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What the Bible Says about Abortion - Part 5

Ken Watts's picture

I think contraception is disgusting - people using each other for pleasure.

Joseph Schiedler, Director, Pro-Life Action League

THE PREVIOUS POST IN THIS SERIES recounted my search, as a young conservative Christian, for guidance from the Bible on the topic of abortion.

"This argument has even been incorporated now into several translations aimed at the conservative Christian market, so the average person can open their Bible, read the passage for themselves, and easily see that it backs up the political position they already have."

I had found that the usual texts put forward on the anti-abortion side were wrenched from context and more read into than read.

Upon doing my own research, I discovered that however I approached the central question—when an egg became a person—the Bible seemed to suggest a date at birth or even after. This was true on the issue of breath, of naming, and of census taking, and there were no clear examples on the other side.

I intensified my search of the scriptures, hoping to find a clear reason to end up on one side or the other.

And then I happened on Exodus 21:22-25.

I'll quote the whole thing here, in the King James Version, which was almost certainly what I was using at the time.

22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

This is the passage that ended up settling the issue in my mind. It did it in the context of everything else I had discovered, but it was the capstone.

The passage comes shortly after the ten commandments, and is spoken by God, so there's no getting around its authority, if you are, as I was, a Bible-believer.

The scenario is that two men, fighting, cause a woman to miscarry. The penalty for this is a fine of some kind, paid to the husband.

Why did I see this as important? Because of the assumptions involved in the penalty. A fine was the normal penalty in this part of the Bible for the death of livestock, not of a person. In fact, the very same passage goes on to say that if the woman, a person, gets hurt as well, the penalty is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life.

The passage applies a completely different standard for a miscarriage and the death of a person. The miscarriage is treated as a property loss, for which the husband can expect to be compensated financially. But if someone actually dies, then its a matter of murder, or at least manslaughter.

It was upon seeing this passage, and understanding its implications, that I decided that there was more than enough evidence in the Bible against considering a fertilized egg to be a person. It became obvious to me that those claiming to have absolute knowledge that abortion was murder were kidding themselves. And from that day forward I was pro-choice.

But of course anti-abortionists have read this passage as well, and I would be negligent if I didn't share some of their major reinterpretations, and my responses.

One friend said to me that the real point wasn't the level of penalty but the fact that there was a penalty at all. That, he thought, was enough to prove that abortion was wrong.

My response to that objection was that the passage clearly only sees it as "wrong" because it's a violation of the father's property rights. It's "wrong" only in a civil sense, the kind of wrong that can easily be fixed with a little financial compensation, not a moral wrong on the level of murder.

Anyone who takes this line will, if they are consistent, have to agree that abortion is fine for any woman who is willing to pay a fine to her husband if he demands it.

That still left me in the pro-choice camp.

The more common—and more ingenious—attempt to evade the obvious conclusion from the passage is to claim that it's not talking about a miscarriage at all.

The argument goes like this:

  1. "Her fruit departing from her" really just means that she gives birth to a normal, healthy baby.
  2. That's why it says "no mischief follows". That means that the baby is normal and healthy and there's no negative fallout from the accident at all.
  3. So the following section is talking not about the woman but about the baby. It's saying that if something does happen to the baby then the penalty is "an eye for and eye, a life for a life, etc." And when it says "a life for a life" that's proof positive that it considers the unborn baby to be a full-fledged person, and its death to be murder.

Nice.

This argument has even been incorporated now into several translations aimed at the conservative Christian market, so the average person can open their Bible, read the passage for themselves, and easily see that it backs up the political position they already have.

However...

There is a problem with that interpretation—a critical problem.

I'll deal with that next time...