What the Bible Says about Abortion

Submitted by Ken Watts on Wed, 04/15/2009 - 18:43

FOR SOME TIME I HAVE BEEN very puzzled about the position of the religious right on the topic of abortion, particularly the fundamentalist right.

I don't find it as difficult to understand Catholic resistance to the idea. Catholics who are anti-abortion are, after all, simply acting in line with their larger world-view, which is frankly authoritarian. If the Pope were to change his mind tomorrow, they would, too.

But the fundamentalists bother me, for many reasons—not the least of which is that I used to be one. So I know that they are "Bible-believers", and that their source of authority is a very literal interpretation of the Bible.

These are the same people who think that the ten commandments should be posted in every school and courthouse in the land.

And yet, when it comes to abortion...

I also suspect that my own right-wing fundamentalist position may well have suffered its first serious blow on this issue.

I remember when abortion first became a big political cause, pushed into the limelight by the same people who brought us the Moral Majority and Ronald Reagan, as a way to get religious people to support the economic positions of the Republican party.

There was a lot of pressure on conservative Christians to conform.

I was a very serious Bible-believer at the time, and so I started looking through the pages of the Bible for some kind of evidence one way or the other.

What I found there convinced me to be pro-choice.

The interesting point to me, though, is that I didn't find everything that was there. The decision was difficult because all the evidence I could find was relatively subtle—even though it all pointed in the same direction.

I'll take up the subtleties in later posts, but at the moment I'd like to point one passage out to my fundamentalist friends which I've only become aware of recently, and which is not subtle at all.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that anyone who is honestly a Bible-believer, in the sense that they believe that the Bible is literally true and an accurate moral guide, cannot read this passage and still be anti-abortion.

Fair warning, then. Read on at your own risk.

The passage is in Numbers, chapter five, verses eleven to thirty-one.

God is speaking to Moses. (So this is not a passage to be gotten around by arguing that its just the speaker's point of view.)

God tells Moses what procedure to follow if a husband suspects that his wife is pregnant by another man.

There's an elaborate ritual involved, which the curious can puruse at length without finding any loopholes. (It might be a worthwhile spiritual experience nonetheless. At some point during the purusal, it might just occur to you that all you're doing is looking for loopholes, and is that any way to read a book which you've taken as your life guide?)

For the rest of you, I'll cut to the chase. God has the woman go to a priest, who performs a sacrifice and then concocts a specific drink for her to drink.

God then tells Moses that if the baby does not belong to the husband, she will abort the baby.

As an unbeliever, I doubt very much that the chemical properties of the drink would produce these wonderfully discriminating results—if it ever worked, it was probably due to the stress put on the woman's body as her guilt was magnified by this elaborate and public ceremony.

But it doesn't matter how, or even whether, it worked.

What matters is that if you are a serious Bible-believer, you have here, in inspired black and white, God not only approving of an abortion, but giving instructions on how to perform it.

Remember, this is not a one-time thing. It's a standard procedure, to be used whenever a husband accuses his wife of being pregnant by another man. It has a nice little fail-safe built into it, but it's supposed to work every time, without fail.

And the justification isn't rape, or the health of the mother. It's the jealousy of the husband that is considered reason enough for an abortion.

By God himself.

You can believe the Bible on this one, if you like.

Or you can be anti-abortion.

You can't do both, though you can tie yourself into knots trying.

At least, that's what I think today.

See my response to the above comment. Whatever you think about this passage the fact remains that the very few references to abortion in the Bible cannot be construed as anti-abortion, while there are many ways in which the Bible appears to set the moment of personhood at the first breath or a subsequent date.

I'm not arguing that the Bible is pro-choice, merely that it is clearly not anti-abortion.