Issue #155 -------
October 28, 2004
A baby is God's opinion
that life should go on.
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
Let me begin this study by sharing with you some extremely shocking statistical data .... at least, I hope you will be shocked by it -- God help us if we aren't. In the year 1973 abortion became legal in the United States with the ruling of the Supreme Court in the now infamous court case: Roe v. Wade. In the three decades which followed that ruling (1973 - 2003), just under 45 million abortions were performed in this nation alone. That's a lot of dead babies! This doesn't even factor in the abortions performed throughout the rest of the world. This is a slaughter of innocents on a grand scale that makes the holocaust under Hitler resemble a fraternity prank by comparison!
In the world today, there are 54 countries (61% of the planet's population) in which abortion is now legal. It is conservatively estimated that in excess of 46 million abortions are performed worldwide each year. This translates into approximately 126,000 abortions performed daily, which is almost 88 abortions performed per minute in the world about us! In the time it has taken me to write these two brief paragraphs, thousands of fetuses have been slaughtered.
As for demographics, in the United States the majority of women getting an abortion are young. Over half of all abortions (52%) are performed on women under 25 years of age. One out of five abortions (19%) is performed on a teenager. It is estimated that 43% of women in this nation will have had an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. In our country, black women are statistically three times more likely to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are 2.5 times more likely, than the general population. Protestants make up the largest religious group seeking out abortions (43%), while Catholics are at 27%. As for WHY these fetal deaths are occurring, the majority (almost three out of four women) state that having a child would just "not be convenient at this time" ... it would interfere with their lifestyle, with work, school, etc. Many stated they simply couldn't afford a child. Others sought abortion because their spouse or partner objected to the pregnancy. Statistics show that only about 0.4% of abortions were sought due to rape, incest or the health of the mother or fetus. In other words, most of these babies are being slaughtered simply because they are an inconvenience.
What many may not realize is that abortion has been practiced in America since the founding of our nation. Its legal status and social acceptability, on the other hand, has varied considerably through the years. An excellent history of this deadly practice has been researched and documented by James C. Mohr in his book -- Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy. In that book Mohr observes, "Americans regarded abortion primarily as the recourse of women wronged by duplicitous suitors or pregnant as the result of illicit relationships, though records exist of married women having abortions. Americans tolerated the practice, which had long been legal under colonial common law and remained legal under American common law, provided the pregnancy was terminated before quickening: the first perception of fetal movement by the woman." In time, abortion became a lucrative market in early America, with abortionists advertising in the daily papers. The quality of these practitioners, however, was not high, and many women suffered greatly at their hands.
To make a long story short, the anti-abortion legislation and regulation, not to mention the increased medical cost, drove abortion underground in the 1900s. "By the late 1950s significant portions of the population began to call for repeal of the regulations that proscribed abortion" (Mohr). In the 1960s a significant number of women began to address the issue in a public and political manner. They wanted control over their own bodies and reproductive processes. "The right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy became for many women one of the fundamental demands of modern feminism" (Mohr). The Roman Catholic Church soon got involved in the debate, as did several state legislatures. "In January 1973 the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade ruled that women, as part of their constitutional right to privacy, could choose to terminate a pregnancy prior to the point at which the fetus reached a stage of development that would allow it to survive outside the womb. This ruling, and its subsequent refinements, effectively struck anti-abortion laws from state criminal codes and returned the United States, in a rough sense, to standards functionally similar to those of the early Republic" (Mohr).
Developmental Stages of Gestation
From the moment of conception until the moment of birth there is generally, if all goes according to plan, a period of about nine months. During this time a great many changes occur within the womb. The first month witnesses a dramatic transformation from a fertilized ovum, which is smaller than a grain of salt, to an emerging embryo in which is being formed the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. The heart begins to beat, and muscles, limbs, ears and eyes begin to show. By day 50 one can discern five fingers on each hand and brain waves can be detected and recorded. The brain begins to control movement of muscles and organs. The liver begins to function, and it takes over blood cell production.
During days 50 through 80, although only about an inch long, the developing embryo is now referred to as a "fetus." Most everything that will later be found in an adult is to be found in this little creature. In fact, "since electrical activity of the brain from the eighth week of gestation is indistinguishable from that of an adult, it suggests some level of consciousness" (Dr. Roy Willingham, Abortion). The stomach produces digestive juices and the kidneys begin functioning. The body of the fetus responds to touch, and it can even curve its fingers around an object placed in the palm of its hand. From day 80 to 120 the fetus goes through regular cycles of sleep and alertness, exercising its muscles. Amniotic fluid is "breathed" to help develop the respiratory system. Its sex becomes apparent. At 120 days the fetus is eight to ten inches long and weighs over half a pound.
