Arguments Against Abortion
Biblical Arguments Against Abortion
In this essay we will be discussing arguments against abortion. The first
set of arguments we will consider are biblical arguments.
That being said, we must begin by acknowledging that the Bible doesn't
say anything about abortion directly. Why the silence of the Bible on
abortion? The answer is simple. Abortion was so unthinkable to an
Israelite woman that there was no need to even mention it in the criminal
code. Why was abortion an unthinkable act? First, children were viewed as
a gift or heritage from the Lord. Second, the Scriptures state--and the
Jews concurred--that God opens and closes the womb and is sovereign over
conception. Third, childlessness was seen as a curse.
One of the key verses to understand in developing a biblical view of
the sanctity of human life is Psalm 139. This psalm is the inspired record
of David's praise for God's sovereignty in his life. He begins by
acknowledging that God is omniscient and knows what David is doing at any
given point in time. He goes on to acknowledge that God is aware of
David's thoughts before he expresses them. David adds that wherever he
might go, he cannot escape from God, whether he travels to heaven or
ventures into Sheol. God is in the remotest part of the sea and even in
the darkness. Finally David contemplates the origin of his life and
confesses that God was there forming him in the womb.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's
womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works
are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the
depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained
for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (vv.
Here David speaks of God's relationship with him while he was growing
and developing before birth. Notice that the Bible doesn't speak of fetal
life as mere biochemistry. The description here is not of a piece of
protoplasm that becomes David: this is David already being cared for by
God while in the womb.
In verse 13, we see that God is the Master Craftsman fashioning David
into a living person. In verses 14 and 15, David reflects on the fact that
he is a product of God's creative work within his mother's womb, and he
praises God for how wonderfully God has woven him together.
David draws a parallel between his development in the womb and Adam's
creation from the earth. Using figurative language in verse 15, he refers
to his life before birth when "I was made in secret, and skillfully
wrought in the depths of the earth." This poetic allusion harkens
back to Genesis 2:7 which says that Adam was made from the dust of the
David also notes that "Thine eyes have seen my unformed
substance." This shows that God knew David even before he was known
to others. The term translated unformed substance is a noun
derivative of a verb meaning "to roll up." When David was just
forming as a fetus, God's care and compassion already extended to him. The
reference to "God's eyes" is an Old Testament term used to
connotate divine oversight of God in the life of an individual or group of
Next, we will consider additional Old Testament passages that provide a
biblical argument against abortion.
Additional Old Testament Arguments Against Abortion
Now that we've looked at Psalm 139, the most popular argument against
abortion, let's look at two other Old Testament passages.
Another significant passage is Psalm 51. It was written by David after
his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and records his repentance. David
confesses that his sinful act demonstrated the original sin that was
within him, "Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the
time my mother conceived me" (Ps. 5l:5). David concludes that from
his time of conception, he had a sin nature. This would imply that he
carried the image of God from the moment of conception, including the
marred image scarred from sin.
Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen.
1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6). Bearing the image of God is the essence of humanness.
And though God's image in man was marred at the Fall, it was not erased
(cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). Thus, the unborn baby is made in the image
of God and therefore fully human in God's sight.
This verse also provides support for what is called the traducian view
of the origin of the soul. According to this perspective, human beings
were potentially in Adam (Rom. 5:12, Heb. 7:9-10) and thus participated in
his original sin. The "soulish" part of humans is transferred
through conception. Therefore, an unborn baby is morally accountable and
thus fully human.
Another argument against abortion can be found in the Old Testament
legal code, specifically Exodus 21:22-25.
If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth
prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined
whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there
is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for
tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound,
bruise for bruise.
The verses appear to teach that if a woman gives birth prematurely, but
the baby is not injured, then only a fine is appropriate. However, if the
child dies then the law of retaliation (lex talionis) should be applied.
In other words, killing an unborn baby would carry the same penalty as
killing a born baby. A baby inside the womb has the same legal status as a
baby outside the womb.
Some commentators have come to a different conclusion because they
believe the first verses only refer to a case of accidental miscarriage.
Since only a fine is levied, they argue that an unborn baby is merely
potential life and does not carry the same legal status as a baby that has
There are at least two problems with this interpretation. First, the
normal Hebrew word for miscarry is not used in this passage (cf.
