Thursday, August 09, 2007

Abortion - My Turn

There are so many crises facing the church that it seems overwhelming to choose one. I have chosen abortion because of recent investigations into my affirmation of the literal virgin birth. My framework for making ethical decisions is as follows:

1. Gather the relevant facts.
Determine the ethical issues.
Ask what principles have a bearing on the issue or case.[1]
List the alternatives.
Compare the alternatives with the principles.
Consider the consequences.
Make a decision.

1. Gather the Facts[2]

What does the Bible Say?

Since the Holy Scriptures are the rule of faith and life,[3] the first place I look for facts are from it. There I find that human beings are made uniquely, in the image of God.[4] Conception and the resulting birth of a child are not simply acts which propagate a species. Rather, conception is a particular blessing of God.[5] This fruit of the love between a husband and wife is special evidence of God’s love and sovereignty.[6] The birth of a child is a reward and a gift, or heritage, from God.[7] Scripture commonly refers to conception, rather than birth, as the moment of our beginning.[8] God speaks of us as known, cared for, protected, and loved by Him before birth[9]. He often announces His specific purpose for individuals while they are yet unborn.[10] The Hebrew דלי and the Greek βρεφος, used to refer to newborns and youth, are used in Scripture to refer to the unborn. This teaches us the continuity of existence before and after birth.[11] Thus, it seems that the Scriptures portray God as recognizing a person as human even before they are conceived – and all the more so once there is a sign of conception.

What does medical science say?

Abortion is defined[12] as “the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus.” There are two types of abortion: spontaneous and induced.[13] Only induced abortions are in view during this discussion as they are the only ones that involve human agency. Pregnancy is defined as “the condition of being pregnant.” Pregnant is defined as “containing a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring within the body.” Embryo is defined as “the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception.” A fetus is “a developing human from usually three months after conception to birth.” Offspring is “the product of the reproductive processes of an animal or plant.” By these definitions, induced abortion is the intentional killing of a developing human.

Conception is “the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both.” Within twelve hours of the initial contact between a sperm and ovum, their haploid pronuclei have fused to create a genetically unique cell.[14] It is either male or female, and is distinct from the cells surrounding it in many ways. Nothing else will need to be added to make it more or less genetically human than it already is;[15] all it needs now is nutrition and protection. Within eighteen hours, this genetically unique cell will have begun the process of autonomous cellular division. Medically speaking, there are three differences between the human life of the zygote and of the mother: maturity, location, and independence. Providing nutrition and protection, this zygote will move inexorably toward those three goals. This, along with the pattern of growth outside of the womb, shows that the adult human being is the end result of the continuous growth of an organism from conception. This development will not need any further input that changes the essential nature of the fetus while it grows. Therefore it seems that there is no essential difference in the personhood of the fetus and that of a mature adult.

2. Determine the ethical issues.

What is at stake, ethically, is whether or not this act of intentional killing is murder.[16] Murder – the unjustified, intentional killing of another human – is recognized as wrong in virtually every ethical and legal system. By the definitions provided above, it would seem that abortion is murder. Yet, since jurists, legislators, professional ethicists, theologians, pastors, and church members do not speak with one voice concerning whether or not abortion is murder, the situation is not to be resolved by a simplistic resort to lexical denotation. To determine if abortion is to be recognized as murder we must show that the life so ended is human in legitimate ways. If this be shown, then we must find adequate justification for the intentional ending of the life in order to not be murder.

3. What principles have a bearing on this issue?

From the Biblical data it is clear that God has meaning and purpose for each human life, and at times He declares as much before birth[17] or even conception.[18] God forbids us to kill innocent human life.[19] God requires us to protect and care for the needy and helpless.[20] Apart from the Scriptures, there stand at least three questions to answer. First, is the product of conception (whether a blastocyst, embryo, or fetus) a person? Second, does the product of conception deserve protection and “rights” equal to those of humans? The third question centers around the interrelation of a mother’s rights and the rights of an unborn. Once these questions are synthesized with a person’s moral framework, they will decide between a basic pro-abortion or anti-abortion stance (regardless of how they nuance this in terms of their ability to make normative demands on others).

4. List the alternatives.

Once these questions are synthesized with a person’s moral framework, they will decide between a basic pro-abortion or anti-abortion stance (regardless of how they nuance this in terms of their ability to make normative demands on others).

5. Compare the alternatives with the principles.


1. A woman has the right to do with her own body whatever she chooses.

Medical science (as well as common sense) tells us that the cells are not genetically her body but are rather are cells that are in her bodily space. In approximately half of the cases, the cells are XY in chromosomal sex! We should also note that, though the fallopian tubes and womb are hers, neither law nor moral codes recognize a person’s absolute right over their own body. For instance, laws prohibit illicit drug use and prostitution. Similarly, the exercise of bodily autonomy is constrained by the possibility of risk proposed to others in the use of that body (e.g., assault). The argument is untenable if the fetus is actually a person. If the fetus is female, does this right to somatic autonomy not reach to her as well (lest we risk ageism) Moreover, it begs that very question, a question that our investigation into medical knowledge does not seem to negate. If indeed there is an independent life at stake, morality has conventionally sided with life rather than freedom as that which is to be preserved.

2. It creates overwhelming financial hardships which threaten the mother and the baby.

The argument assumes that without access to abortion, women will not be able to control the size of their families, condemning them all to a life of poverty and undue burden. The argument fails by logical extension: if we were to exterminate all persons who are defined as financial burdens by someone else, at what point would we count their contribution to society worthwhile enough that they deserve to live? Only if the fetus is not a person is it justifiable eliminate it as a means of cost control. The argument also confuses exterminating the focus of a problem with eliminating the cause it.

