|Marriage and the Family - 14 - Abortion|
It was August 9, 1974. The place was the East Room of the White House. President Gerald Ford addressed the nation. His speech is remembered for his opening sentence, a sentence which many feel to be his most memorable utterance while in office: “Our long national nightmare is over.” President Ford was, of course, referring to Watergate, the political and legal issue which caused the first resignation in presidential history. While Mr. Ford’s words were sincere, he was unaware perhaps that our greatest national nightmare had only begun a few months earlier.
The nineteenth century saw state after state in the United States pass laws to protect the unborn human child. Until 1966, abortion was illegal in every state unless there was clear medical necessity for it. In the twentieth century, abortion began to be more common and accepted in European countries. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, New York became the first state to liberalize its laws on abortion. Finally, on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the now infamous Wade verses Roe decision, allowed abortion virtually on demand throughout the first six months of pregnancy, and for medical reasons during the last three. The nightmare had begun and is still continuing.
Each day in the United States, over four thousand abortions are performed. Each year over 1.5 million pregnancies are interrupted. Abortion has become the second most commonly performed surgical procedure in this country. There is now one abortion for every two live births. Sadly, over 29% are repeat abortion.
Christians feel an innate revulsion to the idea of taking the life of an unborn child. This spiritual instinct is of tremendous value, especially in a day when we face so many issues that seem to have no ready, quick response from the Scriptures. This instinct, however, must eventually be substantiated with Scripture to prevent it from degenerating into mere foot stomping rhetoric or bias. For those who will patiently persevere with this article, this scriptural basis will be explored.
When an esteemed elder understood that I was attempting an article on this subject, his response was insightful. He commented on the difficulty the subject presents. “You won’t find it in Strong’s, Young’s or Cruden’s,” he said. And indeed you won’t. The reason for this is perhaps so obvious that we lose sight of it and fail to appreciate one of the strongest arguments which Scripture gives. The great lament of the Old Testament was concerning barrenness, not pregnancy. Children were viewed as the heritage of the Lord (Psalm 127:3); the fruit of the womb being His reward and a sign of blessing. No Old Testament saint ever contemplated abortion. Rachel threatened death to herself if she did not have children (Genesis 30:1). “Be fruitful and multiply,” was God’s intention and desire from Eden onward (“Genesis 1:28).
Before we look as some of the Scriptures which have a more direct bearing upon the subject, we should examine carefully the philosophy which has spawned and legitimized this modern means of birth control.
A number of years ago I stood with over a hundred classmates and recited the Hippocratic oath. That oath contained a promise to never interfere with pregnancy. Those who were guilty of this were looked down upon by their peers in the medical profession and dealt with severely by both law and medical society groups. So heinous was this crime, only a few short years ago, that its perpetrators were spoken of in the most disdainful tones by colleagues. What has brought about a full 360-degree shift in the winds of opinion? How did the most odious become the most accepted in only 15 years?
No one single reason could begin to answer this question with all its complexity. There are, however, two very obvious philosophies which controlled the thinking of men through the late 60’s and 70’s which have influenced, to a large extent, the current thinking of the masses. I realize that they are not necessarily currently in vogue among front line thinkers, but their effects are still controlling the minds of the masses of men a decade later.
The first of these philosophies was that which sired the “Me” generation. It was the acceptability of looking out for self, for Number One. The law of the jungle returned to civilization and every man had to look out for himself. The end result of this thought process was that everyone had a “right” to do what was best for himself.
Coupled with this was the attempt to dissociate consequences from actions; to somehow divorce forever the need to worry that every action brought inevitable results. Science, technology, money, or at worst your contacts in high places, could take care of the results. God’s inviolable law of sowing and reaping was disregarded.
These two lines of thought are by no means new, having had their debut in Eden. The present day, however, saw them refined and made acceptable to men without embarrassment.
The marriage of those two lines of thought led to a new way to look at pregnancy. No longer was it simply a matter of accepting pregnancy. Now one had a “right” to decide if it was appropriate at this point in time to have a child. If the child was inconvenient, or its birth would interfere with a career, it was perfectly justifiable to “terminate” pregnancy. Thus began the rhetoric of the unwanted child, the right to control one’s body, and a myriad of other euphemisms which were created to replace the patent attitude of selfishness and irresponsibility.
