I recently put my first bumper sticker on my car. Prior to this, I’d always had a sort of mindset which rebelled against using my vehicle (and thus myself) as free advertising for anyone, regardless of my feelings toward said entity or cause. (“I can’t let people know whom I supported in the election! If people want my opinions on things, they can ask!”) A few weeks ago, however, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse: a rather cute-looking cartoon member of an endangered species with a sign reading, “Save the baby humans!” And it was free! (I guess you get these kinds of offers after you sign so many petitions or join enough mailing lists.) So I got one and slapped in on the back of my car below my ichthus (Jesus always get free advertising space). Now my car boldly invites everyone to join the pro-life cause.
It’s a biblical cause, to be sure. To borrow some scare tactics language, legalized at-will abortion is nothing sort of a legitimatized genocide. Countless lives have been thrown away on a whim, simply because they were unwanted or inconvenient. Yes, the unborn are still alive in a very literal sense, even if our language says otherwise. Think about it: we rarely call a fetus a baby; no one would call a man a father before the birth of the child; and we count age beginning at the date of birth, not the (generally fuzzier) date of conception. For all linguistic purposes, we use a completely different vocabulary when discussing an unborn human being. And so they have no right to live.
Scripture tells us a different story. Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, prophets and poets alike acknowledge the reality that life begins at conception. Job 31:15 speaks of God as “the one who made me in the womb,” acknowledging God’s hand in the creation of a new human being, a creative act carried out in the womb. It also implies God’s knowledge of the unborn as a distinct individual. Likewise Psalm 139:13-16 says, “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. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 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 book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God’s knowledge of an individual life and his recognition of personhood clearly begins in utero, long before birth. Each person is known to God fully in the womb, and He considers them His creation from the time of conception.
Isaiah 44:2 and Jeremiah 1:5 are also standard passages in the discussion of personhood and abortion. Each acknowledges God’s hand at making them in the womb, but Jeremiah goes a step further. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” he writes, “and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). Again, we are known to God before birth as distinct persons capable of being granted gifts and callings.
But the New Testament also tells us more than that. God knows us at conception — and we are capable of knowing him as well. The beautiful meeting between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:39-56 makes this abundantly clear. Verses 39-41 read: “Now at this time [immediately after the conception of Jesus] Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” The unborn John the Baptist recognizes the unborn son of Mary as the Son of God in fetal form. There can be no mistaking this passage as meaning something else. Life begins at conception.
If life begins at conception, as it clearly does from a biblical viewpoint, we’re left with dealing with the ending of that life. The easy place to begin is the Decalogue. Exodus 20:13 gives us the relevant commandment: “You shall not murder.” (I know, I know; the King James says “kill,” but there are half a dozen words in Hebrew for killing. This one, ratsach, is the one for murder or slaughter.) That in and of itself should be enough, but let’s keep going. A chapter later in Exodus 21, the Torah lists the killing of an unborn child still being carried by his/her mother (or the causation of a premature birth so that the infant dies) as a grave offense (vv. 22-25). Not only is all life protected by the law of Moses, then, but also specifically the life of the unborn.
It seems fairly obvious that abortion constitutes the willful killing of a living human being. There remains debate in some Christian circles, however, about abortion in certain circumstances (such as a child of rape or a birth which would endanger the life of the mother). All I can do here is state my own opinions, as this isn’t going to be an issue resolved by someone’s blog (try though we may). I hold the belief that abortion in any situation is still murder. In the latter case, it’s a horrifying decision whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Either way, someone is going to die, and either way, that death is going to come as a result of a conscious decision. I personally feel I would place both lives in God’s hands and pray for His miraculous intervention. (You’re thinking that this makes me a horrible person, I know: to gamble the life of my wife and unborn child on a literal miracle. And you’re also right: it’s not only my decision to make, and I haven’t been put in that position in the first place. You’re also thinking Christian ethics has long held it is permissible to lie and take a life to save a life under special circumstances. Your criticisms are all valid.) In the case of a pregnancy resulting from rape, it’s another horrific situation. A new life has been created because a woman was violated by a man she might not even know. How could we possibly expect her to give birth to and care for that child? Because it’s still a human life. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not something anyone would ever want to have to do. But it’s still a human life, and that’s worth something — even death on a cross.
This leads to a fundamental question in the abortion debate: is this an issue of women’s rights? Is this a woman exercising her right to control what happens to her physical body, or is it something different? I will be the first to say a woman has every right whatsoever to make decisions about her body. No other person, male or female, has that right. Period. The problem arises when we realize, however, that in pondering abortion, she’s making a decision about another human being and another body. Is that human being inside her own and relying upon her for life itself? Yes. But it’s still an error to say it’s exclusively a matter of her own body; another human being is in the equation. And since that human being cannot speak for itself, someone else needs to.
I realize these are poorly-worded and probably unpopular opinions; I considered not voicing them at all and instead opt to explain myself in-person to those who ask, as it would be much easier to communicate tone and nuance that way. Regardless, the matter deserves the full treatment, even if it’s coming from a single white male who will never have the honor of being pregnant.
At the very least, we should all agree on this: while we lobby — and rightly so — to save the trees and the baby whales, we should be doing something to save the baby humans, too. And it might start with getting a bumper sticker.