Abortion and the Christian
- John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D.
This volume has grown out of years of teaching and research in the area of Christian ethics. Several years ago I began to realize that abortion not only is an intensely ethical issue in its own right, but is also symptomatic of a larger crisis in contemporary American human values. The abortion controversy reflects tensions and conflicts felt widely in marriage, the family, role identities, and human sexuality in general. Addressing the morality of abortion means addressing the very meaning and value of human life.
Any book about such a complex social reality is bound to have its limitations, and this book is no exception. I make no claim to having presented a comprehensive analysis of all the intricate psychological, philosophical, moral, social, and theological issues involved. I do hope, however, that I have presented enough information for the reader to formulate, in the light of Scripture, thoughtful positions on the basic moral issues involved.
I wish to acknowledge the encouragement and support I have received from my wife, Robin, and from many students and friends to complete this book. A special word of thanks is in order for Mrs. Adelaida Schlueter, who patiently typed the manuscript, and for James Moran, who assisted in reading the manuscript and in preparing the bibliography.
Abortion and the Christian
The abortion controversy has polarized Americans like no other national issue since the Vietnam War and Watergate. The divisions cut across regional, ethnic, and religious lines, and are evident at the personal, political, and ecclesiastical levels. At times even women who defend their right to an abortion, and have had one, display deeply ambivalent feelings on the subject. Linda Bird Francke, a general editor for Newsweek, reflects on her own abortion in her book, The Ambivalence of Abortion:
There was no doubt, when I became pregnant, that life was right there, in my womb. Left undisturbed, that blob of cells and tissue would have grown into a baby. The process was beginning, and I chose to end it......I was totally unprepared for my mounting ambivalence as the time for the abortion came closer, an ambivalence that turned into grief and guilt for a period after the abortion was over. The little ghost haunted me for about six months before it disappeared, and after it was gone, I even missed it a bit. But as my children grow and take up more and more of my time and energy, I realize emphatically that the addition of another child for me would have been negative rather than positive.
The ambivalence of Linda Bird Francke typifies that of countless American women who have had abortions. Traditional values about prenatal life and childbearing are thought increasingly to conflict with personal goals and career plans.
Ambivalence and divisions appear also at the political level. Each year the Congress engages in protracted debates on whether the federal government should subsidize abortions. Some senators and congressmen argue adamantly that fairness requires giving the poor as much access to abortion as the more affluent. Others argue with equal adamance that abortion constitutes the unwarranted taking of human life. Both sides are lobbied heavily by "pro-life" and "pro-choice" groups.
At the state and local levels, legislatures and city councils have had to wrestle with the issue. Most state legislators have debated whether the state should subsidize abortions through its welfare programs. By 1978, some 33 states had imposed restrictions of one sort or another on such funding. City councils have faced the issues of whether zoning ordinances can be used to restrict the location of abortion clinics, and whether local ordinances can place restrictions on their operation. The most widely known instance involved ordinances passed by the city council of Akron, Ohio, which placed the following restrictions on abortion clinics: (1) informed consent (i.e., requiring the clinic to give the woman a description of the fetus); (2) performance of all second-trimester abortions in a hospital; (3) parental consent or court order for minors 15 years or younger; (4) a 24-hour waiting period. The ordinance, scheduled to go into effect on May 1, 1978, was challenged in court by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and was struck down on June 15, 1983, by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Divisions over the abortion issue are also evident in the churches of America. Prior to the 1960s, most denominations had very conservative positions on abortion. But the 1960s brought significant changes. In 1968, the American Baptist Convention adopted a resolution stating that "abortion should be a matter of responsible,
personal decision," and that legislation should be provided for termination of pregnancies prior to the twelfth week. In the same year, the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association urged that efforts be made to abolish existing abortion laws, and that the decision to have an abortion be a private matter between a woman and her physician. Other American denominations such as the United Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Protestant Episcopal Church adopted similar resolutions.
After the Supreme Court's sweeping abortion decisions in 1973, striking down most of the then-existing state legislation restricting abortion, a conservative reaction began taking place. Several denominations went on record as opposing abortion on demand. They included the Southern Baptist Convention, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Free Methodist Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Evangelical Synod), the Mennonite Church at General Assembly, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. The Roman Catholic Church has consistently opposed abortion, both before and after the 1973 Supreme Court decisions.
One of the main purposes of this volume is to discover and clarify some of the principal issues and values that divide Americans in the abortion controversy. When does human life begin? Should the unborn be considered persons in the eyes of the law? What circumstances, if any, make abortion morally justifiable? Should abortion be a purely private matter between a woman and a physician? Would a return to more restrictive abortion laws violate the separation of church and state? These are some of the issues to explore as we examine the biblical, ethical, and medical data. That examination will serve as the basis for offering specific guidelines for decision making on abortion at both the personal and public policy levels. But before moving in that direction, it will be helpful to listen to a few voices from the Christian past.
Voices from the Christian Past
The attitude of the early Christian church toward abortion forms a sharp contrast to the permissive attitudes found in America in the 1980s. The early church, living out its faith in a Greco-Roman culture that tolerated both abortion and infanticide, vigorously and consistently opposed the taking of life in the womb. In the Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a manual of Christian principles that may date back to the first century, abortion is explicitly prohibited. "Thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide" (Did. 2:2). Similar strictures are found in the Epistle of Barnabas (19:5). The second-century Christian philosopher and convert, Athenagoras, answered the slander that Christians were "homicides and devourers of men" in his defense of Christianity to the emperor: "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 exists."
Tertullian, another convert to Christianity and a lawyer by profession, was also an outspoken opponent of abortion. In his Apology to the emperor, written near the end of the second century, he responds to the charge that Christians practice cannibalism and infanticide. This cannot be so, since "for us, to whom murder has been once for all forbidden, it is not permitted to destroy even what has been conceived.....He is a human being who will be one...." Tertullian did, however, consider a direct threat to the life of the mother to be justifiable grounds for abortion.
While Augustine had some hesitation about the exact time of ensoulment, he unhesitatingly opposed abortion as a practice. Characterizing abortion as an expression of "lustful cruelty," he stated, in reference to pagan practices, that "sometimes this lustful cruelty or cruel lust comes to this that they even procure poisons of sterility, and if these do not work, they extinguish and destroy the fetus in some way in the womb." Augustine's attitude became the dominant one in the latin churches of the West. In the East, Greek church fathers such as Basil of Cappadocia were equally emphatic.
Those who "deliberately commit abortion are subject to the [ecclesiastical] penalty for homicide," which involved ten years of penance.
Thomas Aquinas, the leading theologian of the Middle Ages, opposed abortion but distinguished between the moral gravity of early and late abortions. Aquinas's position presupposed the embryology of Aristotle, who taught that the "rational" soul was not present before the fortieth day in the case of a male, and the eightieth day in the case of a female. Later, in 1585, Pope Sixtus V, his principal target being prostitution in Rome, condemned abortion without any distinction between a "formed" (ensouled) and an "unformed" fetus. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Catholic teaching had moved away from the earlier position of Aristotle and Aquinas and had identified conception as the time of ensoulment. The change was, in part, due to new embryological information unavailable to Aquinas.
While Martin Luther apparently did not directly address the question of abortion, his teachings on original sin and the origins of the human soul had the effect of personalizing the unborn child. John Calvin was more explicit. In his commentary on Exodus 21:22, which deals with an unintentionally induced premature birth, Calvin wrote:
This passage of first sight is ambiguous, for if the word death only applies to the pregnant woman, it would not have been a capital crime to put an end to the foetus, which would be a great absurdity; for the foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. 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 foetus in the womb before it has come to light.
For Calvin, the unborn child is "already a human being," a judgment in harmony with the early church fathers such as Tertullian.
During the nineteenth century, abortion became a public concern in America. In 1869, the General Assembly of the "Old School"
Presbyterian Church adopted the following resolution as its official denominational statement:
This assembly regards the destruction by parents of their own offspring, before birth, with abhorrence, as a crime against God and nature.....We also exhort those who have been called to preach the gospel, and all who love purity and the truth, and who would avert the just judgments of Almighty God from the nation, that they be no longer silent, or tolerant of these things, but that they endeavour by all proper means to stay the floods of impurity and cruelty.
The congregationalist churches in New England and the Great Lakes region also engaged in anti-abortion activities. Arthur Cleveland Coxe, episcopal bishop of the diocese of western New York, publicly supported efforts by American physicians to tighten up the abortion laws. "As to those crimes which I have likened to the sacrifices of Moloch," wrote the bishop, "I am glad that our physicians are beginning to be preachers."
In recent years, conservative Protestant opposition to abortion has increased. Prominent leaders such as Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer, Harold O.J. Brown, Donald Bloesch, C. Everett Koop, R.C. Sproul, Bruce Waltke, John Frame, Jerry Falwell, and others have gone on record as opposing the present abortion situation in America. Such opposition has, as we have seen, deep roots in the history of the Christian church.
The Magnitude of the Problem
Legal abortions in the United States increased from 898,000 in 1974 to 1,533,000 in 1980, the latest year for which figures are available, according to researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Of those obtaining abortions in 1980, 30 percent were under age 20, 70 percent were white, and 79 percent were unmarried. The last figure shows that abortions in the United States are most often sought as a "solution" to the problem of pregnancy outside of marriage.
Abortion represents a $700-million-a-year industry in this country. The United States leads the world in teenage abortions, with about half a million each year. Some 150,000 abortions are performed in the second trimester of pregnancy, "the most grisly of all," notes Dr. Matthew J. Bulfin, "the ones that some hardened abortionists refuse to do because the killing is so real and unmistakable."
These figures mean that each day an average of 4,257 unborn human beings are aborted in the United States. In Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, abortions now outnumber live births.
The statistics are especially disturbing in light of recent findings concerning the medical hazards of abortion. The preliminary results of a study being sponsored by the National Institutes of Health indicate that women who have had abortions increase significantly their risks of having adverse outcomes in future pregnancies. Those who had one or more abortions were 85 percent more likely to have a miscarriage in a future pregnancy; were 32 percent more likely to give birth to an infant with low birthweight; were 67 percent more likely to have a premature birth; were 47 percent more likely to have labor complications; and were 83 percent more likely to experience complications in delivery. While these preliminary results should be interpreted with caution, they clearly signal a health hazard. Studies by physicians in Eastern European countries where abortion has been legal for many years have reported significant rates for complications, including internal bleeding, infections, perforation of the uterus, and damage to the cervix. Despite the claims made for the safety of abortion -- now one of America's most common surgical procedures -- it is becoming evident that a full disclosure of the hazards has not yet been made to the American people.
The door to the present laissez-faire abortion scene in America was swung open in 1973 by the Supreme Court's abortion decisions, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. These decisions struck down some 31 state laws then restricting abortion and permitted abortions even in the final trimester, if the woman's "health" -- very loosely defined -- was said to require it. Legal scholars have criticized the decisions as lacking grounding in sound constitutional law. In July of 1976, the Court ruled in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth that a father had no right to prevent the abortion of his unborn child, if the mother desired it. Critics of the decision saw it as a further undermining of the family unit. 
In June of 1977, the Court decided three related abortion cases; Maher v. Roe, Beal v. Doe, and Poelker v. Doe. In these rulings the Court, by a six to three majority, held that states were not required to pay for elective abortions under the Medicaid program. Likewise, in Harris v. McCrae, decided on June 30, 1980, the Court held that states could cut off funds for "medically necessary abortions." The effect of these decisions was to hand back to state legislatures the volatile issue of public funding of abortion, making it a continuing focus of controversy. More recently, on June 15, 1983, in City of Akron v. Akron Center For Reproductive Health, Inc., the Court struck down an Akron city ordinance restricting abortion, and reaffirmed the basic abortion-on-demand stance of its Roe v. Wade decision ten years earlier.
Far from settling the national controversy on abortion, the Supreme Court's decisions have provoked a still increasing volume of debate. With this brief overview of the American abortion scene, we now turn to representative positions held today on the ethics of abortion.
As we have seen, abortion is a complex moral issue with psychological, social, medical, and political dimensions. In the heat of debate the basic ethical considerations are sometimes lost. Communication between the opposing groups rarely gets beyond the shouting stage. It is therefore necessary to clarify the basic ethical issues at stake, which we will do by surveying three major positions held in America today: abortion "on demand"; abortion "on indication"; and abortion "only to save the life of the mother." This chapter will outline the main lines of argument that characterize these representative positions. In chapter four, after examining the biblical evidence in detail, we will critically evaluate the various positions.
Abortion "On Demand"
A notable representative of the abortion "on demand" position is Joseph Fletcher, widely known author of Situation Ethics: The New Morality, and professor of medical ethics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Professor Fletcher's books and articles in professional journals are widely read in the American medical community and have had considerable influence there. In a recent book, The Ethics of Genetic Control, Fletcher discusses abortion in connection with recent issues arising in genetics and medicine, such as artificial insemination, sperm banking, and cloning. He observes that changing attitudes toward human sexuality and the development of modern contraceptive devices have largely separated sexual activity from procreation:
Technology, whether of the "hard" physical kind or the "soft" biological kind, is man's creation and man's hallmark.....Love making and baby making have been divorced. Sex is free from the contingencies and complications of reproduction, and sexual practice can now proceed on its own merits as an independent value in life...."Make love, not people." This is the rock-bottom fact of the new age and the new morality."
Seen in that light, abortion represents one of the many technological means for controlling natural processes such as human procreation, in deference to personal values such as individual freedom and self-fulfillment. Modern man has learned increasingly to subdue the natural order through science and technology, and now modern contraceptive devices and abortion techniques extend such technological control to the biological dimensions of human life and procreation.
Fletcher's position on abortion embodies a pragmatic approach to moral reasoning. Decisions are made not on the basis of a priori moral principles, but on the basis of a rational calculation of the probable consequences of a given line of action:
....there are in the end only two ways of deciding what is right. Either we will obey a rule (or a ruler) of conscience, which is the a priori or prejudiced approach, or we will look as reasonably as we can at the facts and calculate the consequences, the human costs and benefits -- the pragmatic way.....Most of us decide for or against things on the principle of proportionate good. We try to figure out the gains and losses that would follow from one course of action or another and then choose the one that is best, the one that offers the most good. This calculation of consequences is often called a trade-off or cost benefit analysis.
In Fletcher's view, a priori rules must not take precedence over specific calculations of probable costs and benefits to people in the concrete ethical situation. Moral principles may provide useful guidelines for ethical reflection, but they should not be understood as absolutely binding in every circumstance. Under certain circumstances it may be legitimate and morally right to violate widely held moral rules, e.g., rules prohibiting adultery and the taking of innocent human life, if a greater personal good would result.
Fletcher's cost-benefit approach does recognize that the critical issue is the status of the human being developing in the womb. "The most basic issue is whether a fetus is a person or not." If costs and benefits are to be calculated with the interests of all the persons involved, then the personhood of the unborn must be resolved in some fashion. Fletcher observes that there are three predominant views concerning human personhood: the identification of personhood with biological life, beginning at fertilization; the identification of personhood with the soul, either at the time of conception or at some discrete point thereafter; and the identification of personhood with the rational functions of human personality.
Fletcher opts for the third alternative: "Humans without some minimum of intelligence or mental capacity are not persons, no matter how many of their organs are active, no matter how spontaneous their living processes are." In Fletcher's view, a score of, say, 20 on the Binet scale of I.Q. would be a minimum criterion of personhood. "Obviously," he notes, "a fetus cannot meet this test, no matter what its stage of growth." The most sensible position, he believes, is to hold that the unborn become persons at birth, when the umbilical cord is cut and the lungs begin to function. Since on this basis the woman is understood to have full personal status and the developing child none, abortion at any stage of pregnancy becomes justifiable whenever the cost-benefit calculation indicates that it would be in the woman's own interests.
Fletcher recognizes the difficulty of evaluating the competing claims about the personhood of the unborn in a pluralistic society.
He maintains that the only possible way of evaluating such claims is a pragmatic one:
The only possible moral test of these rival views lies in their consequences. When beliefs or nonempirical opinions, neither of them being falsifiable, contradict or clash with each other, the only possible way to choose between them morally is in terms of their consequences if they are followed out logically in practice. The one which results in greater good for people is the correct one. On this basis there is an open and shut case for abortion. Obvious and overwhelming, it can be justified very often, sometimes for reasons of human health, sometimes for reasons of human happiness.
To Fletcher's way of thinking, the view that personhood is present from conception not only is empirically unverifiable, but also would cause more harm than good for society. Consequently, it should not be the basis for social policy. The only reasonable policy, he asserts, is to put an end to compulsory pregnancy. "The ethical principle is that pregnancy when wanted is a healthy process, pregnancy when not wanted is a disease -- in fact, a venereal disease. The truly ethical question is not whether we can justify abortion but whether we can justify compulsory pregnancy." Thus, having decided to view the unborn as nonpersons, Fletcher concludes that the freedom to abort is desirable both as a personal ethic and as a public policy.
Abortion "On Indications"
While few evangelicals support abortion "on demand," many argue that certain medical or social circumstances provide justifiable grounds for abortion. An important representative of this perspective in evangelical circles is Professor Norman Geisler of Dallas Theological Seminary, who articulates his position in the widely used textbook, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues.
Geisler begins by making a careful distinction between contraception and abortion: contraception is an attempt to prevent life from beginning; abortion, a much more serious matter, is an attempt to take life after it has already begun. But is abortion the moral equivalent of murder? Geisler thinks not and points to Exodus 21:22 as scriptural support for this view: "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 this reading of the text, the capital penalty was to be inflicted for the death of the mother, but not for the death of the child in the womb. On this view, the Mosaic law did not consider an unborn child to be a person in the full sense of the word. Such a view permits one to weigh the value of the actual life of the mother against the value of the potential life of the unborn child when there appears to be an inescapable conflict between the two.
Geisler's position grew out of an ethical framework he calls hierarchicalism. It holds that there are many universally valid moral norms, and these can be arranged in a hierarchical fashion. In the case of a tragic conflict between two moral norms, the higher norm (e.g., preserving innocent human life) takes precedence over the lower norm (e.g., telling the truth). Thus, when Rahab the harlot lied to protect the Israelite spies [Joshua 2], she chose not the lesser of two evils, but a positively right course of action. The hierarchical approach makes it possible for the Christian to choose a positive good in any situation, no matter how tragic the circumstances.
As it applies to abortion, the hierarchical understanding affirms as a matter of principle that "an actual person is of more value that a potential person":
....just as the actual plant is more valuable than the seed (potential plant), so a mother is more intrinsically valuable as a person than the fertilized ovum within her womb. For the mother is an actual person, whereas the embryo is only a potential person. She is a mature, free, autonomous subject; the unborn has only the potential to become such. Hence, it would follow that when there are irresolvable conflicts between the values involving potential humans and actual humans, the actual should take precedence over the potential.
This distinction between "actual" and "potential" personhood is based on a view of personhood in which qualities such as self-awareness, self-determination, and the capacity for interpersonal relationships are the determining factors. Since the unborn only exhibit these qualities to a very limited degree, they must be considered potential rather than actual persons.
Geisler is careful to point out that the hierarchical view does not imply that the developing child is of no value, or that abortion on demand is justified. "An unborn baby is a work of God which He is building into His own likeness. It is a being with increasing value as it develops." Geisler cites Psalm 139:13-15, which speaks of God's providential care for developing human life, as evidence that the Bible does not consider the embryo to be simply an expendable piece of human tissue. Abortion is a very serious moral matter, much more serious than birth control. "Since God is the Author of life, it is a serious thing to stamp out a life which He has permitted to come to pass......Conception is a prima facie case in favor of giving the undeveloped person a chance to develop. One must have some higher moral duty which demands abortion before he initiates it."
When, then, in Geisler's view, is abortion morally justifiable? He cites three fairly well-defined cases: when the life of the mother is at stake; when the birth would result in a sub-human and not merely deformed or retarded being; and in cases of pregnancy due to rape or incest. "When it is a clear-cut case of either taking the life of the unborn baby or letting the mother die, then abortion is called for." In such a case the actual life of the mother is of more value than the potential life of the unborn child. Geisler deals with a possible objection to this position, which can be posed in the following manner: Might some potential humans not be more valuable than some actual human beings? A future Albert Schweitzer than a drunken harlot? While acknowledging such a possibility, Geisler argues that basing a decision on such considerations would require an omniscience possessed by God alone. Finite human beings must decide on the basis of knowledge available to them.
In his discussion of anticipated birth defects, Geisler distinguishes between cases of deformity or retardation, and cases that are "sub-human". Only in the latter would "therapeutic" abortion be justified. Specifically, ".....handicaps do not destroy one's humanity. In fact, they often enhance the truly human characteristics in both the handicapped and those who work with them." Anticipated birth defects usually do not constitute grounds for abortion. Many are minor or surgically correctable, and the deformed are still human and capable of interpersonal relations. "The handicapped are human and have the right to life. Abortion thwarts this right in advance."
Rape and incest, as Geisler acknowledges, raise difficult questions. Is a mother obligated to give birth to a child conceived in rape? Geisler cautiously answers no. "Birth is not morally necessitated without consent......A violent intrusion into a woman's womb does not bring with it a moral birthright for the embryo." But what of the objection that the embryonic human being has a right to life irrespective of the circumstances of conception? In such cases, Geisler argues, the "rights to life, health, and self-determination -- i.e., the rights to personhood -- of the fully human mother take precedence over that [sic] of the potentially human embryo." Cases of incestuous conception may involve both rape and genetic considerations and hence, he feels, "may provide an even firmer basis for a justifiable abortion."
There are other cases where, in Geisler's view, abortion is clearly not justified. For example, an unplanned pregnancy where the baby is unwanted does not constitute grounds for abortion. Consent to intercourse implies consent to conception. "Since marriage is automatic consent to intercourse [1 Cor. 7:3ff.].....the children conceived are automatically willed whether they are wanted or not......In brief, any child born of intercourse by consenting parties is implicitly willed and as such has the right to live."
