Abortion—- What Should a Christian Think about this Issue?

Personal ethical issues like abortion are complex issues. They ought not to be decided by cliches or self-justifying dictums of various sorts, just in case the life of someone in somebody’s womb just happens to be a human being, and not merely a fetus.

Let’s talk the pie chart above for a moment. What it shows is that in America at least, very few instances of abortion are cases where the mother of the child’s life is actually in danger in any way— perhaps 3% or so of all cases in a given year. For the record, I personally think abortions should be available in hospitals to cover such emergency cases. But what we are talking about is rare exceptions to the rule that most abortions have nothing to do with the life of the mother being endangered. You don’t make an ethic out of a rare exception. No, you have an ethic, and then when exceptions arise due to lesser of two evils circumstances, you deal with them on a case by case basis, which should be determined by a doctor and the patient involved.

So much for the issue as it may trouble the medical profession and thus raise issues for medical ethics these days. But what should Christians think? Perhaps it will be useful to eliminate some red herrings.

Red Herring No. 1— A person should have the right to do as they please with their own bodies. A fetus is simply part of a woman’s body, and she should have the right to do with it as she pleases. This of course is a notion that arises out of the desire for complete self-determination. There are however severe problems with this whole line of reasoning.

In the first place, the body that any individual has is a gift from their parents (or in the case of in vitro feritlization from a sperm donor or sperm and egg donors, and a person who gives birth to the child). In other words…… no human being creates himself or herself, and all of us are indebted to the generation that came before us and generated us, at a minimum. In other words ‘no man is an island entire of itself’ and any ethic that suggests this is a bad one, and certainly not a Christian one.

Furthermore, the notion that one can do whatever one wants with one’s body is a myth. For example, you cannot legally or morally use your body to simply kill another human being because you want to do so, even if by human being you simply mean persons outside the mother’s womb. No one has complete freedom to do whatever one wants to do with one’s body. That’s simply absurd.

2) Red Herring No. 2— a fetus is just like other growths in a body, say a tumor, or a cyst, or the like. As such it can be treated as just some tissue that can be excised. It need not be treated as a person. Last I checked, cysts, tumors, warts, moles do not have heartbeats and could never become someone’s child if allowed to gestate properly.

It is simply faulty reasoning to suggest that a pregnancy is simply another sort of problematic health issue which can be resolved by surgery or drugs. It isn’t. Whether you think it involves a human life with potential (as I do), or even just a potential human life, that brings into play a whole higher category of ethical decision making.

3) Red Herring No. 3— ‘A woman should have the right to choose by herself what happens to the unborn child. Really? Without any consultation of the father or sperm donor in question? Pregnancy is not a condition caused by a unilateral action of a woman with no assistance from the male of the species. In the vast majority of cases pregnancy comes as a result of male-female sexual activity, for which both the males and the females should bear some ethical responsibility for the outcome.

4) Red Herring No. 4— ‘If a child is unwanted, then the woman in question should be allowed to abort the child’. The question to be asked about this is—- unwanted by whom? The fact that it may be unwanted by the pregnant woman does not mean in any case that it would necessarily be unwanted by every other potential parent in the world.

Before you could conclude this is an ‘unwanted child’ you would have to be omniscient about the wants and desires of the rest of humanity. And no human being is omniscient. If you actually check out how many people are waiting in line to adopt children, including even AIDS and Crack babies, you will discover you should be ashamed of yourself for ever using the word ‘unwanted’ when it comes to an unborn child. The pregnancy itself may be unwanted, but the child in the woman is not the pregnancy! It is far more than an objectionable pregnancy.

5) Red Herring No. 5— Medically safe abortions should be available as a means of health care. But abortion is not about health care except possibly in the 3% where the mother’s life is actually in danger. Furthermore abortion is itself a health risk! A mother’s life can be endangered more easily by an abortion than by a pregnancy. Indeed, some abortions can make it impossible to ever bear children again!

What I am pointing out with these five listed items is the inherent incoherency of the most basic or fundamental excuses given for having an abortion. And I haven’t even gotten to the positive reasons that Christians should think that that creature in the woman is of sacred worth, is in fact an unborn child, and since it is defenseless and we have all sorts of other laws to protect defenseless children, we should have sufficient laws to protect the unborn as well, hence the recent battle in Texas.