Gen. 31:38; Exod. 23:26; Job 2:10; Hos. 9:14). Most commentators now
believe that the action described in verse 22 is a premature birth not an
accidental miscarriage. Second, even if the verses do describe a
miscarriage, the passage cannot be used to justify abortion. The injury
was accidental, not intentional (as abortion would be). Also, the action
was a criminal offense and punishable by law.
Medical Arguments Against Abortion
Thus far in our discussion we have looked at biblical arguments against
abortion. But what if someone doesn't believe in the Bible? Are there
other arguments we can use? Yes, there are: medical arguments, for
example. Let's look, then, at some of the medical arguments against
The medical arguments against abortion are compelling. For example, at
conception the embryo is genetically distinct from the mother. To say
that the developing baby is no different from the mother's appendix is
scientifically inaccurate. A developing embryo is genetically different
from the mother. A developing embryo is also genetically different from
the sperm and egg that created it. A human being has 46 chromosomes
(sometimes 47 chromosomes). Sperm and egg have 23 chromosomes. A trained
geneticist can distinguish between the DNA of an embryo and that of a
sperm and egg. But that same geneticist could not distinguish between the
DNA of a developing embryo and a full-grown human being.
Another set of medical arguments against abortion surround the
definition of life and death. If one set of criteria have been used to
define death, could they also be used to define life? Death used to be
defined by the cessation of heartbeat. A stopped heart was a clear sign of
death. If the cessation of heartbeat could define death, could the onset
of a heartbeat define life? The heart is formed by the 18th day in the
womb. If heartbeat was used to define life, then nearly all abortions
would be outlawed.
Physicians now use a more rigorous criterion for death: brain wave
activity. A flat EEG (electroencephalograph) is one of the most important
criteria used to determine death. If the cessation of brain wave activity
can define death, could the onset of brain wave activity define life?
Individual brain waves are detected in the fetus in about 40-43 days.
Using brain wave activity to define life would outlaw at least a majority
Opponents to abortion also raise the controversial issue of fetal pain.
Does the fetus feel pain during abortion? The evidence seems fairly clear
and consistent. Consider this statement made in a British medical journal:
"Try sticking an infant with a pin and you know what happens. She
opens her mouth to cry and also pulls away. Try sticking an 8-week-old
human fetus in the palm of his hand. He opens his mouth and pulls his hand
away. A more technical description would add that changes in heart rate
and fetal movement also suggest that intrauterine manipulations are
painful to the fetus."
Obviously, other medical criteria could be used. For example, the
developing fetus has a unique set of fingerprints as well as genetic
patterns that make it unique. The development of sonography has provided
us with a "window to the womb" showing us that a person is
growing and developing in the mother's womb. We can discern eyes, ears,
fingers, a nose, and a mouth. Our visual senses tell us this is a baby
growing and maturing. This is not a piece of protoplasm; this is a baby
inside the womb.
The point is simple. Medical science leads to a pro-life perspective
rather than a pro-choice perspective. If medical science can be used
at all to draw a line, the clearest line is at the moment of conception.
Medical arguments provide a strong case against abortion and for life.
Legal Arguments Against Abortion
At this point in our discussion, we need to look at legal arguments
The best legal argument against abortion can be seen in the case of Roe
v. Wade. It violated standard legal reasoning. The Supreme Court
decided not to decide when life begins and then turned around and
overturned the laws of 50 different states.
Most of the Supreme Court's verdict rested upon two sentences. "We
need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those
trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and
theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this
point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to
speculate as to an answer."
Although the sentences sounded both innocuous and unpretentious, they
were neither. The Supreme Court's non-decision was not innocuous. It
overturned state laws that protected the unborn and has resulted in over
30 million abortions (roughly the population of Canada) in the United
The decision also seems unpretentious by acknowledging that it did not
know when life begins. But if the Court did not know, then it should have
acted "as if" life was in the womb. A crucial role of government
is to protect life. Government cannot remove a segment of the human
population from its protection without adequate justification.
The burden of proof should lie with the life-taker, and the benefit of
the doubt should be with the life-saver. Put another way: "when in
doubt, don't." A hunter who hears rustling in the bushes shouldn't
fire until he knows what is in the bushes. Likewise, a Court which doesn't
know when life begins, should not declare open season on the unborn.
The burden of proof in law is on the prosecution. The benefit of doubt
is with the defense. This is also known as a presumption of innocence. The
defendant is assumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. Again the burden
of proof is on the entity that would take away life or liberty. The
benefit of the doubt lies with the defense.
