Abortion is perhaps the central ethical issue of the past century.It’s a divisive issue, with strong feelings on both sides. The abortion issue has ties to myriad other cultural happenings, including the feminist movement and the sexual revolution starting in the 1960s, as well as political debates regarding the separation of church and state, the constitutional right to life, and the right to freedom of choice.
But we can’t let the emotion or the cultural context of this issue obscure the key question at hand: Is abortion a form of murder, i.e., the willful destruction of a living human person?
The usual assumption of those in favor of abortion is that what is being aborted is less than a living human being. So what we have to ask is:
- Is the fetus alive or not?
- Is the fetus human or not human?
The crux of the matter, then, is when does life begin?
For a longer discussion of the abortion issue and its history, check out chapter 13 in An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (by Ken Boa and Robert Bowman), available as an ebook.
The National Crisis in Ethics
When considering the question of when life begins, we inevitably run into another, much larger question: How does one determine what is right? What is morally right and what is legally right do not necessarily match up; sometimes an action that is legal is morally wrong, and sometimes a moral action is]against the law of a land. In the United States, the Constitution has functioned as an objective basis for our laws for three-plus centuries; however, in recent decades, its credibility as an objective norm has been eroded by relativism. Hence today’s confusion surrounding the constitutionality of abortion (among many other things).
We should err on the side of caution in something so delicate as human life. In biblical terms, the sanctity of human life is rooted and grounded in creation; mankind is not a cosmic accident destined for annihilation.
Abortion is an act against nature—the natural law of self-preservation. Fetuses are far more than “undifferentiated blobs of protoplasm,” “biological parasites,” or “so much domestic sewage.”
Abortion is an act against nature—specifically, the natural law of self-preservation.
The 1984 film The Silent Scream portrays the gruesome reality of the abortion process as it is taking place. The film, a powerful tool for pro-life advocates and criticized by those in favor of abortion, is emotionally provocative and inflammatory, precisely because what was once hidden from the human eye was made clearly visible on screen. The right of each person to life is viewed as both self-evident and inalienable; it is basic to all other human rights. (As a side note, in ancient cultures in which abortion was legal, infanticide was legal as well, and the Jewish and Christian communities outlawed both.)
When Does Life Begin?
Although the Bible offers no explicit statement that life begins at a certain point, Scripture assumes a continuity of life from before the time of birth to after the time of birth. Consider the following verses, for example:
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
As the late R.C. Sproul described it, there is clearly “a developmental continuum that moves from conception to birth.”1 The fetus looks and acts like a human person. The embryo has the genetic structure of a human person and the vital signs of a human person.
But suppose it cannot be proven definitively that a fetus is an actual living human person; there is still no doubt that it is at least a potential living human person. And if there is any uncertainty, then the choice between a possible-evil option and a no-evil option is clear. Thus, before an abortion is sought, a person must have compelling ethical justification to back it up, and if there is any doubt, an abortion should not be considered.
As President Ronald Reagan famously said:
If we don’t know, then shouldn’t we morally opt on the side that is life? If you came upon an immobile body and you yourself could not determine whether it was dead or alive, I think that you would decide to consider it alive until someone could prove it was dead. You wouldn’t get a shovel and start covering it up. And I think we should do the same thing with regard to abortion.
Following are a few of the popular arguments for abortion along with their weaknesses and brief counter-arguments.
“You Can’t Legislate Morality”: There’s a weakness in this familiar argument for making abortion legal. Already, morality is legislated in laws against theft and murder, among countless other actions considered to be both morally and legally wrong. Furthermore, a fundamental concern of government law is the protection of the weak against the strong and powerful.
“Women Have a Right to Their Own Bodies”: This argument fails as well. The idea that a woman can do anything she pleases with her body is relative; it’s not an absolute right. There are things a woman, by law, is not allowed to do with her body. In addition, the fetus is not a part of the woman’s body. An unborn baby has a different genetic code; the woman and the fetus are two distinct sets of tissue.