Think about these things.

  • Susan_G1

    Re: red herring no. 5: The fact is abortion is much safer than pregnancy. Via PubMed: “The pregnancy-associated mortality rate among women who delivered live neonates was 8.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. The mortality rate
    related to induced abortion was 0.6 deaths per 100,000 abortions.” “Serious complications from legal abortion are rare. Most women who have a single abortion with vacuum aspiration experience few if any subsequent problems getting pregnant or having healthy children… Adverse emotional reactions to abortion are rare; most women experience relief and reduced depression and distress.” This info is widely substantiated.

    There is ample world-wide evidence that the best way to decrease the number of abortions is to decrease the number of pregnancies by education and provision of affordable contraception (to all). Why is this so rarely addressed (as if they are not connected!) in posts such as these?

    I am against abortion on demand, but it is legal now, and it will remain legal in the foreseeable future. States which have made abortion unavailable will likely be overturned by the State’s Supreme Court or SCOTUS. Why not start aggressively promoting contraception as a way to decrease abortions?

  • Laurie Ann

    I agree with this – but it would have been helpful to have a source for the pie chart as without that – no one knows if they are valid statistics or not.

  • old_north_state_native

    Source of Statistics: Ben will have to confirm but several web pages have similar statistics and they quote this study: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/psrh/full/3711005.pdf

  • SpyPlus

    Doesn’t the Bible teach that life begins at first breath? Would you assert that science has illuminated the evangelical stance on life beginning at conception?

    Job 33:4-“The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

    Ezekiel 37: 5&6- “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I shall lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

    Exodus 21:22- “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, 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.”

  • Oscarspicks

    I’m sorry, but abortion is 100% fatal for the baby involved. The most basic question that should be asked is : “What, exactly, IS it that is being aborted?” IF it is, admittedly, a human being then to end the pregnancy would be ending a human life. There MAY be some contention as to when this initial mass of cells becomes “human”, but there is no denying that when a heartbeat is detected it IS a life. No cancer, cyst, decayed tooth has a heartbeat, and since that thing in the womb cannot be of any other species then it MUST be a human being.

  • Susan_G1

    This is a complete non-sequitur. Did I say anything in the above that remotely resembles an argument to that fact?

    What about contraception, if you want to decrease abortions? That was my question.

  • Susan_G1

    The pie chart is correct to a degree, but a real study would go over 100% because a woman could have more than one reason for wanting an abortion.

  • Chad Holtz

    Susan, I’m curious – how many “unwanted” pregnancies would have been avoided had the couple had access to a 50 cent condom? Or to ask it a different way, how many aborted pregnancies happen because the party involved were incapable of getting birth control but absolutely had to have sex?

  • Oscarspicks

    Very good question. In a society where contraception can be had for FREE it is the most innocent who are made to pay the price for irresponsibility.

  • Oscarspicks

    Again, I’m sorry for not being more specific, but I was addressing the statement about the lethality of abortion over live births. The only subject being discussed the woman bearing the burden WITHOUT discussing what that “burden” is. And I LOVE the use of the term “neonates” in referring to BABIES. Contraception is free at most clinics. My daughter came home with a bag full of condoms after visiting a “free clinic” while accompanying a friend who was going in for a check-up.

  • Susan_G1

    Forget the 50 cent condom. How about free condoms, free foam, free spermicidal jelly, free birth control pills. If there was no stigma to having protected sex (there is; the idea of “protected” sex carries the stigma of pre-planned sex/sin), we would have women who used birth control.

  • Chad Holtz

    Susan, that still does not answer my question. What percentage of abortions in America happen because the couple who had to have sex could not afford birth control of any kind? How many abortions would be averted if birth control was free?

  • BenW3

    Note to Spyplus. Actually you are totally misreading those texts. What they are talking about is not the infant taking a breath, but rather God quickening them, as he did Adam. The metaphor of breath is used because of course of the story of Adam, and how God breathed life into him.

