We believe the Bible speaks clearly regarding the value of life in the womb. We also acknowledge the complexity and sensitivity of the issues surrounding abortion, a subject that disproportionately affects women. We know that this topic is one laden with emotional weight, and we in no way seek to contribute to the pain or guilt someone might feel who has had, performed or contributed to an abortion. We also recognize there are valid concerns that many proponents of abortion are trying to address (e.g., systemic poverty, the pressures of being a single parent, etc.) and we seek to engage those issues with compassion. The goal of this paper is to outline a biblical approach that navigates the issue of abortion specifically. It is limited in its scope and is not intended to comprehensively address all of the attending and underlying issues. Though the content is brief and to the point, we hope to communicate the church’s stance with empathy. Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and the church must walk in the same manner.
WHAT IS GOD LIKE?
The foundation of our beliefs as followers of Jesus is the nature of God Himself. Our convictions concerning the value of life arise from our understanding of who God is. God is:
- Creator – Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible …” Therefore, we believe that our origins as human beings are a result of the creative act of an intentional God, not a random series of unguided chemical processes (Revelation 4:11).
- Love – 1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God is not just loving; He is the embodiment of love. This is the core of the Christian ethic and informs everything we do.
- Sovereign – As Creator (Genesis 1:1), God understands what makes humanity flourish; as such, He guides us in what is right and wrong, good and evil. Additionally, He reserves the right to establish the value of life (Genesis 9:6; John 3:16) and the timing of birth and death (Job 1:21; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11).
- Present – God’s intent as revealed throughout the Bible is to walk in fellowship with mankind (Matthew 1:23; Revelation 21:3). This fact alone places immense and unique value on mankind.
- Compassionate – God cares about all people, but He has a special concern for those who are powerless, vulnerable and marginalized (1 John 3:17; Proverbs 19:17; Luke 14:12-14). Throughout the Bible, God demonstrates His concern for women and children in particular (James 1:27; Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 68:5).
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MAN?
We believe that mankind was made in God’s image, and therefore our purpose and value are derived from the intention of His will, not our own.
- Made in God’s image – Genesis 1:26, 27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God made every single person in His image, which endows every person with intrinsic value. The good news for everyone is that each person’s value is not dependent on how others value them. Their value is determined by God, and He values everyone regardless of gender, race, abilities and socioeconomic status. Every life is precious to God.
- In addition, to be made in God’s image is to be relational, rational, emotive and communicative, able—like God Himself—to restrain our desires and channel our creative energies, including the mandate to reproduce (Genesis 5:1; James 3:9; Psalm 8:3-6).
- Life begins in the womb – David writes in Psalm 139:13, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” We firmly believe that life begins at the moment of conception (Job 31:15; Psalm 22:9, 10; Isaiah 44:2; Psalm 119:73).
- At fertilization, the gender, ethnicity, hair color, eye color and other traits of a person are already determined. At four weeks, the baby’s heart is beating, the head and face are distinguishable, and the arms and legs have begun to bud. At eight weeks, babies can suck their thumbs, respond to sound and recoil from pain.
- It might also be noted that while a fetus is connected to the woman’s body, it is comprised of a completely different set of DNA, having inherited only 50% of the blueprint for life from the mother. The baby is its own unique entity.
- Personhood is established by God – It is no longer widely disputed among the scientific community that life begins at conception. What is asserted is that although a fetus is a human being, it is not yet a human person because it cannot survive on its own. We believe that all human beings are also persons, including embryos and fetuses in utero. A human is not a person simply because he or she is fully functional, but because he or she possesses fundamental value—whether or not they are able to survive on their own—within or without the womb.
- The word “baby” in the New Testament is the Greek word brefos. This is the word used in Luke 1:41 for the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, and then again in Luke 2:16 for the baby Jesus, having already been born. The biblical concepts of an unborn baby and a baby outside of the womb are one and the same.
- John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb (Luke 1:14, 15), and only people are known to be filled with the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
- God’s plan for the unborn is often stated before birth (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15).
- In the Old Testament, babies in utero were offered some protections under the law (Exodus 21:22-24).
- That each person yet unborn has equal value and status before God is indicated in Job’s declaration that God “shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands …” (Job 34:19).
WHY IS ABORTION WRONG?
In light of the Bible establishing personhood for babies in utero, we believe the Bible’s injunctions against the taking of innocent life apply to any person at any stage of development after conception.
- Abortion, including abortifacient contraceptives, then, is ending the life of millions of innocent babies and will threaten millions more in the years to come. It is an unacceptable alternative for birth control, population control, sex selection and elimination of the physically and mentally handicapped. Exodus 20:13 says plainly, “You shall not murder” (Leviticus 24:17; Revelation 21:8; 1 John 3:15).
