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               THE ABORTION DILEMMA

 

                                         Michael A. Grisanti

                            Associate Professor of Old Testament


 

 

          In recent years Supreme-Court actions legalizing abortion have

crystalized two ethical positions: pro-choice and pro-life. A series of cases resulted in decisions granting women the right to choose whether or not to have

abortions. As a consequence, several methods of aborting unborn children have

come into prominence: suction aspiration, dilation and curettage, dilation and

evacuation, saline injection, hysterotomy, prostaglandin chemical, RU-486, and

partial-birth abortion. Viewpoints on abortion break down into four categories.

Some say abortion is always right, others say sometimes, still others rarely, and

some say never. The Bible gives several reasons why abortion is wrong because it

does not distinguish between a person's state before and after birth, because it

indicates God "knew" certain ones before birth, because it indicates King David

was a sinner from conception, and because John the Baptist reacted while still in

his mother's womb. Both sides in the debate have used Exodus 21:22-25 to prove

their cases, but the passage has a number of exegetical difficulties that keep it

from being a strong argument. Though several Ancient Near Eastern law codes

are similar to the Exodus passage, the biblical law is distinguishable from these in

several ways. Questionable situations when some would use the mother's health,

pregnancies caused by rape or incest, and pregnancies facing fetal handicaps do

not furnish sufficient grounds for abortion.

         

          The Supreme Court's decision in 1973 to legalize abortion at almost any

time in a woman's pregnancy and for a wide variety of reasons thrust the issue

onto the platform of heated national debate. Discussion and debate over the

abortion issue occurs within families, in and among churches, in communities, in

legislatures on the state and federal level, throughout the court system, and in the

Executive Branch of each state and in the federal government. Proponents on both

sides of the issue feel great passion for their position and expend great energy

defending the legitimacy of their perspective on the issue. Organizations,

publications, billboards, and websites that advocate a certain position concerning

abortion abound. As with a number of ethical issues, believers are on both sides of

the fence. Though some Christians fiercely oppose abortion in any circumstance,

others just as fervently defend the right of a woman to have access to an abortion.

 

                                                            169

 


170                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

          What does the Bible have to say about the practice of abortion? How

should that belief affect Christian conduct in a world given over to paganism? In

other words, how does a believer flesh out his belief about abortion in his life and

ministry?

          By definition, an abortion involves the "expulsion of the human fetus ...

before it is capable of surviving outside the womb."1 The two general categories of

abortion are the spontaneous and the induced. A spontaneous abortion is one that

takes place naturally, with no external intervention. It represents a situation over

which the mother has no control. In a number of cases, a fertilized egg never

implants in the mother's womb and passes out of her body during her monthly

period. Another kind of a spontaneous abortion involves a miscarriage. In this

instance, the mother's body expels the developing fetus before the baby is able to

live outside the womb.2 The second category of abortion involves an induced

abortion, i.e., one brought about by medical means (discussed at length below).

Statistically speaking, since the Supreme Court's decision of 1973 (Roe v.

Wade), the annual number of abortions has risen from 744,600 to a peak of 1.6

million (approximately 1.6 million abortions were performed annually from 1980-

1992). After 1992 the number of abortions performed annually slowly dropped to

1.4 million in 1.996.3 From 1973 through :1996, an estimated 34.4 million unborn

babies have died in hospitals and abortion clinics throughout America. In the past

4 years, abortions terminated between one-quarter and one-third of all pregnancies

in America. Approximately 52% of women obtaining abortions in the U.S. are

younger than 25.4 Over half of unintended pregnancies worldwide end with

induced abortion.5 It has become the second most common surgical procedure in

our country, circumcision being the first.6

          The basic question in this debate is "Are you in favor of abortion (pro-

abortion) or opposed to it (anti-abortion)?" Or to put it another way, "Are you pro-

choice or pro-life?" The foundation for this decision is this: Does a woman have

the right to do whatever she wishes with her body (choice), or is the human

responsibil-

 

   1 Charles C. Ryrie, Biblical Answers to Contemporary Issues (Chicago: Moody, 1991) 85.

   2 John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, Ill.:

Crossway, 1993) 50.

   3 These statistics are available on numerous web sites dealing with the issue of abortion. For

two examples, see the home page for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research center

(www.agi-usa.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html) and the Ohio Right to Life home page

(www.ohiolife.org/stats/us 1996.htm).

   4 Women aged 20-24 obtain 32% of all abortions while teenagers obtain 20% (www.agi-

usa.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html).

   5 According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, this involves 46 million pregnancies (and abortions) worldwide (www.agi-usa.org/pubs/ib_0599.html).

   6 According to J. Kerby Anderson (Moral Dilemmas: Biblical Perspectives on Contemporary

Issues [Nashville: Word, 1998] 227 n. 1, drawing on material from the National Center for Health

Statistics, Atlanta, Ga.), abortion is the most frequently performed surgery on adults in America.


                                    The Abortion Dilemma                                    171

 

ity to preserve life at all times (life)?

          Neither set of proponents finds total agreement with the titles given them.

The pro-abortionist does not regard herself/himself as anti-life even though he or

she does not view the fetus as a person. A number of women regard themselves as

pro-choice but not pro-abortion. Nor is the anti-abortionist really anti-choice. A

woman does have the responsibility to take care of her body. However, the issue

of abortion touches two lives, those of the mother and of the unborn child. Those

who oppose abortion contend that the mother's preferences should not have

preeminence over the unborn child's life. Consequently, the debate over abortion

is normally categorized by two basic positions: pro-choice and pro-life.7

 

                    THE LEGAL BACKGROUND OF ABORTION

 

          Various sources document the legal history of the abortion debate. As part

of their discussion of the larger issue, numerous volumes that focused on the issue

of abortion or ethics in general provide a helpful overview of this legal history.8

More recently, various websites offer the full text of the various legal decisions as

well as links to other related websites.9 One has only to type the word "abortion"

in one of the major web search engines to find hundreds of places to find informa-

tion of this kind.

 

                                        Roe v. Wade (1973)10

 

          On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that an unborn child is the

property of the mother. It concluded that she might dispose of it for any reason

during the first six months of pregnancy, and at any other time (last trimester) if,

in the opinion of a single licensed physician, it is necessary to preserve her life and

health. During the first three months of pregnancy, abortion may not be regulated.

During the second trimester, it may be regulated only with reference to the

protection of the "mother's" health.