Neither should abortion be considered as a "back up" to other means of birth control. Once the choice to have intercourse has been made, it is too late to refuse responsibility for the child that may be conceived. Furthermore, given the ready availability of other means of fertility control, there is no need to resort to the morally unjustifiable practice of abortion.
Geisler touches upon the problem areas of grave threats to mental health, socioeconomic distress, and teenage pregnancies out of wedlock, but without extensive discussion. He concludes that when all the relevant factors are taken into account, abortion may be justified in such cases. Such circumstances would call for Geisler's basic hierarchical framework, where the value of the child's potential life is balanced against the mother's actual life. "All the facts must be weighed and the higher value pursued. The problem is not basically a moral one . . . but a factual one, i.e., determining as a matter of fact which course of action will realize this higher value."
Geisler's "hierarchical" approach thus represents a fairly sophisticated and discriminating attempt to balance the interests of both mother and unborn child when they appear to conflict. We will evaluate this type of approach, and its exegetical and philosophical foundations, after we have examined the biblical data in chapter four.
Abortion "Only to Save the Life of the Mother"
A third major position, and one that is widely held in evangelical circles, is that abortion is morally justified only in those infrequent situations where the life of the mother would be threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy. Such an eventuality would arise, for example, in the case of a tubal pregnancy or cancerous uterus. In such a case, if nothing were done, both mother and child would be in danger of perishing. Thus a therapeutic abortion is performed to save a life that has some real prospects of survival.
A recent expression of this position by an evangelical theologian is found in Death Before Birth, by professor Harold O.J. Brown, formerly of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Professor Brown was also instrumental in organizing the Christian Action Council, an evangelical Protestant pro-life organization. The core of the argument contained in Death Before Birth involves his interpretation of several key biblical passages, the use of data concerning prenatal development, and a critique of the utilitarian ethical framework often found in other positions.
Brown is aware that the Bible does not contain an explicit prohibition of abortion. He observes, however, that neither does the Bible contain explicit prohibitions of infanticide, genocide, or, for that matter, suicide. Such specific prohibitions were unnecessary in view of the biblical prohibition against taking innocent human life. The crucial question is whether the Bible considers the developing fetus to be human life. "If the developing fetus is shown to be a human being, then we do not need a specific commandment against feticide any more than we need something specific against uxoricide (wife killing).
The general command against killing covers both."
Brown argues that the burden of proof in the debate over the humanity of the fetus rests with the pro-abortionist:
With regard to the morality of killing a developing fetus, it is not enough to say that we are not sure it is human. We must be able to say we are sure it is not human. If a hunter were to see movement in a bush and shoot at it, it would not be enough for him to say he was not sure it was not another hunter. He would have to be able to say he was sure it was not. How can we be sure the fetus is not a human being? Clearly, we can not; it is far easier to be sure of the contrary, that it is.
Brown is convinced that an agnostic position regarding the personal status of the developing fetus will not do. A responsible decision requires some credible basis for settling the question of humanity, since, at the very least, potential human life is at stake. Brown observes that although the Bible does not contain a technical or philosophical definition of "human being" or "person", it significantly ".....does not make a principled distinction between the child after birth and in the womb." The Hebrew word yeled, used of children generally, is also used of children in the womb in Exodus 21:22. The Greek word brephos is used in Acts 7:19 to refer to the young Hebrew children slaughtered at Pharaoh's command, and in Luke 1:41,44 to refer to John the Baptist while still in his mother's womb. This usage suggests that the biblical writers saw a continuity between the prenatal and postnatal states.
The biblical concept of the image of God [Gen. 1:27] is central to the Bible's teaching concerning the dignity and value of human life, according to Brown. Because man is made in God's own image, the shedding of innocent blood pollutes a land and cries out to God for judgment [Num. 35:33]. "If a nation permits the slaughter of the innocent, it surely will bring God's judgment upon itself," warns the author.
But can we be sure that the image of God is present before birth? Brown argues that if God relates in a personal way to a human creature, that is evidence that the image of God is present. "And," says Brown, "it is abundantly evident from Scripture that God relates to us and is personally concerned for us before birth." He cites Psalm 139:13,14, Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:44, and Psalm 51:5 as evidence:
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 [Psalm 139:13,14].
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 [Jeremiah 1:5].
For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy [Luke 1:44].
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me [Psalm 51:5].
On the basis of such texts, Brown concludes that "there can be no doubt that God clearly says the unborn child is already a human being, made in the image of God and deserving the protection of the law." Without involving himself in detailed questions about the precise moment at which the image of God appears during prenatal development, Brown concludes that the biblical data strongly opposes the present abortion climate in America.
Brown also argues for the humanity of the unborn child on scientific grounds. He notes that even medical authorities who favor abortion have candidly admitted the scientific evidence for the humanity of the unborn. An editorial in the journal California Medicine stated that the "very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but the taking of human life would be ludicrous if not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices." There is no medical or scientific doubt, Brown argues, that the fetus is a human being with a unique chromosomal identity -- except in the case of identical twins, where this genetic individuality exists at least from implantation, several days after conception. "Admittedly, there may be some dispute as to precisely when fetal life is 'fully human,' but everyone knows it is a long time before birth, and the Supreme Court permits abortions right up to the moment of birth." Even if one were to adopt a definition of "humanness" in terms of brain waves, which appear at some point during the first trimester -- and Brown does not advocate doing so -- America would still have to account for hundreds of thousands of homicides each year.
In Brown's view, the ethical framework for the pro-abortion stance is a pragmatic and utilitarian one:
Make no mistake: the fundamental argument for abortion on demand is pragmatic -- it works. The end justifies the means. And the end is utilitarian: the greatest good for the greatest number. In any abortion decision those who will profit from the abortion outnumber the one who will be hurt. The woman will profit, or at least thinks she will. . . . The doctor will profit because he has Medicaid, backed by HEW and the United States taxpayer, to guarantee his bill.
While the principle of "the greatest good for the greatest number" can be valid in situations where proper limits and norms are already established, it cannot function as an ultimate principle overriding the sanctity of human life itself. Brown urges his readers to resist such pragmatic and utilitarian approaches on the basis of a firmly principled ethic based on the biblical teaching of the sanctity of human life made in the image of God. As image bearers of God, human beings have a transcendent dignity and worth irrespective of age, health, or physical beauty. To accept the utilitarian conception of the value of human life presupposed by abortion on demand would, in Brown's view, amount to accepting a most tragic erosion of the very basis of Western civilization.
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From this survey of representative ethical positions it has become clear that the key issue in the abortion debate concerns the personal status of the unborn child. Is the developing fetus a "person" in the usual sense of the term? How exactly is the biblical doctrine of the image of God related to the philosophical and legal concept of personhood? Does the Bible clearly indicate that personhood begins at conception, or at some other point during the process of prenatal development? Are the biblical texts cited to prove the personhood of the unborn more than poetic expressions? How do the facts of genetic identity relate to the value judgments made concerning the developing human being? Do the Scriptures indicate that the unborn represent potential human beings or actual human beings?
In order to establish firm answers to these questions, it will be necessary to make a much more thorough examination of the biblical data than has been made by the writers surveyed thus far. But first, it will be helpful to review some of the factual information available from the medical profession concerning prenatal development, techniques of abortion, and the medical risks of abortion. With that data in hand, the reader will be in a better position to consider the biblical and theological arguments.
A sound approach to the ethics of abortion must be grounded in the scientific and medical facts. The facts of prenatal development are indispensable for determining when human life begins. When those facts are known, it remains for the ethicist, the physician, the legislator, and society at large to interpret their moral and legal implications. Many of the questions that arise from the abortion controversy are directly related to medical practice: under what conditions, if any, is abortion necessary to save the life of the mother: Under what conditions, if any, would abortion be indicated on the grounds of mental health? What methods of abortion are used in America today, and what medical hazards are associated with these methods? These and other related questions are central to the contemporary abortion debate.
The Facts of Prenatal Development
Any discussion of abortion that ignores the facts of prenatal development in incomplete. The unborn child, after all, is a central figure in the abortion controversy. His or her moral and legal status depends on a careful examination of the process of prenatal development.
It is most unfortunate that scientific facts known for decades or longer have been quietly ignored by many proponents of abortion. Arguments that the unborn child is simply "part of the woman's body," or that human life does not begin at conception do not accord with the well-established scientific facts. Even medical authorities personally sympathetic to abortion acknowledge that. An editorial in California Medicine, the official journal of the California Medical Association, makes this clear:
The process of eroding the old ethic and substituting the new has already begun. It may be seen most clearly in changing attitudes toward human abortion. In defiance of the long held Western ethic of intrinsic and equal value for every human life regardless of its stage, condition, or status, abortion is becoming acceptable by society as moral, right, and even necessary. . . . since the old ethic has not been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected.
The inevitable distortions caused by passion and prejudice make it all the more imperative to keep the scientific facts clearly in focus.
It is a well-established fact that a genetically distinct human being is brought into existence at conception. During intercourse, some 300,000,000 sperm are deposited in the vagina and begin a journey upwards through the uterus and into the Fallopian tube leading from the uterus toward the ovary. If an ovum has been released from the ovary, it passes from the ovary down the Fallopian tube towards the uterus. The survival time of the unfertilized egg is thought to be approximately 24 hours. Both sperm and egg will die if fertilization does not occur within that time period. The newly fertilized egg, called a zygote, contains the hereditary characteristics of both mother and father, one half from each, derived from the DNA material, the genetic thread of life.
The newly fertilized egg contains a staggering amount of genetic information, sufficient to control the individual's growth and development for an entire lifetime. A single thread of DNA from a human cell contains information equivalent to a library of one thousand volumes, or six hundred thousand printed pages with five hundred words on a page. The genetic information stored in the new individual at conception is the equivalent of fifty times the amount of information contained in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
There is an important qualitative difference between the fertilized and unfertilized human ovum. Neither sperm nor egg has any capacity for independent life, and both will die unless they participate in the fertilization process. Once fertilization has taken place, the zygote is its own entity, genetically distinct from both mother and father. The newly conceived individual possesses all the necessary information for a self-directed development and will proceed to grow in the usual human fashion, given time and nourishment. It is simply untrue that the unborn child is merely "part of the mother's body." In addition to being genetically distinct from the time of conception, the unborn possesses separate circulatory, nervous, and endocrine systems. Likewise, it is misleading to speak about the newly conceived as "potential" human life. Prior to conception the sperm and egg represent only the potentiality of a new human life, but once fertilization has taken place, an actual human life has begun. More accurately, the newly conceived individual is an actual life with great potential.
After fertilization the zygote divides first into two cells, then four, then eight, and so on, at a rate of almost one division per day. It is now known that during this earliest stage of development the mass of cells may divide into identical parts forming identical twins. Such "twinning" may occur until the fourteenth day, though it is relatively uncommon, occurring in only one out of about 300 births. During these first several days it is also possible for twins or triplets to be recombined into a single individual. It thus appears that during the earliest stages of prenatal development, for at least a small fraction of zygotes, irreversible individuality may not be present. The moral implications of this eventuality will be considered later.
After the first six or seven days of cell division, which takes place in the Fallopian tube, the new human life enters the uterus and implants itself in the uterine lining. This is often called the "blastocyst" stage. One pole of the growing sphere of cells, called the trophoblast, penetrates the uterine lining and develops into the placenta. The other pole develops as the embryonic human being. It is worth noting here that the placenta is an extension of the child's body, not the mother's. The part of the developing blastocyst that becomes the placenta produces hormones, which enter the mother's bloodstream and prevent the onset of menstruation. This hormonal signal sent to the mother's body from the newly conceived life is essential for its survival, since otherwise the new life would be sloughed away by the menstrual flow. Even at this early stage it is the newly conceived individual, rather than the mother, that takes the initiative in effecting crucial physiological changes. The newly conceived human being is far from passive in the development process. The mother provides an environment for the unborn child, but the child's hormonal system has an active influence on changes in that environment.
After two weeks of development the name of the new human life is changed from zygote to embryo. Blood cells are formed by 17 days, and a rudimentary heart as early as 18 days. The embryonic heart, beginning as a simple tube, shows irregular pulsations at 24 days and approximately one week later exhibits rhythmic contraction and expansion.
The development of the nervous system also begins at approximately the eighteenth day. By the twenty-first day the foundations of the child's brain, spinal cord, nerves, and sense organs are completely formed. Six weeks after conception the nervous system is so well developed that it controls the movements of the child's muscles, though the woman may not yet even be aware that she is pregnant.
By the end of the sixth week, all the internal signs of the unborn child are present, though yet in a rudimentary form. The brain is sending out impulses, which coordinate the functions of the other bodily organs. Reflex responses are present at 42 days, and brain waves have been noted at 43 days. The blood vessels leading from the heart are fully deployed and continue to grow in size. The stomach is producing digestive juices, and the kidneys are beginning to function by extracting uric acid from the child's blood.
By the end of the seventh week, the child will flex his neck if the mouth and nose are tickled with a hair. By this time the ears are also formed and may show the specific features of a family pattern. At about this time the name is changed from embryo to fetus (Latin, "young one or offspring"). By now the fingers and toes are fully recognizable. Lines in the hands and fingerprints begin to appear at eight weeks and remain a distinctive characteristic of the individual. Between the ninth and tenth weeks local reflexes such as swallowing, squinting, and tongue retraction begin to appear. If the child's forehead is touched, he may turn his head away and pucker up and frown. By now the child can bend the wrist and elbow independently and has the full use of his arms. By this time the entire body is sensitive to touch and is also capable of spontaneous movement. Thumb sucking has been observed by the eleventh week, and x-rays will disclose clear details of the skeleton.
By the twelfth week, the child is swallowing regularly and can move his thumb in opposition to his fingers. The child, three and one half inches long by the end of the twelfth week, will have a complete brain structure, which will of course continue to grow. At this time, as Arnold Gesell has stated, the unborn child "is a sentient moving being. We need not pause to speculate as to the nature of his psychic attributes, but we may assert that the organization of his psychosomatic self is now well under way."
By this time, the child is active and the reflexes are more pronounced. Muscular response is no longer mechanical and irregular, but now graceful and fluid. This motion is present prior to "quickening," when the mother first notices the child's movements, which generally occurs between weeks 12 and 16, although some women feel very little movement as late as 20 weeks. It should be clearly understood that the time of "quickening," long considered important in the law, represents a mother's subjective perception, and not an objective point at which "animation" occurs or the first "signs of life" appear. As Dr. Albert W. Liley, a widely recognized authority in fetal medicine, has stated:
Historically, "quickening" was supposed to delineate the time when the fetus became an independent human being possessed of a soul. Now, however, we know that while he may have been too small to make his motions felt, the unborn baby is active and independent long before his mother feels him. Quickening is a maternal sensitivity and depends on the mother's own fat, the position of the placenta and the size and strength of the unborn child. Quickening is hardly an objective basis for making a decision about the existence or the value of the life of the unborn child.
The child grows very rapidly between the twelfth and sixteenth weeks. He has grown to eight or ten inches in height, and his weight increases sixfold. At some point between the sixteenth and twentieth week it becomes possible to hear the child's heartbeat with a simple stethoscope, as well as by the refined EKG apparatus. By the end of the fifth month, the child weighs approximately one pound and will be about 12 inches long. Fine baby hair has begun to grow on his head and a fringe of eyelashes is beginning to appear. The skeleton is hardening, and the mother can feel the child's head, arms, and legs. After the twentieth week it is customary to speak of a premature delivery rather than of a spontaneous abortion.
By the twenty-eighth week, the child weighs slightly over two pounds, and some definitions of "viability" are fixed at this point. This, however, is only an approximation. According to Dr. Andre Hellegers of Georgetown University, 10 percent of children born between 20 and 24 weeks gestation will survive. The development of an artificial placenta would push the date of viability back into the earliest stages of gestation. Modern techniques of intensive therapy are able to save premature babies that would have been considered non-viable only a few years ago.
The progress of prenatal medicine has made it increasingly clear that the unborn child possesses a distinct individuality. As Dr. Arnold Gesell has noted:
Our own repeated observation of a large group of fetal infants. . . left us with no doubt that psychologically they were individuals. Just as no two looked alike, so no two behaved precisely alike. . . . These were genuine individual differences, already prophetic of the diversity which distinguishes the human family.
The unborn child is no mere "mass of tissue," but a distinctly individualized human being with a characteristic pattern of behavior. Medical advances have also eliminated the artificial distinction between prenatal and postnatal human life. Dr. H.M. Liley explains:
In assessing fetal health, the doctor now watches changes in maternal function very carefully, for he has learned that it is actually the mother who is a passive carrier, while the fetus is very largely in charge of the pregnancy.
Pregnancy involves the medical care of two patients, not one. The unborn child is not a passive partner, but rather in many ways controls the dynamics of the pregnancy. This new perception of the unborn child has led to the development of a whole new medical specialty called perinatology, which cares for its patients from conception to about one year of postnatal existence. For the modern physician, human life begins at conception, and medical care and observation must start at the earliest period of life.
Techniques of Abortion
There are four common methods of abortion: dilation and curettage ("D&C"); intrauterine injection of hypertonic saline solution ("salting out"); hysterotomy; and prostaglandin infusion. None of these techniques is without risk to the mother.
Dilation and curettage is the technique most commonly used in first trimester abortions. The cervical muscle ring is first paralyzed and then stretched open. A curette, a loop-shaped steel knife, is then inserted into the uterus. The surgeon then scrapes the uterine wall, dismembering the developing child and scraping the placenta from its attachment on the wall of the uterus. Bleeding is usually profuse. A common first-trimester alternative is a vacuum aspiration or suction abortion. The principle is the same as the D & C. After the cervix has been stretched, a powerful suction tube is inserted into the uterus. The body of the developing child and the placenta are sucked into a jar, where smaller parts of the child's body are often still recognizable.
Even these early, first trimester abortions are not without significant hazards to the woman's health. In a study of 1182 legal abortions at an English teaching hospital, nearly 17 percent of the patients lost more than 500 milliliters of blood and 9.5 percent required transfusions. There were also cases of cervical laceration and perforated uteruses. Another study concluded that perforation of the uterus is an almost inevitable complication of induced abortion by vacuum aspiration or during any other form of dilation and curettage. Even so-called "menstrual extractions" or "lunch hour" abortions performed by vacuum aspiration within one to three weeks after failure to menstruate have been attended with complications: the woman's not being pregnant, the implanted ovum's being missed by the suction curette, and uterine perforation.
Second trimester abortions are often by salt poisoning. A long needle is inserted through the abdomen and a solution of concentrated salt is injected directly into the amniotic sac. The child breathes in the salt solution and is poisoned by it. The concentrated saline solution burns off the outer layer of the baby's skin and brain hemorrhages are frequent. It takes about one hour for the child to slowly die by this method. Approximately one day later the woman goes into labor and delivers a dead baby.
The salt poisoning technique is common in the United States in spite of its well-documented hazards. It was used by the Japanese after World War II but later abandoned because of maternal morbidity and mortality. Maternal deaths have been reported from accidental injection of the saline solution into the circulatory system, from acute kidney failure, from seepage through uterine puncture wounds into the abdominal cavity, and from infections. Other documented complications of saline abortions include fevers, cervical lacerations, serious disruptions of the blood coagulation mechanism, and hemorrhages.
If the pregnancy is too advanced for the D & C or salting out procedures, a hysterotomy abortion may be performed. The techniques for a hysterotomy abortion are similar to those for a caesarean section, except that the incisions made in the abdomen and uterus are smaller. Having been removed from the uterus, the child is laid aside to die from neglect. This procedure is even more hazardous for the woman than the salting out procedure. The potential for accidental rupture during subsequent pregnancies is also appreciable, especially during labor.
More recently the drugs prostaglandin E2 and prostaglandin F2a have been widely investigated as abortifacients. These drugs artificially induce labor and may be administered orally, intravenously, by vaginal suppositories, or by direct injection into the amniotic sac. Although usually too small to survive, the child is frequently born alive. Thus far prostaglandin abortions have produced a number of significant complications. In one study 30 percent of the women undergoing prostaglandin abortions experienced vomiting. Other problems encountered with prostaglandin abortions include incomplete evacuation of the uterus, hemorrhages, infections, and cervical lacerations.
The findings of the English study cited earlier accept the overall medical risks of induced abortions:
The morbidity and fatal potential of criminal abortion is accepted widely, while at the same time the public is misled into believing that legal abortion is a trivial incident even a lunch-hour procedure, which can be used as a mere extension of contraceptive practice. There has been almost a conspiracy of silence in declaring its risks. Unfortunately, because of the emotional reactions to legal abortion, well-documented evidence from countries with a vast experience of it receives little attention in either the medical or lay press. This is medically indefensible when patients suffer as a result.
The well-documented medical evidence shows that induced abortion is far from a simple and hazard-free operation. There has been a dangerous silence concerning the risks of abortion not only in England but also in America. It is high time this silence be broken.
Indications for Abortion
Later in this volume we will discuss the problems of rape and potential birth defects as possible indications for induced abortion. Here the discussion will focus on psychiatric problems and specific physical conditions during pregnancy that might be thought to constitute a threat to the physical health of the mother.
During the last two decades there has been a marked increase in the number of abortions performed on psychiatric grounds. Prior to the 1973 Supreme Court abortion decisions 90 percent of abortions in Oregon were performed on such grounds. It is likely, however, that many abortions aimed at preventing "grave impairments to mental health" were in fact subterfuges for other social problems and personal inconveniences. Competent psychiatric opinion is agreed that there are no known psychiatric diseases that can be cured by abortion; further, there are none that can be predictably improved by abortion. Nor are there any clear-cut psychiatric indications for abortion. According to the standard psychiatric textbook of Noyes and Kolb, experience shows that pregnancy and childbirth do not adversely influence the course of schizophrenias, manic-depressive illnesses, or the majority of psychoneuroses. With appropriate treatment, depressive psychoses carry a good prognosis whether or not the pregnancy is interrupted.
