Abortion and the Church

According to a recent study, only 4% of women who had an abortion did so because they didn’t want the baby.1

Only four percent. Let that sink in for a moment.

While leading a friend through inner healing, the Holy Spirit told them that their current issues wouldn’t go away until they got to the root of why those issues were there—they would have to get all the way to the bottom of their issues and uproot them from the ground. The topic of abortion is like that. If you want to stop it completely, you need to address all the issues that are causing it in the first place, not only try to mow it down from above the ground. Again, women don’t get abortions because they feel like it—they have other reasons. Here are some of the reasons they report:

  • Weren’t financially ready (40%)
  • Problems with their partners ( 31%)
  • Focus on their other children (29%)
  • Afraid they couldn’t give the baby a good life (12%)2

These stats are further proved by other studies that have found that 75% of the women who get abortions are “impoverished or classified as low income.”3 Racial injustice likely feeds abortion too as 61% of those who get abortions are nonwhite. With 86% of these women being unmarried and 59% of them already being mothers, we can gather that a large number of poor single mothers get an abortion because they don’t think they can keep up with another child. If you know a single mother, then you’ve seen this struggle. As many of us can attest, parenting and providing for a child is hard enough with two adults, let alone one.4

A Better Pro-Life Ethic

While we Christians are fairly vocal in our proclamation that abortion is a justice issue, we are rather silent about the societal injustices that go on to create most of the scenarios that lead to abortion. In many ways, we are lazy in our efforts to fight abortion: we just want people to stop, which requires little to nothing of us. But if we really want to stop abortion, we need to combat issues like poverty, racial injustice, abuse in the household, and so on. This will require our money, time, research, political advocacy, and effort. If we don’t want our neighbors to have an abortion, they need our wallets, groceries, daycare, transportation, support, and life. For just as Christ laid down his life for us, so must we lay down our lives for others. This kind of Christian lifestyle gets at the root of the problem. 

If this sounds too radical, then it may be that we are not pro-life enough. Indeed, what pro-life means to many Christians today is nothing more than being “anti-abortionist.” We are otherwise seen by many as angry, hateful, pro-war, pro-death-penalty, gun-wielding, racist, refugee-and-immigrant-denying, non-forgiving nationalists that embrace violence, force, and insurrection as a means to get what we want via militant politics. We want the unborn to live—which we can’t see, touch or hear—but we want the dysfunctional-living who grew up in tough circumstances to be put in jail for life when they do something wrong. 

This is not a pro-life ethic. The early church was an anti-racist, pacifistic, social-justice-fighting, pro-life movement that won the hearts of friends and enemies through the kind of love found in self-sacrifice and personal suffering. This is not typically what our pro-life efforts toward abortion look like. If all “pro-life” means to us is being against abortion, then we will not stop abortion. There are too many other pro-life issues attached to its root that need to be addressed by us through the power and direction of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ.

Abortion in the Ancient World

Abortion has been around since the earliest pages of the Bible. At the start of the book of Exodus, Egyptian midwives were told to kill any Hebrew boys that were to be born. Just as we have old wives-tales today that try to determine the sex of a child, so did ancient midwives. If they thought the child in the womb was a boy, they were to use ancient abortion techniques to kill them in the womb. Many of these techniques revolved around drugs that were poisonous to the baby and made the womb uninhabitable. Such drug use is what ancients referred to as sorcery, and this sorcery would carry on into the New Testament world as pharmakeia. Because the Bible explicitly forbids the use of pharmakeia/sorcery, we can gather that the Bible writers also denied the use of abortion techniques.5

In New Testament times, abortion was done for many reasons, especially by the rich since they could afford it so easily. Bible scholar Michael J. Gorman names a few reasons, some of which sound familiar to reasons we still hear today:

  • Forced to abort by a husband or lover
  • “Conceal illicit sexual activity.”
  • “Rich women did not want to share their wealth with lower-class children fathered illegitimately.”
  • “Preserve sex appeal.”
  • Family limitation.
  • “The wealthy did not want to share their estates with many offspring.”
  • “The poor felt unable to support large families.”
  • “A corrective to the many inefficient means of contraception.”
  • Health reasons.6

Gorman also recounts the various ways in which women could receive these abortions, some of which were effective and some that were completely superstitious. They would have to do so within the first seven months of pregnancy (though the seventh month often killed the mother):7

  • Chemicals, medicines, poisons, potions, and drugs
  • “Substances introduced directly into the womb via the birth canal” that either “destroyed the fetus” or expelled it.
  • Being exposed to certain smells
  • Magical charms
  • Astrological predictions of good days for an abortion
  • “Bind the body tightly around the womb.”
  • Hitting the womb
  • Inserting sharp tools into the womb that were made specifically for abortion.8

