Just mentioning the word abortion polarises people into two vocal, opposing camps. Those who oppose abortion claim that the procedure destroys a human life, and is therefore morally wrong. On the other hand, those who advocate abortion claim that the procedure merely removes subhuman tissue, and is not wrong. These conflicting assertions reveal that the vital question in the abortion debate is this: at what point does the human foetus become a complete human being?
The Clear Biological Answer: Life Begins at Conception
The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months (Ex 2.2).1
The biological facts are straightforward. At the moment of conception, a person is a single cell pulsing with autonomous human life. He (or she) is already male (or female). He is fully human because he possesses a complete and unique set of human genes, in which are encoded all of the information needed to make and maintain a mature man. These genes are bound together into chromosomes, like pages bound into books, and each of his cells contains the entire human library of 46 chromosomes. He will constantly use the blueprints and service manuals in this genetic library, first to grow and develop, and then to repair and remodel himself until he dies. Beyond this DNA library, his physical life needs only oxygen, nutrition, and shelter. His birth, still nine months in the future, will start no fundamental life process.
Shortly after conception, the child burrows into the wall of his mothers womb, and starts sending hormonal messages to tell her that he is there, so she will not expel him. At no point is he part of her body. In fact, he will make the umbilical cord, the amniotic sac, and most of the placenta; and at the end of the pregnancy he not his mother will determine when her labour starts. His heart begins to beat about eighteen days after conception, usually before his mother even knows he is there. At eight weeks he is completely formed, and all of his organs are functioning. He kicks his feet, makes a tight fist, and sucks his thumb. He swims around in the amniotic fluid. If a sweet solution is added to the amniotic fluid, he will like it and drink more; if a bitter substance is added, he will stop drinking. If an inserted needle pokes him, he will quickly move away from it; if it strikes him, his face will contort into a silent scream.
The Clear Biblical Answer: Life Begins at Conception
On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mothers womb you have been my God (Ps 22.10).
The Bible more authoritative and reliable than medical science plainly identifies unborn children as actual people, and not merely as potential people. Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit uses the same terms for both born and unborn children. For example, the Hebrew word yeled refers, in Exodus 21.4, to a child who has already been born, and then, in Exodus 21.22, to a child who has not yet been born. Similarly, the Greek word brephos refers to John the Baptist before his birth in Luke 1.41, and to Hebrew children after their births in Acts 7.19.
In Psalm 139, David marvels at how God had "fearfully and wonderfully" crafted him in the womb. Before David was born, the Lord had already framed every day of his future (Ps 139.13-16). Job, Isaiah, and Jeremiah also describe how God dealt with them as persons prior to their births by fashioning their physical bodies and ordering their spiritual destinies (Job 10.8-12; Is 49.1-5; Jer 1.4-5). God knew David as a person, considered Job alive, called Isaiah His servant, and commissioned Jeremiah as His prophet while each of these men was still in his mothers womb.
The intriguing accounts of Samson and John the Baptist further prove that the Bible regards unborn children as whole persons. Both Samson and John were Nazarites not just from birth, but from conception. Thus the Lord commanded Samsons mother not to drink wine, because doing so would force her unborn son to break one of the Nazarite obligations (Num 6.3; Judg 13.7). Samson, though still unborn, was a boy subject to Gods law. And John, when still unborn, leaped for joy when he and his mother met Mary and her newly conceived Son, the Lord Jesus (Lk 1.35-44). Clearly the Holy Spirit prompted the prenatal John to respond in this way, but the fact that John could already express emotion demands personhood.
All the souls that came with Jacob to Egypt, that had come out of his loins, besides Jacobs sons wives: all the souls were sixty-six (Gen 46.26, JND).
Whole persons, according to the Bible, are composed of "spirit, soul, and body" (1 Thess 5.23). Since Scripture teaches that the spirit and soul depart from the body at death (Gen 35.18; 1 Kings 17.1-22; James 2.26), we need to investigate at what point the spirit and soul enter the body. This is crucial, because if conception simultaneously creates both the soul and the body, then the unborn child is fully human from the moment of conception. However, if conception and "ensoulment" are entirely separate and unrelated events, then the foetus would not be fully human before ensoulment occurred, and abortion might be conscionable if done during that window of time. Indeed, if ensoulment did not occur until some time after birth, infanticide might even be thinkable!