As the 120 day mark is passed, external sounds begin to impact the fetus, and it may "jump" or "kick" when startled by a noise, and may even react to certain sounds (such as music). "And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb" (Luke 1:41). By day 180 the fetus could possibly survive outside the womb, if given sufficient specialized care. From day 180 onward until birth the baby begins to use some of its major senses. It can recognize its mother's voice. Throughout this period of time, almost literally from the beginning, it is evident that this is far more than a "mass of tissue" inside a woman --- this is a living being; a living being who feels, senses, reacts, and even hurts. All of which is rarely given much thought as every minute of every hour of every day some 88 of these living beings are poisoned, burned, gouged and ripped limb from limb from their place of safety because they have largely proved to be an "inconvenience" to those who conceived them.
Testimony of the Early Church
"The church, from the very beginning, branded abortion as a form of murder" (Gaston Cagdell, "The Position of the Early Church on Abortion," Gospel Advocate, October, 1992, p. 14). Several of the Church Fathers, as well as some of the non-canonical writings of the first few centuries, speak forcefully against this practice. Note the following:
Epistle of Barnabas --- This was a widely circulated epistle, one which was thought highly of in the early church. Clement of Alexandria and Origen both quoted from it as Scripture. It is even included in the ancient manuscript of the Bible known as Codex Sinaiticus. In Barnabas 14:11 we find the following very direct teaching -- "Thou shalt not destroy thy conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born." This is also found in 15:6. The Kleist translation of this passage reads, "Do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide." Barnabas 19:5 states, "You shall not murder a child by abortion."
The Didache --- This work is also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Although denied canonicity by the early church, it nevertheless was held in high regard as a handbook of basic Christian thought and practice for converts from paganism. Clement of Alexandria quoted it as Scripture, and Athanasius lists it among the "Sacred Writings." It sets forth two great eternal "ways" in which men should walk: the Way of Life and the Way of Death. How one relates to the following is an indication as to which "way" one walks --- "Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not practice pederasty; do not fornicate; do not steal; do not deal in magic; do not practice sorcery; do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide" (Didache 2:2). Those who walk in the "Way of Death" are those who "do not know their Maker; murderers of children; destroyers of God's image" (Didache 5:2). The ancient Latin translation of the Didache translates the phrase "destroyers of God's image" as abortuantes (i.e., "procurers of abortion").
The Apocalypse of Peter --- Except for Revelation, this is probably one of the oldest of the New Covenant apocalypses. It purports to be a vision of heaven and hell by the apostle Peter. It was very popular in the early church. It is mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment (170 AD), in the table of contents of Codex Bezae, and is quoted by Clement of Alexandria. It also had a great impact on Dante, and is considered one of the sources for his Inferno. In chapter 8 we read, "And near this flame there is a great and very deep pit and into it there flow all kinds of things from everywhere: horrifying things and excretions. And the women are swallowed up by this up to their necks, and are punished with great pain. These are they which have procured abortions, and have ruined the work of God which He has created."
Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) --- Clement was a strong educator in the early church and sought to instill Christian morality among the people of Alexandria, Egypt. In his work Pedagogus, he wrote that Christians should not be the kind of people who, in order to hide their fornication, "take away human nature, which is generated from the providence of God, by abortions and applying abortifacient drugs to destroy utterly the embryo and, with it, the love of man."
Athenagoras (c. 133-190 AD) --- This early Christian philosopher made a defense before the emperor with regard to charges that had been long leveled against the Christian faith, among them that Christians are "homicides and devourers of men." Athenagoras answered this charge by saying, "How can we kill a man when we are those who say that all who use abortifacients are homicides and will account to God for their abortions as for the killing of men. For the fetus in the womb is not an animal, and it is God's providence that he exist."
Tertullian (c. 150-220 AD) --- In 197 AD, Tertullian, who was a Carthaginian lawyer and a convert to Christianity from paganism, wrote his Apology (a defense) of the Christian faith. It was in the form of an open letter to the emperors and magistrates of the Roman empire. In this classic work he wrote, "But with us, murder is forbidden once for all. We are not permitted to destroy even the fetus in the womb, as long as blood is still being drawn to form a human being. To prevent the birth of a child is a quicker way to murder. It makes no difference whether one destroys a soul already born or interferes with it coming to birth. It is a human being and one who is to be a man, for the whole fruit is already present in the seed." He later states, "How can we speak of children being born dead unless they were once alive? Who can die unless he once lived?" This certainly counters the modern argument that they aren't really "alive" until they are born and draw breath. Tertullian boldly declares, "Now we believe that life begins at conception."