The Supreme Court clearly stated that it does not know when life begins
and then violated the very spirit of this legal principle by acting as if
it just proved that no life existed in the womb. Even more curious was the
fact that to do so, it had to ignore the religious community and
international community on the subject of the unborn.
Had the religious community really failed to reach a consensus?
Although there were some intramural disagreements, certainly the weight of
evidence indicated that a Western culture founded on Judeo-Christian
values held abortion to be morally wrong. People with widely divergent
theological perspectives (Jewish, Catholic, evangelical and fundamental
Protestants) shared a common agreement about the humanity of the unborn.
The same could be said about the international legal community.
Physicians around the world subscribed to the Hippocratic Oath ("I
will not give a woman a pessary to produce abortion"). The unborn
were protected by various international documents like the Declaration of
Geneva and the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Just as there are solid medical arguments against abortion, so also
there are legal arguments against abortion. Roe vs. Wade was a bad
decision that needs to be overturned.
Philosophical Arguments Against Abortion
Finally, we will conclude our discussion by looking at philosophical
arguments against abortion.
A third set of arguments against abortion would be philosophical
arguments. A key philosophical question is where do you draw the line? Put
another way, when does a human being become a person?
The Supreme Court's decision of Roe v. Wade separated personhood
from humanity. In other words, the judges argued that a developing fetus
was a human (i.e., a member of the species Homo sapiens) but not a
person. Since only persons are given 14th Amendment protection under the
Constitution, the Court argued that abortion could be legal at certain
times. This left to doctors, parents, or even other judges the
responsibility of arbitrarily deciding when personhood should be awarded
to human beings.
The Supreme Court's cleavage of personhood and humanity made the
ethical slide down society's slippery slope inevitable. Once the Court
allowed people to start drawing lines, some drew them in unexpected ways
and effectively opened the door for infanticide and euthanasia.
The Court, in the tradition of previous line-drawers, opted for
biological criteria in their definition of a "person" in Roe
v. Wade. In the past, such criteria as implantation or quickening had
been suggested. The Court chose the idea of viability and allowed for the
possibility that states could outlaw abortions performed after a child was
viable. But viability was an arbitrary criterion, and there was no
biological reason why the line had to be drawn near the early stages of
development. The line, for example, could be drawn much later.
Ethicist Paul Ramsey frequently warned that any argument for abortion
could logically be also used as an argument for infanticide. As if to
illustrate this, Dr. Francis Crick, of DNA fame, demonstrated that he was
less concerned about the ethics of such logical extensions and proposed a
more radical definition of personhood. He suggested in the British journal
Nature that if "a child were considered to be legally born
when two days old, it could be examined to see whether it was an
'acceptable member of human society.'" Obviously this is not only an
argument for abortion; it's an argument for infanticide.
Other line-drawers have suggested a cultural criterion for personhood.
Ashley Montagu, for example, stated, "A newborn baby is not truly
human until he or she is molded by cultural influences later." Again,
this is more than just an argument for abortion. It is also an argument
More recently some line-drawers have focused on a mental criterion for
personhood. Dr. Joseph Fletcher argues in his book Humanhood that
"Humans without some minimum of intelligence or mental capacity are
not persons, no matter how many of these organs are active, no matter how
spontaneous their living processes are." This is not only an argument
for abortion and infanticide; it's adequate justification for euthanasia
and the potential elimination of those who do not possess a certain IQ. In
other writings, Joseph Fletcher suggested that an "individual"
was not truly a "person" unless he has an IQ of at least 40.
In conclusion, we can see that there are many good arguments against
abortion. Obviously there are a number of biblical arguments against
abortion. But there are also medical, legal, and philosophical arguments
against abortion. The Bible and logic are on the side of the Christian who
wants to stand for the sanctity of human life.
© 1997 Probe Ministries International
About the Author
Kerby Anderson is the president of Probe Ministries
International. He received his B.S. from Oregon State University, M.F.S.
from Yale University, and M.A. from Georgetown University. He is the
author of several books, including Genetic Engineering, Origin Science,
Living Ethically in the 90s, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope, and Moral
Dilemmas. He also served as general editor for Marriage, Family and
He is a nationally syndicated columnist whose editorials have appeared
in the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the San
Jose Mercury, and the Houston Post.
He is the host of "Probe," and frequently serves as guest
host on "Point of View" (USA Radio Network). He can be reached
via e-mail at email@example.com.
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