 

   7 The complaint of this writer about media coverage of this issue is the frequent use of unequal

terms for the two sides. Those in favor of abortion are said to be pro-choice (not pro-abortion or

anti-life). But those opposed to abortion are referred to as anti-abortion or anti-choice (not pro-

life).

   8 Feinberg and Feinberg, Ethics 48-50; Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 118-22; Curt Young, The Least of These (Chicago: Moody,

1984) 21-32.

   9 Abortion Law Homepage (http://members.aol.com/abtrbng/index.htm); cf.

www.abortioninfo.net /facts.

   10 410 U.S. 113 (1973).


172                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

                                       Doe v. Bolton (1973)11

 

          In a companion case decided on the same day as Roe v. Wade, the Supreme

Court struck down a Georgia law that placed several limitations on abortion. Any

attempts to place limits on a woman's right to an abortion had to conform to "a

compelling state interest." It is important to note that the Supreme Court justices

interpreted the mother's health to include her psychological and emotional health

in addition to her physical health.

 

                              Planned Parenthood v. Danforth (1977)12

                   

          This case removed some of the limits that had been placed on abortion by

Roe v. Wade (e.g., spousal consent, parental consent for a minor child). The

woman and her physician were the only ones legally involved in the decision-

making process.

 

                       Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989)13

 

          This case represented one of the first significant limits on an individual's

right to an abortion. Reversing certain lower court decisions, the Supreme Court

upheld a Missouri law that prohibited the use of public funds or medical facilities

for "non-therapeutic" abortions. Building on the Hyde Amendment that dealt with

the use of federal funds for abortions, this case concerned the right of states to

limit or prohibit the use of tax funds to pay for abortions.

 

                              Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)14

 

          Pro-choice proponents brought this case to the Supreme Court to protest

limitations placed on abortion in the state of Pennsylvania (Casey was the

governor of the state). The state law in question required that a woman seeking an

abortion give informed consent after receiving certain relevant information 24

hours before the procedure (explanation of procedure, risks of abortion, probable

gestational age of fetus), informed parental consent for a minor child, and

evidence of spousal notification. Pro-life advocates regarded this case as the best

opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade and pro-choice proponents hoped that the

Supreme Court would strike down all the limitations. Neither side was totally

satisfied with the outcome. The Supreme Court did not overturn Roe v. Wade but

retained all the

 

    11 410 U.S. 179 (1973).

    12 428 U.S. 52 (1977).

    13 109 S. Ct. 3040 (1989).

    14 112 S. Ct. 2791 (1992).


The Abortion Dilemma 173

 

limitations except the spousal notification feature.

 

Clinton's Withdrawal of Executive Support for the Unborn

 

Although it does not belong to the legal/court history of the abortion battle,

one should remember President Clinton's contribution to this debate. On January

20, 1993, while the annual protest against Roe v. Wade was going on outside the

White House, President Clinton reversed more than a decade of executive support

for the unborn with one stroke of the pen.15 He signed an executive order that did

three things:

 

He lifted the "gag rule" that had prohibited workers in federally funded

health clinics from mentioning abortion as an alternative to dealing

with an unwanted pregnancy.

He lifted the federal prohibition against performing abortions on military

bases and in military hospitals.

He ended the moratorium on federal funding for research that utilizes fetal

tissue procured from induced abortions.

 

Stenberg v. Carhart (2000)16

 

At least 30 states have passed a ban on partial-birth abortions. Shortly after

Nebraska passed a law of this kind (June 1997), a physician who performs

abortions, Leroy Carhart, filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the

statute. In September of 1999, the 8th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals declared Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law unconstitutional.17 On January 14,

2000, the Supreme Court agreed to hear its first partial-birth abortion case,

Stenberg v. Carhart. Attorneys for both sides presented oral arguments for the

case on April 25, 2000, and the court rendered a decision on June 28, 2000,

overturning Nebraska's ban on partial-birth abortions by a 5-4 vote. Supreme

Court justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, affirmed that the Nebraska

law results in an "undue burden upon a woman’s right to make an abortion

decision."18

 

THE METHODS OF ABORTION

 

"Abortion" describes the act of bringing forth young prematurely. A

spontaneous abortion is one that takes place naturally, a situation over which the

 

   15 Rae, Moral Choices 117.

   16 99-830. For a brief summary of this case and the perspective of Planned Parenthood, see

http://www.planneciparenthood.org/library/facts/stenberg.html.

   17 For the full text of this case presented at the state level to the U.S. District Court, see

http://lw.bna.com/lw/19970909/ 3205a.htm.

   18 "Http://abenews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/scotus_partialbirthruling 000628.html.


174                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

mother has no control. An induced abortion is one that is brought about by

medical means. The various methods of induced abortion receive brief attention in

the following paragraphs.19

 

Suction Aspiration

 

This procedure is used in 80 percent of the abortions up to the 12th week

of the pregnancy (1st trimester). The mouth of the mother's cervix is dilated. A

hollow tube with a knifelike edged tip is inserted into the womb. A suction force

28 times stronger than a vacuum cleaner literally tears the developing baby to pieces and sucks the remains into a container.

 

Dilation and Curettage (D & C)

 

The cervix is dilated with a series of instruments to allow the insertion of

a curette--a loop-shaped knife--into the womb. The instrument is used to scrape

the placenta from the uterus and then cut the baby apart. The pieces are then drawn

through the cervix. An attending nurse must then reassemble the tiny body to

make sure no parts remain in the womb to cause infection.

 

Dilation and Evacuation (D & E)

 

This procedure occurs at 12-20 weeks. Since by week 12 the baby's bones

are hardening and can no longer be sucked apart, abortion is achieved by dismem-

berment. After dilating the cervix, forceps with sharp metal teeth tear the baby

apart. The head is usually too large to be removed whole and must be crushed and

drained before it is removed from the womb. As with the above procedure, an

attending nurse inventories the body parts to avoid infection in the womb from

parts left behind.

 

Saline Injection

 

This procedure is also called "salt-poisoning" or hyper-natremic abortion

and is generally used after 13 weeks of pregnancy (2nd trimester). A long needle

is inserted through the mother's abdomen to remove some of the amniotic fluid

surrounding the baby and to replace it with a toxic, saline solution. The baby then

breathes and swallows this solution. In most cases, the unborn child dies in one or

two hours from salt poisoning, dehydration, and hemorrhaging. The mother goes

into labor about 24 hours later and delivers a dead (or in a few cases, dying) baby.

