Does the Bible say that abortion is murder? Is the Biblical God really pro-life? Most of those who oppose abortion – pro lifers, as they like to be called – are Christians who base their opposition on the Bible. Listening to pro lifers, one would think that the Bible is full of statements condemning abortion. This is not the case. Often they will quote Jeremiah 1:4 – 5 [a]

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

This passage tells us about Jeremiah’s special status as a prophet and God’s plans for his future. Note the part “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” the operative word here is before, God tells us that he planned and knew about Jeremiah before Jeremiah was even conceived! Another pro life favourite is Isaiah 44:2:

“This is what the LORD says- he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen”.

What we can gather here is that God was responsible for the creation of Jacob, just like he was for the creation of every other living thing, many other creatures, such as cows, sheep and horses are also formed in a womb, yet we do not regard their lives as sacrosanct. Another passage often used is Psalm 139: 13 to 16:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Again, this passage tells us about God creating everything and having knowledge of the future of all people. God would also know that many fertilized eggs will fail to implant, some foetuses will naturally miscarry and that some foetuses will be born with serious defects such as Tay Sachs syndrome and anencephaly – most of the brain missing. So, if God is responsible for the creation of every single foetus why would he afflict some with such terrible defects? And then there is Psalm 51:5

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

I don’t know why they think that this passage would support an anti-abortion position. This passage suggests that even procreative sex within marriage is a sin, babies are sinful at the time of birth and if the foetus is sinful, it cannot be innocent as pro lifers always keep telling us.

The fact is, the word abortion does not even appear in the Bible. The closest one would come to abortion is in Numbers 5: 12 to 31.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure-or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure – then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt.

The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband.” – here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath – “may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away.” Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.

The footnotes in the NIV tell us that the part your abdomen swells and your thigh wasted away means that the woman, if she is guilty, she will punished by barrenness and a miscarrying womb. It appears that God has no problem with induced abortion, at least in some cases, and the “bitter water” would have been the Biblical equivalent of the RU486. The aim here was to ensure that any children born were the biological offspring of the husband, the Jews were a patriarchal society and lineage and property was passed down from father to son, so they had to take measures to ensure that men could be certain that the children that their wife/wives bore were theirs, so they drafted draconian laws against pre-marital and extra-marital sex for women.

In Genesis 38:24, …Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

Because Tamar was pregnant and a widow without a husband, she was accused of being a prostitute and her father in law Judah ordered that she be burned alive – she is spared when Judah discovers that he is the father of Tamar’s foetus. Pro lifers never tire of telling us that even in cases of rape a woman should not be permitted to have an abortion because the foetus is innocent (see Psalm 51:5) and should not be punished for its father’s crimes. If foetuses are so valuable to God, why wasn’t Tamar’s execution postponed until after the birth? The author of Genesis does not condemn the would be actions of Judah, and the laws in the Bible are regarded by many Jews and Christians alike as the word of god, if a woman commits adultery she is to be executed, there is not exception for women who are pregnant.

Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you. Deuteronomy 22: 21

Here we have a young woman about to be stoned to death because she was not a virgin on her wedding night. In the days before condoms and modern contraception, a non virgin bride would have likely being pregnant. By stoning her to death the foetus would die as well, even if what the girl did was a heinous crime deserving the death penalty without a trial, isn’t it unfair to kill the foetus as well? After all the foetus is innocent of any crime is it not? So, in Biblical times (and in Muslim countries today) many a young women would have been brutally killed without any thought of the foetus they may have been carrying. Yet, in the year 2006 pro lifers are opposed to women having access to hormonal contraceptives and IUDs just in case they prevent a “child” from being implanted.

In Leviticus, 27: 1 to 8 God tells Moses how to calculate the value of persons being offered to God:

“The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate persons to the LORD by giving equivalent values, set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; and if it is a female, set her value at thirty shekels. If it is a person between the ages of five and twenty, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels. If it is a person between one month and five years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels] of silver. If it is a person sixty years old or more, set the value of a male at fifteen shekels and of a female at ten shekels.”