- At the same time, we recognize that often the circumstances contributing to the felt need for an abortion are complex, especially, and acutely, for the expecting mother who might be lacking support, under pressure from her parents or partner or generally ill-equipped to deal with the strains of raising a child. This statement on the biblical clarity protecting innocent life is in no way meant to diminish the challenges these mothers face and the intense stress they are often under when they make the decision to terminate a pregnancy. The church must find a way to uphold our convictions about the value of every single human life while also providing compassionate care for the vulnerable (including both unborn babies and expectant mothers).
- God’s attitude toward taking innocent life is clear (Psalm 106:37-39). Innocence in this context means that the individual has done nothing deserving of death.
- An argument could be made in the event that a pregnancy imminently threatens the life of the mother, the termination of the pregnancy might be warranted. This would need to be a decision made prayerfully, in the context of wise medical and spiritual counsel.
- While the circumstances surrounding a pregnancy resulting from incest or rape are devastating, we do not believe this necessarily substantiates the grounds for an abortion for the reasons stated throughout this paper. This situation requires counsel, tremendous care and prayerfulness.
- Demands for abortion most often flow from the practice of sexual freedom without corresponding responsibility. God created mankind with the ability to procreate through the beautiful act of sex within the context of marriage. To protect the sanctity and power of this act, the Scriptures, therefore, speak definitively against premarital and extramarital sexual intercourse (1 Corinthians 6:9-20; Galatians 5:19). We affirm the biblical mandate for sexual purity and responsibility that, when observed, will eliminate situations in which abortion might otherwise be contemplated.
SHOULD PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE AN ABORTION?
Our culture has tried to make “choice” the highest value—a right unto itself, the absolute value above all others. But neither logic nor the laws we hold dear are consistent with such a position.
- Choice as a human right does not precede the right to life itself, but rather proceeds from it. Therefore, along with rights to privacy, rights to personal choice have always been held as secondary and limited by the rights and protection of other lives. Even privacy laws are limited to protecting the rights of lives who can’t protect themselves, child abuse being the most obvious. “Life” and “choice” are simply not an equally level set of values. In the context of pregnancy, the unborn child’s right to life overrules the right of choice. The fact that the unborn child’s life is dependent on the mother and lives within the mother’s body does not circumvent the right to life. As already mentioned, the unborn baby is a unique person with unique DNA.
- The right of a woman to choose whether to reproduce is absolute. Any force used to violate her body should be vehemently protected against, including through laws against incest and rape, including rape by her husband.
- “Reproductive rights,” however, are different from “post-productive rights,” and the practice of abortion is more accurately a practice of post-productive rights. Abortion is about a life already reproduced, and in over 98% of all cases reproduced by choice, the most common reasons for abortion include1:
- Financial difficulties
- Partner challenges
- The need to focus on other children
- Poor timing
HOW FAR DOES GOD’S GRACE EXTEND?
John 3:16, 17 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Everyone needs the mercy and grace of God, and God offers that grace liberally through the gift of Himself—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Ephesians 2:1, 2a, 4-6: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked … But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus …”
- There is forgiveness and healing for anyone who has personally had or has contributed in any way to an abortion who chooses to ask God for forgiveness. Our belief is that no one has disqualified themself from the grace of God. The only unforgiveable sin is to reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit over the course of a lifetime. It is never too late to acknowledge the evil of our deeds, ask for forgiveness and receive the saving grace of God and the healing power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Romans 10:9; Titus 3:5; John 14:6).
- Amazingly, for followers of Jesus, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No condemnation. Period.
HOW CAN THE CHURCH RESPOND?
Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The Church throughout history has been called to respond to injustice. What follows are several ways to counteract the injustices of abortion and the conditions that contribute to this epidemic.
- Pray – The foundation of any advocacy must be laid in intercession for our communities, for the hurting and broken in our midst and for the leaders of our nation (1 Timothy 2:1, 2; Matthew 5:44; 18:19, 20; Ezekiel 22:30).
- Love – The body of Christ must engage every person in situations surrounding this issue with tremendous charity and graciousness of spirit—whether for the low-income, teenage mother who terminates her pregnancy, the politicians with whom we disagree or the practitioner providing the abortions (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 1 Peter 4:8). Christians are called to compassionately minister to those who suffer remorse and guilt from having had abortions or participated in abortions and other life-destroying activities or research, reminding them of these words of Jesus, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
- Educate – Understand the issue and help others grow in awareness. Know the history of abortion and its effects on women, families and communities. Learn how the abortion industry works in America. Develop empathy by hearing women’s stories who have had abortions. Understand the complexity of factors (social, economic, cultural or otherwise) that contribute to the demand for abortions. And most importantly, learn what the Bible has to say concerning the issues we’ve raised in this paper and beyond.