Threats of suicide are frequently presented as psychiatric indications for abortion. But as Sloane has pointed out,
Although the risk of suicide is perhaps the most frequently used psychiatric indication for therapeutic abortion, there is almost unanimous agreement that it is extremely rare. Hook in her follow-up study of nearly 300 women could not find a single one who had either committed or attempted suicide during the pregnancy.
The suicide rate among pregnant women in fact appears to be one-sixth the rate among non-pregnant women of the same age.
The experience of one British medical social worker indicates that easy accession to abortion on psychological grounds may in fact be a grave disservice to the woman:
....the woman's feeling that she cannot tolerate bringing a child into the world may be a symptom of a situation such as an inability to cope with married life, and by making abortion too readily available we do little but relieve the patient's immediate suffering for a short time and thus do her no real service, producing in her a sense of guilt which she can redress only by becoming pregnant again as quickly as possible. . . . When talking to the parents of these unborn children one must at all times be aware that what may at first seem to be an uncompromising attitude may swing around to a complete reversal of the original rejection.
Experience shows that maternal attitudes can change, and unwanted conceptions very often produce wanted children. Psychiatric problems, then, rarely if ever justify abortion. On the contrary, such problems call for the proper mental health care and emotional and spiritual support needed by pregnant women in difficult circumstances.
But are there physical conditions that might constitute valid indications for abortion? According to one recent authority, there are in general "very few absolute contraindications to pregnancy and even these are gradually disappearing with modern medical advances." As a result of these advances, it is now extremely rare for any pregnancy to be so hazardous to a woman as to necessitate abortion. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery, if properly managed, have no deleterious effects upon a pregnant woman suffering from tuberculosis. Organic heart disease occurs in only one or two percent of pregnant women, and only about one in ten of these is serious enough even to consider an induced abortion. Pregnant women suffering from diabetes or kidney disorders can, with very few exceptions, be brought safely to term. A few diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are actually improved during pregnancy. Given this favorable outlook for pregnant women with medical complications, it is not surprising that a study reported to the World Health Organization found that, even in the permissive contemporary abortion climate, patients who had abortions on medical grounds formed only four to six percent of most reported series. It is likely that, had optimal medical care been available, the latter figures would have been even lower.
Admittedly, there are those tragic situations, fortunately rare, where induced abortion may be necessary to save the life of the mother. Two such circumstances involve an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and a cancerous uterus. Without intervention in such cases, both mother and child may perish. The motive for surgical intervention is not to end the child's life but to save the life that has some reasonable chance of survival, i.e., the mother's. The death of the child is a secondary result of the lifesaving intervention. Given present medical technology, the unborn in such circumstances have little or no chance of survival. But with new medical advances, which will hasten viability, such tragic dilemmas should be even less frequent, if not eliminated.
Complications of Induced Abortion
The most serious complication of induced abortion is, of course, the death of the mother. Proponents of abortion cite data from Eastern European countries and the United States to the effect that abortion is "x-times as safe as childbirth." The limitations of such an argument have been pointed out by other writers. For example, maternal deaths related to abortion may simply go unreported or, if reported, may be attributed to other causes. That would artificially deflate the actual maternal death rate. Moreover, isolating attention on maternal mortality rates overlooks two other very important considerations, namely, the death of the unborn child, and nonfatal injuries to the woman. Two individuals, not one, are at risk in an abortion, the child being subject to direct assault. And furthermore, evidence from many countries around the world indicates that women in America are not being fully informed about the long-term hazards of what has become our nation's most common surgical procedure.
As we have already noted, a study of 1182 abortions performed in an English teaching hospital showed that nearly 17 percent of the patients lost more than 500 milliliters of blood and 9.5 percent required blood transfusions. Other women suffered cervical lacerations, perforated uteruses, peritonitis, and septicaemia.
Studies performed in Greece indicate a clear connection between induced abortion and subsequent stillbirths, premature births, and sterility. One study was made of 13,242 women who were admitted for delivery over a two-year period at hospitals in Athens. Of the 8,312 women whose pregnancy was not the first, 29 percent admitted to one or more induced abortions. Among that group, the average number of abortions was two. The percentage of premature births and stillbirths among the women with previous abortions, spontaneous or induced, doubled that of the control group. Another study conducted in Athens carefully matched the women surveyed with a control group of similar age, socioeconomic background, and previous childbearing history. The researchers found that the relative risk of subsequent sterility among women with at least one induced abortion and no spontaneous abortions was 3.4 times that among women without any induced or spontaneous abortions. The study concluded that in Greece about 45 percent of the cases of secondary infertility may be attributed to previous induced abortions.
A study conducted in the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem examined the effects of induced abortion on the outcome of subsequent pregnancies. Of 11,057 pregnant women interviewed in West Jerusalem, the 752 women who disclosed one or more induced abortions in the past were more likely to report bleeding in each of the first three months of their current pregnancies. They were also less likely to have a normal delivery, and more of them needed a manual removal of the placenta or other obstetrical intervention during the final stage of labor. Increases were found in major and minor birth defects. There was a significant increase in the incidence of low birthweights.
Physicians from Eastern European nations such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, where abortion has been legal for many years, are now calling attention to the significant complications arising from permissive abortion policies. According to J. Jurukovski and L. Sukarov, in Hungary the rate of premature births is 11 to 12 percent overall, rising to 15 percent in towns. "There seems little doubt that there is a true relationship between the high incidence of induced abortion and prematurity," according to these researchers. They also conclude that the total incidence of complications following induced abortions is considerably higher than usually reported, probably on the order of ten percent. Alfred Kotasek, a Czechoslovakian researcher studying the effects of induced abortion in his own country, found that acute inflammatory complications occurred in about five percent of the cases. Other complications, including chronic inflammation of the genital organs, sterility, and tubal pregnancies, were registered in about 20 to 30 percent of all women having induced abortions. Also observed was a high incidence of cervical incompetence, increasing the risks of miscarriage during future pregnancies. These disturbing findings by Eastern European investigators are reflected in the conclusions drawn by Yugoslavian physicians after a study of over 80,000 abortions performed in that country:
In the light of our long experience . . . we must conclude that even in cases of legal abortions, despite improvements in abortion techniques, the woman suffers both physically and emotionally. This is the overriding medical and ethical consideration which for us completely resolves the choice between legal abortion and contraception."
Thus far, these somber warnings have gone largely unheeded in the United States. Neither the mass media nor the American medical establishment has properly publicized the documented hazards of abortion. As a result, growing numbers of American women now having abortions, many of them unmarried teenagers, may soon awaken to the tragic discovery that they have impaired their health and their childbearing capacities in the process.
A Christian ethic of abortion must be firmly grounded in biblical principles, such as the sanctity of human life created in God's image and likeness. Principles like that supply what is noticeably lacking in secular discussions: a genuinely transcendent, rather than merely pragmatic or relative, basis for recognizing the dignity and value of human life. This chapter will begin with an examination of the biblical outlook on the value and dignity of human life, and then consider texts that relate specifically to prenatal human life, concluding with the personhood of the unborn.
The Sanctity of Human Life
Questions about the nature and value of prenatal life in God's sight cannot be answered without an understanding of the biblical doctrine of man. Foundational to that doctrine is man's creation in the image of God, as recorded in Genesis 1:26,27:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
In Genesis 9:6, the imposition of capital punishment for murder presupposes the inviolability of man's life in the sight of the Creator, precisely because man bears the divine image:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.
Shedding man's blood is a heinous offense for the very reason that an attack on the bodily integrity of man is an assault on the dignity and honor of the One who created him.
Referring directly to Genesis 1:26, James writes that cursing another human being violates God's will, inasmuch as man is made in the image of God:
. . .no human being can tame the tongue . . . . With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. . . . My brethren, this ought not to be so.
The sacredness of human life as the divine image precludes not only violent actions against others, but also harmful verbal expressions.
The centuries have produced a wide range of interpretations of the image (tselem) and the likeness (demuth) of God in man. These interpretations have generally focused on features of man's consciousness as the seat of the imago Dei: man's intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacities. As we shall see later, such a view is one-sided in light of the biblical data and reflects the influence of a Greek understanding of human nature. Here the point to be stressed is that the biblical doctrine of the imago is primarily a relational one. Man, as imago Dei, possessing inalienable dignity and worth, is to be understood not primarily in terms of innate capacities or faculties -- whether intellectual, moral, or spiritual -- but in terms of his unique relationship to his transcendent Creator and covenant Lord. It is not intrinsic powers of speech, imagination, and rational thought that lend transcendent worth to human nature, but man's unique calling to live in loving fellowship with the triune God for all eternity. Thus there is no place for a suggestion like Joseph Fletcher's, for example, that humanness be defined in terms of such criteria as self-awareness, memory, a sense of futurity and time, and a certain minimum I.Q. That view misses the very essence of humanness, wherein man's conscious capacities find their true meaning, purpose, and value in that divine-human relationship established in creation, broken by sin, and redeemed through Jesus Christ. Definitions or evaluations based on I.Q., self-awareness, a sense of futurity, etc., place a variable price tag on human life and deny the fundamental equality of all human beings in the eyes of their Creator. Only the biblical doctrine of the imago Dei provides an adequate basis for affirming the transcendent dignity and inviolability of all human life.
The sanctity of human life is expressly guarded by the Decalogue's prohibition of murder (Exodus 20:13; Deut. 5:17). The prohibitions of the Decalogue not only rule out illicit acts and attitudes, but also mandate positive actions intended for the neighbor's welfare. Thus the prohibition of murder forbids the outward act of violence, along with the hateful and malicious intentions of the heart that give rise to the act. By ruling out thoughts and attitudes that demean and endanger our neighbor's life, it in fact implies a positive obligation to affirm and protect our neighbor, as circumstances and our abilities permit. The sixth commandment thus forms an integral part of the life-affirming ethos found throughout the Bible. Abortion on demand, the deliberate killing of innocent prenatal human life, is clearly incompatible with that life-affirming ethos.
Christ makes explicit the profound ethical implications of the Decalogue in his Sermon on the Mount. The law prohibits not only the act of adultery, but also the lustful intentions of the heart (Matt. 5:28); the sixth commandment prohibits not only the outward destruction of a neighbor's life, but even the attitude of contempt, which demeans his personal worth (Matt. 5:21,22).
Christ also made it clear that God's law represents more than negative prohibitions: it entails positive obligation to love God with all the resources of one's personality and one's neighbor as oneself (Matt.22:37-40; Mark 12:30,31;Luke 10:27,28). Such love, according to Christ's parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), is to be understood in an inclusive sense, extending beyond the bounds of one's normal associations and natural sympathies. Christ challenges his disciples in this parable to regard as "neighbors" those from whom the culture of the day might otherwise withhold mercy and concern. Patterned on the universal benevolence of the heavenly Father, a disciple's love is to far transcend the conventional perception of one's "neighbor," even to include the enemy who persecutes (Matt.5:43-48). In modern American culture the unborn child, like the man in the parable, all too often falls prey to unexpected assaults on his life. Our Lord's teachings challenge us to ask whether neighbor-love ought to extend even to the unborn children of the world.
Christ's attitude toward children cuts at the very root of the contemporary abortion ethos. While his disciples felt that the young children and infants brought to him (Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17) were not important enough to demand his time and attention, Jesus' actions proved otherwise. The disciples apparently did not regard the young children and infants as persons "in the whole sense." But Jesus did, and all three Synoptic writers included the incident in their accounts, which were intended to shape the thoughts and attitudes of the church. Elsewhere, Jesus presented a child as the very paradigm of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:1-4; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48). The child's dependence on his parents for life and security is a vivid illustration of the believer's utter dependence on God. Christ's words and actions pose a sharp challenge to conventional ways of assessing human worth. As with economics, so with our evaluations of others: "What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). In the wake of a rapid shift from a Spockean, child-centered focus during the postwar era to a careerist, contraceptive, anti-childbearing, and abortifacient mentality, Jesus' words should challenge anew our perceptions of both money and children.
Current attitudes toward the unwanted unborn child are also suspect in light of the frequent biblical injunctions to show compassion toward the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner (Deut. 10:18; 14:29; Ps. 10:14; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 49:11). Israel was commanded to recall her own distress during the Egyptian captivity and identify with the special human needs within her own boundaries. The God of Israel executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, loves the sojourner, and gives him food and clothing (Deut. 10:18). Israel's God was concerned about precisely those whom the culture was prone to neglect as having little value. God's concern for the fatherless challenges both the de facto abandonment of paternal responsibility by many American fathers, and by implication the widespread abandonment of maternal responsibility toward the unborn. Abortion may well be the ultimate rejection of parental responsibility and compassion for one's own offspring. It is likewise an ultimate denial of the transcendent value of an unborn human being. But God's values are not man's values. Society may neglect the fatherless, but he does not. To manifest his own glory and goodness, he chooses what is low and despised in the world, "even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor. 1:28,29). There could hardly be a more fitting paradigm of the electing love of God than today's unwanted unborn child, rejected by the culture, but valued in the sight of God.
God's standards are a striking contrast to the contemporary criterion of "viability" as a measure of the worth of the unborn child. Contrary to the view that an "unviable" infant is less valuable than a "viable" one, the Bible depicts human weakness, dependency, and helplessness as what most fully manifest the love of God for the wretched of the earth. The Son of God came to minister to the weak and heal the sick. While some propose that severely handicapped infants be left to die from neglect, God's Messiah would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (Isa.42:3; Matt. 12:20). In God's sight no human being is completely "viable" in the sense of having mastery over his own life or the independent capacity to overcome the dominion and guilt of sin; and yet it is in human weakness that the power of God is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:9). The God of Israel does not judge human worth on the basis of age, size, physical appearance, or "viability" (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7). By his sovereign grace, God can demonstrate his glory even in unwanted infants with birth defects such as blindness and deafness (cf. Exod. 4:11; John 9:3).
The Personhood of the Unborn Child
Perhaps the most crucial question for a Christian regarding abortion is whether God considers the unborn child a person. This questions takes precedence over essentially pragmatic considerations such as socioeconomic distress, mental anguish, and illegitimacy. If the Scriptures clearly imply the personhood of the unborn, then Christians have an obligation to seek the protection of the unborn through educational, religious, and legislative action. Our examination of the biblical data will consider five kinds of texts: (1) those where personal pronouns and proper names are used to refer to the unborn; (2) texts that speak of a personal relationship between God and the unborn child; (3) provisions in the Mosaic law relating to the unborn, particularly Exodus 21:22-25; (4) texts reflecting the psycho-physical unity of man created in the imago Dei; and (5) those dealing with the incarnation of Christ. Finally, a number of objections to the personhood of the unborn will be examined.
Personal Language Applied to the Unborn
In a number of texts the biblical writers freely apply personal language to the unborn child. Genesis 4:1 says that "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain." The writer's interest in Cain extends back beyond his birth, to his conception. That is when his personal history begins. The individual conceived and the individual born are one and the same, namely Cain. His conception, birth, and postnatal life form a natural continuum, with the God of covenant involved at every stage. Genesis 5:3 states that when Adam had lived 130 years he "begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth" (KJV). In the opening verse of this chapter, which constitutes the "book of the generations of Adam," is a reference to man's creation in the likeness of God. From Genesis 5:3 it seems clear that human reproduction was the means by which the image and likeness of Adam were transmitted to Seth. A personal continuity between father and son is here linked to bodily existence, sexuality, and prenatal life.
In the third chapter of Job we find Job cursing the day of his birth in the following words: "Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night which said, 'A man-child [geber] is conceived' "(Job 3:3). Again we find a basic continuity between the individual born and the individual conceived. Job traces his personal history back beyond his birth to the night of his conception. The process of conception is described by the biblical writer in personal terms. There is no abstract language of the "products of conception," but the concrete language of humanity. The Hebrew word geber, generally used in a postnatal context and translated "man," "male," or "husband" (e.g., Ps. 34:9; 52:9; 94:12; Prov. 6:34), is here freely applied from the moment of conception.
Psalm 51, David's psalm of penitence, is an especially important text for our discussion, particularly verse 5:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Professor E.R. Dalglish, in his authoritative work on Psalm 51, comments, "In Psalm 51:7 [English v. 5] the psalmist is relating his sinfulness to the very inception of life; he traces his development beyond his birth to the genesis of his being in his mother's womb -- even to the very hour of conception." In confessing his personal guilt for his adultery with Bathsheba, David traces his involvement with sin to the very beginnings of his existence. This application of moral and spiritual categories to David as a conceptus suggests a relationship to God and the moral law even in his embryonic state.
In the next verse David goes on to confess that already in his mother's womb the moral law of God was present with him. According to the King James Version the text of Psalm 51:6 reads, "Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me know wisdom." Waltke, following the suggestion of Dalglish, argues that the Hebrew words rendered "inward parts" (tehoth) and "hidden part" (satem) properly refer not to David's body, but rather to his mother's womb. This interpretation is supported by the close connection of verse 6 with verse 5, which clearly refers to conception and birth, and by a comparison of verse 6 with Psalm 139:15, where similar poetic language refers to God's secret activity in the womb. Thus both Dalglish and Waltke understand Psalm 51:6 to say that even in his prenatal state David was being taught the moral law of God. Dalglish translates the verse as follows: "Behold, truth thou desirest in the inward (being); and in the secret (part) wisdom thou teachest me." He summarizes, ". . . the psalmist knows full well the divine desire for truth to be a moral imperative even in the formative stages of his being within his mother's womb . . . and is conscious that even there wisdom was taught him, i.e., in his embryological state . . . the moral law was inscribed within his being." Thus the reference to sin in 51:5 suggests an already existing relationship to the moral law of God. David speaks as though his relationship to God extends back even to the hour of conception.
One of the most striking Old Testament passages to attribute personal characteristics to the unborn is Psalm 139:13-16:
13) For thou didst form my inward parts, Thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb. 14) I praise thee, for thou are fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well. 15) My frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. 16) Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Having earlier in the psalm spoken of God's omniscience (vv.1-6) and omnipresence (vv.7-12), David now focuses on God's intimate knowledge of and creative involvement with his prenatal development. David's praise, spoken from a postnatal perspective (v. 14), assumes his identity with the prenatal individual described in verses 13, 15, and 16. He says, "Thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb" (v.13), and similarly, "I was being made in secret" (v.15). David naturally acknowledges his personal history and identity to have begun in the womb. His language suggests that his personal identity is not restricted to his conscious memory, but extends back beyond conscious recollections, to the earliest time of God's creative control of his prenatal development. These verses strongly imply that personal identity is a continuum, beginning in the womb and extending naturally into postnatal life.
Two possible objections to this prenatal "personalization" may arise. The first is that David's language is merely poetic and therefore precludes strict conclusions concerning the personhood of the unborn. The second objection is that verses 13-16 deal solely with divine foreknowledge and have nothing to say on the personal character of prenatal life. Since these objections are not without weight, one must be cautious in drawing inferences from such personal pronouns.
In the New Testament, Luke in particular is sensitive to the development of the unborn. In chapter 1, Elizabeth greets her visiting cousin Mary with these words: "Behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:44). Two elements are noteworthy here.
First, John the Baptist in his mother's womb leaped for joy in response to Mary's greeting. Human emotion is explicitly attributed to the unborn John. His mother Elizabeth was probably still in her sixth month, since it seems likely that Mary's visit followed closely upon the announcement by the angel Gabriel (cf. Luke 1:36,39). Elizabeth's statement should not be dismissed as poetic hyperbole, since Luke specifies that Elizabeth was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). Furthermore, it is now well known that an unborn child can respond to touch at eight weeks and at 25 weeks can respond to human voices and feel pain and discomfort. There is no scientific basis for precluding human emotion in John the Baptist at that stage of his prenatal life.
A second point worthy of note is the use of the term brephos to describe John in the womb. Elsewhere in the New Testament the same term is used freely of infants and the newly born (Luke 18:15; 1 Pet. 2:2; Acts 7:19). Here again we have language indicating an understood continuity between prenatal and postnatal existence. Such instances do not in themselves constitute proof of the personhood of the unborn child from conception. Nevertheless, they combine with other lines of biblical evidence to form a total outlook pointing in that direction.
God's Relationship to the Unborn
A second category of biblical texts appears to give evidence of personal relationships between God and the unborn. The capacity for such relationships with God is precisely the foundational element of personhood, the key distinction between man and the rest of creation. If such relationships exist between God and the unborn, that would strongly imply their personhood.
Texts dealing with such relationships are bound to overlap some discussed in the previous section, especially Psalm 139:13-16. The other major Old Testament text where God's creative and sustaining involvement with embryonic human life is explicit is Job 10:8-12:
8) Thy hands fashioned and made me; and now thou does turn about and destroy me. 9) Remember that thou has made me of clay; and wilt thou turn me to dust again? 10) Didst thou not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? 11) Thou didst clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12) Thou hast granted me life and steadfast love; and thy care has preserved my spirit.
As in Psalm 139:13-16, the development of prenatal human life is understood not as a blind natural process, but as God's creative and sustaining effort. In the scriptural view, as Delitzsch observes, "A creative act similar to the creation of Adam is repeated at the origin of each individual; and the continuation of development according to natural laws is not less the working of God that the creative planting of the very beginning." In verse 9 there is an allusion to Genesis 2:7 and the formation of clay into a vessel by the potter's hand. "The figure is that of a potter who has lavished infinite care upon his vessel, and now reduces his work of elaborate skill and exquisite ornament into dust again." Job feels that his present distress is inconsistent with God's previous care for him from the very beginnings of life. The figure of the potter and the clay, elsewhere used in a postnatal context (as in Jer. 18:5,6 and Rom. 9:20ff.), is here applied to Job's prenatal existence. As in Psalm 139:13-16, the inspired writer identifies himself with the prenatal work of God's hands: "Thy hands fashioned and made me . . . .thou has made me of clay." Job's language of personal identity reaches back into his mother's womb.