3. Unwanted or handicapped children should not be forced upon parents.

If a child is not wanted, it seems a more apt commentary on the parent’s worthiness for existence than the child’s. No one wants the homeless to be in their state – poor and rejected; yet we deny that extermination is an option because of their basic human dignity. Instead, we take up their cause and struggle to ameliorate their suffering. In the more problematic case of the severely deformed and handicapped, we must guard against any statement that could be used to justify the killing the handicapped ex utero.[22] Again, this statement begs the question of the personhood of the fetus. Moreover, it claims to know that the life of a handicapped or deformed person is somehow so debased that death is preferable.

Anti-abortion / Pro-Life

The personhood of the fetus makes it morally reprehensible to terminate it.

6. Consider the consequences.

As many have argued that virtue would be increased should “every child be a wanted child” we should note that, rather than decreasing child abuse, abortion has had just the opposite effect upon our national psyche. According to figures from the National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), child abuse has dramatically increased since abortion as legalized.[23] In 1973, the year the Supreme Court legalized abortion, the agency reported 167,000 cases of child abuse. In 1983, it reported 929,000 cases. By 1991, the number of cases had soared to 2.5 million cases – with the numbers still going up today. And, of course, such figures do not even include the 36 million children killed by abortion – the ultimate form of child abuse. Reporting errors (whether in under or over reporting) have been statistically accommodated in the above sampling and seem an unlikely source for the increase.

I have mentioned some of the consequences that occur when these arguments are extended to others whom we acknowledge as persons. We have simply investigated the outworking of the fact that "No one has the right to choose to do what is wrong.” There is the concern of areteic ethics that asks what virtue is created by these actions. A culture that consistently dehumanizes a group will end up themselves inhumane.[24] Calvin said:

“...for the fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”[25]

Calvin points out that once we are able to do the thing deemed more atrocious (kill the fetus)then the less monstrous becomes easier for us. (Matt. 6:23) Likewise, Jesus said that in the end days “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matt. 24:12) Moreover, the extension of care for the helpless and the weak is a virtue commended to us by Christ.[26] In so far as we do we show the kingdom of God on earth – a place where people are valued and objects are used.

7. Make a decision

It seems as though the only option I can find for a Christian to hold given my particular stance towards scripture, my understanding of immutable truths, moral accountability before God, and the human propensity toward the magnification of sin is to become an ardent pro-lifer. However, this stance cannot simply work itself out in standing in front of abortion facilities or calling legislators (though both would be effective). Instead, as Jesus entered deeply into the experience of sinful humanity (without sinning), so we must be willing to enter into the pain and anxiety of those women facing the prospect of single parenthood or the temptation to abort. This means re-ordering our own lives so that our physical and mental resources are made available to help those who are found at the end of their rope. If we believe that lives are at stake, then we must be willing to lead by example and show that the momentary material success achievable by aborting is a cheap bargain and – at best – a bait-and-switch tactic.
All of this we do in the hopes that Christ’s return will be soon and that we would have the privilege of announcing his kingdom through loving acts until such time. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come! (Rev. 22:20)


[1] My moral framework is deontological via divine command theory, yet resonant with aretaic ethics.

[2] I do not intend to address of the legal background of abortion in the American (or any other ) context here. Something can be immoral without it being illegal and vice versa.

[3] WCF I.2 (BoC 6.002).

[4] Genesis 1:27; Job 10:8-12; Ephesians 4:24.

[5] I Samuel 1:1-20

[6] Genesis 4:1; 20:18; 29:30-30:32.

[7] Psalm 127:3-5.

[8] Genesis 4:1;21:2; 29:33,34,35; 30:7; I Samuel 1:20; Matthew 1:20,21.

[9] Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4,5; Ecclesiastes 11:5; Job 31:15.

[10] Genesis 16:11,12; 25:23; Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:4,5; Galatians 1:15,16; Matthew 1:18-25.

[11] Genesis 25:22;I Peter 2:2; Luke 2:12; Acts 7:19; l Timothy 3:15; Luke 1:41,44; 18:15

[12] Unless otherwise noted, definitions are from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, (Springlfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 2003). (Emphases added.)

[13] s.v. “abortion.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).

[14] Jones and Schraeder, “The Process of Human Fertilization,” Fertility and Sterility, vol. 48, no. 2, Aug. 1987, p.

[15] Unlike any cells around it, this cell, by multiplication, will produce every other kind of cell in the body.

[16] As I have promised to not deal with the issue of legality, the moral definition of murder is in view rather than the legal definition of murder.

[17] Genesis 16:11.

[18] As is the case with Isaac (Genesis 15:4; 18:10; 21:1ƒƒ), Samson (Judges 13:3ƒƒ), Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14); John the Baptizer (Luke 1:5ƒƒ, 11-17, 24); and Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15 / Galatians 4:4; Isaiah 7:14 / Matthew 1:18-25 / Luke 1:26-38; Genesis 21:12, 22:18 / Luke 3:23ƒ, Galatians 3:16 etc.).

[19] Genesis 9:5,6; Exodus 20:13; Ezekiel 20:31; Amos 1:13; Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35; WLC, Q. 136 (BoC, 7.246).

[20] Proverbs 24:11,12; Psalm 10:17,18; Psalm 41:1; Matthew 18:10 (cf. BoC, 4.111; 5.114).

[21] I shall begin with the arguments posited in scholarly and popular forums of debate concerning the issue.

[22] A fact that has not been lost on the handicapped community.

[23] D.J. English. “The Importance of Understanding a Child’s Maltreatment Experience Sectionally and Longitudinally.” Child Abuse & Neglect, 27:2003, pp. 877-882.

[24] Stephen Ray, lecture on the Language of Sin and the Other (10/02/03).

[25] Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1950), 3:41,42.[26]
Most poignantly in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5.