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Abortion, Planned Parenthood and the Bible

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In recent weeks there have been several articles discussing the letter written by Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board which claims that there is no mention of abortion in the Bible. Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood takes that as justification for the position that the Bible (and, presumably, God) does not oppose abortion.

Just as unsurprisingly, there has been a Christian backlash against that position. A lengthy opposing view was penned on June 18 by Pastor John MacArthur in Christian Press. He agrees that abortion is not mentioned in the Bible, but advances several reasons to interpret the Bible as being opposed to abortion. His view, briefly, is that every person is created by and in the image of God, is loved by God, and that “According to God's law, killing an infant is murder.” He quotes a passage from scripture in support of his claim:

“In His covenant with Israel, the Lord built in a provision for any harm that might come to a child while it was still in its mother's womb. Exodus 21 presents a graphic scenario:

‘If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise’. (Exodus 21:22-25)”

There is a problem with that argument, of course. That passage explicitly does not indicate that killing an unborn child is murder. The “eye for eye” rhetoric is used for harm to the mother other than loss of the child. Loss of the child is treated as the loss of any economic asset would be, by requiring the perpetrator to pay compensation to the woman’s husband. That is, the Biblical penalty for murder is not applied to such a case.

Other commentary has cited the Ten Commandments law against murder; but “murder” applies only to live humans. Jewish law, expressed in the Bible, has been that life does not begin until the child breathes. The closest statement comes in Genesis 2:7. God creates Adam out of dust, and then breathes life into him through his nostrils. Additional support for the idea that life begins with breath is found in Job 33:4 and Ezekiel 37:1-10.

But the larger point is that both sides get it wrong in claiming that the Bible does not mention abortion. Planned Parenthood is correct that voluntary abortion by the mother is not mentioned, but there are cases where killing unborn children are mentioned. For instance, if the mother happens to be in a group that believes in the wrong god then justice demands that their pregnant women be ripped open, and Jews are exhorted to do just that. (Hosea 13:16)

There is even a case of explicit, deliberate abortion not only mentioned but required in the Bible: if a pregnant woman is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband, she is to be brought before the priest, given an abortifacient to cause a miscarriage, and only if the child survives is the deemed to be innocent. (Numbers 5:11-28)

That Planned Parenthood did not bring up these cases may be seen as a matter of delicacy, not wanting to raise such horrible images and treatment of women in their otherwise comforting letter. That the Christian commentators do not bring them up is equally understandable: it opposes their case, and is an embarrassment. But it is only fitting that such Biblical passages be acknowledged and discussed if the Bible is to be invoked on either side of the abortion debate.

One Christian anti-abortion advocacy group has proposed distributing free Bibles to Planned Parenthood waiting rooms so clients can read for themselves what the Bible says about abortion. We have to assume they did not mean any of the passages that actually discuss the issue, and don’t believe those women would find them.

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