In verses 10 and 11 Job likens his formation to the curdling of cheese and the process of weaving or plaiting. "Semen, poured like milk into the mother's womb, is wrapped in flesh and woven together by God into a human embryo." The "steadfast love" (v.12; hesed) that Job has known throughout his life began with God's special providential care in the womb. Hesed, a key word in Old Testament theology, and applied here to the unborn Job, speaks particularly of Yahweh's covenantal relationship." Even in his mother's womb Job is shown the same hesed extended by God in covenantal relationships to Abraham (Gen. 24:27), Jacob (Gen. 32:10), David (2 Sam. 13:20, LXX), and Israel (cf. Ps.98:3). In both Psalm 139:13-16 and Job 10:8-12 God's personal involvement in creation and providence personalizes the unborn and provides the foundation for the later conscious enjoyment of that covenant relationship by the people of God. Just as in the redemptive sphere God's sovereign work of regeneration logically precedes the response of faith and repentance, so in the natural sphere God's creative and providential work in the womb is the precondition for life itself. Personhood, whether "natural" or redeemed, is not a possibility intrinsic to man, but comes from God's sovereign initiative. "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) --both prenatally and postnatally. If it is true that "we love, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19), it seems reasonable to say that we are persons because God first related to us in a personal way. Human personhood is rooted in the creative and providential care of God, which begins in the womb.
We have seen in Psalm 51:5 that the language of sin is applied to prenatal life. The repentant David realizes that his sin is not a superficial problem, limited to his outward act of adultery, but pervades the very core of his being. The pervasive depravity of human nature, elsewhere spoken of in a postnatal context (e.g., Rom. 7:7ff; Eph. 2:3), is here traced back to David's prenatal state. This notion of estrangement from God at the very earliest stages of life is not unique to Psalm 51:5, as the following texts show:
The wicked go astray from the womb, they err from their birth, speaking lies (Psalm 58:3)
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one (Job 14:4).
What is man, that he can be clean? or he that is born of woman, that he can be righteous? (Job 15:4).
How then can man be righteous before God? How can he who is born of woman be clean? (Job 25:4)
In biblical thought sin is a universal phenomenon pervading every aspect of man's fallen being and present prior to his conscious sinful acts. Without attempting to explain in detail the "riddle of iniquity," David took responsibility for the full measure of his sin, not even excluding his prenatal life from his complicity in sin.
A number of biblical texts indicate that the unborn can be the subjects of God's election and calling. While Jacob and Esau were still in the womb of their mother Rebekah, the Lord declared to her, concerning their future,
Two nations are in your womb and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.
By God's sovereign choice, Jacob, while still in the womb, is given preeminence over his brother Esau and made the bearer of God's special covenant promises. Jacob's personal involvement in covenant history thus begins before birth. The struggling of the children within Rebekah's womb (Gen. 25:22) anticipates the postnatal conflict between Jacob and Esau, and the later strife between Israel and Edom as nations. Thus both as prenatal antagonists and as subjects of divine decree of election, Jacob and Esau before birth are recognized as actors in the drama of redemption.
The apostle Paul in Romans 9 cites the Genesis 25 text in connection with God's electing purpose. What distinguishes elect from nonelect, according to Paul, is not mere physical descent from Abraham, but the sovereign purpose of God expressed in the promise:
. . . when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, "The elder will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Romans 9:10-13).
This text makes it clear that Jacob is elected for covenant blessings prior to birth, and prior to any conscious faith, repentance, or works on his part. The normal ways in which human beings qualify themselves for privileges of various sorts -- through personal initiative, planning, foresight, organizational ability, concentrated effort, etc. -- are here clearly excluded. The usual marks of "personhood" are here absent: physical development, speech, social relationships, ability to work, relative independence. In spite of this, however, in order to display all the more clearly the sovereign initiative in election, God chooses to establish the most crucial of all personal relationships -- the one between a man and his Creator -- prior to Jacob's birth.
God is no "respecter of persons." In electing some to special covenant privileges, he does not employ the usual human standards. Paul made this point very clear to the Corinthian church:
For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1Cor. 1:26-29).
God's ways are not our ways, and his perceptions of personhood are different from ours. It is precisely in God's choice of the "foolish" and the "weak," the "low and despised," and even "things that are not" (ta me onta) that his mercy and grace are thrown into sharpest relief. Both the postnatal application of divine election in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 and the prenatal reference in Genesis 25:23 upset the usual human expectations of who qualifies for a privileged relationship with God. God's election of the weak and the dependent challenges us to reevaluate our culturally determined views of the unborn in the light of divine revelation. Even the unwanted child can be the object of an everlasting covenant love. God's electing love, not the shifting sands of cultural convention, should constitute the basis for defining human personhood.
Several biblical texts portray the unborn as recipients of a special calling and consecration to God's service. Perhaps the most familiar is Jeremiah 1:5:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
When the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah, calling him to be a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah protests that he is only a youth (Jer.1:6). God's reply indicates that age and experience, credentials normally necessary for tasks of great responsibility, are transcended by God's sovereign purpose to equip Jeremiah for his task (Jer.1:8). God was actively preparing Jeremiah for that task even before birth, having foreknown the course of his life even prior to Jeremiah's conception.
Jeremiah is not an isolated example. In Judges 13:2-7 we read that Samson was consecrated to be a Nazirite to God prior to his birth. Both his conception and consecration are described as acts not of parental will, but of the Lord's sovereign determination. In Isaiah 49:1,5 the servant of the Lord, in a prophecy that looks forward to Christ, declares, "The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. . . . the Lord . . . who formed me from the womb to be his servant. . . ." John the Baptist, prior to his birth, was given a name and set apart to be the prophet who prepares the way for the Messiah (Luke 1:13-17). The angel of the Lord, appearing in a dream to Joseph, while the child was still in Mary's womb, announced that his name was to be Jesus (Matt. 1:18-25). And the apostle Paul declares that he had been set apart for God's service before he was born (Gal.1:15).
All these texts indicate that God's special dealings with human beings can long precede their awareness of a personal relationship with God. God deals with human beings in an intensely personal way long before society is accustomed to treat them as persons in the "whole sense." As with divine election, so with calling and consecration to service: God's actions present a striking contrast to current notions of personhood.
The biblical texts we have surveyed show that categories normally applied to postnatal man are applied also to the unborn. Again, while some allowance must be made for the possibly metaphorical nature of such biblical statements, it is hard to resist the impression that God takes a deep interest in the unborn child. Even without constituting a strict proof of the personhood of the unborn child -- at least in the very earliest stages of pregnancy -- these texts do challenge traditional views of personhood. Far from showing that the unborn are less than persons, these texts appear, in fact, to point in the opposite direction.
Professor Meredith Kline has observed that "the most significant thing about abortion legislation in the Biblical law is that there is none. It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code." Nevertheless, there is a passage in the Mosaic code that sheds light on the status of the unborn child in Old Testament law. This text, Exodus 21:22-25, has been the subject of considerable attention and, not surprisingly, a number of competing interpretations.
The translators of the Revised Standard Version assume that a miscarriage is in view and translate the passage as follows:
22) 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 as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23) If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24) eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25) burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
The King James Version, however, allows for the possibility of a premature live birth:
22) "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follows, he shall surely be punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23) And if any mischief follows, then thou shalt give life for life. . . .
The phrase "so that her fruit depart" of the KJV is a more literal rendering of the Hebrew than the RSV's "so that there is a miscarriage." The New International Version also takes the passage to refer to a premature live birth.
For the sake of convenience we will designate the two most common lines of interpretation simply as "Position I" and "Position II." The circumstances described in verse 22 will be designated as "Case A", and the circumstances of verses 23-25 designated as "Case B". Those who adopt Position I take Case A to mean that if a pregnant woman suffers a nonfatal injury in the strife, and as a result suffers a miscarriage, then monetary compensation is to be rendered for the loss of the child and for the woman's injury. Case B is taken to mean that if, in addition to the miscarriage, the woman is fatally injured, then the provisions of the lex talionis apply, and capital punishment may be in view. On this view, the lack of a capital penalty for causing the death of the unborn child by miscarriage would suggest that Old Testament law placed a higher value on the life of the mother than on the life of the unborn child. If so, it is argued, then difficult circumstances might justify taking the life of the child through deliberate abortion as the lesser of two evils.
Those who adopt Position II argue that the "miscarriage" translation is inaccurate. They believe that Case A refers not to a miscarriage but to a premature live birth. In Case A, the child is born alive, and the woman sustains a nonfatal injury. Monetary compensation is rendered for the trauma of premature birth and for any harm suffered by the woman. In Case B, the "harm" (ason) is taken to refer to either mother or child. The death of either mother or child comes under the rule of the lex talionis, and the assailant is subject to the capital penalty. On this view, the Mosaic law makes no distinction between the value of the life of the mother and that of the unborn child. The loss of either life comes within the purview of the lex talionis. Position II, then, sees Exodus 21:22-25 as teaching the full legal status of the unborn child as a human life (v.23b). That would make Exodus 21:22-25 in fact a very strong anti-abortion passage.
Interpreters who hold Position II point out a number of exegetical difficulties involved in Position I. The verb translated "depart" or "come out" (yatsa) usually refers in the Old Testament to live birth. The usual Hebrew verb for miscarriage (shakol), found in Exodus 23:26 and Hosea 9:14, is not used in Exodus 21:22. Furthermore, the term yeled in verse 22, "child" or "fruit," is not the usual Old Testament designation for the product of a miscarriage. In such cases of the death of an unborn child the designation nefel, "one untimely born" (Job 3:16; Ps.58:8; Eccles. 6:3), is used. Thus the linguistic evidence favors the view that verse 22 indicates not an accidental miscarriage, but rather a premature live birth.
More recently, Meredith G. Kline has offered an exegesis of Exodus 21:22-25, which we may designate "Position III." While Kline's exegesis agrees with Position 2 that the life of the unborn child is granted a legal status equal to the mother's, the exegetical route by which he establishes that conclusion differs from that of Position II and, I believe, is more adequate. In Kline's view, Case A refers to the following circumstances: The child is born prematurely, but alive and uninjured; the woman experiences a fatal injury. In such a case the assailant must render a monetary compensation in the amount demanded by the husband. In Case B, if the child suffers calamitous injury or death, the penalty must be a just monetary compensation. Thus Position III holds that Case A refers to injuries to the mother alone, and Case B to injuries to the child alone. In either case, the law treats a fatal injury as a case of negligent manslaughter, for which monetary compensation may be rendered as a substitute for the forfeiture of life (cf. the case of the goring ox in Exodus 21:29,30).
Kline observes that the force of the verb nagaph ("smite"; RSV, "hurt") has not been adequately noticed by previous commentators. This verb and its derivatives can refer to fatal divine judgments (1 Sam. 25:38; 26:10) or to slaughter in battle (Judg. 20:35; 1 Sam. 4:3). In Exodus 21:35, the term describes the fatal attack of one ox by another, goring ox. Thus there is good linguistic reason to hold that the injury to the mother in verse 22 is a fatal one.
Notice should also be taken of the unusual term ason ("harm," RSV). In the only other biblical context where the term is found, a serious injury or even death is denoted. There Jacob fears that grievous calamity might befall Benjamin on the journey to Egypt (cf. Gen. 42:4,38; 44:9). Such an unusual word would be appropriate for the somewhat unusual circumstance of prenatal death by violently induced miscarriage, but less so for the death or injury of the woman. In the latter case, the more usual terminology would be expected. Thus, the meanings of nagaph and ason give further support to the view that the death of the child by induced miscarriage is not in view in verse 22.
Position III, I am convinced, is the preferable exegesis of Exodus 21:22-25. Both Positions II and III agree that Exodus 21:22-25, far from justifying permissive abortion, in fact grant the unborn child a status in the eyes of the law equal to the mother's. The passage is thus consistent with the high regard for prenatal life manifested elsewhere in Scripture.
Man as Animated Flesh
The relation of the physical and spiritual aspects of man's nature is very relevant to the status of the unborn before God. The older questions concerning the time of ensoulment and whether the child receives his soul from his parents (traducianism) or by the immediate creative activity of God (creationism) have their secular counterparts in the contemporary abortion debate. They now reappear as questions about the time at which the unborn child becomes a "person," whether at conception, implantation, formation of the cerebral cortex, "quickening," viability, or birth. All but the first of these suggestions, conception, separate to some degree personhood from biologically human existence. They suggest a dualistic understanding of man that has more kinship with Greek and certain modern European philosophies than with the biblical outlook. For Plato, the body was the prison house of the soul. Aristotle's theory of ensoulment postulated a developing sequence of nutritive, sensitive, and rational souls, the latter being infused at the fortieth day in the case of a male and at the eightieth day in the case of a female. Descartes' distinction of "thinking substances" and "extended substances" as applied to man has led to the impasse of a mind-body dualism that has plagued modern philosophy for centuries. Modern thought is still haunted by dualistic and mechanistic images of man.
All such dualisms are fundamentally foreign to the biblical outlook. As John A.T. Robinson has observed, in Old Testament theology, "Man does not have a body, he is a body. He is flesh-animated-by-soul, the whole conceived as a psycho-physical unity." Similarly, Edmond Jacob states that, in Old Testament anthropology, "Man is always seen in his totality, which is quickened by a unitary life. The unity of human nature is not expressed by the antithetical concepts of body and soul but by the complementary and inseparable concepts of body and life." The essence of human personality is not man's spiritual or intellectual capacities in distinction from his "lower" physical nature. The Greek tendency to deprecate the body and to disassociate it from man's personality conflicts with biblical thought. Man's flesh (basar) and his soul (nephesh) are not dichotomized entities thrown together in accidental association, but are complementary aspects of a unified psychomatic being. Man as a whole can be characterized as either basar or nephesh. Both biblical terms express his total creaturely dependence on God in all the aspects of his existence.
The Old Testament's unitary conception of man is also a key to understanding man as the imago Dei. Recent Old Testament scholarship has shown a concern to correct previous tendencies to exclude man's body as a legitimate expression of the imago. As Gerhard von Rad comments, the image (tselem) and likeness (demuth) "refer to the whole man and do not relate solely to his spiritual and intellectual being." Though man's intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacities are of course crucial, the image of God extends beyond them, to his total existence as a psycho-physical unity. Such a view provides an adequate framework for understanding a text like Genesis 5:3, which describes the seminal transmission of the image from Adam to his son Seth. If the imago were restricted to man's conscious mental capacities, it would be difficult to understand how such a statement could be meaningful. In terms of the more holistic understanding of man found in the Bible, however, such a text points to the transcendent value and dignity conferred on man from the very first moments of his bodily existence.
The New Testament anthropology presupposes and builds on the Old Testament view of man as a psychosomatic unity. There is no dualism of body and spirit, not even in Paul's prominent contrast between "flesh" (sarx) and "spirit" (pneuma). That is made clear by such texts as Romans 8:6, where Paul speaks of the mind of the flesh; 1 Corinthians 3:3, where carnality is associated with jealousy and envy; and Galatians 5:19ff., where the "works of the flesh" include idolatry, sorcery, and envy. The body in Pauline thought is not merely the external casing of the real, inner man, but rather the man himself considered in a certain mode of his existence. Paul exhorts the Roman Christians, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service" (Rom.12:1). In dealing with antinomian tendencies in Corinth that tended to dichotomize the life of the body and one's relationship to Christ, Paul reminded the church that the body was not for immorality, but for the Lord (1Cor. 6:13). The believer serves the Lord with his entire being. Instead of being of lesser worth than the spiritual self, the body is in fact a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and the believer is to glorify God in his body (1 Cor. 6:20). Thus the Old Testament revelation of man's dignity as the imago Dei is deepened and enriched by the New Testament portrayal of the believer's body.
The biblical conceptions of the goodness of human bodily life and man's essential unity should make us very suspicious of attempts to restrict human personhood -- and hence moral and legal protection -- to those among whom man's "higher," rational capacities are evident. Man is to be valued not merely as a "thinking substance," but as the bearer of the transcendent image of God -- an image that includes the bodily aspects of life. In biblical thought, man's "personal" life is not separated from his bodily life. He is animated flesh, and where there is animated human flesh, there man is. Consequently, this consideration of the biblical understanding of man as a psycho-physical unity, again leads us to question approaches that define personhood in purely mental or psychological terms.
The incarnation of Christ carries implications for the personhood of the unborn. The most important text in this connection is the account of the annunciation and Mary's visit to Elizabeth, recorded in Luke 1:26-56.
In verse 31 Luke records the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary: "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." The inspired account of the Messiah's personal history includes the prediction not only of his birth, but also of his conception. As in other biblical texts, conception is treated as the time at which one's personal history begins. The mention of human conception some forty times in the Scripture indicates in itself the significance of this event in God's dealings with his people.
Luke 1:39,40 tells us that "in those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth." Several factors indicate that there was little delay between the prediction of Mary's conception (vv. 31-35) and her arrival at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was already in her sixth month prior to Mary's visit (v. 36), and Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months prior to the birth of John (v. 56). If there had been a considerable delay, say a month or two between the time of the annunciation and the visit to Elizabeth, then Mary could not have spent those three months with Elizabeth prior to John's birth. Furthermore, we are told that Mary "arose and went with haste" (v.39). That puts Mary in the very earliest stages of her pregnancy when she arrived at Elizabeth's. While the exact time cannot be determined, it is reasonable to assume that Mary had been pregnant for less than a month, perhaps only for a week or two. This consideration is significant in view of several details in the conversation between Elizabeth and Mary.
When Mary's greeting reached Elizabeth, the baby John leaped in his mother's womb (vv.41,44). Was John's response, prompted by the Holy Spirit, primarily to Mary, or to the unborn Messiah? Since John's mission in life was to bear witness to the Messiah and to prepare the people to receive him (Luke 1:17; John 1:6-8, 19-23;3:28-30), John's response may well have been his first acknowledgment of the Messiah; John's status and role in the covenant history is found in his relationship not to Mary, but to the Messiah. That would place the focus of John's response on Jesus in the very earliest stages of the Messiah's prenatal existence. Thus the passage seems to indicate the humanity of Jesus in his embryonic state, perhaps even prior to the time of implantation in the uterus at approximately two weeks.
There may be a number of objections to this type of argument for the humanity of Jesus as a conceptus. It might also be objected that John's response had a purely future significance. The same futuristic interpretation might be placed on the words of Elizabeth in verse 43: "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" But Mary is already pregnant. The process by which the angel's prediction is to become a reality is already under way. When Elizabeth, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares to Mary, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (v. 42), Elizabeth describes a present state of blessedness enjoyed by Mary. Elizabeth's words form a noteworthy parallelism between the blessing pronounced upon Mary and the blessing pronounced on the fruit of her womb, thereby appearing to personalize the latter, the unborn Messiah.
A second objection argues that the circumstances of Jesus' conception were so unusual that no parallels can be drawn to the normal process of human conception. While Jesus' conception was certainly unique, it does not follow that his prenatal existence offers no parallels to our own. As to his human nature, the New Testament expressly declares that he was made like his brethren in every respect (Heb. 2:14,17), sin excepted. The Last Adam (1Cor. 15:45) is the archetype of the human race. While the mode of Jesus' conception was unique, the results of that conception, as regards the integrity of the human nature, were identical to our own. His human nature, in the language of Chalcedon, is "consubstantial" with our own. As Jesus later sanctified the grave for his people in his death, so he sanctified the womb in his incarnation.
Other Objections and Replies
Among other objections to the position that personhood begins in early prenatal life, one difficulty is that the unborn lack conscious awareness and memory, which are usually associated with personal identity. The Cartesian dictum, "I think, therefore I am," illustrates the common tendency in much modern philosophy to identify the self with the conscious exercise of its rational capacities. Though that association is natural, a number of considerations prevent us from reducing our sense of selfhood and personal identity to our conscious experiences. Few if any of us have distinct recollection of our lives between birth and age two; yet it would be silly to insist that we were not persons during that time and even more outrageous to argue that the protection of the law should be withheld on such grounds. A person may suffer partial or even total amnesia, but the absence of conscious recollection is no warrant for declaring him a "nonperson" in the eyes of the law. Likewise, the lack of conscious recollections of our prenatal life does not mean we were subhuman before birth. Personhood cannot be reduced to conscious experiences. Our ability to have conscious experiences and recollections arises out of our personhood; the basic metaphysical reality of personhood precedes the unfolding of the conscious abilities inherent in it. The fertilized human egg already possesses the capacity for becoming a conscious human being, whereas the unfertilized egg or sperm does not.
Here we may suggest a somewhat technical and philosophical definition of personhood: a person is an individual subsistence in a human nature. An individual subsistence exists in and for itself rather than merely as part of a larger whole. Thus, for example, the human heart, while being a recognizably individualized organ of the human body, does not constitute an individual subsistence, but is part of a larger whole. The newly fertilized human ovum, on the other hand, is not merely part of the mother's body, but is a distinct, individual entity, possessing its own chromosomal identity and unique "life trajectory." The union of a human sperm and egg gives rise to a new individual with a biologically human nature: this is the clear witness of the modern genetics. Thus, it is proper to apply the concept of person to a human being from the time of conception.
Terminology such as "subsistence" may strike some readers as being unnecessarily philosophical and abstract. In the present abortion debate, however, such "metaphysical" considerations as the exact meaning of "personhood" are at the very heart of the matter. As in the christological and trinitarian controversies in the early church, where the philosophical categories of "essence," "nature," and "person" were prominent, it is sometimes necessary to use terms not found in Scripture in order to explain the true meaning of Scripture and avoid distortion. In the abortion controversy, a technical, philosophical term such as "subsistence" may help us to integrate scriptural principles and the genetic data in a proper concept of human personhood.