Needless to say, abortion is not a 21st-century problem—it has been around for a long, long time, as have the various social issues that perpetuate it. Like today, fetuses were not considered to be humans in the ancient world.9 Even once the child was born, “it was valued primarily not for itself but for its usefulness to the father, the family and especially the state”10

Against the Flow of Abortion

In the ancient world, the Jews stood out on the topic of abortion. From their perspective, bearing children was a part of the divine mandate since God had instructed them “to be fruitful and multiply” back in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, the abortion of children was so outside of the realm of Jewish thinking that the topic really only surfaces in their writing in cases related to an accidental abortion or an abortion done for health reasons. Abortion was otherwise off their radar of possibilities.11

As Christianity began to grow out of Judaism under the teachings of Jesus, the early Christians applied his “love your neighbor” teaching to all of their ethics, including abortion. As Gorman states, “The fetus is seen, not as a part of its mother, but as a neighbor. Abortion is rejected as contrary to other-centered neighbor love”.12 The early church was a poor-loving, antiracist, social justice movement that looked to serve the marginalized just as Jesus had instructed them. For them, care for the unborn fit into this movement and explicit teachings on the topic are found in important early Christian writings like Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. These early Christians also became pro-life on all general issues that required a decision of life or death to be made.

A Better Conversation

From my own personal pastoral Christian perspective, I believe that all life is worth saving because I believe God is the Creator of life. Even in the toughest of situations, he is capable of bringing about redemption, beauty, and abundant life. Great things have happened through children who were almost aborted (ie. Moses and Jesus) and we never know what is already happening within the womb, be it Jeremiah receiving the calling of a prophet or John the Baptist receiving the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the spiritual is at work even before a child is born.

That being said, I have this conviction on abortion because I am a Christian who believes in a loving, redeeming God-of-life who has taught us through the self-sacrifice of Jesus to do all things with love. I recognize abortion as a social justice issue because I see the baby as an independent human being that needs someone to fight for them. I believe God calls that baby “precious” and I do, too. Yes, this conversation can get confusing sometimes when other pro-life conversations get mixed in. For example, if the child offers a health risk to the mother, we are now facing a complicated pro-life debate, for it is just as pro-life to protect the mother as it is pro-life to protect the child. Such cases require wisdom and prayer.

But I recognize that I live in a world that often takes on a westernized, enlightened, scientific view of life. They do not always believe in God. They do not always follow Jesus. They do not always believe that humans have spirits, and therefore they may assign less worth to a fetus. They do not always care for the Bible, and so quoting it does absolutely nothing to make our point. I understand that there are many horrible situations that lead to pregnancy and that not everyone follows a God of redemption who can bring good out of it. I understand that some have such a different perspective of the world that they do not see any morality in this conversation at all. I also understand that women have suffered at the hands of evil men and a dominating and misguided church. Indeed, I recognize that I am a man and a part of the church and that my voice has been jaded by my people, my gender, and our sins. On their behalf, I apologize. Please forgive us.

But perhaps we can all agree that when we see something that we think qualifies as injustice, we feel compelled to speak out. So whether you agree with the traditional Christian view on abortion or not, perhaps you might at least be able to understand why some Christians carry this view. Perhaps if we can all try to understand why we think the way we think, we can at least have a better conversation than that of extreme republicans (of which I am not) and extreme democrats (of which I am not).

In the meantime Christians, regardless of what happens from the top down, you always have the power to weaken the root. All you have to do is love your neighbor. It is good and right to fight this fight from a political perspective, but much more is required of us if we want to see this topic change.

Further Reading

All of the information in this post comes from two specific books and has been footnoted below.

Gorman, Michael J. Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998).

Williams, Daniel K., “Chapter 3: Abortion,” The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2021), Kindle Edition. 

Footnotes

1 Williams, Daniel K., “Chapter 3: Abortion,” The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2021), 109, Kindle Edition. Referencing: “Induced Abortion in the United States,” Guttmacher Institute, January 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states; Jenna Jerman, Rachel K. Jones, and Tsuyoshi Onda, “Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients in 2014 and Changes Since 2008,” Guttmacher Institute Report, May 2016, http://www.guttmacher.org/report/characteristics-us-abortion-patients-2014.

2 Ibid, referencing: Sophia Chae et al., “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: A Synthesis of Findings from 14 Countries,” Contraception 96 (2017): 233–41.

3 Ibid. Referencing footnote 1 article.

4 Ibid.

5 Gorman, Michael J. Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), 48.

6 Ibid, 14-15.

7 Ibid, 18.

8 Ibid, 15-17.

9 Ibid, 26.

10 Ibid, 32.

11 Ibid, 45.

12 Ibid, 49.

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