 

   19 Numerous sources provide an overview of these techniques. For two examples, see Feinberg

and Feinberg, Ethics 51-53, and Young, Least of These 83-99.


The Abortion Dilemma                          175

 

 

Hysterotomy

 

During the last three months of the pregnancy (3rd trimester) this

procedure is used. The womb is opened surgically and the baby is removed, as in

a cesarean section. However, the purpose of this procedure is to end the infant's

life. Instead of being cared for, the baby is wrapped in a blanket, set aside, and

allowed to die.

 

Prostaglandin Chemical Abortion

 

This procedure involves the use of chemicals recently developed by the

Upjohn Phaimaceutical Company. Prostaglandin hormones, injected into the

womb or released in a vaginal suppository, cause the uterus to contract and deliver

the child prematurely--too young to survive. A saline solution is sometimes

injected first, killing the baby before birth. A self-administered tampon has been

going through clinical testing. The procedure has several side effects and live

births have been common (when saline solution is not used). This procedure is

most common in India, China, and Eastern Europe.

 

RU-486 (The Abortion Pill)20

 

After receiving approval for distribution in France, Great Britain, Sweden,

and the People's Republic of China, the RU-486 drug caught the attention of pro-

abortionists around the world. After RU-486 became a viable alternative as an

abortion technique, numerous countries considered allowing distribution within

their borders. In 1994, a research organization (The Population Council) began

conducting the first nationwide study of the French abortion pill (RU-486) in a

number of different clinics throughout the United States. In September of 1996 the

FDA gave RU-486 tentative approve for distribution in the United States (after an

amazingly short 6-month approval process). Final approval depended on FDA's

inspection of the company chosen to manufacture the drug in the United States.

Danco Laboratories LLC have agreed to serve as the distributors for the RU-486

drug, but have not named their manufacturing source.

Although proponents of the RU-486 drug expected final approval in late

spring or early summer, the FDA made an important decision in June 2000. In a

letter to The Population Council, the FDA set September 30, 2000 as a tentative

 

   20 Supporters and opponents of RU-486 have debated the potential complications of the drug.

For a recent study that highlights some of those negative side-effects (written by advocates of the drug), see a recent article written in the following well-known medical journal: Irving M. Spitz,

C. Wayne Bardin, Lauri Benton, and Ann Robbins, "Early Pregnancy Termination with

Mifepristone and Misoprostol in the United States," New England Journal of Medicine 338/18

(April 30, 1998):1241-47. The following website provides an abstract of the article and gives

careful attention to those potential medical complications: www.lifeissues.org/ru486/ru98-

05.html.


176                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

deadline for approving the drug. To the dismay of the drug's proponents, the FDA

placed three key restrictions on the distribution of the RU-486 drug.

 

Only health professionals trained in surgical abortion, medical abortion,

and sonography can distribute the drug.

Any physician who administers this drug must have admitting privileges at

a hospital within one hour of their office in case something goes

awry.

An accredited agency must verify that all doctors who intend to administer

this drug meet the training requirements stated above.21

 

In the summer of 1999 the RU-486 drug received approval in eight other

European countries (Germany, Greece, Belgium, Finland, Austria, Denmark,

Spain, and the Netherlands). The drug as been registered in Switzerland and

Russia. Canada is waiting for final approval in the U.S. before they give approval

to the drug. A Canadian doctor in Vancouver recently began that country's first

clinical trial of the RU-486 drug.

A woman first takes RU-486, which blocks the action of progesterone, a

hormone that prepares the lining of the uterus for pregnancy and is essential to

maintain a pregnancy. Two days later she then takes two tablets of a

prostaglandin, which causes the uterus to contract. In most cases, the embryo is

expelled in four hours. RU-486 is normally taken no later than 63 days after

pregnancy and is supposedly successful in about 96% of the cases. Complications

increase after 49 days of pregnancy.

 

Partial-Birth Abortion

 

In a partial-birth abortion the person performing the abortion partially

delivers (legs, arms, and torso only) a living unborn child before killing the unborn

child and completing the delivery. Before the delivery is completed, the person

performing the abortion punctures the back of the skull with scissors or another

instrument, inserts a suction curette into the skull, and suctions the contents of the

skull so as to collapse it.

 

IS ABORTION EVER RIGHT?: A SPECTRUM OF VIEWS

 

A survey of the voluminous pages written about this debate from all

perspectives demonstrates that people answer the question, "Is Abortion Ever

Right?," in four ways: always, sometimes (tinder certain circumstances), rarely,

and never.

 

   21 Shari Roan, "The Abortion Pill: Finally at Hand?," Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2000, S6.


The Abortion Dilemma                          177

 

Always ("abortion on demand")

 

In the original Roe v. Wade decision (1973) the Supreme Court ruled that

an unborn child is not entitled to legal protection of his or her life and can be

aborted at anytime up until the moment of birth. Though several pro-abortionists

limit abortion to the first two trimesters of pregnancy, some abortion clinics will

perform an abortion at any time before birth.

Various factors contribute to a woman's decision to have an abortion.

Some of these are very complicated and make the issue of abortion even more

difficult. Here are some of the reasons proposed by those who advocate abortions:

 

   Therapeutic - the life of a mother may be at risk should she carry a child to term.

   Eugenic - the baby is retarded, deformed, or handicapped in some way.

   Psychiatric - the mother's mental health.

   Socio-economic - to ease economic pressures on an individual/family.

   Violation - in cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

   On demand - for any reason important to the mother.

 

Sometimes (under certain circumstances)

 

Within the anti-abortion movement, there is disagreement whether abortion

might be legitimate in certain cases. For the most part, pregnancies that threaten

the mother's health and those caused by rape or incest are the ones debated and

discussed within the pro-life movement as possible instances where an abortion

may have legitimacy.

 

Rarely

 

This reason applies only when the mother's life is actually at stake,

primarily in the case of ectopic or tubal pregnancies. With an ectopic or tubal

pregnancy the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube rather than the mother's

uterus. The doctor has only two options. On the one hand, he can intervene and

take the baby's life by surgically removing the fetus from the fallopian tube and

save the mother's life. His other option is to do nothing and let both mother and

baby die. There is abundant medical information available that no ectopic/tubal

pregnancy ever resulted in childbirth.

This is an issue to which pastors and potential parents must give careful

attention. Over the last twenty years the number of ectopic pregnancies has

increased fourfold. It now accounts for about eleven percent of maternal deaths.

