Origins of the Bible’s Stance on Abortion
Abortion is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, as it was not practiced as it is today in the ancient world. However, implicit references to the subject can be found in various sections of the Bible, including passages in the books of Exodus, Numbers, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Job. In these biblical passages, the Bible teaches that the unborn child is a living being with a soul and a purpose, and that God has a plan for each baby before conception.
The Bible’s stance on abortion is often seen as a compassionate one, since it suggests that God is partially responsible for the life of a child and that He will provide for the unborn. For example, in the first chapter of Psalms it states: “You created my inmost being; you knit me 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.” This passage, interpreted a certain way, could be seen as an argument against abortion, as it suggests that God is actively involved in the formation of human beings in the womb.
Interpretation of Scripture by Christians
Given the lack of clarity around the issue of abortion in the Bible, many Christians have interpreted the text in different ways. Generally, the Christian church has maintained that the Bible opposes abortion, citing passages such as Exodus 20:13 which states “You shall not murder”, and the passage in Proverbs 6 which states “these six things the Lord hates, yes seven are an abomination to Him” with the seventh item on the list being “hands that shed innocent blood”.
From these passages, many Christians argue that the Bible explicitly portrays any type of abortion as a form of murder. Furthermore, some Christians use the Bible in an attempt to make moral judgments about specific cases of abortions, such as those that involve “extreme cases” of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life may be at risk.
Interpretation of Scripture by Non-Christians
Non-Christian individuals and scholars have different interpretations of the Bible’s stance on abortion. Some argue that the Bible does not provide explicit teaching on the matter, and that its silence on the issue leaves room for debate. Furthermore, given that the Bible was written in a different cultural context, non-Christians claim that the text should not be used to make moral judgments on abortions that take place in modern society.
Andreas Anderson, a biblical scholar, states that “The bible was not written in our world with our highly developed understanding of embryology, which is why we have to be careful in deducing making moral decisions based on Scripture when an issue is outside of its context”. Anderson goes on to say that although it is possible to derive certain principles about life from biblical teaching, the Bible does not provide a “black and white” view of the modern debate around abortion.
Political Implications of Biblical Interpretations
The Bible’s teachings on abortion are often discussed in the context of politics and policy-making. In the United States, for instance, the issue of abortion is polarizing and has significant political implications.
Conservative politicians often cite the Bible in an attempt to support their stance on abortion, using passages from the book of Isaiah and Job to paint an explicit picture of the criminality of abortion. For example, in the book of Job, it is written that “a man can conceive, carry a baby in his womb, give birth, and still not be able to understand its mystery”. This is seen by many conservative politicians as evidence of the sanctity of human life, leading to the conclusion that abortion should be criminalized in order to prevent the taking of innocent lives.
Critique of Politicization Of the Topic
Despite the political implications of the Bible’s teachings on abortion, many argue that the inherent complexity of the issue is not accurately reflected in the rhetoric of conservative politicians. In a 2017 article, religious scholar Elizabeth Anderson wrote that “the political debate has come to be dominated by Christian fundamentalists, who have twisted scripture to suit their own narrow interpretation, often to the detriment of the most vulnerable among us”.
Due to its complexity, the issue of abortion should not be seen as a binary political question, but rather, according to Anderson, as “an extremely difficult and profound moral decision [that] should be faced with empathy and humanity and a humility that comes with understanding the gravity of such a decision, what it might do to a person whether they take the decision or not”.
Intersections Between Politics and Religion
The politicization of the Bible’s stance on abortion is often seen as a form of religious interference in modern politics. Some argue that the attempt to impose religious views on the public through legal means is detrimental to democracy.
The issue of religious interference in politics is particularly salient in the United States, where the separation of church and state is enshrined in the Constitution. Despite this, it is not uncommon for religion and politics to intersect in debates around topics such as same-sex marriage and abortion.
Those on the conservative side often argue that religious principles should take precedence over secular laws while those on the liberal side typically view religious interference in politics as a violation of the separation of church and state.
Religious Alternative Perspectives
While religious views are often used to justify conservative political positions, many religious individuals have embraced more progressive views on the subject of abortion. For instance, in the 1990s, a group of Protestant Christian ministers known as the ‘Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice’ was formed, which argued that the right to allow an abortion should be made without any discrimination based on race, gender, or income.
This coalition advocated for a compassionate and inclusive view on the issue of abortion, stating that decisions around the subject should be made with empathy and consideration for a person’s individual circumstances and beliefs.
The message of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice was that any attempts to stigmatize those who choose to have an abortion should be discouraged, and that the choice to do so should be made with care and consideration for a person’s circumstances.
Intersections Between Politics and Feminism
The debate around abortion has long been seen as an issue of gender equality and feminist rights. While the Bible does not explicitly outline a stance on the matter, some passages in the Bible have been interpreted as an active embrace of feminist beliefs.
For example, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is seen as condemning the way in which women have been marginalised in the past and are seen as “second-class citizens”: “When Mary had come to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’]. When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled”.
The passage is seen as a sign that Jesus is actively invested in improving the lives of women and confronting the misogyny of the era by rejecting the traditional notion of social hierarchy. In this way, many feminists see the Bible as an example of a text that promotes gender equality and respect for women.
Critique of Interpretations Focused on Gender
However, some religious feminists critique interpretations of the Bible focused solely on gender. For example, Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and professor at Dartmouth College, states that “if religious feminists are to make a difference, they must acknowledge both the chauvinism and the misogyny of biblical tradition and struggle actively to change both Christianity and the world”.
Balmer argues that feminists must confront both traditionalist interpretations of the Bible and contemporary distortions of scripture in order to challenge the institutionalised misogyny in religious groups. In this way, Balmer claims that religious feminists should not shy away from confrontation or debate, but rather use it as a starting point to challenge the negative aspects of patriarchy in religion.
The Bible’s stance on abortion is complex and multi-faceted, and its teachings are often interpreted in different ways depending on a person’s religious, political, or cultural background. While some view the Bible as evidence of the criminalisation of abortion, others believe that it encourages more progressive values when it comes to the subject.
Given the complexity of the issue, it is clear that the Bible’s stance on abortion is far from black and white, and that any attempts to use it to make moral decisions around the subject should be done with empathy and humility. In this way, the Bible provides key insights into the debate around abortion and can help to foster meaningful and respectful dialogue on the subject.