We shall look at the shallowness of some of these expressions in the article. Allow me just now to simply underline the fact that if there were no other clearer scriptural reasons to condemn abortion, and there are, the unscriptural attitudes that have fostered the acceptance of abortion would serve to alert us that this is the work of depraved minds and self-centered thinking.
But, what of the Scriptures? What light do they shed in a more direct way upon this subject? Any article which touches upon abortion must confront the oft referred to verses in Exodus 21:22-25. This has been appealed to by many in an attempt to show that the unborn child is less than human. Let’s look at the verse in its context together:
“If a man 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…If any mischief follow then thou shalt give life for life.”
Now there are several ways of looking at this verse. Scholars differ on its exact meaning, as we shall see. They do not however differ on the moral lesson it contains. Some who follow the translation of Spurrell and others, translate the expression that “her fruit depart,” to mean a premature birth that is able to live, “yet no mischief follow.” Thus the death penalty is not exacted because no life was lost. Other scholars, equally competent in the Hebrew language, feel that it does mean that she loses her pregnancy, while she herself is not injured. Some seize on this and build a case upon the difference in value of the unborn child’s life and the mother’s. They then argue back that since the death of the child was compensated by money and the death of the mother only by a life, that the child is “worth” less than the mother and is somehow less “human” than the mother. The deathblow to this reasoning is the context of the chapter. The entire principle of the chapter is one of responsibility and intent, not of relative values from lives. In verse 12, if a man killed another man inadvertently, his life was not immediately forfeit. He was allowed to escape to the city of refuge. In verse 28, if a man’s ox were to gore to death by accident another man or woman, the man was not to die but to kill his ox. Was God equating the ox with a man in value? If the owner knew, however, that the ox was “wont to push with his horn” and did not restrain him, then the ox and the owner were put to death to compensate for the crime. In verse 32, if the ox were to gore a slave, the owner was to pay 30 shekels of silver and the ox was to be stoned. In all of these examples, there is no intention on God’s part to place relative values on the lives of slaves, men, women, or premature children. It is matter of intention, premeditation and motive.
Come now to Psalm 139. Before we rush headlong into the verses which are of primary concern to us, take a look at the Psalm in its entirety. Its purpose is to detail for us the greatness of God. His attributes are put on display for us to marvel at in adoring worship. The first six verses tell us of His omniscience; the next six show His omnipresence; and as expected, the next four tell us of His omnipotence. It is remarkable, however, that when the Spirit of God desires to give us an example of the power of God, He does not move to the majesty and greatness of the infinitude of creation. He rather takes us to the tiny developing fetus and the wonder of the creation of life.
What can we learn from Psalm 139:13-16? One glaring truth is obvious after even a cursory reading of the Psalm. Personhood is established in the womb. The Psalmist refers to God’s interest in him, his substance or bones, his unformed substances or embryo (v.16). God counted him as a person even then. There was identity there; there was personhood with all its value there in the womb. One of the great cries of the pro-choice movement is that every child should be a “wanted’ child. Thus if you do not want this baby, don’t have him. Think this through for just a moment. This roots the value of one human being in the desires of another. The embryo only has value if I decide it should live. This really reduces the child to not only subhuman value, but also inhuman value. Traditionally, we want things and love people. But now we are told that it is up to the mother whether she wants this child to be born; she can decide if it has value. Obviously a very profound shift has occurred in the attitude of society toward all that are unwanted, imperfect and inconvenient to have. It is only a matter of time before the value of every living thing will be determined by another.
The Psalm before us makes clear that God views even the unformed substance, the embryo in its early developmental stages with identity and personhood.
At times our disappointments in searching the Scriptures are of more value than finding what we expect. I looked at the words which Luke the physician uses in his gospel account, when writing in the first few chapters, fully expecting that different words would be used for the unborn children carried by Mary and Elizabeth. To my surprise he used the same word for the fetus, the small infant, even the young child, brephos. Not knowing quite what to do with this, since it didn’t fit into my idea (I had hoped that Luke would use a special word that would show the fetus was a person), I placed it into the dormant file and did nothing with it. But the obvious fact is so glaring that it begs for display. Luke used the same word for all of these stages of life because each was “brephos.” There was no distinction in the amount of humanity which each possessed. Dr. Luke, the medically astute writer, made no distinction in his choice of words between the unborn and the born child.