Sexually transmitted diseases (that damage the fallopian tube), a retained IUD,22 a

 

    22  IUD stands for "intra-uterine device," a formerly popular birth control device.


178                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

tubal ligation, and tuboplasty23 appear to be causes for this significant increase in

the occurrence of ectopic pregnancies.

With regard to the "Sometimes" and "Rarely" positions, the concerns for

the mother's health are normally limited to genuine medical health risks. This

could involve the discovery of an aggressive form of cancer, a serious heart

condition, or some other serious disease. In all of these cases, the attending

physician has a legitimate desire to safeguard the life and health of the mother. In

each of these instances the husband and wife must wrestle with the doctor's

evaluation of the probable course of the ailment and the life of their baby. Since

these circumstances have life and death in the balance, they require decisions that

are far from easy. This writer seeks to limit a legitimate use of abortion to the case

of an ectopic pregnancy. This kind of circumstance appears to be clear. In the

other cases, this writer would do everything possible to preserve both the mother's

and child's life. In the end, unless it was clear that both mother and child would

die, he would not end the life of the child for the sake of the mother's health.

 

Never

 

According to the proponents of this perspective, no extenuating circum-

stances legitimize an abortion. Those who take this position would even exclude

an ectopic pregnancy as a legitimate cause for agreeing to an abortive procedure.

 

THE FOUNDATIONAL ISSUE: WHEN DOES LIFE BEGIN?

(WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?)

 

No Difference Whether before or after Birth

 

The Bible recognizes no essential difference between the being in the

womb and the being after birth. From the point of conception and forward, the

individual is a person. According to Genesis 4:1, "Now Adam knew Eve his wife,

and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the

LORD.24  The passage views Cain's life as a continuity, and his history extends

back to his conception. Eve makes no distinction between his conception, birth,

and life. Eve regards conception and life as part of the work of God. Job affirms,

"May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, ‘A

male child is conceived"' (Job 3:3). Job's life has become an intolerable burden to

him. As Job laments his existence, he connects his birth and his conception as

parallel items in a poetic unit. Both his conception in his mother's womb and his

birth from his mother's womb form an integral part of his existence.

 

   23 Feinberg and Feinberg, Ethics 414 n. 18.

   24 Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.


The Abortion Dilemma                          179

 

God "Knew" Certain Persons before Birth

 

The Bible speaks of God "knowing" certain persons before their birth,

indicating that God regarded them as persons that early. The psalmist writes,

 

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I

will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are

Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden

from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest

parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, beig yet unformed. And in

Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, when as yet

there were none of them (139:13-16).

 

David rejoices over Yahweh's careful watchcare over him even in his mother's

womb. Verse 13 points to God's personal regard for the psalmist that began when

he was yet in his mother's womb. Verses 14-15 highlight that David was the

product of God's creative work in his mother's womb. Ronald Allen writes:

 

The Bible never speaks of fetal life as mere chemical activity, cellular

growth, or vague force. Rather, the fetus in the mother's womb is described

by the psalmist in vivid pictorial language as being shaped, fashioned,

molded, and woven together by the personal activity of God. That is, as

God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, so He is actively involved

in fashioning the fetus in the womb.25

 

God affirmed to the prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew

you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations" (Jer 1:5). God "knew" Jeremiah even before he was conceived. God

"sanctified" Jeremiah and "ordained" him a prophet before he came from the

womb. Also, God Himself is the One who forms the fetus and orchestrates the

natural processes that bring about the miracle of life (cf. Job 31:15; Ps 119:73;

Eccl 11:5, which suggest that God's providence rules throughout the gestation

period of a fetus). King David Was a Sinner from Conception King David himself

acknowledged that he was a sinner from the moment of his conception. In Psalm

51:5 (NIV) he affirms, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my

mother conceived me." In reflecting on the sin in his heart, David recognizes that

the sin of his heart is not something recent but goes back to the point of his

conception in the womb of his mother. Such a moral state could be ascribed only

to a person. It is also important to note that the psalmist links his birth with his

conception.

 

   25 Ronald B. Allen, In Celebrating Love of Life (Portland, Ore.: Western Conservative Baptist

Seminary, 1977) 6.


180                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

   John the Baptist Reacted Personally While Inside Elizabeth's Womb

 

John, the Baptist is said to have reacted personally when he was yet in the

womb of Elizabeth (in the sixth month of her pregnancy). According to Luke 1:44,

Elizabeth told Mary, "For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in

my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy." When Mary entered the room to

see her cousin Elizabeth, her cousin exclaimed that her unborn child leaped for joy

in her womb.

 

Exodus 21:22-25: Accidental Miscarriage or Premature Birth?

 

Proponents of a pro-choice as well as a pro-life perspective have used this

verse to support their interpretations of the Bible's contribution to this issue. Since

it is a difficult. passage and it finds a place in the argumentation of both sides of

the issue, it deserves careful attention. The NIV and the NASB translations

provide a good comparison of the two primary interpretations of these verses.

 

NIV: "(22) If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth

prematurely (hAyd,lAy; Uxc;yA, yase'u yeladeha), but there is no serious injury)

( NOsxA, 'ason), the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands

and the court allows. (23) But if there is serious injury (NOsxA, 'ason), you are to

take life for life, (24) eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (25)

burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."

 

NASB: "(22) And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child

so that she has a miscarriage (hAyd,lAy; Uxc;yA, yase'u yeladeha), yet there is no

further injury (NOsxA, ‘ason), he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may

demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. (23) But if there is any

further injury (NOsxA, 'ason;), then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, (24)

eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (25) burn for burn, wound

for wound, bruise for bruise."

 

Interpretive Options

Pro--abortion/pro-choice interpreters customarily contend that these verses

present the occurrence of an accidental miscarriage, while anti-abortion/pro-life

interpreters suggest that the passage depicts a safe, premature birth.

 

    Accidental Miscarriage (Normal Pro-Abortion Interpretation). According to

this interpretation,26 verse 22 depicts an accidental miscarriage for which only

 

   26 Some proponents of this interpretation are Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus, OTL

(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974) 471-72; R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, TOT (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1973) 169; Robert N. Congdon, "Exodus

21:22-25 and the Abortion Debate," Bibliotheca Sacra 146/582 (April-June 1989):132-47;

Dolores E. Dunnett,


The Abortion Dilemma                                    181

 

a fine is levied. Verse 23 refers to a mortal injury inflicted on the mother and the

fetus for which an "eye for an eye" punishment is required (see NASB translation).

