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.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.