“Outlawing Abortion Puts Women in Danger”: This argument purports that making abortion illegal will lead women to have dangerous back-alley abortions. But more women have died from abortions in the United States since abortion was legalized than in the preceding times of illegal abortion. In either case, women will continue to die from abortions. The ethical issue here is not only the women who are dying or who may die, but also the unborn babies who are killed every year—an average of more than one million annually in the USA alone (more statistics here). If the practice of abortion is unjust, then the protection of those who engage in the practice is not the duty of the state.2
“Men Can’t Talk; This Is a Women’s Issue”: This argument is a crass form of reverse sexism and female chauvinism. It’s also an ad hominem argument that attacks the person rather than addressing the issue itself.
Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Abortion: Is There a Difference?
The emphasis of the pro-abortion strategy was not (and is not) to convert people to a clear position of pro-abortion, but merely to get them to affirm each person’s inalienable right to choose without government intervention or coercion. But this “pro-choice” position is not a middle ground on the legal front; from a legal perspective, a pro-choice vote is a pro-abortion vote.
From a legal perspective, a pro-choice vote is a pro-abortion vote.
The present laws do not mandate abortion; they allow it. As long as the law does not prohibit abortion, it serves the cause of both the pro-abortion and pro-choice camps. A person who is conscientiously pro-choice must understand that he or she is a legal ally, willingly or unwillingly, with the pro-abortion position.
Is the right to choose an absolute right? Do we have the moral right to choose what is morally wrong? Every law enacted limits or restricts somebody’s choices. That is the very nature of law. At what line must freedom of choice end? It ends where my freedom of choice steps on another person’s inalienable rights of life and liberty.
Every law enacted limits or restricts somebody’s choices.
A Human Life Issue
The most dangerous place in the United States for a human being is inside the womb of a woman.
The most dangerous place in the United States for a human being is inside the womb of a woman.3 For millions of unborn babies the womb has become a cell on death row. The inmate is summarily executed without the benefit of a trial or a word of defense. Literally, the execution involves being torn limb from limb.
The womb has become a cell on death row. The inmate is summarily executed without benefit of a trial or a word of defense.
The time to choose whether or not to have a baby is not after the baby has been conceived and begun its development, but before. Choices always have consequences. Self-sacrifice is at the heart of true virtue; suffering pain in order to do what is right is the mark of a virtuous person.
To be anti-abortion is not equivalent to being anti-women; in fact, it’s a far cry from it. A vote for abortion is a vote against the sanctity of life—the sanctity of female life as well as the sanctity of male life.
If the undesirability of a living fetus is ethical grounds for its destruction, then the same principle would apply to other living humans. (And tragically, as a society, we are moving in that direction.) Abortion, at heart, is not a gender issue; it’s a human life issue.
Abortion is not an unpardonable sin. But the condition for divine forgiveness is repentance and confession.
Abortion, at heart, is not a gender issue; it’s a human life issue.
Recommended articles and resources on this topic:
- “One-Issue Politics, One-Issue Marriage, and the Humane Society,” from John Piper’s book A Godward Life, Book 1
- “A Matter of Choice” (powerful letter from the perspective of a nurse, told by Bob Edwards)
- Scott Klusendorf and the Life Training Institute
- For more from Sproul on abortion, see https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/abortion.
- As a side note, the biblical view of the overarching sanctity of life is the same principle that leads people to be both anti-abortion and pro–capital punishment. The biblical reason for the institution of capital punishment is that murder is an intolerable violation of the sanctity of life. The murderer who willfully and maliciously takes another person’s life thereby forfeits his right to his own life. The penalty may not be merciful, but it is not unjust.
- Worldwide, a news outlet noted that abortion accounted for more deaths globally in 2018 than any other leading cause of death, though another source noted that this is not a new phenomenon.