Since the punishment for accidentally killing an unborn child is less severe than

the punishment for killing an adult, some proponents of this interpretation

conclude that the unborn baby must be considered less than human (that is, of less

value than an actual person). According to this view, the "harm" does not happen

or happens to the mother, not the premature child.

Safe, Premature Birth (Normal Anti-Abortion Interpretation). In this

view,27 verse 22 presents a safe premature birth for which a fine is levied. The next  verse describes some kind of harm brought upon the mother and/or child for which

the judges require an "eye for an eye" punishment (see NIV translation).

According to this perspective, when harm of any kind comes to the mother or

child, the

 

"Evangelicals and Abortion," JETS 33 (1990):217-18; Russell Fuller, "Exodus 22:22-23: The Miscarriage Interpretation and the Personhood of the Fetus," JETS 37 (1994):169-84; J. Philip

Hyatt, Exodus, NCB (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 233-34; Stanley Isser, "Two Traditions:

The Law of Exodus 21:22-23 Revisited," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990):40-45; Dale

Patrick, Old Testament Law (Atlanta: John Knox, 1985) 76-77; Shalom Paul, Studies in the Book

of the Covenant in the Light of Cuneiform and Biblical Law (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970) 70-77;

Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, JPS Torah (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1991) 125-26; Joe M. Sprinkle, "The Interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25 (Lex Talionis) and Abortion," WTJ 55

(1993):233-53; Bruce K. Waltke, "Old Testament Texts Bearing on the Problem of the Control of

Human Reproduction," in Birth Control and the Christian. A Protestant Symposium on the

Control of Human Reproduction, eds. W. O. Spitzer and Carlyle Saylor (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale

House, 1969) 10-13; R. Westbrook, "Lex Talionis and Exodus 21:22-25," Revue Biblique 93

(1986):52-69.

    27 Some proponents of this view are Anderson, Moral Dilemmas 7-8; Gleason L. Archer,

Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982) 247-49; Francis J. Beckwith,

"Abortion and Public Policy: A Response to Some Arguments," JETS 32 (1989):512-15; Walter

Brueggemann, "The Book of Exodus," in the New Interpreter's Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck et al.

(Nashville: Abingdon, 1990) 1:864; Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus

(Jerusalem: Magnes, 1983) 275-77; Jack W. Cottrell, "Abortion and the Mosaic Law," Christianity Today 17/13 (March 16, 1973):6-9; John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in the Book of Exodus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971) 225-26; R. du Preez, "The Status of

the Fetus in Mosaic Law," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 1 (1990):5-21; John 1.

Durham, Exodus, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1987) 323-24; John Ellington, "Miscarriage or

Premature Birth?," Bible Translator 37/3 (July 1986):334-37; Feinberg and Feinberg, Ethics 63-

65; Paul B. Fowler, Abortion: Toward an Evangelical Consensus (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah,

1987) 149; Victor P. Hamilton, in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology

and Exegesis, ed. W. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 1:1059; James K.

Hoffmeier, "Abortion and the Old Testament Law," in Abortion: A Christian Understanding and

Response, ed. James K. Hoffmeier (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987) 57-62; H. Wayne House,

"Miscarriage or Premature Birth: Additional Thoughts on Exodus 21:22-25," WTJ

41 (1978):108-23; 'Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old' Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,  1983) 102-4, 168-72; C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, 3 vols, translated

by James Martin, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1949) 2:135; Rae, Moral Choices 124-25; Ronald F. Youngblood, Exodus, EC (Chicago: Moody,

1983) 105. Meredith G. Kline ("Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus," JETS 20 [1977]:197-98) and

John J. Davis (Abortion and the Christian: What Every Believer Should Know [Phillipsburg, N.J.:

Presbyterian and Reformed, 1984], 51-52) propose a variation of this position by relating verse 22

to the mother alone and verse 23 to the infant.


182                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

payment of a fine is not a severe enough penalty. A penalty appropriate to the

"harm" is required. Notice that the "harm" does not happen or happens to the

premature child and/or the mother.

 

Primary Issues Involved in Interpreting This Text

Since this passage is used as support for both sides of the debate, an

overview of some key issues related to this text is in order: the term "child," the

verb "to go out," the term "mischief/harm," the lex talionis principle, and the

medical feasibility of an infant in biblical times surviving a premature birth caused

by trauma.

 

The term "child" (dl,y,, yeled), Customary lexical sources point out that

dl,y, (yeled) refers to living people. It often occurs in a manner similar to Nbe (ben,

"son"), though with less emphasis on relationship to parents.28 It occurs with

regard to family relationships, political administration, prophetic ministry, and

eschatology.29

Hamilton demonstrates that the nuances of this noun range from newborns

(Exod 1:17, 18; 3:6-9), to children who have been weaned (Gen 21:8), to teenagers

(Gen 21:14-16), to youths (2 Kgs 2:24), to young men old enough to serve in

foreign courts (Dan 1:4, 10, 15, 17), and to descendants (Isa 29:23).30

The noun yeled never refers elsewhere to a child unrecognizable as human

or incapable of existence outside the womb. In fact, two Hebrew terms might have

been used if Moses had a miscarriage in mind: Ml,go (golem, "embryo" or "fetus," Ps 139:16) or lp,ne) (nepel, "stillborn child," "miscarriage," Job 3:16; Ps 58:9

[English 58:8]; Eccl 6:3).

A final issue that deserves some attention is the plural form of the noun

yeled. Of the 89 occurrences of this noun, 47 instances are plural. The noun occurs

with a pronominal suffix 17 times and appears exactly as it occurs in Exodus

21:22 in four other verses (Gen 33:2, 7; Exod 21:4; Ruth 1:5). Outside of Exodus

21, yeled refers to the children of woman (Leah, a slave woman, Naomi). The

reason for a plural form of yeled has mystified many interpreters.

The passage depicts a single pregnant woman who seeks to break up a fight

between men. In the midst of the chaos of the conflict, the men strike her, causing

her to go into labor prematurely. The Hebrew text reads, "and her children go out."

What is the significance of this plural form in this context? Scholars have

suggested five interpretive alternatives.

In the first place, some scholars conclude that this form of the noun is a

 

  28 J. Kuhlewein, “dly“, in the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, edited by E. Jenni and

C. Westermann (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997) 2:545.

   29 Victor P. Hamilton, "-15'," in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology

and Exegesis, ed. W. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 2:457-78.

