Commentary Religion

Biblical Abortion: A Christian’s View

Nynia Chance

It's commonly claimed that it's a Christian duty to abolish abortion, in accordance with a Biblical teaching that abortion is a sin. However, one Christian's reading of the Bible poses challenges to that assumption, instead turning up some eye-opening Biblical views on terminating a pregnancy.

The American version of the War on Women has been going on for quite some time, and one of the most long-standing fronts in this war is abortion. It’s an unpleasant topic that’s fraught with complexities and complications, so it’s been a frequent tool in dividing us into Pro- and Anti- camps of social warfare (and in the cases of murders of doctors and bombings of clinics, actual violent warfare).

The War on Women has been especially effective in getting many to feel as though Christians need to march in lockstep against the idea of allowing abortions of any type to ever be legal, to the point of criminalizing miscarriage, itself. Those who try to conscript religious Christians into this war do so under the argument that the Bible itself demands such a prohibition.

Except that it doesn’t. The Bible never once specifically forbids abortions; it’s actually quite the contrary! Not only were methods of abortion well-known at the time, there’s times when the Bible states God commands that one take place. I’m going to walk through a few examples as illustrations.

Tamar: Killing an Undesirable Pregnancy

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In Genesis 38, we have the story of Tamar, from whom king David descended. She was the widow of Judah’s oldest son, Er, who had died without fathering any children. In accordance with the law, it fell to his next-oldest brother Onan to give Tamar children who would belong posthumously to Er. Onan pretended to agree to avoid being disinherited and publicly humiliated, but then he “spilled his seed” so he didn’t have to father any sons that would belong to his dead brother, not him. This sin of selfishness was so great that Onan then was put to death. (We’ll get into this one another time when we talk about birth control, by the way.)

Even though the law then mandated that the third and final son was to fulfill husbandly duties to Tamar, Judah made an excuse that the son was too young, and postponed the marriage indefinitely. Tamar, on the other hand, still felt that it was her responsibility to produce heirs for Er, and that it was Judah’s responsibility to make that happen. This was one of the families of Israel, and it was at risk of dying out without any heirs to carry it onward; Tamar wasn’t going to let that happen on her watch. So during a major feast, she dressed up in a disguise of a Sacred Prostitute, from the local shrines where women invited men to join with them in honoring the Divine Feminine through an enactment of the Male-Female Sacred Union. (More on this when we talk about homosexuality.) Judah took this supposed roadside harlot up on this offer, even giving her the tokens she requested for the union.

When Tamar was found to have been pregnant from harlotry, well, there was only one thing for it! Judah proclaimed that she had to be put to death in accordance with the law, and the unborn child right along with her. Since she was the daughter of a priest (Melchizedek, I believe), rather than being stoned, she’d be granted burning, with molten metal being poured down her throat for a quicker death than being hit with rocks. Now remember that Judah knew that he’d been with a Sacred Prostitute even if he didn’t know it was Tamar, so just contemplate the level of hypocrisy at work here. It wasn’t until Tamar produced the tokens he’d given her that he realized the baby was his, and stayed the execution.

So in this story, I see the Bible saying that killing an unborn child is necessary when it’s not a child conceived in a way the mother’s society wants. Also, that the mother should die along with it, because of engaging in an act the sentencer himself had done.

Hosea: Progeny of the Rebellious Shall Not be Born

In the book of Hosea, we have the prophet relaying a message from God, saying what will happen to the Israelites who had rebelled as punishment for their transgressions. In Hosea 9:14, we are told God will cause the deaths of the unborn, as he will “give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.” In Hosea 13:16 it is proclaimed:

Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”

In Isaiah 7:20 and 10:5, it is stated that the Assyrians will be used by God as the means of implementing these punishments. In 2 Kings it describes how they fulfilled this role:

  • 8:12 And Hazael (future king of Syria) said, Why weepeth my lord? And he (Elisha) answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.

  • 15:16 (Then Menahem smote Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof from Tirzah: because they opened not to him, therefore he smote it; and all the women therein that were with child he ripped up.

So in this series of scripture, I read the Bible saying that violently ripping the unborn from the womb is a just and worthy retribution if their parents were considered to have rebelled against God.

