Does the Bible forbid abortion as a crime?

Posted November 13, 2009

It is very definitely indicated in Psalm 139:13 that God’s personal regard for the embryo begins from the time of conception, when it is referred to as a person: “You formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (“Me” indicates personhood, not just an organism.) If it is a person that is killed by abortion, then abortion is murder.

The Psalmist continues (vs. 16): “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Thus abortion not only aborts the child, but also it aborts the ordained plans of God for that child.

The modern science of biogenetics affirms that all genetic features to be later developed in the adult are already present in the fecundated ovum from the very beginning: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. .. ” (vs. 14). Ecclesiastes 11:5 reminds us, “As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything,” including the unborn child. Destroying a human life made to the image and likeness of God is a very serious matter, not something like killing a cockroach.

In Jeremiah 1:5 the Lord says to the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I consecrated you.” Thus it is seen that we humans have an identity in the mind of God that is “from everlasting” obviously prior to conception by those natural processes that bring about the miracle of human life (see Job 31:15). Beyond that fact, the Jeremiah passage emphasizes the staggering truth that God has a definite plan and purpose for our lives, and that each of us really matters to him. Consequently, anyone who takes a human life at any stage will have to reckon with God. In Genesis 9:5 God tells Noah, “From each man I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellowman.” Abortionists and women planning abortions should consider this interdiction seriously.

In Isaiah 49: 1 the prophet says, “The Lord called me before my birth. From within the womb he called me by my name.” Like Jeremiah, Isaiah was called before birth, as was the Apostle Paul, from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15). All this makes it obvious that personhood is present before birth, and taking the life of a person is homicide (apart from cases where the right to life is forfeited, as in cases of crimes deserving of capital punishment, and cases of self-defense – including national self-defense in war).

It is interesting to speculate how the U.S. Supreme Court would answer the question, at what point in the gestation period of Christ in Mary’s womb was the “Word made flesh” as a human? Or, to speak the unspeakable, if Mary had an abortion, beyond what point of her pregnancy would that have meant the death of Christ? After one month? After one day? After one minute? Or to rephrase the question, when did the miracle of the Incarnation take place? Was it not at the very moment of conception? A serious consideration of this major biblical event would put the abortion issue in perspective.

John the Baptist before birth (Lk. 1:41) manifested the fulfillment of the prophecy of the angel to Zechariah (vs. 15) that he (John) would be “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” This occurred when he was six months into gestation (vs. 36). The Holy Spirit doesn’t fill a “blob of tissue,” but a human being. Hence, if this human being had been aborted at that time, clearly it would have been murder.

In biblical times, incest reaped the death penalty (Lev. 20:11, 12, 14, 17, etc.) for the perpetrators, but not for the child that might be conceived from the incestuous relationship, thus supporting the protection of innocent human life, no matter how sinful the act that brought that life into being. Thus the Bible has something to say to those who tolerate abortion only in cases of incest or rape. Abortion in any case is still murder.

Other biblical passages that indicate personhood from the time of conception include Psalm 51:5. “I was born a sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” This statement about original sin inherited from our protoparents Adam and Eve would not have any meaning if the embryo were not human from the moment of conception.

In early biblical times, the closest thing to abortion was infanticide at the time of birth, as when the Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male Hebrew children at birth (Ex. 1:16). God punished this baby-killing by sending “defiling floods” on the land (Wis. 11 :7).

Ultimately, the whole abortion issue, in biblical terms, is summed up by the words of God through Moses in Deuteronomy 30: 19: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Glad You Asked” by Fr. John Hampsch, cmf