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Return to commentary: Women's Reproductive Self Determination
The Bible is Pro-Choice
Why are some conservative Christians, who claim the Bible as their sole moral authority, so opposed to abortion? While abortion was well known and written about in ancient Hebrew times (some in favor, some against), the BIBLE is COMPLETELY SILENT on the subject of abortion. None of these other writings, including those cited by those opposed to abortion, made it into the Bible (and citing such sources only reiterates that abortion WAS known and still unmentioned by the Bible writers). No specific passage in the Bible encourages or discourages abortion, although the Law of Moses specifically authorizes it in the case of a married woman impregnated by a man other than her husband (Numbers 5:12-28). Which is the way it should be left: don't go to either extreme, to outlaw or forbid abortion (like the religious extremists) or mandate abortion (like the Communists in China on the extreme left). It should be left to each individual to decide in her own situation. There ARE passages in the Bible that speak of birth, conception, accidental miscarriage, pregnancy, the formation and creation of life, extremely detailed descriptions of what constitutes murder, etc., any one of which would have been a PERFECT OPPORTUNITY the Bible writers to include the simple statement that abortion is a sin, or is forbidden, or is murder, or whatever. BUT THEY DIDN'T.
Religious extremists who claim that their only authority is a literal interpretation of the Bible, but who are against a woman's right to reproductive choice, are ignorant about religion as well as history. They have staked their message on the "Big Lie." The Bible is completely pro-choice.
Abortion was well-known and widely practiced in ancient times, during Old Testament domination by the Israelites as well as under the Roman domination at the time Jesus lived, as it has been in even the most primitive societies. The Old and New Testaments are very outspoken on even very minute aspects of daily life, especially the Law of Moses. Jesus later clarified many of these laws to remove ambiguity or to add motive and intent to the spirit of the law. There are many non-scriptural accounts showing how herbal abortifacients were employed, using herbal methods such as combining pennyroyal with black cohosh or blue cohosh [more detailed accounts and precise methods can be found by going to any search engine, such as http://www.google.com and typing in as required key words: "cohosh blue black pennyroyal abortion"].
If the commandments against murder were intended to apply to fetuses, then the Law of Moses, the later prophets and judges would have said so. Or, if there were some misunderstanding or confusion about the subject, Jesus speaking many hundreds of years later, could have provided some clarification on the subject. At the very least, an omnipotent and omniscient God would have been able to foresee the future conflict in our time and state specifically that commandments against killing were also applicable to abortion. Yet, while the Law of Moses outlines penalties and conditions for various types of killing (neighbors, foreigners, intentional, etc.), along with various types of permissible and forbidden killing (self-defense, executions, wartime vs. homicides), there is not a single place in the Bible where abortion is condemned, forbidden or even frowned upon.
In fact, the Bible on several occasions discusses fetal life and existence. These would have been perfect opportunities to include a prohibition against abortion, if such had been intended (or was God guilty of a sin of omission?). BUT THEY DIDN'T.
Since abortion was well-known but not forbidden, the Bible's silence reveals much. Many aspects of personal behavior are not addressed in the Bible. The Bible doesn't say what color our houses should be painted or how long we should wear our hair -- matters of personal preference are left to individual CHOICE, separate from issues of moral law. Conversely, the Bible also does not encourage, support or promote abortion. It is neither pro-abortion nor anti-abortion; like most people it takes a neutral (silent) position, leaving the matter to individual discretion, or CHOICE. Since the scriptures are completely silent on the issue, they obviously intended this to be left to individual preference (i.e. CHOICE). Those who claim Biblical authority to justify their human interpretations about a subject on which the Bible is silent are dishonest and hypocritical.
One might wonder why God, who spoke on so many other issues, kept silent on this one. Any comment as to His motives is purely speculative since HE DIDN'T SAY. It may well be that in His wisdom, He saw that there was no "one size fits all" choice that was best for every woman. Perhaps he recognized that differing individual situations, personalities and needs would necessitate different choices. Abortion would clearly be the wrong choice for many women who might feel loss or guilt or shame, while other women might feel it the lesser of two evils and it might be the right choice for others. In fact, many Christian women have witnessed that they prayed to God for His guidance in making their choice, and that they felt the Spirit whiper His assent to their choice; other women have prayed and felt that abortion would be the wrong choice. Clearly this is a decision that every woman needs to evaluate carefully and prayerfully, but what is clear is that God has NOT made a universal pronouncement.