Scripture repudiates this notion that parents conceive only subhuman biological life, and that full personhood must wait until God steps in later to implant the soul. (If this were so, God would have to break His rest [Gen 2.2] and intervene with a fresh creative act every time a mother conceived!) Gods Word instead asserts that ensoulment must occur at conception, because it is part of conception. Genesis 2.7 states that when God created the first man Adam, He "breathed into his nostrils the breath of lives". Note that Hebrew word for "life" is plural the future lives of all men were nascent in Adam at the moment God created him. God designed the human race to perpetuate itself through procreation, so that parents would generate both the souls and bodies of their children.
Genesis 46.26 states that the sixty-six souls who came with Jacob into Egypt all sprang from his loins. The Hebrew word for souls in this verse refers to the immaterial part of man that departs from his body at death (Gen 35.18; 1 Kings 17.21-22). Thus Jacob (with his wives) procreated total people souls and bodies. Hebrews 7.9-10 similarly implies that Levi was already present in seminal form in his great-grandfather Abrahams loins when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. This passage does not teach Levis actual pre-existence, but rather his seminal pre-existence. In order for this argument from Hebrews 7 to work, Levis whole person including his soul must directly derive from his great-grandfather Abraham.
The same principle explains how the entire human race (excluding the virgin-born Christ) could sin "in Adam" (Rom 5.12-19; 1 Cor 15.21-22). When Adam fell, he acquired a sinful nature, and then bequeathed that nature to his progeny, all of whom were still "in his loins". Since the soul not the body is the seat of that sin nature (Ezek 18.20), men and women could only have participated in Adams sin if their souls directly derived from his.
David declared in Psalm 51.5, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (KJV). This verse teaches that people are depraved when they are conceived. Both of Davids parents possessed a sinful nature because of their link with Adam, and they passed this sinful state directly to David at the moment of his conception. Since the soul not the body is the seat of depravity, Davids soul must have been formed at the moment he was conceived. Thus the Biblical evidence contradicts the notion that God directly creates and implants a sinful soul at some point after conception and repudiates the unspeakable implication that God could create something sinful!
The Word of God thus clinches the case against abortion, because it teaches that conception is ensoulment. New persons souls and bodies together derive from prior persons, from one generation to the next. Since both body and soul are present at conception, the unborn child is a complete person from the moment of conception. Yes, even the death of a one-celled "zygote" is the death of a person possessing body, soul, and spirit. Therefore, abortion at any stage of pregnancy is immoral because it destroys a complete person.
The Inescapable Conclusion: Abortion is Murder
You shall not murder (Ex 20.13).
The sixth commandment states that murder is evil. God breathed into mans nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2.7), and thus imparted one of His own attributes life to man. He made man a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honour (Ps 8.5). And He gave the greatest conceivable sacrifice His own Son for the salvation of all men (Jn 3.16-17; Rom 5.8-10).
Since human life reflects the very nature of God, we must hold it as a sacred trust from conception until death. No matter how marred by sin, human life is still God-like, and must be regarded as sacred. Gods image resides in all people male and female, rich and poor, healthy and diseased, born and unborn. This sixth commandment urges us to do all we can to affirm and protect and nurture our neighbours life. Any attack on human life assaults the sovereign God who owns that life and despises the image of God displayed in that life (Gen 9.6; James 3.9). Thus killing a human being both defrauds God and puts Him to death in effigy.
God intended this sixth commandment to protect not merely the dignity of life, but the sanctity of life. While dignity calls for respect, sanctity goes farther and calls for reverence. This does not mean that we should worship human life, but rather that we should appreciate that it flows from Gods own life which calls for reverence.
Exodus 21.22-23 convincingly shows that God intended the sanctity of life to apply to prenatal life. Here is the scenario. If a pregnant woman was caught in the middle of a fistfight, and one of the combatants struck her, she might go into labour prematurely. If she did, but both she and her baby remained otherwise unharmed, the law still levied a stiff fine for the assault. But if the injury harmed either the baby or the mother, then the "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" principle applied; and if either the baby or the mother died, then "life for life" demanded the offenders death. This passage puts the mother and the unborn baby on equal footing: the murder of either person was a capital offence.