    Chad– it is basically nonsense to say poor people can’t afford birth control. If they can afford food, they can afford prophylactics, and anyway, they can go to a clinic and get them for free even if they couldn’t afford more elaborate forms of birth control. Unless of course you are talking about birth control in somewhere like the Sudan, but that is not what this post is about. It’s about rampant abortion in America. BW3

  • dperiodfreshcomma

    I think that for people on the various angles on this issue, the great unifying hope would be: fewer, or no, abortions. This much can be agreed upon. Because of that, I think the greatest focus should be on what we can do to limit or eliminate abortions. Will illegalization or even criminalization do it? No, worldwide statistically anaylsis of abortion rates shows little difference among societies based on legalization status. Abortion did not start in the 1970′s. Even counting the numbers since Roe v Wade is offensively political – it disregards the fact that it existed previously. Legalized or not they were performed, and although there is very limited information prior to legalization, current gliobal statistics indicate that unless America was drastically different than the whole world, the rates were not substantially or even definitely different. So I think legalization arguments in either direction are chasing the ghost, they will not and have not solved the problem.

    I think the greatest hope for the argumentation from the majority/historical Christian perspective is generating concern for the issue and providing solutions that generate real results. Many of the complaints focus on the parents/mother or pontificating about those innocent of creating the situation. If the highest goal were life-preservation or prevention, responsibility or innocence would not matter so much as results.

  • Susan_G1

    In one study done by the Washington University School of Medicine (published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology) involving 9,256 women from the St. Louis region between 2007 and 2011, women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies than expected: there were 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, after adjusting for age and race — much fewer than the national rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women and lower also than the rate in the St. Louis area of 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women.

    In that study, that means about a 70% reduction in abortion. When price wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives — the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert.

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Free morning after contraception for women who don’t want long term birth control would further decrease abortion.

    Are these numbers what you wanted?

  • Susan_G1

    “In that study, that means about a 70% reduction in abortion. When price
    wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives —
    the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front
    to insert.”

    This study offered free contraceptives in St. Louis, Missouri. It is a fool’s argument that cost is not a factor.

  • Chad Holtz

    That doesn’t seem to jive with statistics from a women’s clinic in Orlando, which state:

    54% of women having abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use. There is no contraceptive method that can prevent pregnancy 100% of the time.

    46% percent of women who have abortion had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex.

    8% of women who have abortion have never used a method of birth control; non-use is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic or less educated.

    Nor with another study done in Spain and published in the Jan. 2011 issue of Contraception, which showed a dramatic increase (more than doubled) in abortion along with the availability of birth control.
    Until proven otherwise, I think it’s safe to say that people who have abortions are, at least the majority of them, doing so not because they could not afford birth control nor had access to it. The 17 year old kids having sex as I type this and who are becoming pregnant are not victims of a world where they cannot get birth control but of a world where they think they can do as they please and bear no responsibility for doing so.

  • http://returntorome.com/ Francis J. Beckwith

    As for the statistics concerning childbirth and abortion, this is old chestnut that many of us have dealt with in our scholarly works. See, for example, my 1992 article in the International Philosophical Quarterly, which you can find here. https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Francis_Beckwith/www/Sites/Thomson.pdf (pages 107-109)

  • Lion_IRC

    Great article. Thanks.
    The comment…”what should Christians think” caught my eye.

  • Susan_G1

    your own info claimed less educated people don’t use birth control. Sex education needs to be taught frequently and well. I’m sorry you don’t believe the study I referred to, and I’d have to read the study to understand what happened in Spain.

    The assertion that free contraception exists for all in this country is absurd.

  • Susan_G1

    I don’t know what statistics you think are old chestnuts. I am a physician, I know how to read the literature, and this is recent data, not 1992. I think you might be an old chestnut.

  • http://returntorome.com/ Francis J. Beckwith

    Well, you must be a pathologist. No bedside manner. :-)

    It is apparent by your reply that you didn’t even bother to look at the link. I don’t actually dispute any statistics. I talk about the inadequacy of a particulars set of statistics–that childbirth is more dangerous than abortion–in establishing a right to abortion, even if those statistics are perfectly correct.

    In a long footnote I bring up possible reasons to distrust some of these statistics–and, of course, those reasons may not be present now–but my main point does not depend on that observation.

  • Susan_G1

    Well, chestnut, I never said abortion should be a right based on the fact that it is safer than childbirth, did I? So who didn’t read what?

  • http://returntorome.com/ Francis J. Beckwith

    I didn’t say you said it. What I was doing was contributing to the conversation pertaining to red herring 5 begun by Professor Witherington, as you did yourself, when you took it into a subject not overt in the professor’s initial comments.

