Palm Springs, California, is the scene of spring break madness for thousands of West Coast college students. During Holy Week of 1989 police had their hands full dealing with drunkenness, nudity and unrelenting revelry. More than 1,000 students were arrested before order was restored in that desert community.
Meanwhile, 110 miles away in Los Angeles an equal number of people also found themselves in jail. Not for drinking or carousing—these were praying, singing Christians crusading against the loss of babies through abortion.
Is there anything that so divides our society as the abortion debate? Those who plead for the survival of the unborn call themselves pro‑life, while those who defend the rights of women to control their own bodies proclaim themselves pro‑choice. Pro‑life or pro‑choice? That is the question. Many consider the answer to be the greatest moral issue of our time.
We Seventh‑day Adventists also find ourselves struggling on opposite ends of a desperate tug‑of‑war. We value life as God’s sacred gift, but we also treasure religious liberty with its freedom of conscience. Can we possibly have it both ways? That is, can we be both pro‑life and pro‑choice? I think you will see that we can, in a quiet, thoughtful spirit of Christian understanding.
The abortive lifestyle
There’s more to abortion than first meets the mind. It may involve more than an act of terminating pregnancy. For many in our society it has become the preferred lifestyle—the way they cope with any problem that comes their way.
Is there trouble at school? Don’t bother to study harder, just abort your education. That’s the take‑it‑easy attitude many have today. Are you having problems at work? Quit—abort your job. Has holy wedlock become unhappy deadlock? Divorce—get an abortion from your vows. Are you faltering in your Christian experience? Take the easy way out and abort your religious experience.
For many, perhaps, aborting pregnancy partakes of the same mindset of escapism. Those who regard it as a form of belated birth control overlook a principle of Scripture clearly taught from Genesis to Revelation: God is merciful, yet actions have consequences. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:7,8).[i]
Although conception obviously requires male participation, unless a woman has the support of loving husband she often faces childbirth all alone. Many find the pressures of pregnancy too much to bear alone, and reluctantly they opt for an abortion. As understandable as her decision may be, is abortion really God’s solution to her predicament? For better or worse, the Bible says we will reap the consequences of our actions. Abortion as birth control attempts to escape this fundamental fact of life; the tragic result is that a human heart stops beating.
Consider the case of a popular, fun‑loving teenager who belonged to a church I once served as pastor. Let’s call her Jennifer. Her pursuit of happiness got her pregnant. The solution seemed simple enough to her parents: get her off the hook (and save their reputation) with an abortion. Why should the family have to suffer through a disruptive and embarrassing pregnancy?
Getting an abortion is always a traumatic event in itself‑‑a reality that escapes many pro‑life activists. The fact remains, however, that the instant cancellation of pregnancy appears to provide the quickest, easiest route back to normalcy. That’s why Jennifer and her parents opted for it, they told me later.
Unfortunately, having aborted her problem, Jennifer never learned her lesson. Next summer she got pregnant again, and yet again after that—four abortions before the age of 21. The pregnancies weren’t only her fault, of course. The primary blame probably rested with the good‑time Charlies who wanted a night of entertainment but not the responsibilities of fatherhood. Without support from them or from other church members, Jennifer simply stopped attending services. When I arrived as her new pastor, she had aborted Christianity, believing that it was ultimately about maintaining strict standards without compensating love or mercy.
I wonder what would have happened if Jennifer had known the love of Jesus through the members of the church? She might not have attempted to escape reality with that first abortion. Nine months of pregnancy would have been tough, but encouraged by the grace of God she could have accepted one of life’s most important lessons: we cannot escape the consequences of our actions.
Christian values vs. humanism
The twisted value system of this world rejects God’s principle of reaping what we sow. In many other ways society’s values are in shambles. Consider the apathy toward what is growing in the womb. An unborn baby is regarded as the moral equivalent of a tumor‑‑discard “it” if you please, no questions asked. But suppose it were a little dolphin swimming around inside of a pregnant mother. You can be sure that Hollywood’s save‑the‑dolphin protesters would furiously defend its right to life. Yet the same activists who are so militant about preserving every dolphin in the ocean don’t show equal concern for humanity in the womb.
When the state of California decided to finally execute a condemned murderer, crowds holding candlelight vigils camped outside the death chamber of the state prison. Yet many of these same people will condemn those who publicly express concern about turning a mother’s womb into a death chamber. Celebrities from Hollywood campaign with equal fervor for the preservation of convicted murderers and the privilege of killing unborn babies. Their motives may be sincere, but their logic isn’t easy to follow. Such is the gospel of secular humanism.
Christianity, on the other hand, values life as a gift from God‑‑a gift so sacred that He sacrificed His own life to preserve it. The bottom line for us, then, is whether a preborn child is really alive. If it is a living human being, we must ask the question: What has that baby done to deserve death?
Viability and personhood
You may be thinking that an unborn baby isn’t really alive because it isn’t breathing. Well, if it doesn’t have life, then why does it have a beating heart? And if it isn’t a human being, what kind of being is it? If it isn’t a child, why is it sucking its thumb?