In the above passage, babies under one month of age did not have any monetary value at all. Some pro lifers have argued that in those times there was a high infant mortality so they had to wait for the baby to reach one month of age when it would be more likely to survive. Their argument is on a collision with their dogma that every fertilized egg/zygote should be protected as a person despite the fact that a high number of zygotes fail to implant. Even though the value of females was always less than the males, they were still regarded more valuable than babies under one month. Pro lifers are going against the Bible, they believe that the most valuable are foetuses, then babies, and last, women who have no value at all, except as a life-support system for the foetus. If babies are the most valuable to God then it should not matter whether or not they are likely to die before the first month and they should certainly have a higher value than the woman in accordance with the pro life dogma. It seems that God got it dead wrong in this case!

The Jews were very meticulous in the keeping of the laws. Exodus and Leviticus have extensive lists of laws and regulations ranging from sacrifices to the Lord, diet…childbirth, children’s relationship with parents, women’s uncleanness, offerings to the Lord after childbirth, nakedness, clothing, sexual relations, adultery, rape, marriage, slavery…Isn’t it odd that they forgot to add laws banning abortion since it is regarded by Christians as a grave sin? Why would they omit something as serious as abortion? [b]

A pro life argument for the above is that abortion was so unthinkable for Jewish women that it was not necessary to enact a law forbidding it. This is not the case. As the Jews lived side by side with many different cultures and religions, they would often be “led astray” into worshipping other gods and by adopting foreign customs. The women in these other cultures would have practiced abortion and probably Jewish women would have too. Ancient Egyptian texts dating from around 1784 BC to 1300 BC contain numerous recipes for contraceptives and abortifacients. While their effectiveness is a matter of debate, their existence indicates that women throughout the ages have sought ways to control their fertility. Conversely, the Assyrians would punish a woman who had an abortion by having her impaled. Yet, we do not see condemnation in the Bible for adopting the “abomination” of abortion, the Lord was more concerned about his flock worshiping graven images and gathering sticks on the Sabbath, foetuses were not a priority. If the Jews had regarded abortion as a grave sin they would have made a specific law forbidding it, such law does not exist.

If we look at the Ten Commandments, the first four on the list are about the worship of God. The fifth is about respecting ones parents and the sixth – often invoked by anti abortionists – is “Thou shalt not kill”. The command against murder applied to already-born Jews – with the exception of those who broke God’s laws such as gathering sticks on the Sabbath, worshipping graven images and non virgin brides. The following Bible verses do not indicate value for foetuses, or anyone else. It is clear that killing anyone opposing the Lord was permitted and that included innocent foetuses and children.

“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones.” Numbers 31:17

“Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.” 1 Samuel 15:3

“Dash their children, and rip up their women with child.” 2 Kings 8:12

“Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished.” Isaiah 13:16

“They shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.” Isaiah 13:18

“Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children.” Ezekiel 9:6

“Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.” Hosea 13:16

Even if the enemy tribe was guilty of heinous crimes, surely the innocent foetuses and children could be spared!

The following passage is often quoted by pro choicers:

“When men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined according to as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Exodus 21: 22-25

If the woman died, the punishment was death. For the death of the foetus it was a mere fine, although the embryo/foetus was important due to its potential, it was not regarded as a person. Pro lifers will argue that the part so that there is a miscarriage and yet no harm follows means that if the miscarried foetus survived it was only a fine but if the foetus was dead it was life for a life. They conveniently ignore the fact that before modern times, premature infants did not survive.

 

References:

[a] Online source of Bible passages:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search

[b] In Judaism, it is permitted kill a foetus in order to save a woman whose life is in danger, however, once the head emerges from the birth canal, it is forbidden to kill it:

http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_72.html#72b_15

 

Jewish beliefs on abortion:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_abor.htm

By Voula Papas

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