    If I had wanted to reply to you, I would have done so under your remarks.

  • Susan_G1

    well, then, it’s not a red herring, now, is it, if it’s not true?

  • Brian Bair

    Bottom line is this: God’s image is sacred, and humanity bears God’s image. Therefore, human sexuality is sacred. And, what comes from human sexuality (offspring) is also sacred. Open and willful abortion, by choice, is a desacralization of God’s design. I love the “baby box” mission that has sprung up in Korea (https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/theBabyBoxChurch/). There really should be several of these in every major city in America. Imagine if we stopped spending money on putting “cafes” in our churches, and did one of these instead. I think the waters in our baptismals is getting a little too luke warm for Christ’s tastes.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Ben, “Red Herring” #1? There is no law that demands a person give blood, so why should there be a law demanding they share their blood with a fetus for nine months and give birth?

    The sex cells come from the woman and man’s own cells, so they ought to be allowed to decide what to do with any zygotes they make together.

    The gift of sex need not necessarily be accompanied by the gift of life if neither party wishes it so.

    There is a COMMON GROUND organization of pro-lifers and pro-choices that agree to some extent about the necessity of teaching school children some things like birth control, early pregnancy testing (the earlier the better so as to avoid late term abortions), and a class on how two people’s lives change socially/domestically and legally (child support laws) after they have a child, as well as finding ways to get the government to make U.S. adoption agencies work more efficiently and smoothly. Common ground organizations agree that local, state and national agencies need to find ways to share adoption information more efficiently so as to connect those who want to carry a child to term and give it up for adoption with good potential parents who want to adopt.

    So I propose keeping abortion legal.

    The alternative is to make it illegal and begin fining doctors and women who wind up being fined to the hilt or be shoved behind bars, ruining the finances of yet more families and/or leaving families without a mother to care for the remaining children.

    In China abortions are mandatory when you have more than one child, but if they did not abort, there is the possibility that you’d see starvation as has been true throughout China’s past, both communistic and pre-communistic, and there are more people currently living in this circle of Eastern Asia than are living outside it around the rest of the world: http://io9.com/more-than-half-of-the-worlds-population-lives-inside-t-493103044

    In the end I think keeping abortion legal and seeking common ground solutions to lowering abortion rates is the best choice.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Ben “Red Herring” #5 “A mother’s life can be endangered more easily by an abortion than by a pregnancy.” Can be… but statistically speaking first trimester abortions are less likely to endanger a woman’s life than all the risks involved in giving birth. And most abortions (88%) are obtained in the first trimester of pregnancy. In fact, over half of all abortions are obtained within the first 8 weeks. Fewer than 2% occur at 21 weeks or later. A Common Ground approach as I mentioned, would train kids to learn about birth control, early pregnancy detection, etc., and thus lead to even more conscientious use of birth control and fewer late term abortions.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Ben, I have a blog post of my own on “Abortion, Women, and the Bible” that mentions some interesting information and interesting passages from the Bible as well. http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2012/08/abortion-women-and-bible.html

  • Bill George

    Exactly, the solution is not to make all abortions legal or not. It is to find out the causes of unwanted pregnancies and to eliminate those. Birth control access and knowledge of how to use properly and good sex ed are a must. Abortion itself is not the problem, the problem(s) is(are) what leads to them.

  • Alden Smith

    I pray that we can at least get abortion down to 12 week limit like most of Europe has it

  • Power1024

    The best way to prevent abortions is to prevent sex, not to encourage protected sex. What is wrong with abstinence? When that go so out of fashion? Oh yea, the glorious ’60′s, what a feather in our cap that decade was.

    We want to solve many of the societal problems but we do not want to go back to basic values. If we elevate chastity as a virtue to be admired, it will be adopted.

    We look at recreational sex as some sort of sacred right, it is not, it is to be discouraged. Look at the emotional baggage that it brings, the pain and the suffering for both parties. It give the false sense of emotional love and blinds the participants to their effective compatibility. It is vastly more difficult to be objective about a relationship once sex has entered into the picture.

    If we got back to an era where it was virtuous to remain celibate until marriage, then the issue of abortion and divorce would be much rarer occurrences in our society.

    Look we can resolve two problems with one virtuous perspective.

    Let the flaming commence.

    Power1024