It is amazing that the Bible is ambiguous and contradictory in many places, and there are other scriptures such as Levitical commands in the Law of Moses where the Bible is very clear, but simply ignored, and still others where the Bible is cited on subjects about which it is silent. The religious conservatives deny obvious contradictions, they ignore specific commands and yet they claim Biblical authority on a subject NOT IN the Bible!
Following are a number of specific scriptural references that are often cited in a desperate attempt to try and claim a non-existent Biblical opposition to abortion. While I have responded to each of these commonly-cited verses, it is important to note one key fact that they all have in common: they discuss birth, death, life, creation, pregnancy and pre-natal formation of the BODY, but not one of these verses makes any reference whatsoever to either the existence of pre-natal ensoulment nor to any claim that abortion is even in the slightest degree wrong.
Numbers 5:12-28: First we must cite the one passage in the Bible that the anti-choice extremists will never tell you about. While the Bible never forbids abortion, nor does it really encourage it either, there is one passage from the Law of Moses that explicitly authorizes abortion in the case of a married woman who becomes impregnated by a man other than her husband. This passage says that if a man suspects his wife to be pregnant by someone else, he can take her to the priest who will prescribe the "bitter water" (the known abortifacient produced by combining pennyroyal with black cohosh) to terminate the unwanted pregnancy. Please note, this is part of the LAW OF MOSES. This is not a specific instance to a particular individual or couple. This was a general prescription of practice for God's "Chosen People" -- the Jews, from whom the promised Messiah was supposed to appear.
Exodus 21:22: "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]."
This scripture has nothing to do with the voluntary, intentional choice of a woman (or her husband, in the days before women had many rights) to have an abortion. It is about two men struggling together who ACCIDENTALLY cause her to have a miscarriage, and the resulting penalties. The point that it is about 3rd-party causation rather than voluntary choice. Without trying to equate human tissue with property, it is more analogous to someone voluntarily disposing of unwanted property (no problem) as opposed to a 3rd party taking it contrary to the owner's intent (theft). Even so, notice that the value here is on the WOMAN, not the fetus. The penalties vary, depending on whether or not there is "harm." Harm to whom? The fetus? There was a miscarriage - by definition the fetus is already DEAD. The variability of "harm" obviously means injury to the woman. But even if there is no harm (injury) they must still have a penalty because, like modern fundamentalists wish to do, they deprived her (or her husband) of CHOICE (in this case, to complete a pregnancy). This example of a third-party violent attack (or carelessness) has no relevance whatsoever to the situation in which a woman makes a VOLUNTARY choice to abort the contents of her OWN BODY under MEDICALLY-SUPERVISED conditions. The fact that this is raised regarding something it has no relation to shows the abject desperation of those who want to find something, anything, in the Bible, but cannot find anything that actually says what they want it to. Why can't they just accept the Bible as it is instead of trying to change it?
Exodus 20:13: "Thou shalt not kill." (KJV)
This scripture, one of the Ten Commandments, is often translated as "Thou shalt not commit murder." One could easily look at the Ten Commandments and view them as an "index" to the Law of Moses which follows in the remainder of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
Each of the ten commandments, from the rituals by which we show love of God and eschew idols or "other gods", defining taking the Name of the Lord in vain, or how we honor our parents, etc., is defined in more detail elsewhere in the Law.
In the same way, "murder" is carefully defined elsewhere in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy as to details regarding relationships and situations (but not methods) and including the specific penalty for each class of murder [for example, please cite which of the penalties applies to abortion].
THOSE DETAILS SPECIFICALLY OMIT ANY REFERENCE TO ABORTION, while covering other subjects at an equivalent level of specificity, so it is very dishonest to try and apply it to abortion any more than to self-defense (a woman defending her body against an unwanted "invader" in cases where that new life is not desired).
It is interesting to note that the Bible defines in detail many types of both justifiable (self-defense, executions, wartime) and criminal killing (various types of homicides and relationships to those killed -- strangers, neighbors, Israelites, family members, etc.) are discussed, along with any applicable penalties.
Even when the subject of the fetus' existence or death comes up, it still does not prohibit the well-known practice of abortion. So, obviously it was not an oversight, either in the original pronouncements or the failure of the later prophets, Jesus or the apostles to clarify.