Yet we may ask, isn’t it necessary for a living being to have the breath of life? In reality, a baby in the womb is just as much a consumer of oxygen as anyone else. Yes, mother’s help is needed to process that life‑sustaining air, but many adults undergoing surgery also need help breathing. Without that respirator they would die. Do they cease being human beings during their operation because they cannot breathe on their own?
Even after a baby is born and can begin breathing, it still isn’t fully “viable,” that is, capable of living on its own. It can’t feed itself, support itself financially or even roll over in its crib. Obviously, viability has nothing to do with personhood.
Consider also the elderly and severely handicapped who cannot live on their own. Does that mean they aren’t real people? This type of thinking gave birth to Hitler’s “final solution.” The Nazis considered helpless members of society to be expendable “useless eaters.” Some thoughtful minds ponder the staggering cost of 50-plus million unborn lives and worry whether a new holocaust is happening right now, right here in America.
We can debate back and forth about exactly when life begins, but the burden of proof belongs to those who would invade the womb and terminate that life. Obviously a short trip down the birth canal does not convert a depersonalized fetus into a human being—life must begin sometime beforehand. Some point to the passing of one trimester to another, but there is no magical transformation from one division of time to the next. The most natural, logical position is that life begins at conception. From that instant onward until adulthood there is continuous growth and maturing.
Remember that a preborn baby has all the indications of humanity well within the first trimester of life. He or she has a perfectly formed body with organs functioning. About the 21st day after conception—even before the mother may know she is pregnant—the heart of her baby is already pumping blood. Unborn babies have amazing capabilities that medical science is just now beginning to appreciate. They already have their own personalities. They can recognize the voice of their mothers, who in turn are bonded to that life within the womb. When a mother violates the unwritten law of maternal instinct by aborting her baby, no wonder she often feels nagging guilt for years to come for ending a human life.
In their compassion for women getting abortions, pro‑choice advocates go to great lengths denying that human beings are being killed. For example, one church policy statement on abortion refers to it as the “interruption” of pregnancy‑‑as if John Wilkes Booth merely interrupted the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.
The Bible and the unborn
We who are Christians should be interested to know the Bible says about the unborn. We read that the virgin Mary was “with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18). The eternal Lord was a real, living child inside the womb of Mary.
Think about this: if unborn babies are not living beings, where was Jesus while Mary was pregnant? Did He cease to exist for nine months?
In a number of places the Bible refers to unborn babies as people. For example, when Christ’s aunt Elizabeth met His mother Mary: “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44). According to the Bible, what Elizabeth carried inside her womb was a baby. Not a mass of developing fetal tissue, but a bouncing baby boy. In the light of both biological and scriptural evidence, can we possibly escape the conviction that abortion terminates human life? And what right to we have to stop that precious beating heart?
Who made us the lords of life and death?
Scripture explicitly defends the rights of preborn babies. If an assailant in Old Testament times struck a woman and caused her to give birth prematurely, he was fined. But if that unborn life was lost, the sentence was death: “You shall appoint as a penalty life for life” (Exo. 21:23, NASB).[ii]
Many atheists and agnostics lack true respect for human life. To them, an unborn baby may be just fetal tissue evolving in the womb—a symbol of the evolutionary process. Such a denial of life that God has granted violates the sixth commandment. Also the fourth, since the Sabbath commandment requires respect for created life. Abortion, by sabotaging God’s life in the womb, undermines the Sabbath.
Jesus said of Himself: “The Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (John 5:21, NIV). He also declared: “I hold the keys of death” (Rev. 1:18, NIV). Abortion empowers mere mortals into becoming the lords of life or death, playing the role of God. It therefore receives its authority from the one who said “Ye shall be as gods” (Gen. 3:5, KJV). Is it possible that those who defend abortion, well‑meaning though they may be, actually promote the work of the devil? That would be tragic and most regrettable.
Feminists of the radical type warn, “Get your hands off my body!” Well, if God has seen fit to grant life to those babies in the womb, shouldn’t we get our hands off their little bodies? Of all parties involved when abortion is considered, no one is more helpless or threatened than the unborn child. In our age of violent solutions to the problems of the world, the church is called to protect the helpless, the endangered, and the unwanted. As members of the human family we ourselves were helpless and endangered after Adam sinned. God might have saved Himself a lot of trouble by aborting us. Instead, at great expense and embarrassment on the cross, He opted for adoption.
Aren’t you glad He did? Shouldn’t we go and do likewise?
Defending human choice
Having considered the case for being pro‑life, let us examine the other side of the coin, human choice. Can we be pro‑choice as well as pro‑life? God has indeed given us freedom of individual conscience (see 2 Cor. 3:17). However, He expects us to make responsible choices: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Duet. 30:19). When Adam and Eve exercised their power of choice and committed sin, death came to the human family. Still today the well‑being of children—including the unborn—depends upon right choices by parents.
