Abortion is an issue that goes beyond faith and into simple ethics and morality. Note that these arguments can also be used in a debate with a Christian.
Arguments against abortion must be divided into two categories to insure usefulness in discussion.
The first category is made up of arguments that can be used against abortion with the non-believer.
The second category consists of arguments that can be used against abortion with the Christian. These include Biblical proofs that non-believers would not find convincing, but the believer must accept and submit to.
Arguments against abortion used when talking to non-believers include:
1. An unborn child is clearly a human
2. An unborn child must be defined as a “person,” for there is no clear line where personhood begins
3. Abortion leads logically to infanticide and beyond
4. Although abortion is seen as for women’s rights, it actually (ironically) is destroying women.
Arguments against abortion from a believer’s perspective:
1. Biblical Passages
2. Appeal to Christian Authorities
Before we delve more deeply into the arguments against abortion, let us observe some facts about abortion. In the United States, approximately one in every four pregnancies ends in an abortion (Feinberg, 47). Abortion is often seen as a method of birth control (47). Estimates in developing countries alone state that thirty million to forty-five million women have abortions every year. 125,000 to 250,000 of these women die from botched procedures (48). This is unacceptable. It is the holocaust of our time. Now, some facts of human development. Only 18 days into pregnancy, the baby’s heart is forming. 20 days into the pregnancy, the groundwork of the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord is being laid. 43 days into pregnancy, the baby’s brain waves can be recorded (Feinberg, 54). That’s less than a month and a half. Can the baby feel pain? Is abortion really a simple procedure that does no harm to the fetus [note that the use of the word fetus is often used to dehumanize the subject, which again brings painful memories of the holocaust to mind]?
The conditions necessary for pain are known to exist in the fetus. These are “1) functioning neurological structures to sense pain; 2) overt behavior expressive of pain; and 3) a cause for pain [abortion] (Feinberg, 55).” Tests have been done that show a child in utero feels pain when pricked by a needle. “Contrary to what proponents of abortion claim, when a mother aborts her baby, most likely the baby feels pain (56).”
Now the arguments against abortion shall be explored in greater detail. The fundamental issue at hand is whether or not the fetus is a human. However, once the pro-choice individual has been persuaded of the fact that the fetus is a human [which we will find out shortly is much easier to prove than one might think], he/she often falls back on the term “personhood.” If the fetus is not a “person,” then it doesn’t have the rights that we “persons” have. These points must be made perfectly clear in order to overcome the evil of abortion.
It should first be noted that the idea of the fetus not being human is quite ridiculous upon examination. The fertilized egg is not going to develop into a bird, a fish, or a railroad train. The only natural possibility this fertilized egg has as it grows is to become a human. This alone is enough evidence to show that the fetus is human, just an undeveloped one. But we must also delve into the scientific aspects here. Norman Ford states that “The union of male and female chromosomes at syngamy [fertilization] ‘gives rise to a single cell with a set of twenty-three pairs of maternal and paternal chromosomes into one genetically new individual cell.’ This process is completed approximately twenty-four hours after fertilization, and yields a cell that is ready to replicate itself (Feinberg, 57).” Thus, it is clear that this zygote is human in nature. Further, before these first 24 hours, there is no way for the fertilized egg to become anything else. Thus, throughout the entirety of pregnancy, a human life is indeed present. The question must then turn to whether or not this human is indeed a “person” with the rights granted to those who have “achieved” personhood.
First, note that the fetus within the mother is an independent organism. This directly refutes the biological view of personhood. The fetus is genetically unique from its mother (Craig, 116). Yes, it lives within its mother, but it is not indeed a vestigial organ or part of its mother. No one can accurately claim that a fetus is the same genetically as its mother (Feinberg, 61). Second, one view of pro-choice advocates is that personhood is something that a fetus only has potential for, it is not indeed a person yet. The most obvious problem with this view is that it begs the question of “What is the definition of a person?” What must one “achieve” in order to be a person? This makes the definition wholly subjective.
A pro-choice party may choose to define personhood to exclude unborn children, but a pro-life party would obviously define it as the opposite. This argument is subjective and cannot be used as grounds to destroy human life. Indeed, it leads to a horrifying slippery slope where personhood could be defined by the majority to destroy the minority—targets could include race, age, etc. Indeed, one of the definitions often used by pro-choice parties includes the “ability to interact with the environment in a meaningful way.” This would then mean that the severely mentally handicapped, babies, and even Joe Shmoe while he is asleep (and therefore unable to interact with the environment in a meaningful way), are not persons. One could kill any of these without any moral repercussions. Personhood is not something that should be determined by a subjective definition.