Minucius Felix (c. 210 AD) --- This man, who was a lawyer, held a dialogue with another lawyer, in which they compared the Christian faith to pagan religions. The dialogue is titled Octavius, and was held in Latin. In one section, speaking to pagans who had brought charges against Christians, he said, "In fact, it is among you that I see newly begotten sons at times exposed to wild beasts and birds, or dispatched by the violent death of strangulation; and there are women who, by the use of medicinal potions, destroy the nascent life in their wombs, and murder the child before they bring it forth" (chapter 30:2).
Flavious Josephus (37-100 AD) --- This ancient Jewish historian, who was a Pharisee, a scholar, and a general of the Jewish army, wrote extensively concerning not only the history of the Jews, but also of matters pertaining to their faith. In his work Contra Apion he wrote, "The Law (of Moses), moreover, enjoins us to bring up our offspring and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have done so, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature and diminishing human kind" (book 2, chap. 24).
Jumping ahead many centuries, perhaps the great Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) summed up the feelings of our forefathers in the faith best, writing, "If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light" (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses, vol. 3, p. 41-42).
What Sayeth God's Word?
The Bible has much to say about the preciousness of human life. It is a sacred gift from the Creator. This is especially true of children, both the born and unborn. They have a special place in the heart of our God ... and they should in our hearts, as well. "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has a quiver full of them" (Psalm 127:3-5). "It would have been unthinkable for faithful Jews to allow abortion" (Robert Redden, "Another Look At Abortion," Firm Foundation, June 3, 1975). "As a posterity among the Jews was among the peculiar promises of their covenant, and as every man had some reason to think that the Messiah should spring from his family, therefore any injury done to a woman with child, by which the fruit of her womb might be destroyed, was considered a very heavy offence" (Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 1, p. 412).
"For the life (soul) of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11). Deut. 12:23 informs the people of God that "the blood is the life (soul)" of the body, and we know that blood is circulating within the body of an embryo within a few weeks of its conception. Thus, in shedding its blood, one destroys its life (soul). "There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him" (Prov. 6:16). One of those seven abominations is: "Hands that shed innocent blood" (vs. 17). There is hardly blood more innocent than that of an unborn child. "Abortion was not in Solomon's mind when he wrote that God hates the 'hands that shed innocent blood,' but certainly professional hands in many hospitals today are causing innocent and helpless blood freely to flow" (Hugo McCord, "Abortion," Gospel Advocate, January 26, 1978).
"For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well" (Psalm 139:13-14). The Lord God Himself is weaving together, within their mother's wombs, the inward parts of these tiny living beings. By what authority do mere men rip these living beings from the hands of the Almighty, snuffing out the life that the Creator has placed within them?! What presumption! What arrogance! What abomination! Even some pagans had sense enough to perceive the wrongness of such an action. Hebrew and OT scholar Bruce K. Walke pointed out that "Assyrian law prescribed death by torture when a woman procured an abortion" (Christianity Today, November 8, 1968, p. 3-4). Laws protecting the innocent have certainly changed, haven't they?!
"The destruction of the unborn child was regarded by the Hebrews as an instance of the most barbarous cruelty, calling down God's judgment -- 2 Kings 15:16" (R. Alan Cole, Exodus, p. 169). See also: 2 Kings 8:12; Amos 1:13; Hosea 13:16. "And if a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death" (Leviticus 24:17). It is the belief of most scholars that "Lev. 24:17 protected the unborn child, as well as babies who had already been born" (Robert Redden, "Exodus 21:22-23 and Abortion," Gospel Advocate, November, 1994, p. 9).
Exodus 21:22-25 --- The biblical passage that most directly addresses the matter of an abortion (a prenatal death), and the consequences thereof, is found in Ex. 21:22-25, a part of the Law of Moses. It is an extremely controversial passage of Scripture; not even the English translations agree on how it should be rendered, and commentators and scholars are divided. Since it is clearly THE text on abortion in the Bible, however, we need to make an effort to understand the meaning of this law from God. It is extremely important to our understanding of this issue ... and His view of the matter.
