On Abortion

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled seven-to-two that state restrictions on abortions is unconstitutional.  The subject of the case before the Supreme Court was a series of Texas statutes that criminalized abortion, thereby preventing a single pregnant woman, identified as Jane Roe in the case, from procuring one.  The argument made before the Court was that these laws violated Ms. Roe’s right of privacy implicitly guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1, of the Constitution of the United States, which states,

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Since the Supreme Court ruling in 1973, there have been more than 62 million deaths of unborn children from abortion procedures conducted in the United States alone.1  According to Worldometer, there have been 420,917 deaths as a result of COVID-19 in the United States since February 2020,2 a statistic noted by the US media that exceeds the total number (418,500)3 of American civilians and military personnel killed during World War II.  However, it is still less than half of the number of abortions (862,320) performed in the United States in 2017.4

Now the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, as quoted above, clearly states that no state may legalize the deprivation of any person of life without the due process of law.  Yet in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, although it is admitted that, “if this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the (Fourteenth) Amendment,” it was decided that legal evidence cited in the ruling, “together with our observation, … persuades us that the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.”5  Thus, in this damning statement, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that unborn children cannot be considered persons under the law, and as such are not entitled to protections against the deprivation of life guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Declaration of Independence famously confesses, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Note what this says: Human beings are endowed with the right to life by their Creator, not by the Court.  And more than that, the Declaration confesses that this right is unalienable, and that in so ruling, the Court wrongfully deprived unborn human beings of a right that is unalienably theirs by the endowment of the Creator of the human race, God Himself.

However, as Peter and the Apostles declared before the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of First Century Judaism, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,” (Acts 4.19), and again, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5.29)  Thus, if we agree that all human beings are endowed with the right to life by God, then it behooves us to turn to God’s Word to learn at what point He has determined that human life and personhood begin.

In Psalm 51.5, David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  David, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,6 said that it was he himself that his mother conceived, not some non-person fetal tissue matter that did not become him until sometime later.  Likewise, David said in Psalm 139.13-16,

For you (O LORD) 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 were none of them.

In the second of the four Servant Songs that appear in his book, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant” (Is. 49.5).  The Servant in this and the other three songs (Is. 42.1-9, 49.1-7, 50.4-11, 52.13-53.12) is none other than the Lord Jesus, of whom God His Father said in the very next verse, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49.6)  Again, according to Isaiah, it was the Lord’s Servant—Jesus—whom God formed in His mother’s (i.e., Mary’s) womb, not a lump of cells that did not become the Person Jesus until sometime later.

In his book, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote that the first word of the Lord that came to him was, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1.5)  If before he was born Jeremiah was not a person, how, then, could the Lord have consecrated him to be His “prophet to the nations”?

In Luke 1.13-17, the Angel Gabriel announced to the Priest Zechariah that his wife in her old age (i.e., past menopause) would conceive and bear a son whom they should name John.  And Gabriel said of John, that “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (v. 15)  If John the Baptist before he was born was not a person, then how could he have been “filled with the Holy Spirit, (while still in) his mother’s womb”?  Or again, why should he have “leaped for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing the greeting of Jesus’ mother to his own mother (Lk. 1.39-45)?

Likewise, in Luke 1.26-38 Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would miraculously conceive and bear a son whom she should name Jesus, that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”  To Joseph also the angel said, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mt.1.20).  The child formed in Mary’s womb by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit was a Person—the Son of God.  And afterward, Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 1.41),7 marveled, saying, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1.43)  That is, “Why should the one who carries my Lord within her womb bring him into my unworthy presence?”  If He was not a person before He was born, then why, while He was still in His mother’s womb, was He accounted to be someone’s Lord?

These verses demonstrate that God regards the child formed in a woman’s womb to be a person.  Moreover, the unborn child’s life was protected under the Law, which regarded the taking of his or her life as murder.  In Exodus 21.22-24 it was written, “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm,” that is, that there is no harm to the mother or to her child who was birthed prematurely, “the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.  But if there is harm,” again, to the mother or the child, “then you shall pay life for life,” etc.  In other words, if striking a pregnant woman results in a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or the birth of a child so injured that he or she dies shortly thereafter, the one who struck her would be guilty of the unborn child’s murder and would face a murderer’s punishment.