The obvious differences in appearance between the unborn during very early pregnancy and the normal human adult have led some to question the personhood of the unborn. This objection assumes that personhood presupposes a postnatal human form. A little reflection, however, will show that the concept of a "human form" is a dynamic and not a static one. Each of us, during normal growth and development, exhibits a long succession of different outward forms. The appearance of an 80-year-old adult differs greatly from that of a newborn child, and yet we speak without hesitation of both as persons. In both cases, we have learned to recognize the physical appearances associated with those developmental stages as normal expressions of human personhood.
As more and more people become knowledgeable about prenatal development, including the appearance of the unborn in their normal growth, it will seem natural to recognize them for what they are: human beings in an early stage of development. To insist that the unborn at six weeks look like the newborn infant is no more reasonable than to expect the newborn infant to look like a teenager. If we acknowledge as "human" a succession of outward forms after birth, there is no reason not to extend that courtesy to the unborn, since human life is a continuum from conception to natural death. "Human" form consists of whatever is appropriate to a particular developmental stage -- whether at three weeks after conception, or at age 83, three weeks prior to death. What we call racism discriminates against certain classes of people whose skin color differs from the preferred norm for social acceptability and full personhood. What we might call "antifetalism" discriminates against the unborn on the basis of their physical appearance as well. Neither form of discrimination deserves any place in a humane and just society.
Another objection is that in normal usage, the term "person" is not used of the unborn, at least not in the very earliest stages of prenatal development. In the abortion decisions of 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court asserted that the unborn were not persons in the "whole sense" until birth. It is certainly true that "normal usage" in contemporary America does not apply the language of personhood to the unborn in the very earliest stages of their development. This, however, does not settle the issue. Is "normal usage" in a particular society and historical period the final court of appeal? At the time of U.S. Constitution was adopted, black slaves were not considered persons in the "whole sense." For the sake of congressional representation, the slave-holding states were allowed to count each slave as three-fifths of a person. Such was "normal usage" at the end of the eighteenth century. It took a civil war and the Fourteenth Amendment to secure the full rights of human personhood to black slaves in America. American Indians, of course, can give eloquent personal testimony of the cruel realities of discriminatory definitions of personhood. If political rights are a criterion of personhood, then American women were not considered persons in the "whole sense" well into the twentieth century. The history of Nazi Germany demonstrates with terrible clarity the fatal consequences that can follow from a discriminatory definition of human personhood. And during the late Middle Ages, so many children died that people did not normally identify infants as persons in the "whole sense."
All these examples indicate that a culture's perceptions of personhood can change. The change, of course, is not always for the good, as the Nazi experience indicates. In America our society's perceptions of human personhood have undergone a centuries-long process of "reeducation" or "consciousness raising." Classes of human beings not recognized as persons in the "whole sense" have asserted their rightful claims to human dignity, and the society, after long and often violent struggles, has altered its perceptions. These changes are consistent with the fundamental truths of the Declaration of Independence, which asserts as a self-evident truth that "all men are created equal" and are thus endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, chief among which is the very right to life itself. American history has exhibited the difficult struggle to extend these fundamental God-given rights to all classes of human beings, irrespective of class, race, religion, sex, or ethnic origin. The progress of medical science has given us an ever-expanding knowledge of the unborn as genuinely individual human beings, and this new scientific information needs to be recognized by law and by society's conscience.
Another common objection is that many fertilized ova die prior to birth, as many as 30 to 50 percent. If in the eyes of God, the objection runs, these fertilized eggs are personal beings, why does God allow so many of them to perish? First of all, even if these figures were accurate, they would only be an illustration of the fact that human beings can perish at any stage of the developmental process, and that prenatal life also has its hazards. The loss of many human lives in automobile accidents is no argument against taking responsible steps to reduce highway fatalities. The same preventive concern should be shown for prenatal human life. As Christians our valuation of human life is not based on statistical norms but rather on the norm of divine revelation, which teaches the sacredness and dignity of each human life.
There are good reasons to question the reliability of the statistics themselves. Those figures were extrapolated from a study of only 34 human ova removed within the first 17 days of development from women who had had hysterectomies. And only a small subsection of this study was used to support the claim that 50 percent of early embryos were lost: 4 of 8 of the ova recovered prior to implantation were abnormal. Since all 34 ova came from women who were hospitalized for various uterine and tubal pathologies, the sample was hardly "normal," and the accuracy of the results is very doubtful. Based on a very narrow and questionable data base, the claims for "fetal wastage" ought not to be granted significant weight in assessing the morality of abortion.
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Our society's official position on abortion obviously conflicts with the principles of Scripture. Human life is sacred, being created in the image and likeness of God. God's concern, love, and protection for the unborn is a reality at every stage of biological development. There is no biblical evidence that, at any stage of prenatal development, God places a lesser value on the life of the unborn child. The Scriptures do not limit the image of God to manifestations of such psychological attributes as consciousness and memory. Given the fundamental principle of the sanctity of human life created in the image of God, and the indisputable scientific fact of the biological continuity between prenatal and postnatal life, there is a clear scriptural warrant for affirming the sacredness of all human life at every stage of biological development. While Scripture does not appear to provide strict proof for the personhood of the unborn from the time of conception, neither does it rule that out. In fact, the biblical teaching weighs heavily in that direction. If there is a clear possibility that personhood is present from conception, then the more ethically responsible approach is to act on that assumption and treat developing human life as personal at every stage of prenatal development.
As Professor Paul Ramsey has pointed out, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find moral arguments that justify excluding the unborn from personhood and yet do not apply with equal force to the child newly born. Definitions of personhood based on mental functions or viability, which justify abortion, appear just as well to support infanticide for the defective newborn. As Grisez and Boyle have argued, such definitions of personhood are discriminatory and violate the basic principle of equal protection of the law for all human beings. "Since the only thing common to all already recognized by law as natural persons is membership in the human species, and since the unborn of human genesis are members of the species, no nondiscriminatory basis exists for excluding the unborn from legal personhood." These moral and legal considerations give further weight to the biblical indications for treating the unborn as persons -- and not as merely "potential" persons -- at every stage of biological development.
Having examined the important biblical and medical facts, we are now in a better position to face the practical questions of decision making on abortion. When, if ever, would abortion be ethically justified for the Christian? What about cases of rape? Are anticipated birth defects grounds for abortion? What about unwanted pregnancies?
Other questions surface at the level of public policy. Would a return to restrictive abortion laws mean an increase in illegal abortions and maternal deaths? In a pluralistic society, should Christians seek laws that reflect their moral convictions? These and other difficult questions arise when Christians try to apply biblical convictions to public life. This chapter will first examine decisions regarding personal ethics and then consider questions of public policy.
Abortion and Personal Ethics
During the late 1960s pregnancy due to rape was often cited as cause for liberalizing the then-restrictive abortion laws. Does rape constitute legitimate ethical grounds for an abortion? An answer to this question must take into account a number of important facts.
Notwithstanding the trauma of rape, studies have shown that pregnancy due to confirmed cases of rape is extremely rare. In Buffalo, New York, there was not one pregnancy from a confirmed case of rape in 30 years; a report out of Washington, D.C., indicated only one pregnancy in over 300 rape victims. Medical research indicates that there may be physiological reasons for the low incidence of pregnancy in cases of rape. The psychological trauma tends to inhibit normal ovulation, and men who commit this crime are frequently infertile because of other aberrant sexual behavior, such as frequent masturbation. When promptly reported and treated with a spermicidal agent, rape need not result in conception.
Recent history indicates that legal provisions for abortion on the grounds of rape are easily abused. In the years 1967 through 1971 some 290 abortions were performed in Colorado on the grounds of alleged rape, even though during this same period no rapist was even charged with the crime, much less convicted.
But what of those rare occurrences when pregnancy does result from rape? Is it fair to expect a woman to suffer the inconvenience and hardship of carrying a child to term when the conception was without her consent? Such cases are obviously both emotionally and ethically difficult. A Christian answer will involve the more basic question of the personal status of the unborn child: Is the unborn a potential or an actual human being? It is not difficult to imagine how the hardship to the woman might outweigh the value of a merely potential life and therefore justify abortion. But if the newly conceived life is an actual human being, that would take precedence over the possible hardship and inconvenience to the woman, and abortion would not be an option.
I am convinced that the biblical and medical evidence favors the latter view. Since there is no clear biblical evidence that the developing child is less than a person, the Christian's decision must presume the personhood of the developing human life. The Christian may rest assured that even in the most tragic circumstances God can sovereignly bring good out of evil and cause blessing to his people (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:21).
Expected Birth Defects
Another focus of recent discussions has involved anticipated birth defects. When there has been a history of genetic abnormality, or if the mother has been exposed to dangerous drugs or radiation during pregnancy, would that justifiably call for an abortion? The question involves a complex network of ethical and cultural factors. Parents today, especially in the middle class, have come to expect more perfection in their children. The appearance of a defective infant is more emotionally traumatic to such parents than in an earlier time, when children were not so clearly regarded as extensions of parents and their aspirations. In contemporary American culture, where social acceptability is increasingly measured by physical attributes and intelligence, many parents are unwilling to face the difficulties of raising a handicapped child.
Pushing the question into sharper focus is the newly developed technique of amniocentesis. In this diagnostic technique a hypodermic needle is inserted into the uterus, and a sample of the amniotic fluid is removed. The sample is then analyzed in order to detect possible genetic abnormalities. One disease believed to be detectable by this method is Tay-Sachs disease, a rare but fatal genetic disorder found almost exclusively in Jewish children. The disease causes blindness, deafness, progressive deterioration of the nervous system, and ultimately death by the second or third year. Sickle-cell anemia, an incurable and ultimately fatal disease usually found among Blacks, is another condition subject to prenatal diagnosis. Down's syndrome (Mongolism), which occurs once in 600 to 700 live births, is also thought to be detectable through amniocentesis. As research progresses, the number of diseases detectable prenatally will continue to grow. The increasing sophistication of such medical technology will bring society face to face with the real possibility of large scale genetic screening and programs of "positive" eugenics to "weed out" the potentially unfit.
Personal decisions on these matters should reflect a full awareness of several important medical facts. Among pregnant women with a previous history of genetically related birth defects, the probability that the newborn will be abnormal is never greater than 50 percent. This means that a program of selective abortion could well destroy more normal than abnormal children. Furthermore, an increasing number of defects can be adequately treated after the child is born. For example, most cases of hearing loss and heart defects resulting from maternal contraction of rubella (German measles) are medically correctible. Some 80 to 90 percent of women are immune to rubella because of exposure in early childhood and thus are not even at risk during pregnancy.
Then too, diagnoses based on amniocentesis are subject to error. Dr. Hymie Gordon, chief geneticist at the Mayo Clinic, reported a case in which Tay-Sachs disease was diagnosed. Amniocentesis was performed, the fluid examined, and the disease appeared to be confirmed. But after an abortion was performed, the baby was examined and found to be perfectly normal. Dr. Gordon also noted a case reported in the British medical journal Lancet, in which a pregnancy was terminated because of an alleged extra chromosome in the cells, apparently indicating Mongolism. The baby destroyed in this case was discovered to have been perfectly normal.
Mistaken diagnosis is also possible in women exposed to potentially hazardous radiation during pregnancy. Dr. R.F.R. Gardner, a British gynecologist, has reported the following case:
A thirty year old woman had been married eight years and after a spontaneous miscarriage had never again conceived. She had irregular periods and was ordered x-ray treatment to her pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) and to her ovaries. On the third weekly treatment she was found to be eight weeks pregnant. The radiologist said there was no choice but to perform an abortion; all the obstetricians agreed. The patient, however, insisted that the pregnancy was something of a miracle and that 'with God's will' it would proceed to term. It did. At six years the child's physical and mental growth were above normal.
In this case the decision to abort would have meant the destruction of a perfectly normal child.
The thalidomide tragedies of the early 1960s made the public sharply aware of the dangers of taking powerful drugs during pregnancy. Dr. C. Everett Koop, former surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, now Surgeon General of the United States, has drawn attention to the following letter, which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph on December 8, 1962, when abortion was being discussed in European newspapers as a means of eliminating children born defective because of thalidomide:
Dec. 8, 1962
We were disabled from causes other than Thalidomide, the first of us two having useless arms and hands; the second, two useless legs; and the third, the use of neither arms nor legs.
We were fortunate . . . in having been allowed to live and we want to say with strong conviction how thankful we are that none took it upon themselves to destroy us as useless cripples.
Here at the Debarue school of spastics, one of the schools of the National Spastic Society, we have found worthwhile and happy lives and we face our future with confidence. Despite our disability, life still has much to offer and we are more than anxious, if only metaphorically, to reach out toward the future.
This, we hope will give comfort and hope to the parents of the Thalidomide babies, and at the same time serve to condemn those who would contemplate the destruction of even a limbless baby.
This testimony indicates that people with such disaabilities consider their lives worth living and may well appreciate the routine aspects of life more than "normal" people do.
Again, the fundamental question is the personhood of the unborn. The Christian who, on the basis of the biblical and scientific data, concludes that the unborn child is to be treated as a person will not opt for abortion in cases of anticipated birth defects. While in extreme cases ("monstrous births") the line marking personhood may be vague, the vast majority of anticipated defects are not that problematic. The Christian can recall from Scripture the sovereign power of God to bring glory to himself through the handicapped (Exod. 4:11; John 9:1-3). God's glory and grace are manifested very clearly in human weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). The ministry of Jesus demonstrated God's compassion and concern for the sick and the handicapped. As it was prophesied, he would not "break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick" (Matt. 12:20).
Many Christian parents testify that the birth of a handicapped child has drawn them closer to God. Dale Evans Rogers provides an example:
Our baby came into the world with an appalling handicap. . . . I believe with all my heart that God sent her on a two year mission to our household, to strengthen us spiritually and to draw us closer together in the knowledge and love and fellowship of God. It has been said that tragedy and sorrow never leave us where they find us. In this instance both Roy and I are grateful to God for the privilege of learning some great lessons through His tiny messenger, Robin Elizabeth Rogers.
Abortion as a precaution against birth defects short-circuits the biblical witness to the triumph of God's grace in human suffering and tragedy. It fails to recognize what the experiences of others have confirmed -- that a severely handicapped child can be used of God to show his love and bring a deepened spiritual growth into a family.
What about unwanted pregnancies? Can the Christian consider abortion as a "back up" to other means of birth control? Recent figures indicated that for many American women abortion is used not only as a "back up" method, but as the primary means of avoiding unwanted pregnancies. According to recent figures provided by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, of women who have abortions in America, 79 percent are unmarried, 70 percent are white, and 33 percent have already had one abortion. Teenagers constitute 30 percent of all American women having abortions. These striking figures call into question some commonly held assumptions about who seeks abortions. First, the women are predominantly unmarried. Nearly four of five abortions are sought by women who want to avoid the consequences of sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Second, better than two-thirds are white, which falsifies the assumption that abortions are predominantly sought by poor black women on welfare. As recent studies show, abortion finds its heaviest support not among lower or lower-middle class women, but among white upper-middle class women for whom childbearing may conflict with career goals. In a study conducted by the Bowman Gray Medical School on poverty-level Blacks, 79 percent of 776 poverty-level black females and 70 percent of 215 low-middle income black females were found to be "not in favor of abortions under any circumstances." When 990 urban black females were studied, 77 percent were found to oppose abortion under any circumstances, and this opposition was manifested in their carrying their children to term.
The figures on the number of teenagers having abortions are especially disturbing. In 1980 over 460,000 abortions were performed on teenagers. Statistics indicate the rising incidence of premarital sex among teens. Johns Hopkins researchers conducted a study that showed a 30 percent increase in teenage sexual activity in only five years. By age 16, the study found, 25 percent of these young women had experienced premarital sex; by age 17, 40 percent.
The result has been a wave of teenage pregnancies. According to figures released by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, some one million American girls aged 15 to 19 were pregnant in 1976. Teenagers account for one-third of the national birth rate and for half of the out-of-wedlock births. Of teenagers who engage in premarital sex, only one in five uses contraception regularly.
These figures are disturbing, because history has shown that periods of sexual anarchy in a culture are more often than not correlated by social, economic, and military weakness and the decline of that culture. That is borne out in the histories of ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, and modern Europe. Sexual disorder, of which the present abortion ethos is a symptom, undermines the strength and stability of an entire society.
Unwanted pregnancy is no legitimate ground for abortion. Inconvenience or even personal hardship would not justify taking the life of the unborn child. Even Norman Geisler, an evangelical scholar who believes the unborn represent "potential" rather than "actual" human life, agrees that abortion is not justified under such circumstances. Once conception has occurred, argues Geisler, ". . . it is too late to decide that it should not have been done. There are some morally one-direction decisions in life and intercourse leading to conception is one of them. . . . Taking a potential life is not morally justifiable simply because one does not want to suffer the social or physical discomforts which come from their own free choices." 
What of the cases where the pregnancy may add to socioeconomic hardship? Perhaps the woman is already burdened by a large family, and the situation is aggravated by an irresponsible husband who is an alcoholic. Such circumstances are indeed tragic and should call forth Christian responses of sympathy and active support. Even then, if the unborn child is seen as a person in God's sight, the decision will rule out abortion. Though meant to alleviate the woman's plight, abortion may in fact do otherwise. As we noted earlier, the experience of one British medical social worker showed that:
. . .the woman's feeling that she cannot tolerate bringing a child into the world may be a symptom of a situation such as an inability to cope with married life, and by making abortion too readily available we do little but relieve the patient's immediate suffering for a short time and thus do her no real service, producing in her a sense of guilt which she can redress only by becoming pregnant again as quickly as possible."
A more positive approach is to provide counseling and financial services that would allow the woman to carry the child to term. In cases of extreme hardship, the child could be given up for adoption. Although an emotionally difficult course of action for the woman, it gives others the satisfaction of parenthood and is far preferable to taking the child's life. The present shortage of adoptable babies in America can be traced mainly to the prevalence of legal abortions. Prices for adoptable Caucasian babies on the illegal market now run as high as $20,000.
In the light of Scripture, even an unplanned pregnancy can be a gift from the Lord (cf. Ps. 127:3). God's sovereign purposes and providential control of human affairs often transcend conscious human intentions (cf. Gen. 50:20). The child born as a result of an unplanned conception may have a strategic contribution to make to the work of God's kingdom. There is no more striking example of this than the Lord Jesus, whose conception was, by human standards, unplanned.
Threat to the Life of the Mother
Are there any conditions, then that justify abortion? The position I have reached is that abortion is morally justified in those relatively rare medical circumstances where the life of the mother is threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy. This is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as Protestant leaders such as Paul Ramsey, Harold O.J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, C. Everett Koop, Bruce Waltke, John Frame, and Charles Ryrie. Medical conditions falling into this category would include an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and cancer of the uterus during pregnancy. Since under present circumstances it may not be possible to save both lives, intervention is performed with the intent of saving the life that can be saved, i.e., the mother's. If nothing is done, then both mother and child would presumably perish. The situation is analogous to that faced by a physician arriving at the scene of a catastrophic train wreck. Given the circumstances, the physician cannot salvage all the endangered lives. He must therefore use his best judgment and abilities to salvage the lives that have a real prospect of survival. Rarely is there a tragic conflict between the mother's life and the child's, and such circumstances should occur even less often with the progress of medical science.
Abortion and Public Policy
Discussions of abortion as public policy often concern "the population explosion." During the 1960s, scientists such as Paul Ehrlich, author of Population Bomb, compared the current population growth to a cancer, in that "a cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells," and "the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people." In 1962 Newsweek warned that "the current rate of growth, continued in 600 years, would leave every inhabitant of the world with only 1 square yard to live on. By the year 3500 the weight of human bodies on the earth's surface would equal the weight of the world itself. By the year 6000, the solid mass of humanity would be expanding outward into space at the speed of light." Such predictions fueled arguments that legalized abortion was necessary to control unchecked population growth.
Subsequent history has shown those predictions to be overstated. In 1976, 14 years after its 1962 report, Newsweek concluded that the "population explosion" of the 1960s had become the "population implosion" of the 1970s. "Just a decade ago, demographers were predicting that by the year 2050 the earth's population would have tripled, creating a planet suffocated in its own humanity. . . .Now, due to a plummeting birth rate in many nations and a sharp rise in deaths in others, . . . the world's population growth is tapering off, and . . . the threat of an eventual world population of 12 billion has now faded." In a more recent study Lester Brown, director of the Worldwatch Institute, reported that the world growth rate fell from 1.9 percent in 1970 to 1.64 in 1975. Dr. R.T. Ravenholt, population director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, projected that the world population growth rate would fall below 1 percent by 1985. This would mean that the earth's present population of some 4.6 billion would rise to only 5.4 billion by the end of the century -- not to the 6.3 billion predicted in 1970. The shortfall of some 900 million between the two predictions equals the present combined populations of North America, Latin America, and Europe.
There has also been a sharp decline in the population growth rate in the United States. The rate declined by 33 percent between 1970 and 1975, a drop largely due to a decrease in the marriage rate and an increase in female employment; women now make up approximately 40 percent of the labor force. Since 1975 the fertility rate for American women has remained constant at 1.7 children, the lowest rate in the nation's history. If current trends continue, by 1990 the United States will have more people over 55 than children in elementary and secondary schools. The postwar "baby boom" has suddenly become a "baby bust" in the United States.
Declining fertility rates and the aging of America carry some ominous implications. At present there are some 23 million Americans over the normal retirement age. By the turn of the century, nearly 31 million will be 65 or older. Three decades after that, their number should swell to almost 52 million -- more than twice the current total. This growing proportion of the elderly in the American population will place increasing burdens on the already strained Social Security system. In 1945, the ratio of wage earners to recipients was 35 to 1. Today, with 33 million people drawing social security payments, the ratio has fallen to 3.2 to 1. By the year 2035, the ratio may be less than 2 to 1. In an inflationary economy with rapidly rising medical costs, this means an increasingly large tax burden will have to be assumed by a decreasing proportion of younger workers. Since the average elderly person has higher medical and drug expenses than the average young person, the shift in the age distribution foreshadows higher tax burdens for all Americans as we move toward the twenty-first century. The increased social and economic strains may be too great for a society already showing signs of moral and economic weakness. In retrospect, plummeting fertility rates in the United States during the 1970s may prove to be a curse rather than a blessing.