When a man and a woman willingly engage in sexual intercourse, they have also chosen to enter into risk that a baby may result. A man then assumes the possibility of fatherhood, with all the associated responsibilities to which he must be held accountable. Likewise a woman who has chosen to have sex has also exercised her freedom of choice about conceiving human life.
There is no such thing as unlimited freedom of choice; personal freedom cannot violate another individual’s rights. Thus a woman’s right over her body ends where her baby’s body begins. The fact that an unborn baby can’t defend itself doesn’t mean it has no rights.
But what about pregnancies from rape and incest? Such cases deserve special consideration since the mother never had opportunity to exercise her legitimate free choice. Why should she be forced to face the consequences of someone else’s crime? Because of this, many who normally oppose abortion approve such an option in cases of forced pregnancy. Since the mother was impregnated without her choice, wouldn’t she have the right to defend herself against that intrusion? Why must she reap what she didn’t sow?
And what about performing an abortion to save the life of the mother? Such cases are relatively rare, but occasionally doctors find themselves faced with the terrible dilemma of deciding whether mother or child should live—or possibly losing both lives if an abortion is not performed. In such situations abortion can be justified to prevent the greater tragedy.
At this point we must venture into an especially delicate area. What if the unborn baby is genetically crippled? Often in such cases the mother’s body deals with the crisis by causing a miscarriage. But suppose God allows the baby to develop—are we qualified to decide whether that person’s quality of life would be worth the trouble of coping with a handicap? Many handicapped people enjoy profoundly fulfilling lives. You may know that the composer Beethoven suffered such congenital defects that some doctors today might have wanted to abort him. Music lovers everywhere can be glad that Beethoven’s mother didn’t.
I know we are tiptoeing through some delicate and controversial questions here. A strong case can be made that life is so sacred that no human has the right to choose abortion under any circumstances. Some answers don’t come easy, but while we wonder what should be done in cases of rape, incest, genetic disability, and saving the life of the mother, let’s do something now about the vast majority of abortions in which a healthy mother rids herself of a healthy baby that exists by her own free choice. We could immediately relieve society of the burden of more than 95 percent of its abortions. Having accomplished that, we could continue to discuss the ethics of abortion in those questionable situations
Well, those are my convictions about abortion. I wish you could know how I have agonized over this chapter. Perhaps you think I haven’t been sensitive enough. Some women seem determined to denounce any man who has pro‑life convictions as being a heartless chauvinist. Please remember that the matter under discussion is not how sensitive I happen to be but whether there is human life in the womb. Please also believe me that, having been a pastor, I know something of the anguish women suffer when they consider an abortion. They need compassion, not condemnation, whatever they decide to do. And if they do make the courageous choice of preserving that life within them, the crisis isn’t over—it has only just begun. They need help in bringing their babies into the world and pulling their own lives back together. The church has a solemn responsibility to stand by their side.
It’s been my privilege to serve on the board of several crisis pregnancy centers at which qualified Christian professionals volunteer their time, offering counseling and medical services to pregnant women willing to consider options other than abortion for their pregnancy. I wish such a loving option had been available to help Jennifer, that troubled young woman whose pastor I used to be. Along with medical services and other assistance, Jennifer would have been offered spiritual encouragement. She might have heard something like this:
“Jennifer, please understand that God loves you despite your mistakes. He has a special plan for your life—and for the life of that little baby inside you. You might not be able to provide a home for your baby, but many childless couples are praying every night before an empty bassinet. By entrusting your baby to their care, you can turn your own nightmare into the fulfillment of their fondest dreams.
“Perhaps you feel guilty about the abortions you’ve already had. Just confess your sin to Jesus and claim His gift of forgiveness. Actually, we are all guilty of sin and deserving of death. The Bible says that all of us, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. But thank God, at the cross He laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all.
“Yes, Jennifer, Jesus paid the full price of our salvation. Now we can stand clean before God, just as if we had never done anything wrong. Just as if we’ve always done everything perfectly! And the Lord not only forgives us and counts us perfect; He also gives us a new life full of wholesome, positive relationships.”
I wish I could report that Jennifer immediately came back to Jesus and the church. By now, maybe she has. If not, then someday, with the support of her sisters and brothers in Christ, I believe she will rejoice in His love and forgiveness. All of us need mercy from God more than we can know, and we all need to share it with each other.
This is a chapter from Wrestling With Reality by Martin Weber (Review & Herald, 1994), a book now out of print.
[i] Unless noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Version.
[ii] Defenders of abortion may suggest that Exodus 21 proves that the fetus in the womb is inferior to human life. Persuasive evidence to the contrary from the Hebrew text is found in a Ministry magazine article by Ron du Preez, “The Fetus in Biblical Law” (September 1992). If one disagrees with this interpretation of Exodus 21:22‑25, the fact remains that we cannot determine personhood by whether or not the death penalty exists for killing that life. Notice a verse immediately preceding our passage (verse 20), in which someone who kills a slave is not put to death but merely punished. Nobody in today’s society would deny that a slave is a human being‑‑yet the Bible doesn’t enforce the death penalty for killing a slave.