What the Bible Says about Abortion - Part 3

What the Bible Says about Abortion

LAST TIME, I POINTED OUT some flaws in my initial post on this topic, and looked at why it wasn't probably as convincing to conservative Christians as I had expected.

"...it was therefore not only wrong to abort, but also wrong to pass up any chance at intercourse."

This time I'll return, in a sense, to my roots, and try to recreate the reasoning which led me, as a young evangelical Christian (even before I had heard of the NEB) to conclude that a pro-choice stance was more in line with the Bible than an anti-abortion stance.

I can't recreate all of the twists and turns my mind took, all those years ago, as I studied verse after verse, and pondered over the question, but I can give you sort of a summary of where I came out, and why.

To begin with, I saw, and still see, the two sides of the issue as follows:

  1. To be pro-choice is to hold three things:
    1. I can't know, for absolute certain, when a person emerges on the journey from egg to baby, and neither can anyone else.
    2. Consequently, the decision to abort or not has to be a moral judgment, made without all of the information that would make it an easy call.
    3. The person best qualified, under those circumstances, to make that call is not me, or a legislator, but the woman who is most intimately connected to the situation, and who will be most effected by its consequences.
  2. To be anti-abortion is, on the contrary, to hold that:
    1. I can know with complete certainty when an egg becomes a person.
    2. Therefore I have the information which makes it an easy call.
    3. I am justified in forcing my beliefs in the matter on the woman who is most intimately connected to the situation, and who will be most effected by its consequences.

I quickly found that the Bible didn't give any direct evidence as to when an egg became a person—there were no convenient passages which said something like, "Any woman who has an abortion in even the first trimester will verily go to Hell," or even "An egg becometh a person during the seventh week of pregnancy, and any abortion after the third day of that week is a sin."

Most of the verses which were offered to me by the anti-abortion forces were weak if you had even the slightest literary sense. They mostly involved taking language which was obviously aimed at some other point, and pretending that it was really talking about abortion.

To be fair to them, this tendency to read the Bible as though it were a scientific textbook, ignoring its native literary conventions, is a general blind spot for the conservative church, not just something they pull out when talking about abortion.

They often quoted Jeremiah 1: 1-5, for example, "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb." It seemed quite obvious to me that this verse was talking about the omniscience of God, and not about when an egg receives a soul.

I can even remember thinking that if someone insisted that this verse was really intended to pinpoint the moment of personhood, it places it, not at the moment of conception but before. The verse says "before I formed you", before the process, not at its beginning.

So, if I wanted to follow their lead in this kind of "literal" interpretation, I would have to come to the conclusion that personhood pre-dated conception, and that it was therefore not only wrong to abort, but also wrong to pass up any chance at intercourse!

I might, after all, be denying life to a human being.

Next time, I examine the evidence I did find...