We just marked the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide as part of the constitutional right to privacy. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, in protest of the decision, told an anti-abortion crowd this week that "[w]hether the baby is in the mother's womb, or whether it's 8 years old ... that life has value, not because I said so, but because God made it to have value."
All the 2012 GOP candidates' oppose legalized abortion, echoing notions that a fetus is a full human life entitled to the same protections as any other human life.
There are various reasons people oppose abortion, including ethical, moral and scientific but the primary basis seems to come from a religious conviction, presumptively based on biblical principles, that life starts at conception and therefore terminating a pregnancy is murder.
Do those opposing abortion on religious grounds know that the Bible does not consider a fetus a full human life or the killing of a fetus murder?
It is quite ironic and hypocritical how the anti-abortion/pro-life politicians talk about a fetus being considered a full human life, when the Bible itself, based on a literal reading, does not recognize a fetus as a full human life subject to the same rights as a birthed person.
Of course the Bible should not be used as the barometer for social policy but many politicians and advocacy groups make it abundantly clear that their policies on abortion stem from the Bible. The irony is that the Bible does not support their position that a fetus is a full human life and that abortion is murder.
Several verses imply that a fetus has certain qualities of a human life. While Rebekah is pregnant with twins, for example, Genesis 25:22 states that "the children [Esau and Jacob] struggled within her." In Luke 1:41 while Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist she meets the Virgin Mary wherein it states that the "child leaped in her womb."
We all colloquially ask pregnant women how the baby is doing not how the fetus is doing, which is something the pro-life movement likes to point out as indicative of the average person recognizing a fetus as a child. Similarly, in an effort to show that the Bible deems abortion murder one can point to various verses describing a fetus as a child, but by examining the punishment for the wrongful killing of a fetus the most insightful and accurate understanding of how the bible views a fetus can be ascertained. The verses most on point when it comes to abortion are Exodus 21:22-25 which state:
22. And should men quarrel and hit a pregnant woman, and she miscarries but there is no fatality, he shall surely be punished, when the woman's husband makes demands of him, and he shall give [restitution] according to the judges' [orders]. 23. But if there is a fatality, you shall give a life for a life, 24. an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot. 25. a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.
The woman is not killed in the passage. Only the fetus dies in the encounter. The resulting punishment for the miscarriage is a mere fine. The Bible continues with declaring that had the woman died the death penalty would be imposed under the principle of a "life for a life." If the fetus was considered a life then the death penalty would be imposed under the principle of a "life for a life" but since a fine is imposed it is understood that the fetus is not considered a life. From this it is clearly understood that a fetus is not considered a full human life, otherwise the punishment would be death under the subsequently enumerated literal biblical principle of lex talionis ('eye for an eye').
Do you think the Bible would proscribe a monetary punishment for the killing of a human being? The Bible does not even deem the act of wrongfully causing a miscarriage as criminal. It's obvious that based on a literal reading of this passage, the Bible does not view a fetus as a full human life or abortion as murder.
It is also noteworthy that as early as Genesis 2:7, the Bible states that life begins at birth, declaring that God "breathed into his [Adam's] nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul." The verse implies that until Adam took his first breath he was not considered a living being.
Furthermore, you can scour the Bible with a fine-toothed comb, yet you will not find any passage that describes a prohibition or penalty for a woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy. Not a single verse yet the anti-abortion movement continues to declare, in the name of God, that abortion is murder. It seems that God left out the prohibition of abortion or perhaps does not consider a fetus a full human life. I'll let you decide.
Author's note: The above analysis is based on a strictly literal reading of original scripture, divorced from commentary and exegesis that may prohibit abortion. Further, just because abortion may not be deemed murder that does not mean that abortion on demand is permitted either. Potential life is still deemed sacred according to the Bible even if a fetus is not considered a full life and abortion is not considered murder.