Tonight at the Bible study I attend, the issue of abortion came up. Our brief discussion inspired me to expand upon some points I made in a post a year ago, which led to a valuable exchange with some friends in the comments: read it here.
I won’t reiterate that entire post, but our conversation tonight reinforced my opinion that the pulpit really isn’t the right place to address this topic. The moment the church starts making a religious issue out of abortion, we’ve conceded the idea that it is a judgment call that’s determined by personal beliefs. If being pro-life garners its mandate from a religious movement, its adoption will be largely limited to that sphere. This approach often leads to debating abortion on an emotional level with women who either wish to assert their feminine rights, or defend their decision in light of the motherly hardships they’d have to endure without the presence of a committed husband/father. While I feel for the women in these situations, debating the issue in this way is completely beside the point and, again, implies that it is still a personal judgment call.
Murder, on the other hand, is an almost universally-recognized crime that few people will even attempt to justify, unless in order to prevent other murders. The Bible is also clear on the topic of murder, while it has little to say on the topic of abortion or whether unborn children are living humans (the only verse that comes to mind is Psalm 139:13, whose focus is really on the omniscience and plans of God more than anything biological). All this is to say that the argument that abortion is wrong should be every bit as much a secular debate as a religious one, and is entirely a matter of whether or not abortion is murder. If abortion is murder, than secular laws and the Bible are both clearly against it. If abortion isn’t murder, neither speaks to the subject.
To that point, I can think of only two questions that must be answered. One, is an unborn child (or “fetus,” to use the sanitized language) an individual human apart from the mother? And two, is a fetus living? If the fetus is a living individual human, then to abort it is to murder it. If the answer to either point is “no,” then there’s nothing wrong with abortion. I think the answers are pretty obvious and clear, biologically speaking:
- A fetus is not “a part of the woman’s body” that she can choose to do with as she pleases. From the point at which the father’s sperm fertilizes the mother’s egg, that organism is unique from the parents and has its own unique DNA. The mother can do whatever she wants with her arm. It is a part of her and shares her own DNA. But a fetus is not. It is an independent organism with its own genetic coding, just as the steak you had for dinner carries a unique gene sequence that is different from your own.
- A fetus is indeed a living organism. At this point in our development, we are essentially a parasite. Just as a parasite will die if you remove it from its host, so would an unborn child die without its mother. But you would not say the parasite is dead while it depends on its host. Another way to look at it is to recognize that dead organic matter decays. But if you observe what happens to a fetus in its mother’s womb, it does the opposite: it grows and develops. The moment you abort it, it begins to decay. Clearly, it was alive before the abortion and not after. That transition is called “death,” and the action that causes it is called “killing.”
To me, that’s the end of the argument. An unborn child is a unique human being and is alive. Aborting that child cuts it off from its source of food and shelter and leaves it exposed in a hostile environment, causing it to die. It’s not unlike kicking a fully grown man out of a car in the middle of a vast expanse of desert, with no food or water. In that hostile environment, that man will die. You killed him.
Christians should certainly take an active role in fighting abortion at every turn. But our arguments needn’t be fire and brimstone emotional appeals. We thankfully live in a country where murder is illegal, so all we have to do is point out the factual arguments for why abortion is murder. Anything else is unlikely to be very effective, and has little Biblical justification. As the pastor who leads our study suggested, perhaps Christians should focus more on the broad Biblical meaning of “pro-life” and all its applications, particularly when “pro-life” people are often the ones leading the charge into another foreign war.