Scholars have debated for centuries whether the "harm" or "injury" done in the above text applies to the mother alone, or if the fetus is included. In other words, when the penalty of "life for life" is exacted against the one causing the "injury," is this because the mother was killed, or the fetus, or both? Reputable scholars can be found on both sides of this debate. Those who favor abortion, and a woman's right to choose, insist that the penalty of "life for life" applies only to the life of the mother, and not to the life of the fetus. They believe the passage suggests a lesser (monetary) fine if the fetus is aborted, which suggests, they believe, that it is not considered a viable life. Some translations do indeed leave this impression:
Those who oppose abortion, argue that the above translations have taken some unconscionable liberties with the text. The word "further," for example, has been added to the text. It is not part of the original text of the Bible in this passage. By adding this word there is an attempt, it is felt, to distance the fetus from the penalty of "life for life," thus suggesting the fetus is not considered a viable life. "The word 'further' is not in the Hebrew text, and the NASB acknowledges this fact by putting the word in italics" (Robert Redden, "Exodus 21:22-23 and Abortion," Gospel Advocate, November, 1994).
Additionally, it is very prejudicial to translate the Hebrew word Yeled as "miscarriage." The term refers to the "fruit" of the womb, a "coming forth," and it is also used in Scripture to refer to LIVE births. Jeremiah 20:18 is one example -- "Why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow?" (see also: Jer. 1:5; Gen. 25:25-26; Job 1:21; 3:11). Thus, to translate this term "miscarriage" assumes far too much. The Hebrew words normally signifying "miscarriage" (shakol, nephel, and meth) are not used in this passage. "If Moses wished to state clearly that a miscarriage was intended, he could have easily done so" (ibid). The passage merely states the pregnant woman, by being injured in the struggle, was made to "bring forth" the fruit of her womb. "It seems an unfair assumption to suggest that the Hebrew intended to refer to a nonviable fetus as opposed to a viable one" (ibid). "The language of the original text is customarily used of live births, and one may confidently conclude that a premature birth is in view" (ibid).
It should also be pointed out that the word translated "harm" or "injury" usually, in Scripture, refers to a very serious injury, most often resulting in death. Jacob, for example, refused to send Benjamin back to Egypt with his brothers, for he was "afraid that harm may befall him" (Gen. 42:4). Specifically, he feared Benjamin would also die, as he was led to believe Joseph had (vs. 38; cf. 44:29). Thus, those who oppose abortion believe the passage (Ex. 21:22-23) should be translated much differently; a translation which shies away from the concept of a "miscarriage," and which suggests another alternative, one which allows for the view that the fetus is indeed a viable life. There are translations which convey this idea:
"In this rendering, one discovers that the 'injury' in both verses refers to the baby as well as the mother. The baby is not dead in verse 22, but simply prematurely born. In this case, the fine is imposed because of the trauma and suffering endured by the mother, baby or both. In verse 23, however, the scenario includes the death of either the baby or the mother, or even both for that matter. Therefore, the baby is a human being since 'life for life' is applicable to the baby, as well as the mother, in that scenario" (Robert Redden, "Exodus 21:22-23 and Abortion," Gospel Advocate, November, 1994). "Considering this examination, the NIV committee has done a superior job of translating this passage, and clearly demonstrates that Exodus 21:22-23 does not lend any support for abortion" (ibid).
"The full meaning of the passage is then, if men strove and thrust against a woman with child, who had come near or between them perhaps for the purpose of making peace, so that her child comes out (came into the world), and no injury was done either to the woman or the child that was born, a pecuniary compensation was to be paid. A fine is imposed, because even if no injury had been done to the woman and the fruit of her womb, such a blow might have endangered life. But where injury occurred either to the mother or the unborn child, the lex talionis applied indiscriminately -- to the genuinely human fetus as well as to his genuinely human parent" (Keil and Delitzsch, Bible Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, p. 134-135).
When one examines the Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the great scholars in the field of linguistics, one is hard-pressed to arrive at any other conviction than this: prenatal life has just as much value in the sight of God as postnatal life. The unborn are just as precious in His sight as those who have come forth from the womb. As noted in the discussion above, Exodus 21:22-25 is a powerful teaching from God, and "if we had no other Scripture pertaining to the valuation that God places upon life in the womb and the punishment He will visit upon those who destroy it, this passage would settle the matter once and for all" (Gaston Cogdell, "The Position of the Early Church on Abortion," Gospel Advocate, October, 1992).