Sotah: Abortion-Inducing Potion due to Husband’s Jealousy

In Numbers 5, we have instructions given by God to Moses regarding situations where a husband is fiercely jealous of his wife, and there aren’t witnesses to prove whether she did or did not have an affair. She is to be taken before the priest who will mix up a potion and have her swear an oath of cursing before drinking it. “And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.” Otherwise, in poetic terms, it is described that she will lose the baby, by judgment of God.

As an aside, one interesting thing about the ritual of the Sotah is that it’s believed the woman was put before the court with her hair loose and stripped bare to the waist, treated like the “harlot” she was accused to be even before the “bitter waters” proclaimed her guilt or innocence.

So in this ritual, I see the Bible saying that if a husband is seriously jealous, his wife should be made to take a drink that will cause an abortion if she slept with another man (regardless of whose child it is).

Causing a Miscarriage: Mere Property Loss

The latest push in the War on Women has been to declare that anyone who causes the loss of a pregnancy shall be guilty of murder. This has resulted in young women who have suffered a miscarriage to endure the further torment of being arrested and jailed for the tragedy. However, the Bible didn’t treat miscarriage as murder, regardless of intent. Rather, it was treated as a property loss by the father, punishable by whatever fine the judges felt was appropriate.

This is spelled out in Exodus 21:22-25: If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Now there are those who try to say that the fruit departing just means a premature birth and mischief is whether the child is lost or not, but the ambiguity is gone when you review more direct translations than the poetic euphemisms of the King James Version.  For example, from the Complete Jewish Bible

22 “If people are fighting with each other and happen to hurt a pregnant woman so badly that her unborn child dies, then, even if no other harm follows, he must be fined. He must pay the amount set by the woman’s husband and confirmed by judges. 23 But if any harm follows, then you are to give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.

Note that Exodus 21 also deals with when a man beats his servants, saying he’ll be punished only if the servant dies within a couple days. If they linger on, clinging at death’s door before finally perishing from their wounds, the man is blameless. This whole chapter makes it clear to me that the ancient biblical law is hardly unwavering in a declaration that “all life is sacred and must be preserved”, as many claim. But then many of the same people who would prosecute a woman for a miscarriage are also proponents of War and using Execution as a punishment for those convicted of certain crimes. Just saying.

Summary: The Bible is Not Anti-Abortion

My conclusion as a Christian is that the Bible is not anti-abortion. Rather, there is a non-Biblically-based movement that pretends to use the Bible as its justification for attacking women who do not carry a pregnancy to term (even if it was an unintended loss).

Now, even though we just covered some cases where the Bible actively advocates and even commands the loss of the unborn, there will be those who want to overlook them and claim that the Bible still prohibits abortion. Their argument is that we are commanded Thou Shalt Not Kill (‘rasach’, which is extra-legal killing or murder), and that the Bible teaches us that Life Begins at Conception. We’ll deal with that in my next installment, but here’s a spoiler: as a devout reader of the Bible, I see it another way.

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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Commentary Violence

When It Comes to Threats, Online or on the Campaign Trail, It’s Not Up to Women to ‘Suck It Up’

Lauren Rankin

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric is nothing new for this election. In fact, the Republican presidential candidate has made an entire campaign out of it. But during a rally last Tuesday, Donald Trump sunk to a new level. He lamented that if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, there will be no way to stop her from making judicial nominations.

He said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

For a candidate marred by offensive comment after offensive comment, this language represents a new low, because, as many immediately explained, Trump appears to be making a veiled threat against Clinton, whether he had intended to or not.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called it a “death threat” and Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News host, called it a “direct threat of violence against a political rival.” Former President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis said it was “horrifying,” and even the author of an NRA-linked blog initially tweeted, “That was a threat of violence. As a real supporter of the #2A it’s appalling to me,” before deleting the tweet as the NRA expressed support for Trump.

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This kind of language is violent in nature on its face, but it is also gendered, following in a long line of misogynistic rhetoric this election season. Chants of “kill the bitch” and “hang the bitch” have become common at Trump rallies. These aren’t solely examples of bitter political sniping; these are overt calls for violence.

When women speak out or assert ourselves, we are challenging long-held cultural norms about women’s place and role in society. Offensively gendered language represents an attempt to maintain the status quo. We’ve seen this violent rhetoric online as well. That isn’t an accident. When individuals throw pejorative terms at those of who refuse to be silenced, they are attempting to render public spaces, online or on the campaign trail, unsafe for us.