- Serve – There are more ways than voting alone to effect change.
- Be a loving shoulder for pregnant mothers to lean on. Many of the women who feel trapped and choose to have an abortion are walking through their ordeal alone. Create space in your life for someone in crisis.
- Serve at or give financially to a non-profit that helps pregnant mothers who are considering abortion (e.g., Care Net Pregnancy Center).
- Become a foster parent or provide respite care for foster parents.
- Adopt or support adoption agencies and families who have adopted.
- Offer prayer support for politicians who advocate for life.
- Make disciples and be involved at a grassroots level in seeing the ways of Jesus permeate a community.
- Advocate – To be “pro-life” is to advocate for human flourishing at every level of society. Be an involved and informed citizen. Understand that life is an issue that transcends political parties and agendas. Vote with these important life issues in mind. We admonish every believer to engage the issue of abortion (as well as the contributing factors) at a civic and national level (Proverbs 31:8, 9).
- The gospel is a clear declaration that laws can provide a valuable backdrop for human conscience, but laws do not have the ultimate power to change lives. As such, legislation has a legitimate but limited role. We cannot legislate morality, but we can legislate an affirmation of morality. That is, legislation bears the symbolic significance of sanctioning our corporate responsibility.
- The Law only exposes our hearts. Jesus brings the transforming grace of God, offering forgiveness and His indwelling life to change us from the inside out as we are reconciled to God. In the same way, our hope should never be in the Law but in His power to change hearts. The laws we choose as a nation, to the degree they reflect the Law of God, cannot change us and make us “righteous” people, but they can provide a backdrop for our human conscience.
Because life begins at conception, there are other topics in addition to abortion that should be considered in order to value ALL life in the womb. This means we should be careful how we approach both contraception and IVF treatment so that we don’t unknowingly or carelessly end the life which we’ve just written to defend. No matter how life begins, we value all children as a gift from the Lord.
- Contraception – Antioch, finding no clear scriptural mandate, does not take an official stance on the appropriateness of contraception within a heterosexual marriage for purposes of regulating the number of children, determining the time of their birth or safeguarding the health of the mother. We do believe, however, that it is important when a couple chooses to use contraception that the contraceptive is designed to prevent fertilization (e.g., condoms) and is not designed to abort the fetus (e.g., any contraceptive that prevents the embryo from implanting in the womb).
- Throughout Scripture, children are regarded as God’s gift (Psalm 127:3). There are certain circumstances when couples may choose not to have children for very good reasons. However, the use of contraception merely to avoid the demands of childrearing because of selfishness ought to be prayerfully examined in terms of the purity of one’s motives and the personal implications of the divine mandate to reproduce.
- These are matters of personal conscience as godly spouses prayerfully seek God about the growth of their families. While there are important ethical issues in determining whether to have a family, the prevention of pregnancy is understood to be qualitatively different from the termination of pregnancy since the sperm has not fertilized the ovum and human life has not yet begun. It should be remembered, however, that some methods commonly regarded as contraception are actually agents that abort, rather than prevent, pregnancy. Some abortive methods inaccurately advertise that they “prevent pregnancy” because they don’t acknowledge that conception is the same as pregnancy. We recommend that the affected parties thoroughly research the options and consult with a medical professional to stay up to date on contraceptive options.2
- In vitro fertilization – From a study of the Scriptures, we believe God’s plan for human conception is the sexual union between a man and woman in a legal marriage covenant. However, couples confronting infertility may be presented with a consideration to utilize in vitro fertilization, and we recognize the difficulty and sensitivity of this topic for these couples. We do not consider this option to be inferior to sexual conception, and we rejoice that the option to seek medical intervention exists in order to assist these couples. At the same time, there are numerous ethical issues to be evaluated in such a process, including the manner of harvesting the sperm and ova and the nurturing of multiple living human embryos, not all of which will likely be implanted in the uterus. Because of our belief that life begins at conception, the disposal of unused embryos is an acute moral issue that needs to be considered. It is imperative that those who elect this procedure prayerfully seek godly and knowledgeable counsel and engage medical professionals with compatible ethical standards.
- Biomedical research and genetic intervention – We are supportive of morally responsible genetic research and therapies. Genetic research conducted with reverence for life appears to have great potential for the health of human beings through the identification of and intervention in the genetic roots of hundreds of diseases. By the same token, we believe legislation is necessary to prevent intrusive genetic screening and resultant discrimination as well as misguided experimentation and termination of life.
- Biggs, M, Gould, Heather, Foster, Diane Greene, (July, 2013). Understanding why women seek abortions in the US. BMC Women’s Health. Retrieved from https://bmcwomenshealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6874-13-292.
- Focus on the Family offers a good starting point for further study: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/use-of-contraceptives-in-marriage/