The Bible neither promotes nor discourages abortion. Period. The intentional omission of prohibitions against abortion obviously mean they intended that to be left to personal choice, unless you believe God made a mistake.
Such a simplistic and simple-minded definition of this blanket statement, the commandment "thou shalt not kill" could also prohibit vaccinations that kill MILLIONS of viruses or bacteria to save one human; it could prohibit killing shrimp, lobster, fish, birds and mammals to satisfy the lust for artery-clogging animal fat. If one claims that it only means HUMAN life, then this blanket statement would prohibit still killing sperms, eggs, or even adult humans in situations of self-defense, in wartime or for executions. However, no one who understands the ten commandments, not even vegetarians, would claim such blanket authority from Exodus 20:13.
Unlike these other subsets to non-excepted principles, killing is defined at a level to which classes are identified - and SOME are prohibited while others are PERMITTED (killing of animals, killing of humans in wartime, lawful punishment for crime, self defense). In other words, at the level of detail definition that would have included abortion, there are both prohibitions AND exceptions to the rule, so at this level of specificity the principle is NOT applicable to non-excepted subsets (unless you include abortion as a subset woman's self defense of her body, in which case it becomes specifically PERMITTED by the umbrella principle - which I believe IS logical, but that is MY interpretation, not clearly or specifically stated in the Bible).
The Bible offers various statements about fetal movement after quickening, as well as references to the physical formation of fetal development. It is interesting to note that, if the Bible's silence on abortion in the Law of Moses had been an oversight (does God make oversights?) these many subsequent references by the prophets, or later clarification of the Law by Jesus or the apostles in their epistles, gave many excellent opportunities to clarify their intent against the well-known practice of abortion, if they had intended scripture to condemn it. Discussions of fetal formation, life and movement would have been a perfect opportunity to condemn abortion -- IF the Bible or any of the prophets had ever intended to.
Psalm 139:13-16: " For thou hast possessed my reins:
thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.  I will praise thee;
for I am fearfully [and] wonderfully made: marvelous [are] thy
works; and [that] my soul knoweth right well.  My substance
was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, [and] curiously
wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did
see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all [my
members] were written, [which] in continuance were fashioned,
when [as yet there was] none of them." (KJV)
This scripture describes the purely physical process of bodily formation, a process that everyone knows is occurring in utero. Here is a perfect opportunity for a later prophet to also confirm that a soul is also attached to these purely physical body parts (cell tissues) of "unformed substance," and clarify any ambiguity in the "perfect" law of Moses, yet no such clarification is forthcoming. Psalms 139 is David's praise to the Lord, written as the lyrics to music -- he is praising God, not commenting on embryology and, in any case, says nothing about the soul or humanity of the embryo.
Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed thee in the belly I
knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified
thee, [and] I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."
This scripture has traditionally been used by Protestants to show god's foreknowledge of long future events, and by Mormons to show a pre-mortal existence. Only recently have very desperate anti-choice extremists interpreted this in the context of abortion. Look at the wording of this scripture, "Before I formed you in the womb...." It is talking about before birth, before viability .... BEFORE CONCEPTION! Is that referring to sperms and eggs? It has no relevance to abortion whatsoever; but if it shows reverence to POTENTIAL life, it actually applies as much to sperms and eggs as to embryos, since it is before conception. And even if it were a reference to embryonic life (it isn't), no one denies the existence of embryonic life with the potential to become a human being -- and, once again, it would have been a perfect opportunity to condemn abortion, but.... In context, Jeremiah writes in chapter one specifically about his own calling as a prophet -- that it was known by god before he was born or even conceived. He was appointed, chosen, selected, ordained - whatever. He is talking about the fact that God knew of his calling long before he existed as a real or potential human. Prior to Roe v. Wade, most Bible scholars interpreted this as a reference to God's foreknowledge of the future, and not until recently did the scripture ever enter into the abortion debates. And this reference to God's foreknowledge of the future also suggest that He should have been able to foresee the modern controversy about abortion.
Psalm 127:3: "truly children are a GIFT from the LORD;
the fruit of the womb is a reward".
As a parent and grandparent, I certainly agree! But ... my daughter and granddaughter were the results of WANTED, intentional pregnancies. Children are a gift, but the Bible writer certainly passed up a particularly idea verse in which to universalize that concept, didn't he?!
And we should remember the nature of a "gift" - a gift is freely given, and the recipient has the OPTION (read: CHOICE) to accept or reject the gift.