The Hebrew phrase translated as “children come out” here is yeled yatsa, which literally interpreted means “child (or children) depart”, obviously intended to say that the child (yeled) is departing (yatsa) from the mother’s body, irrespective as to whether that departure is via birth, stillbirth, or miscarriage.  Some translations of the Bible (e.g., RSV, NASB) translate yeled yatsa as “there is (or she has) a miscarriage,” and are worded so as to state that only further (italicized in the NASB to indicate that this word does not appear in the Hebrew text) injury (i.e., to the mother only) is subject to the penalties stipulated in vv. 23-24, and that the only penalty that the miscarriage itself carries a fine to be levied against the one who struck the mother, such “as the woman’s husband shall impose on him”.  However, there is no linguistic reason to believe that yeled yatsa could not refer to a premature birth or stillbirth as well.  Had Moses specifically meant “there is a miscarriage,” he would have used the specific Hebrew word that means that, namely shakol (which has a more general meaning of “bereave”), as he did just two chapters later (Ex. 23.26; cf. Gen. 31.38, II Kg. 2.21, Job 21.10, Hos. 9.14).  The Hebrew word yatsa is a general word, commonly used in the Old Testament, that means to depart, to come out, or to go forth, and is nowhere in Scripture translated as “miscarriage”.  In fact, in Genesis 25.26 & 38.28-30, it is used of live births.  The context of the use of the word yatsa in Exodus 21.22 militates against restricting its meaning to “miscarriage”.

Exodus 21.22-24 is evaluating whether or not lasting harm (Heb. ason) has occurred when a pregnant woman has been struck.  Ason only appears in three other verses in Scripture (Gen. 42.4,38, 44.29), where it is used to describe the lasting harm that Jacob fears that his youngest son Benjamin might suffer, were he to accompany his brothers down to Egypt.  Further, the text of Exodus 21.22-24 omits any specific reference to the recipient of the lasting harm—whether to the mother or to the child who proceeds from her after she has been struck—leading logically to the conclusion that the condition of the law is whether either the mother or the child has received lasting harm from the injury.  If the pregnant woman’s child is born alive without having received injury from the blow that she had received, then no lasting harm has been done to the child.  On the other hand, if she miscarries, lasting harm has, in fact, been done, terminating the life of the child, and the one who struck her is legally culpable for the child’s death and subject to the law’s penalty, namely, “life for life”.

To be sure, only the violent causation of miscarriage is penalized in Scripture; elsewhere in Scripture miscarriage is regarded only as a tragedy, with no fault attributed to the mother or to anyone else (Gen. 31.38, Ex. 23.26, II Kg. 2.21, Job 21.10, Hos. 9.14).  Miscarriage is a sad fact in this world lost in sin and is itself a curse of the Fall.  Had our first parents not fallen, there would be no miscarriages, no stillbirths, and no infant deaths in this world.  This is not to say that miscarriages, stillbirths, or infant deaths are punishments for specific sins committed by the children’s parents, any more than that a man should be born blind because of his parents’ sin (Jn. 9.1-3).  But the sad fact of miscarriages will remain until the Lord Jesus returns in glory and makes all things new.

Conversely, abortion is a sin, because it is the deliberate taking of a human life made in the image of God (Gen. 9.5-6, Ex. 20.13).  It is not justified for any reason, except in the rare event that it is necessary to save the life of the mother (e.g., cases where the zygote attaches to the fallopian tube instead of the wall of the uterus).  As tragic as the loss of a child through a miscarriage is, it is horrific that a mother should deliberately choose to terminate her unborn child’s life, and even moreso that it should be encouraged by medical professionals whose job is supposed to be to save lives, not take them.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
   the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
   are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
   who fills his quiver with them!
—Psalm 127.3-5

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.
—Deuteronomy 30.19-20


1     The National Right to Life Educational Foundation reported that as of January 2021, there had been 62,502,904 abortions performed since 1973.  This number is based on the numbers reported from 1973 to 2017 by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, which contacts abortion clinics directly to collect this data, with an additional three percent added to account for an estimated 3% to 5% undercount by the Guttmacher Institute for the years 1973-2014 and an additional 12,000 abortions per year for the years 2015-2020 to account for abortions that the Guttmacher Institute admits it might have missed in its count.

2     Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/, accessed 22 Jan 2021 11:15 am CST.

3     Source: https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-worldwide-deaths-world-war, accessed 21 Jan 2021.

4     As reported by the National Right to Life Educational Foundation, with data from the Guttmacher Institute.  2017 is the last year for which the Guttmacher Institute has published this data.

5     Source: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/113, accessed 21 Jan 2021.

6     The Lord Jesus, like the Apostles after Him, confirmed that David in writing the Scriptures attributed to him was “in the (Holy) Spirit” (Mt. 22.43-44, Mk. 12.36, Acts 1.16, 4.25-26), meaning that what he wrote was the very truth of God. As Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God (lit. God-breathed; Gk. Θεόπνευστος)” (II Tim. 3.16), and as Peter wrote, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (II Pet. 1.20-21)  Thus, Christians believe that all Scripture was written under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and is therefore the final authority as to God’s self-disclosure to humankind.

7     See the previous footnote.