   30 Hamilton, "dly" 2:457.


The Abortion Dilemma                                    183

 

plural of abstraction "with the sense ‘the product of her womb,’ an apt term for an

inadequately developed baby."31 Sprinkle adds that the plural of abstraction "is

used proleptically in anticipation of, or foreshadowing, the fatal outcome."32

Secondly, the plural could allow for several children and either sex.33 Thirdly,

some regard it as a generic plural used with a view to including both contingencies

(vv. 22-23).34 Fourthly, it might refer to a woman's capacity for childbearing.35  If

this is the case, the verse is not relevant to the issue of abortion. Finally, it could

indicate "natural products in an unnatural condition."36 None of the above options

has abundant examples outside of this passage that would serve to provide

support. For contextual reasons, the present writer prefers the second or third

alternative.

The verb xcAyA (yasa'). The term "depart" (xcAyA, yasa') means literally to

"go out" and is ordinarily used to describe normal human births (Gen 25:26;

38:28-30; Job 3:11; 10:18; Jer 1:5; 20:18). This verb does occur for a miscarriage

in Num 12:12 and possibly Deut 28:57. However, in Num 12:12 "the dead one"

precedes the verb, making clear that a live birth is not in view. In fact, Num 12:12

refers to a stillborn birth rather than a miscarriage. The Deuteronomy passage does

not clarify whether a live birth or miscarriage is in view. This verbal root does

appear one time in the OT with the idea of a miscarriage with reference to oxen (a

fem. sing. participle, Ps 144:14).

The normal Hebrew verb for miscarriage, both in animals and humans, is

lkw (skl, Exod 23:26; Hos 9:14; Gen 31:38; Job 2:10). The verb also refers to,

God's punishment of His people by allowing an invading force to take away their

children by violent means (Deut 32:25; 1 Sam 15:33; Lam 1:20) or by wild

animals (Lev 26:22; Ezek 5:17).37

The term NOsxA ('ason). The term "mischief " (NOsxA., 'ason) means "harm"

in a general sense. It is interesting to note that in cognate languages (e.g., Akkadian

 

   31 Sprinkle, "Interpretation of Exodus" 249; cf. L. Schwienhorst-Schonberger, Dad Bundesbuch

(Ex 20,22-23,33) BZAW 188 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1990) 81-83. ''Sprinkle, "Interpretation

of Exodus" 250. Sprinkle points out that this interpretation does not necessarily imply that a live,

unaborted fetus is subhuman. It simply implies that a corpse is subhuman.

   33 Cassuto, Book of Exodus 275; Ellington, "Miscarriage or Premature Birth?" 336; Kaiser,

Toward Old Testament Ethics 103; Keil and Delitzsch, Pentateuch 2:135; John M. Frame,

Medical Ethics: Principles, Persons, and Problems, (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and

Reformed, 1988) 99.

   34 Kline, "Lex Talionis" 198-99.

   35 A. Schenker, "Drei Mosaiksteinchen: ‘Konigreich von Priestern', 'Und ihre Kinder gehen

weg', `Wir tun and wir horen' (Exod 19,6; 21,22; 24,7)" in Studies in the Book of Exodus, ed. M.

Vervenne (Louvain: Leuven University, 1996) 367-80.

   36 House, "Miscarriage or Premature Birth" 114.

   37 Victor P. Hamilton, "lkw," in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology

and Exegesis 4:106.


184                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

and post-biblical Hebrew) this term connotes healing or refers to a physician. Its

five occurrences (Gen 42:4, 38; 44:29; Exod 21:22, 23) in the OT appear to be

euphemistic references to serious or even fatal injury.38 In other words, it highlights circumstances in which medical attention is required.39

Proponents of the premature birth position contend that since no

preposition and nominal suffix ("to her") is included, the harm cannot be restricted

to the mother. Unlike the ANE law codes, where the mother receives the focus of

the attention and no "child" is mentioned, Exodus 21:22 refers to the pregnant

woman and the "child" that prematurely leaves the womb. A natural reading of the

passage would suggest that the "no harm" or "harm" applies either to the child or

the mother. Also, it is difficult to understand how Moses could describe a violently

induced miscarriage as "no harm.”40

Lex Talionis. This Latin phrase literally means "the law for retaliation."

It sought to establish a standard of justice and to limit retaliation to the exact

extent of the injury inflicted.41 It countered the tendency of unlimited revenge.42

This concept of retaliation ensured quality of treatment for the less privileged

members of Israelite society.

The legal principle of lex talionis advocated, first, the principle of equal

justice for all and, second, the penalty must be commensurate with the crime,

nothing more or less.43 The statement of the lex talionis principle in Exodus 21

permits no misunderstanding as it lists eight illustrative equivalences.

Several proponents of the view that a miscarriage takes place in both

instances (verses 22 and 23) argue that the lex talionis principle was not

necessarily understood literally. In many instances, the demanded punishment

(whether execution or damage to a certain part of the body) was often replaced by

a punitive fine or "ransom."44 Building on that conclusion, Sprinkle contends that

the fine demanded in the wake of the death of the fetus in verse 22 and the lex

talionis verdict in the verse are both monetary in nature.45 Although a difference

in degree

 

   38 Eugene H. Merrill, "NOsxA," in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. W. Van Gemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 467.

   39 Sprinkle, "Interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25" 246.

   40 Proponents of the miscarriage view contend that since the ANE law codes (see below) only refer to the mother and not the fetus/infant, there is no reason to expect Moses to refer to anyone

other than the mother (e.g., Fuller, "Exodus 22:22-23" 183).

   41 Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics 72-73, 299-301.

   42 Robin Wakely, “hvk,”in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and

Exegesis 2:607.

   43 Hamilton, "lkw" 4:106; cf. Childs, Book of Exodus 472.

   44 Sprinkle, "Interpretation of Exodus" 237-43.

   45 Ibid., 243.


The Abortion Dilemma                          185

 

is present, this law demands no distinction in the quality or kind of punishment.

 

Medical Feasibility. A number of proponents of the miscarriage position

contend that in the medically primitive time of the OT, it is unlikely that any

infants survived a premature birth under severe duress caused by blunt force

trauma.46 Although this observation has validity, it does not pose an

insurmountable obstacle to the premature birth view. By giving this law, Moses is

not implying that many infants born prematurely as the result of blunt force

trauma will live. However, he could be establishing a law that stands distinct from

the ANE law codes of his day. Not only is there severe punishment in the wake of

unintentional mortal injury to a mother or a fetus, but even forcing an early

delivery of an infant through violence, in the event that the infant lives, faces a

demanding penalty.