Many of the assumptions held in the 1960s about the relationship of population growth to other social problems were very questionable. It was thought, for example, that population growth contributed directly to economic stagnation, crime, and environmental pollution. Such assumptions were overly simplistic. The economic history of the United States shows that periods of economic expansion correspond with periods of population growth. European nations such as England and the Netherlands, with population densities many times greater than the United States, have considerably lower rates of violent crime. Environmental quality is more a matter of the proper management of waste disposal than of population density. In developing nations effective contraception, better medical care, and improved employment and educational opportunities -- rather than abortion -- can make population growth manageable.
Thus the severity of the population problem and the need for abortion as its solution were overstated in the 1960s. The facts of recent history have shown that population concerns do not support legalized abortion. If anything, concern in the United States should now focus not on a "population explosion," but on plummeting fertility rates, which will produce serious imbalances in the proportion of elderly people in our population.
One of the most common arguments for legalized abortion is that permissive laws reduce the number of illegal abortions, thereby reducing maternal deaths in so-called "back-alley" abortions. It is estimated that prior to the Court's 1973 decisions, illegal abortions numbered anywhere from 200,000 to over one million a year. The oft-quoted figure of 10,000 maternal deaths annually from illegal abortions, based on an estimate by F.J. Taussig in his 1936 book, Abortion Spontaneous and Induced, is a very dubious statistic, as we shall see.
It is, of course, true that changing the laws reduces the number of illegal abortions, since by definition most abortions once considered criminal thereby become legal. A New York Planned Parenthood official estimated that prior to permissive abortion in that state, between 80 and 90 percent of illegal abortions were done by physicians. The typical "back alley" abortion was really performed in the physician's back office. Legalization simply allowed physicians to perform them more openly. Thus the revealing title of a recent article in one of the opinion magazines, "Suddenly, I'm a Legal Abortionist."
The experience of other nations casts doubt on claims that permissive abortion laws solve the problem of illegal abortions. Dr. Christopher Tietze, a well-known population expert and advocate of abortion, has concluded that permissive laws have not significantly reduced the incidence of illegal abortions in the Scandinavian countries. Many women still seek abortions outside the authorized channels, perhaps to circumvent the remaining medical and administrative provisions of the Scandinavian laws. The experience of Japan also suggests that permissive abortion laws have not eliminated illegal abortions. Even in countries like the United States, with very permissive abortion policies, women who wish to have no records made of their abortions still seek clandestine ones in significant numbers.
There are good reasons to question the figure of 10,000 maternal deaths annually from illegal abortion, based on F.J. Taussig's estimate in 1936. That estimate presupposed a 1934 study by M.E. Kopp of women who had attended the Margaret Sanger Birth Control Clinic in New York between 1925 and 1929. The Sanger Clinic sample from which the figures originated was hardly representative of the population as a whole, since 41.7 percent of the women were Jewish, and 26.1 percent Catholic. More recently Dr. Christopher Tietze has estimated that there may be some 500 maternal deaths annually in the United States from all abortions, legal and illegal. Coming from a prominent advocate of abortion, this estimate casts serious doubt on Taussig's earlier figure.
Dr. Andre Hellegers, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown University Hospital, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, presented figures on confirmed (as opposed to estimated) maternal deaths from abortion. In 1942 there were 1,231 deaths from abortion. By 1968 the number had fallen to 133, showing a steady decrease since 1942. Even before the 1973 Supreme Court decisions, such deaths were relatively rare. A change in the laws, Dr. Hellegers observed, would not materially reduce this figure, since "as a condition becomes rare it becomes difficult to reduce the number even further."
The argument that legalized abortion removes the public health hazards to American women is open to serious question. Some sources claim, based on statistics from Eastern European nations such as Yugoslavia and Hungary and from the United States, that legal abortion is safer than childbirth. Besides ignoring the status of the unborn child, the statistics themselves are doubtful. After a careful review of the Eastern European statistics, Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, concluded: "The claims that abortion is x-times as safe as childbirth is a fabrication invented to sell abortion. Certainly it is not justified on the basis of available information." There is simply no assurance that all maternal deaths actually due to legal abortions are being reported as such.
Another problem often overloooked are serious post-abortion complications. As we have already seen, research done in Czechoslovakia, Japan, and other countries with long experience with abortion shows that abortion increases the risks of the following: accidental perforation of the uterus, injuries to the cervix, increased frequency of miscarriages, prematurity, tubal pregnancies, and menstrual irregularities. Swedish and Norwegian figures cite an incidence of accidental sterilization following abortion of about 4 percent, notes Dr. Andre Hellegers. With some 1.5 million abortions annually in the United States, 79 percent of them performed on unmarried women, the real danger is that some 45,000 unmarried women are accidentally sterilized each year by abortion. Seldom are women who seek abortions warned of such hazards. Such medical evidence indicates that large numbers of American women can be expected to sorely regret having opted for abortion.
Discrimination Against the Poor?
There are several problems with the common argument that laws restricting abortion funding discriminate against the poor. As we have already noted, the greatest pressures to change laws come not from people in poverty, but from upper-middle class professionals. Poverty level Blacks, for example, are among the strongest opponents to abortion. Of women having abortions, 79 percent are unmarried, and 70 percent are white. The typical seeker of an abortion is not a poor black woman on welfare with a large family, but an unmarried white teenager or professional woman pursuing a career. The desire among poverty level Blacks is not for more government subsidized abortion, but for better employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Some Blacks cynically see subsidized abortions as an attempt by white liberals to find a quick technological "fix" to the problem of poverty and burgeoning welfare costs.
More fundamentally, the focus on funding reduces a moral issue to the more pragmatic one of distribution. If abortion is an intrinsic evil, then the ability of the rich to have one is no reason for ensuring that others may do the same. The vices of the rich are not the standard for social and legal policy. Arguments from "fairness" and "equality of opportunity" are valid only where the thing in question is itself a social good. In this case justice calls for equal protection of the unborn, whether of the poor or of the rich.
Some argue that a return to restrictive abortion laws would amount to an "imposition of morality" by the force of law. They charge that opposition to abortion represents a Christian conviction that should not be legislated in a pluralistic society. Often they assume, implicitly or explicitly, that such opposition is a peculiarly Roman Catholic concern.
Thoughtful Christians should subject such arguments to careful scrutiny. First of all, as we have already noted, opposition to abortion is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelical Protestant leaders such as Billy Graham, Harold O.J. Brown, Bruce Waltke, C.C. Ryrie, C. Everett Koop, John Frame, Donald Bloesch, Francis Schaeffer, and R.C. Sproul oppose the present abortion policies in the United States. Other scholars have come to oppose abortion on purely secular or philosophical grounds. A notable example is Professor Baruch Brody, a Jewish scholar who began as a pro-abortionist but was led by his research to the opposite conclusion. Respect for the sanctity of life is not an exclusively religious concern.
The charge of "imposing morality" reflects confusion about the relationship of law and morality. All laws, insofar as they reflect a community's sense of fairness and justice, necessarily have a moral component. To remove this moral component would make law an arbitrary instrument for the control of the weak by the more powerful elements of society. The "positive" laws of the Third Reich were contemptible precisely because they lacked grounding in universal standards of justice and morality. The civil rights legislation of the 1960s was based not merely on social expediency, but on a fundamental sense of moral rightness. The real issue is not whether laws will reflect a moral point of view, but rather, what type of morality they should reflect. There is simply no compelling reason why moral insights drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition should be disqualified from legal and public policy debates. At stake in the abortion debate is not some narrow sectarian distinctive such as the mode of baptism or style of sabbath observance, but the fundamental moral principle of the sanctity of human life. This basic principle, taught by the Bible and all the world's historic religions, has until now been one of the pillars of Western civilization. Christians do their society no service by acquiescing to the secular humanists' arguments that would undermine human life according to some sliding scale of value.
Discussions of law and morality often betray misunderstanding regarding the separation of church and state. The relevant language of the First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The intent of the amendment was clearly to prevent Congress from instituting one denomination as the established national church. At the time the amendment was passed, two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, still had established state churches. The intent of the framers of the amendment was clearly not to prevent Christians from expressing their convictions in matters of public policy. The cruel irony of history is that this amendment, originally enacted in the name of religious freedom, is today interpreted to mean that only secular humanists may express moral convictions in matters of public policy. The "separation of church and state" is now taken to mean the separation of nearly all Christian influence from American law and public life. Christians should recognize this ploy for what it really is -- the establishment of secular humanism as the de facto religion of America. Rather than allowing themselves to be disenfranchised, Christians should vigorously affirm their rights to express their deepest moral convictions in public discourse. The sanctity of innocent human life, a principle deeply embedded in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the fabric of Western civilization, needs again to be vigorously championed by the Christian community, particularly in reference to the contemporary abortion debate.
This discussion of public policy leads naturally into the concluding chapter on recent legal developments in the American abortion scene. There we will focus on the hotly debated matters of public funding of abortion, and the drive for a Human Life Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion decisions.
Since the 1973 Supreme Court abortion decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton there has been a steady stream of noteworthy legislative developments. The waves of subsequent litigation and legislative activity show no signs of abating. That is not surprising, since even proponents of permissive abortion have admitted that the Court's 1973 decisions were a bit precipitous. Patricia Beyea, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's "Campaign for Choice," has remarked that the Court's decision "was too fast and too easy. The grass roots of the country weren't prepared for it. The issue hadn't developed properly at that level." Two of the more important forms of response to the Court's decision have been efforts to restrict or eliminate government funding of abortion, and proposals for a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Each of these responses will be considered in turn.
Government Funding of Abortions
On September 30, 1976, the U.S. Congress enacted into law an amendment to the Labor-HEW appropriations bill proposed by Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois. The amendment stated, "None of the funds contained in this act shall be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term." Since the Hyde Amendment became an integral part of the appropriations bill, the clear intent of Congress was to eliminate federal subsidies for elective abortions. Before then the federal government had provided subsidies to the states for elective abortions through the Medicaid program.
Soon after the Hyde Amendment was passed several pro-abortion litigants sought injunctions in federal court to have it declared unconstitutional and to have the federal government directed to pay for elective abortions. Judge John Sirica dismissed one such case in the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., on the grounds that no evidence for irreparable injury had been shown. The ordinary requirement for a court injunction -- clear evidence that "irreparable injury" would result to the party seeking the injunction unless an injunction were given -- was not, according to Judge Sirica, satisfied in this case.
At the same time Judge Sirica was hearing this case, the Planned Parenthood Association of Hudson County, along with a number of physicians and one "Jane Doe," sought an injunction against the Hyde Amendment in the Federal District Court for New Jersey. Judge Vincent Biunno dismissed the case, observing that even should a federal court rule Hyde unconstitutional, "the Secretary of the Treasury would remain bound to observe the Hyde Amendment and refuse to draw moneys out of the Treasury for payment of a federal share to a Medicaid state on account of elective abortions." Judge Biunno had correctly seen that, irrespective of the question of constitutionality, the federal judiciary had no authority to compel a federal agency to spend funds that had not been duly appropriated by Congress. Congress clearly had not appropriated funds for elective abortions.
What the litigants failed to obtain from two federal courts, they succeeded in obtaining from a third. Litigants representing Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Health and Hospitals Corporation, one indigent woman, and one doctor sought an injunction against the Hyde Amendment in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn. In October of 1976, Judge John Dooling granted the plaintiffs' request for an injunction and issued an order requiring the Secretary of HEW to announce his willingness to provide reimbursement for elective abortions through the Medicaid program.
It now appears that Judge Dooling's ruling was based on a mistaken assumption. The judge mistakenly thought that money for elective abortions had actually been appropriated by Congress, and that only the "use" of this money was being restrained by the Hyde Amendment. But, in fact, not a dime had been appropriated for such use. And Article 1, section 9, clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution reads, "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law." The funds for elective abortion drawn from the Treasury as a result of Judge Dooling's ruling between October 22, 1976, and August 4, 1977, when the injunction was lifted, had not been appropriated by law. Thus the spending of that money represented a serious violation by the federal judiciary of the constitutionally mandated authority of Congress over the purse. John T. Noonan, Jr., a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and a well-known authority on constitutional law, called for a congressional investigation of the constitutional violations committed during the litigation surrounding the original Hyde Amendment.
On June 21, 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court decided three cases that bore directly on government funding of abortion. The decisions rendered in Maher v. Roe, Beal v. Doe, and Poelker v. Doe hinted at a retreat from the position taken by the Court in 1973. In Maher v. Roe, a case involving the administration of the Medicaid program in Connecticut, the Court ruled that a state participating in the joint federal-state Medicaid program under Title XIX of the Social Security Act need not pay for elective abortions when it pays for childbirth. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., held that:
Roe did not declare an unqualified "constitutional right to an abortion," as the District Court seemed to think. Rather the right protects the woman from unduly burdensome interference with her freedom to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy. It implies no limitation on the authority of a state to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion, and to implement that judgment by the allocation of public funds. . . .Our conclusion signals no retreat from Roe or the cases applying it. There is a basic difference between direct state interference with a protected activity and state encouragement of an alternate activity consonant with legislative policy.
Acknowledging the sensitive and controversial nature of the issue, Justice Powell also made the following significant statement:
When an issue involves policy choices as sensitive as those implicated by public funding of non-therapeutic abortions, the appropriate forum for their resolution in a democracy is the legislature.
Critics of the Court's original 1973 abortion decisions had contended for some time that these decisions represented an unwarranted intrusion by the federal judiciary into the legislative prerogatives of the states. Justice Powell's remarks seem a tacit acknowledgment of the force of these criticisms.
While the majority opinion of the Court, represented by justices Powell, Burger, White, Rehnquist, Stewart, and Stevens, held that the new decision "signals no retreat from Roe [v. Wade] or the cases applying to it," the Justices in the minority saw it otherwise. In their dissenting opinion, Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Harry Blackmun wrote that "it cannot be gainsaid that today's opinion seriously erodes the principles of Roe and Doe announced to guide the determination of what constitutes an unconstitutional infringement of the fundamental right of pregnant women to be free to decide whether to have an abortion." The minority Justices correctly discerned a retrenchment of the Court's position on abortion in the face of the storm of controversy created by the Court's 1973 rulings.
In the companion case Beal v. Doe, from the state of Pennsylvania, the question was likewise whether Title XIX of the Social Security Act, which established the joint federal-state Medicaid program, required participating states to pay for elective abortions. Pennsylvania had limited funding to abortions certified by physicians as "medically necessary." In delivering the majority opinion of the Court, Justice Powell stated:
We therefore hold that Pennsylvania's refusal to extend medicaid coverage to nontherapeutic abortions is not inconsistent with Title XIX. We make clear, however, that the federal statute leaves a state free to provide such coverage if it so desires.
While relieving the states of any obligation to fund elective abortions, the Court left open the possibility that they might choose to do so.
Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun expressed displeasure with the decision in their minority opinion, partly out of financial considerations:
The State cannot contend that it protects its fiscal interests in not funding elective abortions when it incurs far greater expense in paying for the more costly medical services performed in carrying pregnancies to term, and, after birth, paying the increased welfare bill incurred to support the mother and the child.
The dissenting Justices here viewed abortion in utilitarian terms, according to the calculus of a cost-benefit ethic. In other words, since it is cheaper to eliminate the unborn offspring of the poor than to provide them with the necessities of life, it is expedient for the state to promote a policy of active abortion for the poor.
In a third companion case, Poelker v. Doe, the Court dealt with the decision of John H. Poelker, mayor of St. Louis, to prohibit abortions in the public hospitals of that city except when there was a "threat of grave physiological injury or death to the mother." The city hospitals drew their staffs for the obstetrics-gynecology clinics from the faculty and students of the St. Louis University School of Medicine, a Roman Catholic institution opposed to abortion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had ruled that the city's policy and the hospital's staffing practice constituted a "denial of equal protection to indigent pregnant women" and mandated that St. Louis public hospitals perform abortions. In its review of the case, the Supreme Court held as follows:
In the decision of the Court of Appeals and in the briefs supporting that decision, emphasis is placed on Mayor Poelker's personal opposition to abortion. . . . Although the Mayor's personal position on abortion is irrelevant to our decision, we note that he is an elected official responsible to the people of St. Louis. His policy of denying city funds for abortions such as that desired by Doe is subject to public debate and approval or disapproval at the polls. We merely hold. . . that the Constitution does not forbid a State or city, pursuant to democratic processes, from expressing a preference for normal childbirth as St. Louis has done.
The Justices thus overturned the decision of the lower court, ruling that the city of St. Louis was under no obligation to provide for elective abortions in its public hospitals. This decision, which merely acknowledges the possibility on a "preference" by state and local governments for childbirth over abortion, again bypasses the more fundamental question of the rights of the unborn.
The decisions rendered in Maher, Beal, and Poelker do represent something of a retreat, in the face of widespread public opposition, from the Court's 1973 position. Nonetheless, these decisions touch simply on the public financing of abortion; they do not restore to the unborn the basic legal protection removed by the Court in 1973. They did, however, open the way to a renewed and even more widespread public policy debate at the federal, state, and local levels of government.
After the rulings in Maher, Beal, and Poelker were handed down, Judge John Dooling of Brooklyn lifted his injunction on the 1976 Hyde Amendment at the mandate of the United States Supreme Court. On the same day, however, he issued a temporary restraining order that further prevented the Hyde Amendment from taking effect. Finally, on August 4, 1977, on the motion of lawyers for Americans United For Life Legal Defense Fund, Judge Dooling lifted his restraining order, and the 1976 Hyde Amendment was for the first time in effect. Thus, as Professor Noonan has pointed out, from October 22, 1976, to August 4, 1977, for nearly 10 months out of the normal 12 months of the life of an appropriations act, "the quick decision of a federal judge in Brooklyn had ruled the entire country with the force of law, commanding that Hyde not be observed." Prior to the lifting of Judge Dooling's injunction, Representative Henry Hyde himself had pointed to the key constitutional question: "The Supreme Court has, in effect, given a District Court Judge in Brooklyn the continuing power to frustrate the clearly expressed Congressional will in a matter of appropriating tax funds. This turns the doctrine of separation of powers on its head. Any concern we had about an Imperial Presidency pales into insignificance before the Imperial Judiciary."
Meanwhile, debate on the 1977 Labor-HEW appropriations bill had already begun. After a six-month struggle between the House and the Senate over the Hyde provisions, a compromise that pleased neither side was reached on December 7, 1977. The resulting congressional language, as interpreted and administered by HEW Secretary Califano, provided federal funding for abortions under the Medicaid program: (1) when it was believed that the woman's life would be endangered by continuation of the pregnancy; (2) when, in the opinion of two physicians, continuation of the pregnancy would cause "severe and long-lasting physical health damage"; (3) when the pregnancy resulted from an act of rape or incest reported within 60 days. This compromise language was more permissive than that desired by the House, which supported only the first of the provisions above, and less permissive than the language desired by the Senate. It now appears that members of the House, who stand for re-election more often than do Senators, were more in accord with the growing mood of opposition to the permissive abortion policies of the Supreme Court. Critics of the compromise language were quick to point out that these provisions were open to widespread abuse, since "severe and long-lasting physical health damage" could be interpreted within the very elastic definition of "health" adopted by the Court, and the 60-day reporting period for alleged cases of rape made immediate confirmation of the crime less likely to obtain. The Carter Administration was later reported to have doubts about the second provision, wanting Congress to consider reducing the reporting time for rape and incest.
The third round of the congressional struggle over federal funding of abortion began on June 13, 1978, when the House of Representatives voted to keep the original 1976 version of the Hyde language in the current $58 billion Labor-HEW appropriations bill. The language in question provides that "none of the funds provided for in this act shall be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term." After protracted debate between House and Senate conferees, a weaker compromise bill, essentially similar to the 1977 one, was passed by Congress during the closing days of the session.
On November 20, 1979, both houses of Congress agreed on the following compromise language: "None of the Federal funds provided in this act shall be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term; or except for such medical procedures necessary for the victims of rape or incest when such rape or incest has been reported promptly to a law enforcement agency or public health service."
On January 16, 1980, this annual abortion restriction to the Labor/HEW appropriation bills was held unconstitutional by Judge John Dooling of the federal district court in Brooklyn, New York. Judge Dooling ruled that all "medically necessary" abortions must be funded. On June 30, 1980, however, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Harris v. McRae, overturned Dooling, ruling that neither under the Constitution nor under Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid) is there an obligation to fund abortions even when deemed "medically necessary." "Nothing in Title XIX as originally enacted," read the majority opinion," or in its legislative history, suggests that Congress intended to require a participating state to assume the full costs of providing any health services in its Medicaid plan."
Harris v. McRae clearly represented a victory for the pro-life position. As a result of this ruling and the conservative political trends reflected in the November, 1980, election, on May 21, 1981, the Senate voted to ban all federal funding of abortion except in cases where the life of the mother would be endangered by the continuation of the pregnancy. This Senate vote signaled the end of virtually all federally funded abortions, and was symptomatic of the growing influence of the pro-life movement in the U.S. Congress.
Human Life Amendments
Opponents of the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion decisions have concluded that only a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can effectively restore legal protection for the unborn in this country. A complete reversal of the decision by the present court seems very unlikely, and the problem is too urgent to wait for a reversal by a Court with a different membership. Other means of redress short of an actual constitutional amendment also appear inadequate. It has been pointed out, for example, that Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate the jurisdiction of all federal courts, including the Supreme Court. The Congress, it is argued, could by normal legislative action withdraw federal jurisdiction from all abortion cases, leaving the state supreme courts with final jurisdiction. Even if this were workable, given existing legislation restricting Congress' power to control judicial jurisdiction, it would be an unsatisfactory remedy, since all the prior federal decisions would remain as precedents, and state courts might be influenced to follow the reasonings and conclusions of the Supreme Court. This approach would have the further disadvantage of lacking uniformity, since rights of the unborn recognized in one state could be denied in another. This "half slave and half free" approach would be unworkable in the long run. Nevertheless, such a proposal might still be considered as a first, temporary step toward saving unborn human lives.
