis_Beckwith/www/Sites/Thomson.pdf

Duffield, Guy P. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. L.I.F.E Bible College at Los Angeles, 1987.

Geisler, Norman L., Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options 2nd Ed., Baker Publishing Group P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516.

Guttmacher Institute. In Brief: Fact Sheet. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html

Rae, Scott. Moral Choices 2nd Edition, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49530.

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