Thus we see that neither the biological nor the sociological view of personhood can suffice. Neither is a basis upon which one can rationally make a moral judgment. Further, where could one draw the line between person and non-person? A life is a smooth process that, if uninterrupted by unnatural means, will lead to a natural death. The development hypothesis used by those who are pro-choice when determining personhood could be applied at any stage along the path of life (Craig, 116). Infants are clearly not fully developed “persons.” Neither are adolescents or late teenagers. Is 30 years a good point to draw the line where a human has finally earned personhood? What about 50? Should any line like this really be arbitrarily drawn? In the same way, should the line be drawn simply because we cannot see the life?
A baby is clearly going to result from the pregnancy [this is obvious, given that this is the reason abortions are performed]. But if we choose to arbitrarily cut off life at 6 months into development, who says we can’t expand that into infanthood or childhood? How does expulsion through the birth canal magically transform an inhuman, impersonal fetus into a human person (Craig, 119)? There is no clear stage where a human immediately gains personhood, unless one accepts the proposal that each human life is a person.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing and ironic topics in abortion is the fact that with all their gusto to defend the rights of women, pro-choice individuals have contributed to the destruction of females around the world. It was previously stated that abortions in developing nations account for 125,000 to 250,000 deaths of women because of botched pregnancies. Further, in places like India and China where it is preferable to a family to have a male child than a female one, abortion is often used to control the gender of the child. This has lead to an ominous massacre of females across the globe. There is no feasible way that one could argue for women’s rights in order to advocate abortion when it [abortion] is used to destroy the rights for a woman to life.
Finally, there are arguments from a believer’s perspective. The most obvious argument against abortion for the Christian is to cite the Bible. No, there is no verse that states explicitly that one should not have an abortion, but the commandment “Thou shall not murder” combined with other verses leads to undeniable evidence against abortion. Psalm 139:13ff (ESV) “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” The Christian can’t possibly argue against this with any validity. The most telling verse here is verse 16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Or, if one prefers NIV, “your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”God has plans laid out for our lives before we even came into existence. God clearly sees unborn life as having worth. Not only that, but He makes plans for each and every one of us before we are even in existence. There is no way for a believer to wriggle around that.
Another passage that can be offered in support is also from Psalms (51:5): “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” How can something that is not a human person be sinful? One cannot be sinful if one doesn’t exist.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says of abortion, “Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder (Bonhoeffer, 174).”
Finally, we must examine a Bible passage that pro-choice Christians often use to attempt to back up their pro-choice stance, Exodus 21:22-25. “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Some believers use this passage to state that it shows the unborn fetus has a lesser status of personhood. They state that verse 22 shows that though the woman loses the child, she sustains no injury, and the penalty is but a fine. They say that this, then, shows that the fetus does not demand the same repercussions as hurting a fellow human (Feinberg 63). There are several problems with this interpretation, however. First, it must be stated that even if one is to concede this interpretation [which is incorrect], it does not authorize abortion. The baby is not intentionally harmed in any manner, but only unintentionally hurt. Second, just the fact that there is a penalty shows that there is wrongdoing here. If the fetus something that may be discarded at will, why is there even a fine for its destruction? Third, the reason the fetus’ death does not require the death penalty is in keeping with the Mosaic exception to the death penalty in cases of accidental death (Exodus 21:13-14, 20-21, Numbers 35:10-34, Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Thus, the fact that there is “merely” a fine does not show that the fetus is less valued. Finally, it absolutely must be noted that Exodus 21 states various penalties for the killing of individuals that cannot be explained away with personhood. For example, verses 20-21 show that one who kills a slave unintentionally has no penalty. No one could argue that the slave is not a “person” (Feinberg, 64).
Further, the correct interpretation of this passage must be seen as the woman giving premature live birth, not a miscarriage. Thus, the implication is quite clear. If the mother gives a premature live birth because of the fight, there is merely a fine (despite no serious injury to anyone), but if either the mother or the fetus is injured, the law of retaliation (eye for an eye) is invoked. Thus, if the fetus is killed, the man causing harm is to be killed. This is remarkable, because it is the only place in Scripture where death is required for accidental homicide. It shows the extreme value placed on the life of the fetus (Feinberg, 65). This interpretation is based on the Hebrew verbs and nouns used in this passage, but that would be tedious to explain here. For further exploration, note the citation.
From this discussion, it can be clear that there is no ground upon which the pro-choice individual can stand.He or she must concede that 1) the fetus is human, 2) the fetus is a person, 3) persons have intrinsic value, and 4) killing a person is murder.
The believer must stand on even shiftier sands, forced to grasp at straws in the face of Biblical and philosophical arguments against abortion. We must pray that God would use His power to overcome the evils of our time. We must pray that God will use us to fight against this atrocity. When we stand at the throne of Christ on judgment day, having fought for the lives of the unborn, those children we did not know and that “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).’”
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. New York. Touchstone,1995.
Craig, William Lane. Hard Questions, Real Answers. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003.
Feinberg, John. Ethics for a Brave New World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993.
The arguments contained in this post were derived heavily from the sources cited. Of particular help was Feinberg’s Ethics for a Brave New World.