God gave us many "gifts". He created EVERYTHING, and when He was done, He pronounced it "good". Which one, specifically, are you referring to? He created viruses and bacteria and insects and mice. Do you ever feel "put upon" by these "gifts" and throw them back in His face? Please understand the nature of a "gift". It is NOT something that is crammed forcibly down the throat of the recipient. The GREATEST "gift" was salvation offered by the grace of Jesus. Do you feel we should pass LAWS to FORCE everyone to proclaim their acceptance of Him as saviour?
Isaiah 49:15: "Can a woman forget her sucking child,
that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea,
they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." (KJV)
This scripture isn't even talking about fetal life. It is talking about the relationship of God to the Children of Israel, using the metaphor of born children, already sucking. The reference to "womb" is where he came from, not what he is. Use of this scripture in relevance to abortion is very far from its actual context and, in any case, it would have been a perfect opportunity to condemn abortion, but no such condemnation or prohibition is here.
Luke 1:36,41: " And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth,
she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the
sixth month with her, who was called barren.  And it came
to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the
babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy
This scripture contains the words of the angel to Mary, informing her of Elisabeth's pregnancy, already in the sixth month (3rd trimester); Mary's visit occurs sometime after that -- so we know that this is well past quickening and normal fetal movement. In this situation, with God's and others' foreknowledge, there is an awareness that the two fetuses discussed will, in fact, go beyond "potential" to become actual human beings of special greatness. There is certainly nothing here, however, that remotely suggests that a first trimester embryo has a soul, or equal status as a human or, even if it did, there is still not a single denunciation of abortion in the Bible -- again, a perfect opportunity for comment, and the Bible writers intentionally remain silent.
Genesis 9:6-7: "  Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by
man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
 And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly
in the earth, and multiply therein." (KJV) [Compare Genesis
In this scripture, verse 6 clearly refers to human life. If the fetus or embryo are not yet human persons, this clearly does not apply. It refers to killing a man. Not even women or children! Certainly not mere human genetic tissue -- hair, fingernails, other organs, pre-human potentially-developing tissue. Doesn't talk about abortion here or anywhere else. Later, in giving the law (Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy) forms of killing that are acceptable and unacceptable are spelled out in detail, with varying punishments and consequences for various forms of forbidden killing. Abortion is never mentioned once. It is neither promoted nor prohibited. The Bible is completely neutral; it is left to individual human choice. Verse 7 is a command to "Be fertile, then, and multiply." The commandment to "multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it" is a very specific command to a specific group of people, given only twice in the Bible: once to Adam and Eve at the start of the human race (Gen 1:28), and again to Noah and his family when they are the only human survivors after the Great Flood (Gen 9:7). In both of these specific situations, there is a severe population shortage. Clearly the context is to build up the human species. The command has been obeyed. The earth is filled with people. Many today would argue that we have been not only fruitful, but way beyond that. The earth has been subdued. This command was given specifically to Adam and Eve and to Noah and his family when they were the only people on earth. It was very specific and narrowly focused, like other individual commandments telling a specific person to go to this place or perform a specific action. It was never repeated again to any other people, nor was it needed by any other people (as other commandments that are repeated over and over). And since abortion has been known and practiced by all peoples in all times (whether legal or not), we can look at the great population of the human family and see that abortion has hardly stood in the way of our species being "fruitful".
Is God of the Christian Bible PRO-ABORTION? Hosea 13:16 and Numbers 31
As I have stated previously, there is a difference between being pro-CHOICE and being pro-abortion. The Communist Chinese, with their forced abortions, could be called pro-abortion, while those who merely want a full range of choices for women are truly pro-CHOICE. It seems, however, that perhaps the God of the Christian Bible is more like the Communist Chinese, actually supporting abortion rather than mere choice. In Hosea 13:16, the Samaritans' punishment for guilt includes having their pregnant women ripped open and their little ones dashed in pieces. (One might understand the need to punish responsible adults, but to kill the unborn who have done nothing except get conceived by the wrong parents clearly seems to condone, nay mandate, abortion to correct errors of an undesirable conception.) Similarly, in Numbers 31 God commands Moses to seek vengeance against the Midianites, including the killing of all women and children (except virgin women who are to be retained by the soldiers as their booty -- see verses 18 and 35 -- does God not only command abortion, but also rape as the spoils of war?).
Return to commentary: Women's Reproductive Self Determination