Is God pro-choice?

In social media debates on abortion it’s pretty much standard procedure for the abortion advocate to play the “religion card.” – ‘You only oppose abortion because it’s against your religion, and you shouldn’t be trying to force your beliefs on other people.’ – My recent Facebook discussion with a family member and her friends was typical, as I revealed here.

But none of the arguments against abortion I’ve covered so far in this series from Francis J. Beckwith’s book Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (1) has been theologically-based. They have all been grounded in scientific realities and philosophical concepts to which any non-believer can say ‘Amen.’ In Chapter 8, however, Beckwith addresses pro-abortion arguments that are themselves theologically-based and shows how those who claim the Bible condones or allows abortion are mistaken.

One of these arguments makes the claim that abortion is morally permissible because the Bible does not specifically forbid it. But as Beckwith points out, the Bible clearly forbids murder, which is the intentional and unjustified killing of a human being. So if it can be shown that the unborn are referred to in ways that affirm their full humanity, it becomes clear that the Bible in fact does forbid abortion. Beckwith gives several evidences demonstrating that this is the case.

  1. Personal Language Applied to the Conceptus: A number of passages refer to the human entity at conception in a personal way, such as Job 3:3 – “Let the day perish on which I was to be born. And the night, which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’”
  2. The Unborn Are Called Children: In Luke Chapter 1 the same Greek word translated “baby” is used for John the Baptist in utero that is used for the infant Jesus in the manger in Chapter 2.
  3. The Unborn Are Known by God in a Personal Way: Beckwith cites several passages that clearly make this point. Psalm 139:13 – “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb,” and Isaiah 49:1 – “The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” are two of them.
  4. The Evidence of Church History: Though they don’t share the authority of Scripture, the writings of second-century Christian leaders testify that the early Church considered abortion murder. For example, “You shall not kill a child in the womb or murder a new-born infant…You shall not slay the child by abortions.”

Other arguments claim that particular Bible passages support the permissibility of abortion, in particular Exodus 21:22-25 and Numbers 5:11-31. Beckwith makes a good case for why they are mistaken. One popular argument suggests from the account of Adam’s creation in Genesis 2:7 where God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” that only at birth when the child takes in oxygen through his lungs does he becomes a living being. Beckwith highlights two problems with this claim.

  1. Though the child in utero is not breathing the way you and I do, respiration – the taking in of oxygen from the environment – is occurring from the time of conception. So it is simply the mode of respiration that changes at birth.
  2. The unique event that was the creation of the first man and the ordinary birth of a child are not analogous. Quoting another theologian, Beckwith writes, “If God took inanimate matter and made a man from it, as Genesis 2:7 seems to be saying, then obviously what he created was not a human being until it was given life. But the fetus is not ‘inanimate matter.’ It is already alive. And it is already human.”

There are other passages spuriously cited as supportive of the pro-choice position and Beckwith answers them, because even though they are “weak biblical defenses,” some will come across them in literature like “A Pro-Choice Bible Study” put out by Episcopalians for Religious Freedom. Their implausibility as supportive of abortion rights demonstrates the lengths to which abortion advocates must go to claim that God is on their side.

I can understand why a Christian woman might get an abortion because of powerful emotional factors that drive her decision. But I think that any Christian who defends abortion on biblical grounds is clearly more committed to self and secularism than to God.

(1) Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993)