It has also been pointed out that Congress has the power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment by appropriate legislation. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Hence it has been suggested that Congress could remedy the abortion decisions by simply enacting a law defining the term "person" in the Fourteenth Amendment to include the child in the womb. Such a "Human Life Bill" has been proposed by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL).
This proposal, however, may still be subject to judicial veto. The Supreme Court may, for example, declare such a law unconstitutional on the theory that a child in the womb is inherently incapable of personhood with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment.
For the foregoing reasons, it appears that a constitutional amendment is necessary to restore protection to unborn human lives. It is a difficult and time-consuming process, but it seems well justified by the importance of the issue and the gravity of the current situation. It would represent a definitive and uniform statement of national policy on an issue that ultimately, like slavery in the nineteenth century, must be brought to a decisive conclusion. Such an amendment would be consistent with the general trend in American legislation and political concern that has through history extended basic human rights to more and more previously disenfranchised groups of people.
The Process of Amending the Constitution
According to Article V of the Constitution, amendments may be proposed in either of two ways: by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress in response to the application of two-thirds (34) of the state legislatures. Proposed amendments, if then ratified by three-quarters (38) of the states, become part of the Constitution. A number of proposed Human Life Amendments have already been offered by members of Congress, and the Senate Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights has held extensive hearings on many aspects of the issue.
Although the Constitution has never been amended through the convention method, the viability of this option should not be discounted. During the 1960s Congress received 32 state petitions calling for a constitutional convention in response to the Supreme Court rulings in Baker v. Carr and Reynold v. Sims, which required that both houses of bicameral state legislatures be apportioned strictly on a population basis. In all likelihood it was only the untimely death of Senator Everett Dirksen, the key leader in the drive for a constitutional convention, that prevented its eventual convocation. The history of debates surrounding Article V of the Constitution at the original Philadelphia Convention indicates that the framers of the Constitution clearly intended the "convention option" at state initiative to have parity with the method of proposing amendments at the initiative of Congress.
Amendments already proposed by members of Congress have been of two forms: so-called "states' rights" amendments, which would restore to the states the power to protect, within their jurisdictions, the lives of the unborn, and amendments of a more inclusive nature, which would make the right to life of the unborn an explicit part of the Constitution. We will examine the respective merits of each type of amendment in turn.
On September 17, 1975, Senator Quentin Burdick (D-ND) introduced the following proposal in the Senate's Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments:
The Congress within federal jurisdictions and the several States within their respective jurisdictions shall have power to protect life including the unborn at every stage of biological development irrespective of age, health, or condition of physical dependency.
This "states' rights" amendment would return to the states the power to regulate or prohibit abortions at each stage of pregnancy. In federal jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia the Congress would exercise such powers.
Some believe the states' rights approach has the advantage of reflecting the pluralistic values of the American people. At present a national consensus on abortion has yet to emerge, it is argued, and thus the issue would best be left to the workings of the legislative processes of the several states. It is also argued that the dynamics of congressional politics would give such an amendment a better prospect of securing congressional approval than other types of Human Life Amendments. Any amendment on which the state legislatures had to vote would have the effect of bringing the issue before the general public. Placing a Burdick type of amendment before the states would accomplish the goal of making the debate nationwide and inescapable, and this in itself would be a considerable gain.
On the other hand, a states' rights amendment has the disadvantage of not ensuring a uniform national policy on so fundamental an issue as the protection of unborn human life. Very protective laws in one state could be effectively negated by very permissive laws in a bordering state. And there would be the further disadvantage of not guaranteeing uniformity within a given state. The rights of the unborn recognized in one legislative session could be removed in the next. That would place the unborn at the mercy of shifting legislative majorities and bitter political campaigns. For these reasons, the states' rights option is not the best means for securing the rights of the unborn.
On June 28, 1983, the Senate voted on such a states' rights amendment, the "Human Life Federalism Amendment" sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Thomas Eagleton (D-MO). This proposal, which simply stated that "a right to abortion is not secured by this Constitution," would not have directly outlawed abortions, but would have allowed the states, and possibly Congress, to restrict access to abortions. The Senate voted 50-49 against the measure, 18 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to send an amendment to the states for ratification.
Other proposed Human Life amendments have sought to make a uniform policy on the rights of the unborn an explicit and integral part of the Constitution. During the Ninety-fourth Congress, Senate Joint Resolution 6 was introduced by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and Senate Joint Resolution 11 by Senator James Buckley of New York. The pertinent parts of these resolutions are as follows:
S.J.R. 6: Section 1. With respect to the right of life guaranteed in this constitution, every human being, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, or of any state, shall be deemed, from the moment of fertilization, to be a person and entitled to the right of life.
Section 2. Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
S.J.R. 11: Section 1. With respect to the right of life, the word 'person' as used in this article and in the fifth and fourteenth articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, health, function, or condition of dependency, including their unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development.
Section 2. No unborn person shall be deprived of life by any person: Provided, however, that nothing in this article shall prohibit a law permitting only those medical procedures required to prevent the death of the mother.
Section 3. Congress and the several states shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation within their respective jurisdiction.
These proposals have the distinct advantage of enunciating, as a uniform national policy, the fundamental right to life of all human beings. As we have seen, Christians, who recognize the intrinsic sanctity of human life created in the image of God, have a clear biblical mandate to affirm these principles. Such amendments would lift the basic right to life of the unborn out of the shifting tides of political opinion and legislative compromise.
Numerous criticisms have been raised against such proposals. It is often said, for example, that one cannot "legislate morality" and that a Human Life Amendment attempts to do precisely that. As noted in the previous chapter, this objection fails to perceive the indispensable relationship between law and morality. Unless laws are grounded in moral principles, they amount to the arbitrary imposition of the will of the strong upon the weak. Laws protecting human life and property in all cultures have not been based on mere expediency, but on the moral conviction that it is inherently right to accord such protection. Our own generation has witnessed efforts by the civil rights movement and environmentalists to have their moral commitments realized with the force of law in national policy. Shared moral principles inevitably become embodied in the legislation of a society. That was certainly the case in the struggle to abolish slavery in the nineteenth century.
While the distinctive tenets of a given religious group may not be appropriate for civil legislation (e.g., mandatory baptism and church attendance), the larger moral issues are not confined to a particular sect and are therefore relevant to civil law. Respect for innocent human life is not a peculiar sectarian belief. It is a necessary premise for any rational and just society. Since, in the current situation, passage of a Human Life Amendment would require a national and not merely Christian consensus, objections concerning the separation of church and state are not even relevant. Passage would reflect a general recognition, among believers and unbelievers alike, of the sanctity of life.
While the First Amendment bars the legislation of narrowly sectarian tenets, it does not bar the enactment of generally held moral principles. Certainly arguments for the sanctity of human life should not be disqualified from public discussion simply because they are offered on religious grounds; they are also offered by many on secular or "natural law" grounds. Otherwise it would be impossible to legislate against murder and stealing, since these acts are prohibited by religious as well as secular teaching.
In recent years evangelical Christians have been victims of a popular misunderstanding of the separation of church and state. It seems most people now take that principle to mean the de facto separation of all Christian influence from matters of public policy. Such a separation amounts to active discrimination against biblical values, and the virtual establishment of secular humanism as the official creed of the United States. Christians must recognize that such discrimination against their values is warranted by neither the Constitution nor the Bible. Once that is clearly understood, evangelical Christians can again become powerful and effective agents of righteousness in American public life, as salt and light in the midst of a morally dark and decaying culture.
Other critics have argued on pragmatic grounds that a Human Life Amendment, like Prohibition, would simply prove unworkable. This objection overlooks a basic difference between Prohibition and such an amendment. Prohibition was basically negative, did not touch basic rights, and in fact negated a preexisting right. A Human Life Amendment would be positive in its orientation and would affirm the most basic of all rights, the right to life itself. It would naturally and logically extend to the unborn protections successively accorded to other disadvantaged groups during our nation's history. And it would require introducing no legal principles foreign to American legislative history. In fact, it would help restore the legal protections accorded the unborn prior to the Court's 1973 decisions, and would further make such rights more explicit and nationally uniform.
What about the argument that a Human Life Amendment would not eliminate abortions, but would simply make those yet performed clandestine and illegal? The argument is correct as far as it goes. But no law is perfectly observed in an imperfect and fallen world. If the prospect of complete observance were a prerequisite for the enactment of a given law, there could be no laws prohibiting murder and rape. The intrinsic evil of such acts, and the common sense of justice, however, require that laws prohibit them, notwithstanding difficulties of enforcement. Even short of eliminating illegal abortions, a Human Life Amendment would reduce the total number of abortions and therefore save many unborn human lives.
It is sometimes alleged that such an amendment would discriminate against the poor. The rich, it is said, would be able to circumvent the law and secure abortions in any case. This objection is a red herring, in that it displaces a question of principle with a circumstantial and pragmatic concern. As Professor Robert Byrn has observed, those who are "genuinely concerned for the poor let the tail wag the dog when they raise this objection to a human life amendment. They make the vices and evasions of some of the rich the norm for our public policy and for the constitutional protection of our most fundamental rights." The rich usually are in a better position to circumvent any given law, but that calls for better enforcement, not abolition of law.
A final objection is that a Human Life Amendment would render all abortions punishable as murder in the first degree. This, however, is not true. While taking unborn human life is a form of homicide, the law does not classify all homicides as murder in the first degree. In drafting such laws legislatures have the discretion to consider such factors as the degree of malice, mitigating circumstances, and the requirements of community security. The last factor, for example, might lead a given state to punish with severity particular crimes, such as killing a police officer in the line of duty. Judges also take mitigating circumstances into account in imposing sentences. All these factors would apply in drafting and enforcing laws on abortion.
Our journey through the difficult terrain of the American abortion controversy has involved encounters with a complicated set of biblical, philosophical, medical, social, and legal issues. It is scarcely to be wondered that there has often been as much heat as light in evangelical discussions of the issue. Nevertheless, through the efforts of Harold O.J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, C. Everett Koop, and other conservative scholars, there is a growing momentum in evangelical circles toward a pro-life understanding. The Schaeffer-Koop film series, "Whatever Happened to the Human Race," has, for example, exerted a quiet but significant influence in many conservative churches. In many areas of behavior the American public as a whole seems to be moving away from the liberal and permissive attitudes of the sixties and early seventies and back toward more traditional positions.
In spite of all the complexities, a number of clear observations have emerged from our study. Socially, it is clear that abortion is not an isolated phenomenon, but is part and parcel of a permissive moral climate. More often than not, abortion is sought as a result of sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Medically, it is clear that human life is a genetic and physiological continuum from conception until natural death. The trimester scheme of prenatal development used by the Supreme Court and many writers on the subject is artificial and can hardly be considered an adequate framework for ethical decision making. We have also seen that the full range of possible medical hazards -- perforation of the uterus, damage to the cervix, accidental infections, increased risk of prematurity and miscarriage, and so forth -- are very often not disclosed to women seeking abortions. Ethically, we have seen that arguments that are used to justify permissive abortion can logically justify infanticide as well. Criteria such as brain function, physical defects, viability, or socio-economic hardship can be applied to human beings postnatally as well as prenatally, and an ethicist such as Joseph Fletcher has been willing to argue that under certain conditions infanticide may be the most "loving" course of action. Biblically, we have examined numerous texts that indicate God's loving concern for the unborn child. The biblical witness gives no basis for the casuistry of "line-drawing" between first, second, and third-trimester human beings. These social, medical, ethical, and biblical considerations, together with the principle of equal justice under the law for all human subjects, have led us to conclude that the "life of the mother" position is the one that evangelicals ought to hold.
There does seem to be, as we have noted, movement in this direction in evangelical circles. Much work remains to be done, however. Concerned Christians should seek opportunities in Sunday school classes and youth groups to raise the level of awareness and concern on this issue. Pastors should encourage their parishioners to be involved in community and state pro-life organizations as an expression of their Christian vocation. Denominations that have adopted permissive policy statements on abortion need to be challenged by an informed and aroused laity. Christians need to consider seriously a candidate's position on abortion in local, state, and national elections.
Finally, in addition to these educational and political expressions of Christian concern, there is yet another needed dimension to a truly biblical response to the problem of abortion. In addition to openly opposing abortion -- and this is essential -- evangelicals must also promote positive alternatives to abortion. Helping centers for unwed mothers such as Birthright or crisis pregnancy centers affiliated with the Christian Action Council can be dramatic and effective expressions of Christian concern for both the unborn child and the woman with a difficult pregnancy. Believers are called to be both "prophets" and "Good Samaritans" in the present abortion situation in America. If a growing number of them continue to catch such a vision, the positive impact on the general spiritual revitalization of the church could be dramatic.
Since I completed the manuscript for this book, colleagues and students have raised several questions I had not addressed. These questions involve (1) the logic of the "life of the mother" position, and (2) the relationship between "life" and "breath" in the Old Testament understanding of man and its bearing on the question of personhood.
The Logic of the "Life of the Mother" Position
Some suggest that there is an inconsistency in holding to a presumption of personhood from time of conception and yet allowing for an exception in the rare cases where continuing the pregnancy would threaten the life of the mother. If the preborn child is a person in the whole sense, why should the child's life be sacrificed for the mother's?
One response compares the life-of the mother position to self defense. The developing child is an "aggressor" whose "attack" may legitimately be repelled by any means. The problem with this analogy is, of course, that the preborn child is hardly a morally responsible agent in the sense normally understood to require self-defense. The child is there through no choice of his own. The analogy is obviously weak.
A better analogy is the "triage" situation. Consider, again, a physician at the scene of a catastrophic train derailment in an isolated location, where no other medical assistance is available. The physician must quickly make a judgment classifying the victims in terms of three broad categories: those whose injuries are so severe that they will perish in any case, no matter what is done; those whose injuries are so minor that they need no immediate attention; and those whose injuries are such that they will survive if prompt medical assistance is given. In such a circumstance the ethically responsible course of action for the physician would be to devote his attention and resources to the third category of victims, i.e., those whose prospects for survival depend upon medical intervention. In a situation where not all can be saved, the best course of action is to help those who can be saved by means of the resources and opportunities at one's disposal.
The application of the triage model to, say, a tubal pregnancy should be evident. If no action is taken, and the tubal pregnancy is allowed to progress, there is a genuine possibility that both mother and child would perish as a result of bleeding from a ruptured Fallopian tube. Given the existing capabilities of medical technology, and lacking an artificial womb, there is no possibility of saving the embryonic human life developing in the Fallopian tube. Surgical removal of the embryonic human being, in order to save life having a prospect of survival (the mother's), is analogous to the action of the physician at the train wreck who physically moves aside a victim in a hopeless situation in order to treat the victim with some prospect of survival. Given the further progress of medical technology and the development of an artificial womb at some future time, it would then be possible to save both mother and child, and the tragic dilemma would cease to arise. At present, however, the choice is between saving one life or saving none.
Life and Breath in Old Testament Thought
It has been pointed out that there is a significant connection in Old Testament thought between life and breath (ruach; neshamah). This connection may be observed in texts such as Genesis 6:17, Job 34:14-15, Habakkuk 2:19, Zechariah 12:1, Psalm 104:29-30, and Job 33:4. Could this relationship determine whether personhood or human life is present in the womb? Could one argue, for example, that since premature children of less than twenty weeks' gestation are incapable of independent breathing outside the womb, human life in the biblical sense is not present? Such an argument might be offered to support abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even into the second trimester.
There are a number of problems with this line of argument. First, while breathing in the usual sense does not begin until birth, the process of respiration in the more technical biological sense of the transfer of oxygen from the environment of the living organism occurs from the time of conception. The mode but not the fact of this oxygen transfer changes at birth. The "breath of life" in this more general sense is present from the beginning of prenatal life.
Second, it seems hermeneutically illegitimate to use texts (Ps. 104:29-30, etc.) concerned with ordinary, nonscientific observations of postnatal life in relation to the scientific details of its physiological development. The intention of these texts was not to describe the physiological details of prenatal development or to provide the basis of value judgments about prenatal life. The ancient Hebrews had only the most rudimentary knowledge of human physiology. They knew little or nothing of the respiratory system; the word for "lung" does not even occur in the Old Testament. There are no distinctive Hebrew terms for brain, nerves, diaphragm, or blood vessels (C. Ryder Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Man; H.W. Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man; A.R. Johnson, The Vitality of the Individual in the Thought of Ancient Israel). These texts were clearly not focused primarily on the physiology of prenatal life. On the other hand, texts such as Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 1:5 clearly do intend to address the reality of God's concern for and involvement with prenatal human life. Hermeneutically, it is these texts, rather than the "life and breath" passages, that constitute the appropriate starting point for reflection concerning the value of prenatal life in God's sight.
Third, a literalist and anachronistic reading of the "life and breath" passages would logically require one to take literally biblical statements concerning the bowels and kidneys as the seats of emotion and the heart rather than the brain as the focal point of psychical activity. If there is a connection between life and breath in Old Testament thought, there is also a connection between life and blood (e.g., Gen. 9:4). A literalistic hermeneutic in the latter case might lead one to conclude that blood transfusions are prohibited by the Bible -- a conclusion actually drawn by Jehovah's Witnesses.
The above difficulties make it evident that the"life and breath" passages of the Old Testament do not support a permissive policy on abortion when taken in their proper context.
Bajema, Clifford E. Abortion and the Meaning of Personhood. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974. 114 pp.
Brody, Baruch. Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life: A Philosophical View. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1975. 162 pp.
Brown, Harold O.J. Death Before Birth. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1977. 168 pp.
Davis, John Jefferson Abortion and the Christian: What Every Believer Should Know. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1984. 125 pp.
Ganz, Richard L., ed. Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Christian Case Against Abortion. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1978. 200 pp.
Grisez, Germain. Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, the Argument. New York: Corpus, 1970. 559 pp.
Hilgers, Thomas W., Horan, Dennis J., and Mall, David, eds. New Perspectives on Human Abortion. Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1981. 504 pp. A valuable collection of essays on the medical, legal, social, and philosophical dimensions of the issue.
Hilgers, Thomas W., and Horan, Dennis J., eds. Abortion and Social Justice. New York: Sheed and Word, 1972. 328 pp.
Koop, C. Everett. The Right to Live: the Right to Die. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1976. 124 pp.
Mall, David, and Watts, Walter R., eds. The Psychological Aspects of Abortion. Washington: University Publications of America, 1979. 156 pp.
Nathanson, Bernard N. Aborting America. Garden City: Doubleday, 1979. 320 pp.
Noonan, John T., Jr. A Private Choice: Abortion in America in the Seventies. New York: Free Press, 1979. 244 pp.
Schaeffer, Francis A., and Koop, C. Everett. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1979. 256 pp.
Willke, Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Handbook on Abortion. Cincinnati: Hayes, 1971, 1975. 208 pp.
---------. How to Teach the Pro-Life Story. Cincinnati: Hayes, 1973. 195 pp. Good sourcebook for visuals, literature.
Human Life Review. Human Life Foundation, Inc., 215 Lexington Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016 (212) 685-5210
©1984 John Jefferson Davis, Ph.D.
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- Linda Bird Francke, The Ambivalence of Abortion (New York: Random House, 1978), quoted in Family Circle, January 27, 1978, p.57.
- "Abortion Under Attack," Newsweek, June 5, 1978, p.42.
- Lex Vitae 1, no. 4(1978):4; Boston Globe, June 16, 1983, p.1.
- Cyril J. Barber, "Abortion: A Survey of Attitudes and Research Materials," Journal of Psychology and Theology 1(1973):67.
- Ibid., p.68.
- C. Everett Koop, "The Other Human Rights Issue," Eternity, October, 1978, p.40.
- The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Kirsopp Lake (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1912), 1:312-13.
- Athenagoras Embassy for the Christians. Cited by John T. Noonan, Jr., ed., The Morality of Abortion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), p.11.
- Apology 9, 9; cited by George Hunston Williams, "Religious Residues and Pre-suppositions in the American Debate on Abortion," Theological Studies 31 (1970):25.
- Cited in Noonan, Morality of Abortion, p.16.
- Ibid., p.17.
- Williams, "Religious Residues," p.31.
- Ibid., p.38. For further discussion, see John R. Connery, Abortion: The Development of the Catholic Perspective (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1977).
- Williams, "Religious Residues," p.34.
- For an exegetical discussion of this text, I refer you to the discussion in Chapter 4 of this volume.
- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses, trans. Charles Bingham (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), 3:41,42.
- Cited in James C. Mohr, Abortion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p.192.
- Ibid., pp. 192-93. Ironically, physicians tended to be more outspoken than the Protestant clergy in this era.
- Presbyterian Journal, March 9, 1983, pp. 6,7.
- Matthew J Bulfin, letter to the editor, New York Times, July 1, 1983, p. A22.
- Gary Bergel, "Abortion: A Biblical Issue That Must Be Resolved," Intercessors for America, February 1, 1983, p.1.
- "A Prospective Study of the Effects of Induced Abortion on Subsequent Reproductive Function," research contract No. N01-HD-6-2802, sponsored by the National Child Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. These are only preliminary results.
- These medical complications are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3 of this volume.
- See John Hart Ely, "The Supreme Court Decisions," Human Life Review 1, no. 1 (1975): 44-73; James F. Csank, "Dred Scott and the Abortion Cases," Human Life Review 3, no. 2 (1977): 79-100; Archibald Cox, "The Supreme Court and Abortion," Human Life Review 2, no. 4 (1976): 15-19.