Some have attempted to undermine this passage by arguing that Exodus 21.22 refers to a miscarriage, not to a live birth. If this were so, then the potential "harm" would be limited to the mother alone. From this, they conclude that the passage actually teaches that unborn children are not persons, and that the "life for life" principle does not apply to them. A careful study of the verse, however, reveals that this interpretation is unsustainable. The Hebrew term ason (harm/injury) is purposely indefinite in its reference and the expression lah (to her) which would restrict the word "harm" to the mother is missing. Hence, the phrase, "no serious harm" grammatically applies equally to the mother and the child. If either were harmed, then the penalty would be based on the "life for life, tooth for tooth, hand for hand" principle. Further, this verse does not use the Hebrew term for miscarriage (sakal, as in Exodus 23.26). Instead, the Spirit of God employs yeled, which in all of its 88 occurrences refers to a living child or animal. Scripture thus teaches that God values the life of the unborn, and that the death of an infant must be regarded with the same gravity as the death of any human being. Properly understood, this passage provides the most decisive positive evidence in the Bible that the unborn child is a living person.
Answering the Arguments
Take no part in the unfruitful worksof darkness, but instead expose them (Eph 5.11).
Having established from science and Scripture that human life begins at conception, we can readily see that all of the arguments for abortion fail. For these arguments to work, we must assume that the unborn child is not human. That assumption which requires proof is assumed without proof. Thus these arguments commit the logical fallacy of "begging the question". If we assume what we are trying to prove, we are reasoning in a circle, and our position logically refutes itself. Let us briefly examine a few of these arguments.
A woman should have the right to control her own body. A woman should have some control over her body, of course. But this assertion ignores the fact that there are actually two bodies involved in the abortion act. The argument might still work if we assumed that the unborn child is not fully human. Since we have confirmed that the child is fully human, however, the argument fails. No ones right to personal autonomy is so strong that it justifies the arbitrary execution of another person. The womans right to govern her body must end where she begins to violate the childs rights especially his fundamental right to live.
If abortion is illegal, women will die from botched "back alley" abortions. By analogy, we would certainly want to overturn a hypothetical law prohibiting surgeons from performing appendectomies if people were needlessly dying of appendicitis and illegal "back alley" operations. But this "coat-hanger" argument only works if the foetus is not a person, as an appendix is not a person. Since the unborn are human, the argument is tantamount to saying that because some people are killed attempting to murder others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so.
Abortion will eliminate the problem of unwanted pregnancies. The vital question is not whether the unborn are wanted, but whether the unborn are fully human. If the baby is a human being, then his right to live does not depend on whether he is wanted. Hardship does not justify homicide. Is it not amazingly presumptuous for a mere human being to say that another human being is better off not existing? It takes considerable gall to suggest that the way to end child abuse is to execute its potential victims!
Abortion should be allowed if the pregnancy results from rape. Undoubtedly, rape is a horrible crime, but abortion homicide is worse. Should an innocent child die for his fathers crime? Not according to Ezekiel 18.20. Further, abortion has no power to "unrape" the victim and remove her mental anguish. It is always better to suffer evil than to inflict it.
Abortion should be allowed if pre-natal diagnosis reveals a birth defect. All human life has equal worth. Are not adults with deformities human? Then so too are smaller people with deformities. A handicapped child who requires constant care deserves to live as much as the most productive citizen. In fact, disabled people deserve special protection, because they are helpless.
No one really knows when life begins, so abortion should be legal. To argue that abortion should remain legal throughout pregnancy since no one knows when life begins assumes that life does not begin before birth the very point that the abortion advocate claims cannot be proven! If it were true that we could not know when life begins, would it not make more sense to prohibit abortion? In fact, we do know when life begins, so this argument fails.
Abortion harms society. For the past two generations, elective abortion has terminated one in four pregnancies in the United States. That means 25% of the last two generations has been destroyed. Abortion harms women, who ought to love and protect their babies. A 2004 study found that 80% of women who had abortions felt lingering guilt, and 65% developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Abortion also harms men by encouraging them to be predators rather than protectors of their women and children. Abortion gives men a loophole to seek sexual gratification free of obligations to women or children. When pregnancy occurs, very often it is the men who pressure their women to have abortions. Disastrously, when abortion is a legal right, it quickly becomes a perceived duty. One recent study revealed that 64% of women said they were pressured to have an abortion, and 83% would have kept their babies if they knew that they had support of the father and other important people in their lives.
Abortion is one of the more tragic symptoms of the disease called sin. What should we do about it? If we decide to launch political crusades against abortion, we are only treating the symptom. The disease itself rebellion against God has only one cure: the spiritual salvation through faith in Jesus Christ of all people who favour and practise abortion. Thus the most effective way for Christians to combat abortion is to invest their energy and time in fulfilling the Lords commission to live and preach the gospel, and so to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28.19).
To be continued.
1 In this series of articles, unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations from Scripture are taken from the English Standard Version.