 

What about the Input/Example of Other ANE Law Codes?47

 

A number of Ancient Near Eastern law codes contain scenarios similar to

that found in Exodus 21. An overview of the data found in those law codes and a

brief evaluation of its impact on the issue at hand follows below. For the sake of

brevity, the law codes are presented in chart form.

 

The Code of Hammurabi (ANET, 175, laws 209-14).

•         An injury causing a gentleman's daughter to miscarry                       10 shekels

•         An injury causing a gentleman's daughter to miscarry and die            life for life

•         An injury causing a commoner's daughter to miscarry                         5 shekels

•         An injury causing a commoner's daughter to miscarry and die            30 shekels

•         An injury causing a gentleman's slavewoman to miscarry           2 shekels

•         An injury causing a gentleman's slavewoman to miscarry and die 20 shekels

The Hittite Laws (ANET, 190, laws 17-18).  

An injury causing a slave woman to miscarry (in the 10th month)         5 shekels

•         An injury causing a free woman to miscarry (in the 5`h month)      5 shekels

•         An injury causing a free woman to miscarry (in the I0th month)   10 shekels

The Middle Assyrian Laws (ANET, 181, 184-85, laws 21, 50-53).

•         An injury causing a daughter to miscarry         a punitive fine, public flog-

ging, and royal service

•         An injury causing a free wife to miscarry         life for life

•         An injury causing a prostitute to miscarry        life for life

 

   46 Robert N. Condon, "Exodus 21:22-25 and the Abortion Debate," BSac 146 (1989):140-431-

Sprinkle, "Interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25 " 249.

   47 For a more complete explanation of this issue (from an accidental miscarriage view), see Fuller, "Exodus 22:22-23" 171-74.


186                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

•         An injury causing a wife to miscarry48                       a punitive fine

•         A self-induced miscarriage                                                  life for life

Numerous scholars argue that since these and other significant ANE law

codes address the occurrence of miscarriages and not premature births in their

legislation and since the OT legal stipulations frequently are quite similar to ANE

legal statements, one can assume that Moses is dealing with miscarriage and not

premature birth. If Moses was introducing a new, unique law, he would have

avoided any misunderstanding by utilizing precise terminology to distinguish his

legislation from that of other ANE law codes.

In response, it is essential to observe that although numerous scholars

contend that the Exodus passage must be interpreted in light of the various ANE

law codes (where miscarriage appears to be in view),49 the biblical law dealing

with this issue is different in some key areas. For example, Exodus 21

 

•         Makes no distinction concerning the age of the fetus

•         Makes no distinction with regard to the social status of the injured woman

•         Introduces a different fate depending on whether or not "harm" took place

•         Specifies that a child (yeled) "comes out" from a pregnant mother's womb.

Most of the ANE law codes refer to a case where someone causes a woman "to

drop that of her womb" (ANET, 175 n. 137) in a very generic fashion.

 

In summary, the Mosaic Law demanded that the unborn child be protected

as a person and that the same penalties be assessed when the child was injured as

when an adult person was injured. In the first instance, the men guilty of hitting the woman must render monetary compensation for the trauma of premature birth

and any discomfort caused the mother. In the second place, the legal principle of

lex talionis is invoked for the men guilty of striking a mortal blow, leading to the

death of the child and/or the mother.

 

Key Observations on Exodus 21:22-25

•         Opponents of abortion should not view this passage as one of their

strongest biblical arguments against abortion (in light of the interpretive

complexities).

•         Although these verses do not provide an absolute prohibition of abortion,

they clearly do not teach that an unborn child is less than human.

•         Even if verse 22 presents the accidental miscarriage of an unborn child, this

 

   48 The phrase can be rendered "a wife with a history of miscarrying." For this interpretation of the ANET translation, "who does not rear her children," see G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles, The

Assyrian Laws (Oxford: Clarendon, 1935) 114-15.

   49 E.g., Fuller, "Exodus 22:22-23 " 171-74; Sprinkle, "Interpretation of Exodus 21:22-25 " 250, et al.


The Abortion Dilemma                                    187

 

conclusion in no way legitimizes the intentional aborting of an unborn child.

•  Even according to the accidental miscarriage view, since a fine is levied against

          the guilty parties for causing this tragedy, the death of an unborn child is

not acceptable.

•  If an accidental miscarriage results in a fine levied against the guilty party, how

          much more serious would be the intentional killing of an unborn child? It is

totally inappropriate to use this passage to sanction abortion, an intentional

killing of a child.

•    The different penalties levied, a fine in one case and lex talionis in the other

          case, does not necessarily indicate anything about personhood and worth.

As a rule, Moses did not impose a mandatory death penalty in cases of

accidental killing (Exod 21:13, 20-21).

•    The relatively "light" sentence in verse 22 in no way indicates that the

fetus/infant is less important or less than a person. In the immediately

preceding passage (21:20-21) a slave owner who kills his slave

unintentionally escapes with no penalty at all. Does Mosaic law regard

slaves as less than human persons? Legal status rather than personhood are

in view in both instances.

 

This writer agrees with Youngblood who writes, "The complexities

involved in attempting to interpret verse 22 make it unwise to press it into service

in the abortion controversy, pro or con.”50 McQuilkin affirms that "Such an unclear and hotly disputed passage could hardly be used to establish the status of

the unborn with unassailable biblical authority."51

 

WHAT ABOUT THOSE QUESTIONABLE CASES

(e.g., mother's health, rape, incest)?

 

Between the polar positions that suggest that abortion is always or never

permissible, a number of people wrestle with the possibility that in some cases

abortion might represent a potential consideration. The most common position

among those who are generally against abortion is that abortion can serve as an

acceptable option in the case of a pregnancy causing risk to the mother's health, or

when the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.52 Narrower still, there

are people who would limit abortions to ectopic pregnancies (see above for

explanation). The following paragraphs survey those possibilities.