At conception, a complete genetic unit has been formed. Nothing will ever be added to make the embryo more human or a person. Time and size will be added, but not the essence of life.
Psalm 139 also depicts for us God’s interest in the prenatal development of the embryo. Some may think this simply poetic language, hyperbole that flows freely from the pen of this writer in the poetic books. May I remind my readers that the Lord Jesus revealed to us that the Father has an interest in the death of every sparrow? How much more appropriate that He has an interest in the birth of every child. In Psalm 139:16, the writer shows God’s interest in the development of the fetus from conception to birth. In verses 17, 18, that interest extends even to death and beyond. Remember that the Psalmist is first of all celebrating the greatness and the glory of God; this is not a poet psalm of the beauty of life. He is telling us about God primarily.
If God has such an intimate interest in the developing fetus, how tragic that those who favor and advocate abortion view it simply as “products of conception,” a “non-person” and other such terms. Self-interest has replaced and transcended God’s interest in the child. We are told that every woman has the right to control what happens to her own body. That is scarcely true even in the other matters of life. Laws frequently regulate what we are allowed to do with our bodies. But putting this point aside for a moment, consider the following. An unborn child is a person with a body. The child has an equal right to control his body, or at the very least, to have its rights protected. The only way around this is to somehow ascribe something less than personhood to the child. This is what abortionists have done.
Far from being an expression of control, abortion is frequently the action taken by a body that was out of control. The activity, which led to that pregnancy, is where choice is involved. Beyond that, consequences must be expected and accepted.
The unborn child not only possesses an identity and is the object of God’s interest; it also displays God’s intelligence. The expressions in verse 14,15 show this, “fearfully and awesomely, curiously wrought.” The development of the human body is one of God’s masterpieces.
But there are several other issues which must be addressed in an article of this nature. A question which is frequently asked, and which the Supreme Court supposedly refused to answer, is “When does life begin?” When does the soul enter the body?”
Most people are surprised at the early physical development of the fetus. Heart function begins just 14-18 days after conception; at the end of the first month every organ has begun to form; movement of the arms and legs starts at six weeks; brain wave activity can be detected at 43 days. We now include in our definition of brain death the absence of brain waves. Their presence is detectable after only a month and a half of life.
Theologians and church fathers have grappled long over the issue of ensoulment. Some of the earliest ideas included the concept that it was at day 40 for males, and day 80 for females, which was very strange conjecture.
When all the arguments have been weighed, there is one basic question that is left: If it does not happen at conception, then when? Does Scripture help us here?
Consider the unique case of the incarnation of Christ. Every believer would agree that it was Christ in the womb of Mary. His soul was there already. Some may say that this is a unique case. Granted! What of John the Baptist? Was the babe leaping in her womb mere coincidence? If some think this far fetched, be advised that there is a considerable body of evidence bearing upon the subject of intrauterine thought and activity.
Notice also the expression in Psalm 51:5, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” If the sinful Adamic nature was there at conception, can any argue that the soul was present? We have nothing in our Bibles to suggest that God gives each man a soul at some moment near birth. Only once in our Bibles does it say that God gave anyone a soul: “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). It is the suggestion of this writer that soul is transmitted at conception.
Another aspect that must be faced, and faced with difficulty, is the pregnancy that is the result of crime, completely against the will of the victim. We must first understand that we can never argue from the exception back to the general practice. This today represents a percentage point of a percent of all the abortions performed in this country, but we must face the issue fairly. When a violent act has led to pregnancy, there is one victim; when this is ended by abortion there are now two victims. Doing away with the result of the crime does not lessen the crime or its evil; it does not begin to reverse the trauma done to the woman. We simply add another trauma to her life.
Sin does not lead itself to easy answers. Every sin, every evil deed only brings sorrow in its wake. The options which it opens, always are a choice between the lesser of evils. Abortion being a great evil never can answer the problem righteously.
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