There is no shortage of examples demonstrating how individuals who feel threatened by subtle power shifts happening in our society have pushed back against those changes. The interactions happening online, on various social media platforms, offer the most vivid examples of the ways in which people are doing their best to try to make public spaces as uncomfortable as possible for marginalized populations.

Social media offers the opportunity for those whose voices are routinely ignored to hold power in a new way. It is a slow but real shift from old, more traditional structures of privileging certain voices to a more egalitarian megaphone, of sorts.

For marginalized populations, particularly women of color and transgender women, social media can provide an opportunity to be seen and heard in ways that didn’t exist before. But it also means coming up against a wall of opposition, often represented in a mundane but omnipresent flow of hatred, abuse, and violent threats from misogynist trolls.

The internet has proven to be a hostile place for women. According to a report from the United Nations, almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. As someone who has received threats of violence myself, I know what it feels like to have sharing your voice met with rage. There are women who experience this kind of violent rhetoric to an even greater degree than I could ever dream.

The list of women who have been inundated with threats of violence could go on for days. Women like Zerlina Maxwell, who was showered with rape threats after saying that we should teach men not to rape; Lindy West received hundreds upon hundreds of violent and threatening messages after she said that she didn’t think rape jokes were funny; Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, was driven off of Twitter after a coordinated attack of racist, sexist, and violent language against her.

And yet, rarely are such threats taken seriously by the broader community, including by those able to do something about it.

Many people remain woefully unaware of how cruel and outright scary it can be for women online, particularly women with prolific digital profiles. Some simply refuse to see it as a real issue, declaring that “It’s just the internet!” and therefore not indicative of potential physical violence. Law enforcement doesn’t even have a solution, often unwilling to take these threats seriously, as Amanda Hess found out.

This kind of response is reflected in those who are trying to defend Donald Trump after the seemingly indefensible. Despite the overwhelming criticism from many, including some renowned Republicans, we have also seen some Trump supporters try to diminish or outright erase the violent aspect of this clearly threatening rhetoric. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani have both said that they assumed Trump meant get rid of her “by voting.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that it “sounds like just a joke gone bad.”

The violent nature of Donald Trump’s comments seem apparent to almost everyone who heard him. To try to dismiss it as a “joke” or insist that it is those who are offended that are wrong is itself harmful. This is textbook gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse in which a victim’s reality is eroded by telling them that what they experienced isn’t true.

But gaslighting has played a major role in Donald Trump’s campaign, with some of his supporters insisting that it is his critics who are overreacting—that it is a culture of political correctness, rather than his inflammatory and oppressive rhetoric, that is the real problem.

This is exactly what women experience online nearly every day, and we are essentially told to just suck it up, that it’s just the internet, that it’s not real. But tell that to Jessica Valenti, who received a death and rape threat against her 5-year-old daughter. Tell that to Anita Sarkeesian, who had to cancel a speech at Utah State after receiving a death threat against her and the entire school. Tell that to Brianna Wu, a game developer who had to flee her home after death threats. Tell that to Hillary Clinton, who is trying to make history as the first woman president, only to have her life threatened by citizens, campaign advisers, and now through a dog whistle spoken by the Republican presidential candidate himself.

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump’s rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Language matters. When that language is cruel, aggressive, or outright violent, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it doesn’t come without consequences. There is a reason that it is culturally unacceptable to say certain words like “cunt” and other derogatory terms; they have a history of harm and oppression, and they are often directly tied to acts of violence. When someone tweets a woman “I hope your boyfriend beats you,” it isn’t just a trolling comment; it reflects the fact that in the United States, more women are killed by intimate partners than by any other perpetrator, that three or more women die every day from intimate partner violence. When Donald Trump not only refuses to decry calls of violence and hate speech at his rallies but in fact comes across as threatening his female opponent, it isn’t just an inflammatory gaffe; it reflects the fact that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Threats of violence have no place in presidential campaigns, but they also have no place online, either. Until we commit ourselves to rooting out violent language against women and to making public spaces safer and more accommodating for women and all marginalized people, Trump’s comments are just par for the course.

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