What is my position on abortion? You probably already have a good idea! I oppose it. As with suicide, I would never counsel anyone to seek out this remedy to their problems. I would counsel against both abortion and suicide in every circumstance, and to seek more acceptable solutions. Having said that, however, I recognize, as I declared in my article on suicide, that life isn't always choices between "black and white." This is where Situational Ethics plays an important role. There may well be exceptions to most every rule, but exceptions (even when allowed) do not invalidate the legitimacy of the rule itself. I believe this to be true with abortion. There will be those rare situations when an abortion may be "the lesser of two evils," or when it may prove to be medically essential in the preserving of a life.
The vast majority of abortions are procured simply because the pregnancy has proved to be an inconvenience in one sense or another. I believe such abortions to be wrong. "The Scriptures teach the sanctity of human life and abortion for convenience would be repugnant to anyone who takes the Bible seriously" (H.W. Robinson, "Is Abortion Biblical?" Christianity Applied, vol. 1, no. 1). However, there are a few cases here and there, though they are few, where to preserve the life of the mother a pregnancy may need to be terminated. If this mother has other young children who depend on her, that makes the need to preserve her life even more critical. "Both reason and revelation teach us that when we are faced with alternatives in any situation, we should always choose the greater good. The saving of the mother's life might be considered a greater good than the saving of an unborn infant's life -- or it might not be. The answer could depend on the situation" (ibid). Robert Redden wrote, "It is the position of this writer that abortion should never be considered as an option for the Christian unless the mother's life is in jeopardy" ("Another Look At Abortion," Firm Foundation, June 3, 1975).
Dr. Roy Willingham, in a tract he wrote titled "Abortion," stated, "When pregnancy is complicated by maternal disease which makes the pregnancy a clear and imminent threat to the life of the mother, such as advanced cardiac or renal disease, there is an entirely different moral issue as compared with that of 'abortion on demand.' Where there is a choice between the life of the mother and that of the fetus, most of us would instinctively give priority to that of the mother since her life is so intricately intertwined with those of her family." Robert L. Pettus, MD, in his book "As I See Sex Through The Bible," concurs with this view, and devotes an entire chapter to discussing abortion and the situation ethics involved. He also adds situations involving incest and rape of minors.
These are difficult decisions, and should not be made without much counsel from medical, spiritual and family advisors, and without a great deal of prayerful reflection and honest introspection. No matter how one chooses in such situations, lives will be forever altered. In most such cases it really is a matter of selecting the "lesser evil." Sometimes those hard choices must be made, however.
For those who have chosen poorly in the past -- who, perhaps, have sought out an abortion for less than noble reasons -- your spiritual and emotional healing will come, if you allow it to. The source of that healing is God's grace and forgiveness. Embrace it. It is His gift for repentant hearts. For those who may be on the pathway of worldliness and sexual immorality which inevitably leads many who follow it to the place where such life and death choices are forced upon them, the solution is to be found in living for the Savior, not living for self. There is a world of misery that can be avoided by simply turning our lives over to Jesus Christ and allowing His Spirit to indwell us and transform us and renew us. The vast majority of abortions can be prevented. That prevention starts with choice. The choice to behave responsibly, maturely, and godly. Yes, I am "pro choice" --- I favor every person choosing purity, chastity, abstinence if unmarried, forethought and planning if married. I advocate men and women taking responsibility for their actions, sacrificing for the good of others, and choosing life over death. Yes, I am "pro choice," but only when the choice is "pro life."
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, You are a blessing to me! In fact, I am teaching a different one of your Reflections each week in my Sunday School class during this quarter, and maybe even the next. They are awesome!
From a Minister in New York:
I think you have done a wonderful job of dealing with a very difficult and sensitive matter (suicide). I appreciated, too, the remarks by Edward Fudge in your conclusion. If we, limited as we are by our humanity, can find it within ourselves to be compassionate in our thoughts toward those overwhelmed by sorrow, certainly the "Father of all mercies and God of all comfort" does even more so!
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, "Suicide Among Saints" was another excellent article! Having grown up in Churches of Christ, both the very conservative ("anti") and moderate, I had a very distorted view of suicide that came to haunt me. Almost twenty years ago I became chaplain of a police department on the east coast of Florida. One of the first calls I responded to was a suicide. I was working the case with a veteran detective who wanted nothing to do with the Lord, churches, or me as a chaplain. He asked me to talk with the surviving widow while he worked the case. I had no idea what to tell this lady because my teaching only allowed for this man to burn in hell for taking his own life. The detective (who later turned out to be one of my best friends) ended up having to talk with this lady, and I learned more about the theology of suicide from an agnostic than I ever learned from my religious heritage. I wish I had read your article almost twenty years ago!! If I had, the hope that lady received that morning would have come from the chaplain rather than the detective!
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