 

The Mother's Health (Therapeutic Abortion)

At the outset, it is important to note that the present writer intentionally

limits this discussion to the mother's physical well-being. Many individuals include

 

   50 Youngblood, Exodus 105.

   51 Robertson McQuilkin, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1989) 320.

   52 Most politicians who oppose abortion fall into this camp.


188                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

her psychological, social, and economic situation as part of the mother's health.53

D. Gareth Jones rejects abortion on demand but contends that "unresolvable

dilemmas" in which the fetus places the mother's life in great jeopardy provide an

acceptable ground for abortion.54 Most proponents of this position contend that

the actual person (the mother) is of greater intrinsic value than the potential person

(the fetus) she is carrying.55

First of all, statistically, this "dilemma" of facing the potential loss of a

mother's life is a rarity, and when it occurs, the decision is not one of choosing

whose life to take and whose life to save. Instead, it is a choice between losing

both patients or saving the mother. In the rare case where a pregnancy must be

abbreviated to protect the life of the mother, the proper procedure would be to give

the child extraordinary care with the hopes of bringing it to maturity. C. Everett

Koop, former Surgeon General of the U.S. and a leading pediatric surgeon, has

stated, "In my thirty-six years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one

instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother's life."56

 

Pregnancies Caused by Rape/Incest

No doubt victims of these horrible crimes experience humiliation, fear, and

anger. The unborn child is a tangible reminder of the abusive act that traumatized

the woman. According to those who would allow abortions in the wake of this

abuse, it is "unfair" that a woman who has endured rape or incest should have to

carry the evidence of her tragedy through nine months of pregnancy and

subsequent childbirth. Another complicating factor is that victims of incest are

normally fairly young and are later along in their pregnancy before it is diagnosed.

Because of their relative youth, their pregnancies may be more difficult and the

childbirth more strenuous. Nevertheless, while it is "unfair" that the victim of

rape/incest goes through the demands of pregnancy and childbirth, would it not be

a greater injustice to kill the unborn child?

 

Pregnancies Facing Fetal Handicaps

Some examples of fetal handicaps that serve as justifiable circumstances

 

   53 The 1973 Supreme Court case of Doe v. Bolton included a woman's emotional and

psychological health with her physical health as elements to be considered as part of the woman's

health (as it relates to justification for having an abortion).

   54 D. Gareth Jones, Brave New People: Ethical Issues at the Commencement of Life (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 76-77.

   55 Ibid., 177; Norman L. Geisler, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1971) 117-18.

   56 C. Everett Koop, "Abortion: Deception-on-Demand," Moody Monthly 80:9 (May 1980):24.

Koop is apparently referring to instances of aborting a fetus that has attached itself to the mother's

womb. From the perspective of the current writer, an ectopic pregnancy provides the only clear

and legitimate occasion for a therapeutic abortion. If a physician does not remove the fetus from

the mother's fallopian tube, as a result both mother and infant will without question die.


The Abortion Dilemma                                    189

 

for abortion are anencephaly (part or all of the brain is missing), Tay-Sachs

(severe enzyme deficiency causing blindness and paralysis), spina bifida, and

Down's Syndrome. For example, D. Gareth Jones regards anencephaly as

legitimate ground for abortion but rejects Down's syndrome as a viable occasion

for abortion. He comes to this conclusion because anencephaly, where the major

brain centers are lacking, signifies that "there is no prospect of anything remotely

resembling human life."57 He contends that Down's syndrome does not rob the

fetus of the potential of having many personhood qualities.58 The debate revolving

around this "hard case" focuses on the following alternatives: Quality of life vs.

Sanctity/Value of life.

 

Quality of life. Fundamental to this emphasis is the idea that human life

is not possessed of any inherent worth, and thus the individual human being must

achieve a serious right to life. Though some scholars suggest objective criteria to

guide one's decisions when facing situations of this kind, for the most part the

decision-making process has little objectivity. The projected "quality" of life for

the fetus is the basis for the decision to abort or not.

Because of the untold suffering that might be experienced by the fetus as

well as the agony, pressure, and financial strain that would come upon the parents,

pro-abortionists will recommend abortion in certain instances.

 

Sanctity/Value of life. Those who give emphasis to life's sanctity regard

human life as distinct from all other life, possessing an inherent dignity which

renders it worthy of protection and preservation simply because it is human life.

According to Genesis 1:26-27, man is created in the image of God (Gen

1:26-27). At the very least that indicates two things. In the first place, God's image

in man renders man distinct from all other created beings on this earth. Secondly,

God's image in man renders man worthy of protection; to shed innocent blood is

reprehensible because "in the image of God He made man" (Gen 9:6). This

majesty or dignity is not acquired or achieved, nor is it affected by the individual's

personal worth to society, but God endows it. It is part and parcel of our

humanness.  Throughout Scripture, God invites man to enter into a personal

relationship with Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. Since life has sanctity and

value given by God Himself, we cannot judge its quality by our mortal standards.

Although life's realities are complex at times, from the perspective of this

writer, very few situations provide an occasion to consider abortion as a legitimate

option. An ectopic/tubal pregnancy provides the only clear justification for

abortion in the life of a believer. The instances of pregnancy caused by rape or

incest or the potential of a fetus afflicted with a serious handicap place undue

attention on the

  

    57 Jones, Brave New People 180.

    58 Ibid., 181. Whether or not Tay-Sachs disease would warrant an abortion depends on the potential impact of the child on the rest of the family unit (ibid., 181-82).


190                         The Master's Seminary Journal

 

potential quality of life for the fetus or place an improper focus on the abuse

experienced by the unwilling mother. The human "injustice" of those scenarios

must be subordinated to God's definition of justice.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Since the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade in 1973, almost 40 million

pregnancies have ended in abortion. Pro-abortion proponents enthusiastically

lobby for the continued legality of abortion-on-demand. Those opposed to

abortion fall into three general camps: abortion is acceptable sometimes (risk to

life of the mother, in the wake of rape or incest), rarely (ectopic pregnancies), or

never.

The Bible affirms the personhood of the fetus in a number of ways.

Exodus 21:22-25 (which receives the bulk of this article's attention) should not be

used as a compelling "proof-text" for either the pro- or anti-abortion camps One

can draw certain important conclusions from this important passage. An unborn

child is not less than human. Even if Exodus 21:22 depicts an accidental miscar-

riage (for which only a fine is levied), this conclusion in no way legitimizes the

intentional aborting of an unborn child.

 

ADDENDUM

After "The Abortion Dilemma" had gone through the editorial process for

this issue of The Master's Seminary Journal, the FDA announced their approval of

the early abortion pill known as RU-486. Instead of implementing the potential

restrictions mentioned above in this article (176), the FDA has granted almost

unlimited approval. Any physician will be able to prescribe the drug if he/she has

a backup who can provide surgical intervention in cases of complications.

Consequently, this drug will find its way into family-practice clinics as well as

into abortion clinics.

 

 

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