- Francis Canavan, "The Theory of the Danforth Case," Human Life Review 2, no. 4 (1976): 5-14.
- Legal Defense Fund Newsletter no. 61 (June, 1977): 1-6.
- For the text of Harris v. McCrae, see the Journal of Church and State 22, no.3 (1980): 575-95.
- Joseph Fletcher, The Ethics of Genetic Control (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1974).
- Ibid., pp.15, 16.
- Ibid., pp.119, 121.
- This approach was argued by Fletcher in his earlier work, Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966).
- Fletcher, Ethics of Genetic Control, p.135.
- Ibid., p.137.
- Ibid., p.139.
- Ibid., pp.138, 139.
- Ibid., p.142. For similar conclusions, cf. Garrett Hardin, Mandatory Motherhood (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974).
- Norman Geisler, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971). Other writers who hold the "indications" position include Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality (New York: Macmillan, 1970); R.F.R. Gardner, Abortion: The Personal Dilemma (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1974; Harmon L. Smith, Ethics and the New Medicine (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970).
- Geisler, Ethics, p.218.
- The rather complicated questions of translation and interpretation surrounding Exodus 21:22-25 are discussed in some detail in chapter four of this volume. Geisler apparently has not taken fully into account other possible interpretations of this text.
- Geisler, Ethics, p.118
- Ibid., p.219
- Ibid., p.220.
- Ibid., p.221.
- Ibid., p.222. Evidently, Geisler no longer considers Downs Syndrome ("Mongolism") a justification for abortion.
- Ibid., p.225.
- Ibid., p.222.
- Ibid., p.222,223.
- Ibid., p.223.
- Ibid., p.224.
- Ibid., p.225.
- Ibid., p.226.
- Harold O.J. Brown, Death Before Birth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1977). Other evangelicals holding this general position include Clifford E. Bajema, Abortion and the Meaning of Personhood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974); C. Everett Koop, The Right to Live: the Right to Die (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1976); C.C. Ryrie, You Mean the Bible Teaches That . . . (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974); Meredith G. Kline, "Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20, no.3 (1977): 193-202; Donald Shoemaker, Abortion, the Bible, and the Christian (Cincinnati: Hayes, 1976); Bruce Waltke, "Reflections from the Old Testament on Abortion," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19, no.1 (1976): 5-13. For an excellent exegetical study, cf. John Frame et al., "Report of the Committe to Study the Matter of Abortion," Agenda, 38th General Assembly, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1971, pp.90-110. This position is also the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. See John T. Noonan, ed., The Morality of Abortion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), pp.1-39; John Connery, Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1977). Also representative of this point of view are Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sancity of Life (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1975); Thomas W. Hilgers and Dennis J. Horan, eds., Abortion and Social Justice (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1972); Paul Ramsey, "The Sanctity of Life: In the First of It," Dublin Review 241 (1967-68): 3-23; Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke, Handbook on Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes, 1975).
- Brown, Death Before Birth, p.119.
- Ibid., p.120.
- Ibid., p.122.
- Ibid., p.126.
- Ibid., p.127. Some of the criticisms raised against this way of reading the texts, e.g., the objection that such a reading does not take into account the metaphorical language of the Psalms, will be examined in chapter four of this volume.
- Cited in ibid., p.134.
- Ibid., p.135.
- Ibid., p.136.
- Ibid., pp.146, 147.
- For the information in this section I am indebted to Andre Hellegers, "Fetal Development," Theological Studies 31 (1970): 3-9; C.R. Austin, "The Egg and Fertilization," Science Journal 6 (1970):37-42; E.C. Amoroso, "Development of the Early Embryo," Science Journal 6 (1970): 59-64; Bart T. Heffernan, "The Early Biography of Everyman," and Albert W. Liley, "The Foetus in Control of His Environment," in Hilgers and Horan, eds., Abortion and Social Justice (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1972), pp. 3-36.
- California Medicine 113, no.3 (1970), reprinted in The Human Life Review 1, no.1 (1975): 103-4.
- R. Houwink, Data: Mirrors of Science (1970), pp. 104-90, cited by Heffernan, "Early Biography of Everyman," p.4.
- The active nature of the unborn child is detailed in Liley, "Fetus in Control." pp. 27-36.
- This Latin term is used in medicine to refer to the unborn child from approximately eight weeks until birth. Since it has tended to depersonalize the unborn in the abortion debate, many prefer to use the terminology "unborn child," which more accurately communicates the real genetic and physiological continuity of prenatal and postnatal human life.
- Cited by Heffernan, "Early Biography of Everyman," p.15.
- Ibid., p.17.
- Arnold Gesell, The Embryology of Behavior (1945), cited by Heffernan, "Early Biography of Everyman," pp. 17, 18.
- H.M. Liley, Modern Motherhood (1969), cited by Heffernan, "Early Biography of Everyman," p.18.
- Much of the information in this section is drawn from David N. Danforth, ed., Textbook of Obstetrics and Gynecology (New York: Harper and Rowe, 1971); Jack Pritchard and Paul McDonald, Williams' Obstetrics (New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1976); C. Everett Koop, The Right to Live: the Right to Die (Wheaton, Ill.:Tyndale House, 1976); J.C. Willke, Handbook on Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes, 1975).
- J.A. Stallworthy et al., "Legal Abortion: A Critical Assessment of Its Risks," Lancet, December 4, 1976, p. 1245.
- Peter J. Moberg, "Uterine Perforation in Connection with Vacuum Aspiration for Legal Abortion," International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics 14 (1976):77.
- Pritchard and McDonald, Williams' Obstetrics, p. 500.
- Ibid., p. 504.
- Danforth, Obstetrics and Gynecology, p. 354.
- Pritchard and McDonald, Williams' Obstetrics, p. 505.
- Ibid., p. 503.
- M.I Ragab, D.A. Edelman, "Early Termination of Pregnancy: A Comparative Study of Intrauterine Prostaglandin F2a and Vacuum Aspiration," Prostaglandins 2, no. 2 (1976): 275-83.
- Pritchard and McDonald, Williams' Obstetrics, p. 505.
- Stallworthy et al., "Legal Abortion: Its Risks," p. 1245.
- Fred E. Mecklenberg, "Indications for Induced Abortion," in Hilgers and Horan, Abortion and Social Justice, p.39.
- Lawrence C. Kolb, Noyes' Modern Clinical Psychiatry (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1968), p. 447.
- R. Bruce Sloane, "The Unwanted Pregnancy," New England Journal of Medicine 280, no. 22 (1969): 1207.
- Ibid. The study cited is K. Hook, "Refused Abortion," Acta Psychiat.Scandinav. 39 (Supp. 168): 1-156, 1963.
- Mecklenberg, "Indications for Induced Abortion," p. 40.
- N.M. Cogan, "A Medical Social Worker Looks at the New Abortion Law," British Medical Journal 2, (1968): 235.
- E.W. Page, C.A. Villee and D.B. Villee, Human Reproduction (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1976), p. 394.
- Robert E. Nesbitt, Jr., "Coincidental Medical Disorders Complicating Pregnancy," in Danforth, Obstetrics and Gynecology, p. 435.
- Page, Villee and Villee, Human Reproduction, p. 396.
- Ibid., pp. 396, 399.
- Ibid., p. 394.
- R. Illsley and M.H. Hall, "Psychosocial Aspects of Abortion," Bulletin of the World Health Organization 53, no. 1 (1976): 89.
- See Thomas W. Hilgers and Dennis O'Hare in New Perspectives on Human Abortion (Frederick, Md.: University Publications, 1981), pp. 69-91. Willard Cates, Jr. et al., "Legal Abortion Mortality in the United States," Journal of the American Medical Association 237, no. 5 (1977): 452-55, argues that induced abortion in the first trimester is almost nine times safer than childbirth. While Cates and his coworkers have attempted a comprehensive data search, he admits that "we cannot be certain that all deaths related to legal abortion have been reported" (p.452). This leaves open the possibility that the actual maternal death rate from abortion is significantly higher than concluded in the study.
- Stallworthy et al., "Legal Abortion: Its Risks," p.1245.
- Stafanos N. Pantelakis et al., "Influence of Induced and Spontaneous Abortions on the Outcome of Subsequent Pregnancies," American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 116, no. 6 (1973): 799.
- D. Trichopoulos et al., "Induced Abortion and Secondary Infertility," British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 83 (1976): 645.
- S. Harlap and A.M. Davies, "Late Sequelae of Induced Abortions: Complications and Outcome of Pregnancy and Labor," American Journal of Epidemiology 102, no. 3 (1975): 217.
- J. Jurukovski and L. Sukarov, "A Critical Review of Legal Abortion," International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 9, no. 3 (1971): 115.
- Alfred Kotasek, "Artificicial Termination of Pregnancy in Czechoslovakia," International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 9, no. 3 (1971): 119.
- B. Beric et al., "Accidents and Sequaelae of Medical Abortions," American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 116, no. 6 (1973): 813-21.
- Gerhard von Rad, commenting on Gen. 9:6, observes: "Attack on man's body is a violation of God's honor."
- James 3:8-10
- Cf. G.C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, trans. Dirk Jellema (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), pp. 67-118, and Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1952), pp. 75-78 for reviews of the various interpretations.
- Cf. Berkouwer, Man, pp. 59, 93: "In all his relations and acts, he is never man-in-himself, but always man in relation, in relation to this history of God's deeds in creation, to this origin of an inalienable relation to his Creator. . . .if we seek to define man merely in terms of various qualities and abilities, we are not giving a biblical picture of man."
- Cf. Joseph Fletcher, "Ethical Aspects of Genetic Controls," New England Journal of Medicine 285 (1971): 781.
- Cf. Q.99 of the Westminster Larger Catechism: ". . .where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded. . . ."
- Cf. Q.135, Westminster Larger Catechism: "The duties required in the sixth commandment are: all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others, by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to be unjust taking away the life of any. . . ."
- Note the suggestion of Nobel Laureate James Watson on the matter of newborn children with severe birth defects: "If a child were not declared alive until three days after birth, then all parents could be allowed the choice. . . .the doctor could allow the child to die if the parents so choose and save a lot of misery and suffering." Cited by Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke, Handbook on Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes, 1975:, p.113.
- Edward R. Dalglish, Psalm Fify-One in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Patternism (Leiden:E.J. Brill, 1962), p. 121.
- Waltke, "Reflections from the Old Testament on Abortion," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19, no. 1 (1976): 13; Dalglish, Psalm Fifty-One, pp.123, 124.
- Dalglish, Psalm Fifty-One, p. 57.
- Ibid., p. 124. Dalglish points out that the notion of the moral law as a natural endowment is found elsewhere in Rom.2:15, where Paul says of the Gentiles that "What the law requires is written on their hearts." Though the Gentiles do not have the law, on occasion they "do by nature what the law requires" (Rom.2:14). There the idea is clearly that man's moral sense is not merely the product of postnatal socialization, but is in some sense innate. Dalglish also points to an interesting Talmudic text, Nidda 30b, which is closely related to the proposed rendering of Ps. 51:6: "[The embryo] is also taught all the Torah from the beginning to end. . . . As soon as it sees the light, an angel approaches, slaps it on its mouth and causes it to forget all the Torah completely . . ." (p.125).
- For similar retrospective references to prenatal development, cf. Job 10:8-12; 2 Macc.7:22,23. Eccles. 11:5 indicates the sense of wonder felt by the Hebrews in connection with God's creative activity in the womb.
- Albert W. Liley, "The foetus in Control of His Environment," in Hilgers and Horan, eds., Abortion and Social Justice ( New York: Sheed and Ward, 1972), p. 29.
- F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Book of Job, trans. F. Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 1:166.
- A.B. Davidson, cited by H.H. Rowley, ed., Job: The New Century Bible (London: Nelson, 1970), p.102.
- Norman Habel, The Book of Job (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p.59.
- E.M. Good, "Love in the Old Testament," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1962), 3:167.
- Meredith G. Kline, "Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20, no.3 (1977): 193-202.
- Position 1, the "miscarriage" interpretation, is followed by the Latin Vulgate, Martin Luther's German Bible, the RSV, the NEB, and by modern interpreters such as J.C. Rylaarsdaam and Bruce Waltke (Rylaarsdaam, The Interpreter's Bible, ed. George Buttrick [New York: Abingdon, 1952], 1:999-1000; Waltke, "Old Testament on Abortion," p.3, n.3). Waltke, however, pointing to the accidental nature of the alleged miscarriage, does not draw the conclusion that the unborn child is less than a human being on the basis of the nonimposition of the capital penalty. As previously noted, he argues in fact that the imago Dei is present from conception.
- Cf. Calvin, Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses, trans. C. Bingham (reprinted Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 3:41-42; Keil and Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Volume 2, The Pentateuch, trans. J. Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), pp. 134, 135): U. Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus, trans. I. Abrahams(Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967), pp. 273-77; Harold Brown, "What the Supreme Court Didn't Know," Human Life Review 1, no.2 (1975):8-11; Donald Shoemaker, Abortion, the Bible, and the Christian (Cincinnati: Hayes, 1976), pp. 37-39; Jack Cottrell, "Abortion and the Mosaic Law," Christianity Today, March 16, 1973, pp. 6-9; C.C. Ryrie, "The Question of Abortion," in You Mean the Bible Teaches That. . . (Chicago: Moody, 1974), pp. 86-88; John Frame et al., "Report of the Committee to Study the Matter of Abortion," Agenda: 38th General Assembly, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1971), pp. 94-98. Bernard Jackson, "The Problem of Exod. 21:22-5," Vetus Testamentum 23 (1973: 273-304, holds that v. 22 originally referred to a premature live birth, but that through a long process of redaction the meaning of the entire passage has been substantially changed.
- Gen. 25:25-26; 35:11; 38:28-30; Exod. 1:5; Deut. 28:57; 2 Sam. 16:11; 1 Chron. 1:12; Job 1:21; 3:11; Eccles. 5:15; Jer. 20:18. Num. 12:12 indicates the birth of a stillborn child.
- Kline, "Lex Talionis."
- In the following discussion I am indebted to G.C. Berkouwer, Man; H. Wheeler Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1926); John A.T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Anthropology (London: SCM, 1952); Edmond Jacob, "psuche," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1974), 9:608-31; N. W. Porteous, "Soul," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible IV (1962), 4:428-29; George H. Williams, "Religious Residues and Presuppositions in the American Debate on Abortion," Theological Studies 31, no. 1 (1970): 10-75. Berkouwer and Williams have helpful discussions on the questions of ensoulment and the creationist-traducianist debate.
- For a survey of the various positions, and a helpful philosophical analysis of the concept of personhood, see Gabriel Pastrana, "Personhood and the Beginning of Human Life." Thomist 41, no. 2 (1977):247-94.
- J. A. T. Robinson, The Body, p. 14. Robinson cites in this connection the famous statement of H. Wheeler Robinson: "The Hebrew idea of the personality is an animated body, and not an incarnated soul."
- Jacob, "Psuche,", p. 631.
- Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, trans. D. Stalker (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 1:145. Cf. Berkouwer, Man, p. 75: "It is very noteworthy . . . that there has been an increasing reluctance to exclude man's body from the image of God -- and exclusion generally supported previously, when theologians sought the content of the image in man's 'higher' qualities, in contrast to the 'lower' bodily qualities which should not be considered in connection with the image."
- Berkouwer, Man, p.205.
- Herman Ridderbox, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. J. de Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 116.
- In this section I am indebted to the article by Graham A.D. Scott, "Abortion and the Incarnation," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17 (1974):29-44.
- Calvin comments on these words as follows: "She calls Mary the mother of her Lord. This denotes a unity of person in the two natures of Christ; as if she had said, that he who has begotten a mortal man in the womb of Mary is, at the same time, the eternal God" (Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists [Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers, n.d.], p.23).
- In the rare case of identical twins complete individuality may not be present from the time of conception. In such cases the zygote on the seventh or eighth day undergoes "segmentation: and divides into two identical parts. The definition of person proposed above, however, is framed in light of the general case, rather than the exception. For a detailed analysis of the philosophical use of the term "person," see Gabriel Pastrana, "Personhood and the Beginning of Human Life," Thomist 41, no. 2 (1977):247-94.
- Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood, trans. R. Baldick (New York: Vintage, 1965), pp. 38-39, cited by James M. Humber, "The Case Against Abortion," Thomist 39, no. 1 (1975):75.
- Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D., "Human Reproduction," Theological Studies 38, no. 1 (1977): 136-52.
- Ibid., p. 148.
- Paul Ramsey, "Points in Deciding About Abortion," in John T. Noonan, ed., The Morality of Abortion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 84.
- Germain Grisez and Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., "Life, Death and Liberty," Human Life Review 4, no. 4 (1978):67.
- F. Mecklenburg, "Indications for Induced Abortion," in Hilgers and Horan, eds., Abortion and Social Justice (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1972), p. 48.
- Ibid., p. 49.
- Ibid., pp. 49, 50.
- John Fletcher, "Attitudes toward Defective Newborns," Hastings Center Studies 2, no. 1 (1974): 27.
- Frederick Ausubel, Jon Beckwith, and Kaaren Janssen, "The Politics of Genetic Engineering: Who Decides Who's Defective?" Psychology Today, June, 1974, pp. 30ff.
- Mecklenburg, "Indications for Induced Abortion," p. 42.
- Ibid., p. 47.
- Cited by ibid., p. 43.
- R.F.R. Gardner, Abortion: The Personal Dilemma (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming Revell, 1974), p. 210.
- C. Everett Koop, The Right to Live: the Right to Die (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 176), pp. 51, 52.
- Cited in Gardner, Abortion: The Personal Dilemma, p. 204.
- Presbyterian Journal, March 9, 1983, pp. 6,7.
- Cf. Peter Skerry, "Defending the Family," Human Life Review 4, no. 4 (1978): 34-41.
- Erma Craven, "Abortion, Poverty, and Black Genocide," in Hilgers and Horan, Abortion and Social Justice, p. 239.
- Joseph Lelyveld, "The New Sexual Revolution," New York Times Magazine, July 1977, p. 2.
- Reported in the Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle, May 18, 1977, p. 26.
- P.A. Sorokin, The American Sexual Revolution (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1956), pp. 91-130.
- This thesis is argued in some detail in George F. Gilder, Sexual Suicide (New York: New York Times Book Co., 1973).
- N. Geisler, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), p. 225.
- N.M. Cogan, "A Medical Social Worker Looks at the New Abortion Law," British Medical Journal 2 (1968): 235.
- Mary Breasted, "Baby Brokers Reaping Huge Fees," New York Times, June 28, 1977, p. 1.
- See John Connery, Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1977), for a comprehensive historical overview of the Roman Catholic position.
- Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968), p. 166.
- "How Many Babies Is Too Many?" Newsweek, July 25, 1962, p. 27.
- "Population Implosion," Newsweek, December 6, 1976, p. 58.
- "Earthwatch," New Age, May, 1978, p. 20.
- "The Graying of America," Newsweek, February 28, 1977, p. 51.
- Ibid., p. 52.
- This is detailed in James A Weber, Grow or Die (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1977), pp. 41-68.
- Cf. Arthur J. Dyck, "Is Abortion Necessary to Solve Population Problems?" in Hilgers and Horan, Abortion and Social Justice, pp. 159-76. Dyck concludes that other alternatives are preferable to abortion, both for the individual and for the society.
- Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality (New York: Macmillan, 1970), pp. 132, 133.
- Cited by J.C. Willke, Handbook on Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes, 1975), p. 105.
- Koop, Right to Live, p. 69.
- Willke, Handbook on Abortion, p. 106.
- Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality, p. 134.
- Dr. Andre Helleger's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, April 25, 1974; reprinted by the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment Washington, D.C.
- Hilgers and Horan, Abortion and Social Justice, p. 66.
- Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sancity of Life (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1975).
- This thesis is vigorously argued in Harold O.J. Brown, The Reconstruction of the Republic (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1977), pp. 114-29.
- Quoted in "Abortion Under Attack," Newsweek, June 5, 1978, p. 37.
- Cited in John T. Noonan, Jr., "Should Congress Investigate the Treasury's Funding of Abortion?" Human Life Review 4, no. 2 (1978): 15. The present chapter is indebted to this very helpful article for information concerning the litigation pertaining to the Hyde Amendment.
- Ibid., p. 17.
- Ibid., pp. 11-21.
- Maher v. Roe No. 75-1440, cited in Legal Defense Fund Newsletter no. 6, June, 1977, p. 1.
- Ibid., p. 2.
- Ibid., p. 3.
- Ibid., p. 4.
- Ibid., p. 5.
- Lex Vitae 1, no. 1 (1977): 1.
- Noonan, "Should Congress Investigate the Treasury's Funding of Abortion?", p. 19.
- Quoted in Lifeletter, March 8, 1977, pp. 1,2
- "Abortion Under Attack," p. 42.
- Lifeletter, June 16, 1978, p. 1.
- Senator Jesse Helms, "A Human Life Amendment," The Human Life Review 3, no. 2 (1977): 22.
- Ibid., p. 23.
- Sam J. Ervin, Jr., "The Convention Method of Amending the Constitution," Human Life Review 3, no. 2 (1977): 51, reprinted from the Michigan Law Review 66, no. 5 (1968).
- Ibid., p. 55.
- David W. Louisell, "The Burdick Proposal: A Life-Support Amendment," Human Life Review 1, no. 4 (1975): 10.
- Robert M. Byrn, "A Human Life Amendment: What Would It Mean?" Human Life Review 1, no. 2 (1975): 53.
- Cited in Human Life Review 1, no. 2 (1975): 102, 103. Other amendments have been proposed, but S.J.R. 6 and S.J.R. 11 listed here display the representative features of such amendments.
- Robert M. Byrn, "On the Objections to an Amendment," Human Life Review 2, no. 4 (1976): 126.
- Ibid., p. 127.
- Robert Byrn, "A Human Life Amendment: What Would It Mean?", Human Life Review 1, no. 2 (1975): 61.