Abortion is very much in the news again with various states restricting it left and right, trying to legislate it away, while a couple of very brave, bold states are actually expanding access.
While legally, no one in this country is allowed to cite the Bible in their legal brief or legislation as the reason they are either against – or for – abortion, the truth we all know is that many of the laws being passed to restrict this right are being passed because of religious, primarily Christian, beliefs.
So, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at what the Bible actually says about abortion.
It turns out, it’s not what you think. Or, at least, it’s not what the people restricting abortion rights think.
First we must establish that even in the Bible, women are people. Half people, yes, owned by their fathers, husbands or brothers, yes, but people all the same. (Genesis 1:27 shows that God created women in his image as a person. Genesis 2:21-22 goes into more detail of how God made woman from Adam’s rib. Leviticus 27:1-7 gives us their value, Numbers 3:15-16 reminds us that they did not count for census taking.)
If you injure or kill a woman, you must pay their male owner. If you break them by taking their virginity or having sex with them, you must purchase them from their male, unless that male is their husband, and then you must kill her to redeem his honor, and then pay him for breaking his property. (Deuteronomy 22:25-29)
So, women are people – but what of zygotes and embryos and fetuses?
According to the Bible, a child isn’t a person until they are one month old. (Leviticus 27:6 and Numbers 3:15-16) Children under one month old have no value and are not counted in the census. They are not people.
Not only are children under the age of 1 month not considered of value, the traditional interpretation of Exodus 21:22-23 reminds us that causing a woman to miscarry does not result in murder, there is no eye for an eye punishment for killing a fetus as there is for killing actual people. And it furthers the case that women are people, because if the woman dies as a result of the attack, the person who kills her is put to death.
For further evidence, we look to the creation of Man in the Bible. It is described as a twofold process, first God forms the body – THEN he gives Man the breath of life. This would seem to support the idea that a fetus is still being put together, still forming, and it is not until the newborn takes it’s first breath that it is truly alive. (Genesis 2:7)
To further illustrate this there are numerous other texts within the Bible that show us that life does not begin with the formation of a body, but with the inhalation of first breath and continues only so long as the breath of God is present.
Job 27:4 “For as long as life is in me, and the breath of God is in my nostrils.”
Job 33:4 reiterates this, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the almighty gives me life.”
Isaiah 42:5 “Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it…”
Ezekiel 37:5-6 reminds us, “This is what the sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you and you will come to life.”
In all of these instances, the formation of the body does not constitute life. BREATH does.
Some have countered that Luke 1:15 “…And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” referring to Jesus supports the idea that fetuses are people. However, the New International Version (quoted above) says, “from birth.” Not from conception. Even if it DID say from conception, we’re talking about the miraculous immaculate birth of Jesus, the son of God. It stands to reason He would be imbued with the Holy Spirit from conception since he is a demi-God.
It might be more informative to look back at what Jeremiah 1:5 says about this – “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
This shows us that God is omniscient – all knowing. Because he exists outside of time he can see and know all things. He can know a soul before that soul is embodied – before it is a person. Yet no one is arguing that life begins BEFORE conception. Future, or potential, personhood is not the same as actual personhood.
Personhood – LIFE – begins with breath.
Looking further into what the Bible says about fetal life and abortion, we find an enlightening passage in Numbers, informing a husband of what to do should he suspect his wife of being unfaithful. In it, the man is instructed to bring his wife before the priest, where she will be given “bitter water”. If she is innocent, the water shall not affect her, but if she is guilty, the water will cause a miscarriage. Thus, we see that medication abortion was condoned and practiced in the Bible. It was the proper course of action in instances of a woman suspected of becoming impregnated by a man other than her husband. (Numbers 5:11-28)
This leads us to examine the many instances of abortion and infanticide that take place within the Bible. (Note, the term abortion is not used, but these passages all reference the forced termination of a pregnancy and/or the intentional murder of pregnant women for the purpose of preventing their child from being born.)
Hosea 9:11-16 Hosea asks God to force the women of Ephraim to miscarry and God does it, Hosea 13:16 wherein God first dashes the infants of Samaria and then promises “their women with child shall be ripped up.”, Following on this theme of ripping up pregnant women, in 2 Kings 15:16 God allows the pregnant women of Tappuah to be ripped open. Numbers 31:17 which exhorts Moses to kill every woman who has lain with a man and thus might be pregnant.
In short, the Bible does not forbid abortion. Nor does it support the idea that life begins at conception. Life, in the Bible, begins with breath, which is to say with live birth. And even then, an infant is not considered a person until it has survived for a month.
Fetuses are not people. Women are. I know this to be true, for the Bible tells me so.