Is Abortion Murder?
About the Author: Bible Scholar Graham Spurgeon, a Baptist, lives in Buncombe county, North Carolina. This essay has been distributed in all 50 states and in many foreign countries, and is considered by many people to be the most persuasive pro-abortion essay ever published in America.
I originally posted this old article in the SF Bay area because of all the arguments we've heard from the anti-choice since in San Francisco since the mis-named "Walk for Life" came to town. Some of Spurgeon's answers don't even refer to religion, but are a good response to many of the arguments I've seen from the anti-choicers. Good talking points. Women and their partners who support choice need to get more active and they need to do it NOW.
Q. What is your position on abortion?
A. I believe that a woman should be free to choose whether or not to have an abortion. No one else should tell her not to have an abortion. No one else should tell her what to do and what not to do.
Q. Who wants to deny her this choice?
A. There are many fanatics in our land who want to make all abortions illegal.
Q. Are all anti-abortionists fanatics?
A. No, and I respect those anti-abortionists who are willing to make concessions in a generous, humane spirit. For example, my esteemed brother In Christ, Billy Graham, approves of abortion "In cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is at stake." When I talk about fanatics, I'm not talking about folks like Billy Graham. I am talking about those cruel individuals who are against any and all abortions - period.
Q. Is abortion murder?
A. The fanatics say so, but they haven't looked closely at the Bible. Let's see what the Word of God says on this matter: In the Old Testament, a law was stated clearly fr the Children of Israel after they came out of Egypt:
If, when men come to blows, they hurt a woman who is pregnant and she suffers a miscarriage, though she does not die of it, the man responsible must pay the compensation demanded of him by the woman's master; he shall hand it over, after arbitration. But should she die, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Exodus 21:22-24, Jerusalem Bible)
In other words, if you cause the death of the fetus, you merely pay a fine; if you cause the death of the woman, you lose your own life. Thus, the Bible clearly shows that a fetus is not considered a person. If the fetus were considered to be a person, then the penalty for killing it would be the same as for killing the woman - death.
Abortion then, is not murder. These verses in Exodus, by the way, are backed up by four thousand years of Jewish law; abortion has never been considered murder in Jewish law. A fetus is only a potential person.
Incidentally, the fine the Israelite man had to pay was not for the fetus; it was for hurting the woman. This is made clear in another translation of the same verses (Revised Standard Version): "The one who hurt her (the woman) shall be fined." There was no fine for hurting the fetus because it was not considered a person.
Q. But doesn't life begin at conception?
A. No, life begins before conception. The sperm is alive and the ovum is alive - long before they get together at the moment of fertilization. As Dr. John A. Henderson says, "Life does not begin at conception; it is only changed and now has the potential for a different form." If terminating life is murder, then the anti-abortion fanatics should be consistent and say that terminating the life of the egg or sperm is murder. (Believe it or not, there is a crackpot group in California that is making this very accusation: they say that males who masturbate should be punished because they are guilty of wasting human life in the form of semen.)
Q. If the embryo is a potential person, shouldn't it be treated the same way as a full-fledged person?
A. An acorn is not an oak, a seed is not a rose, an embryo is not a human being. Nowhere in the Bible is the embryo or fetus given the status of a human being. Personhood does not begin at conception.
Q. When does personhood begin?
A. The Bible indicates that personhood begins when a baby emerges from the mother's womn. In the Bible and in modern life, birthdays are observed on the date of the baby's emergence from the womb. The precise moment of the beginning of personhood is when the baby takes its first breath.
Q. Why the first breath?
A. Because that's when God infuses the baby with a soul. Genesis 2:7 says, "And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." In other words, when an infant breathes its first breath, the soul enters its body and it achieves the status of person.
Q. Doesn't God want every fetus to grow into a person?
A. Not according to the Bible. In Ecclesiastes 6:3, God compares the rich man who has led an empty foolish life with a still-born infant and says, "it would have been better for that man if he had not been born."
The world is better off without Judases and Hitlers and Charles Mansons - who quite often begin life unwanted, grow up abused and hated, and then take out their agner on society. How many psychopaths and distructive misfits will be born if anti-abortion fanatics force women to bear unwanted children?
Q. The anti abortionists say that when conception occurs, that means God wants a child to result.
A. Whoever says that doesn't know biology.
Consider these facts:
1. Between one-half and two-thirds of fertilized eggs in a woman fail to implant themselves in the uterus. They are washed away unnoticed.
2. In the United States each year, there are about one million spontaneous abortions - also called miscarriages. The abortions occur naturally- that is, the fetus is expelled from the womb without the assistance of doctors. In many cases, the woman is relieved of a horribly defective or diseased fetus. Scientists say this is nature's way of handling deformed fetuses; a religious person would say that God is merciful in bringing about the spontaneous abortion.
Q. But spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) is far different from induced abortion, isn't it?
A. I don't think so. In many cases, abortion by a surgeon is simply a way of assisting nature, similar to the way we take various medicines to assist the natural processes of healing. Let's say that doctors discover that a pregnant woman is carrying a fetus that is horribly deformed. If abortion doesn't occur spontaneously (a miscarriage), then doctors are only assisting what normally should take place.
Q. Why didn't God speak out explicitly on the question of abortion in the Bible?
A. It wasn't an issue in Biblical time. (Neither was polio, but who would say that polio vaccine is against the will of God?) In Biblical times, abortion was not an issue because safe procedures were not known. Nowadays, abortion is safer than childbirth (statistically, a woman is less likely to die from abortion than from childbirth).
Q. Why did God wait so long to give the world safe abortion?
A. The world didn't need it as much in the past as it does now. I think He is showing mercy on us by giving us this safe surgical technique at a time when the world is almost choking to death from over population. Human beings can't take care of the children already on earth: United Nations health authorities tell us that one-third of the world's children die of malnutrition before the age of five. One out of three. What kind of life is that? I think God is showing us He wants quality - not quantity.
Q. The anti-abortionists would say that you are a "baby-killer."
A. I happen to love children, I marvel at my own - they are little miracles, they are treasures. It is because I treasure babies that I am for abortion. I want to see babies that are wanted, loved, adored - not babies that are hated and abused, and forced into the world because of the misguided zeal of fanatics.
Q. Some anti-abortionists say that abortions in America constitute a Hitler-style Holocaust.
A. This is ironic because Hitler (and Stalin as well) outlawed abortion. Totalitarian regimes want to control every aspect of a person's life, including a woman's reproductive system. In America, by contrast, when our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, early abortions were legal. Allowing women to control their own bodies is the American way; treating women like cattle is the totalitarian way of dictators and ayatollahs.
Q. Won't the American family be weakened by legalized abortion?
A. No. What would weaken the family is the government [were] to strip parents of their right to decide their family size for themselves.
Q. Wouldn't widespread abortion make people callous to human life?
A. No, to the contrary, it would be society's way of saying, "life is important. Children are important, and they shouldn't be brought into the world unless they can be loved and provided for." Child abuse is a sin and a crime (see Jesus' remarks in Matthew 18:6).
Q. But the anti abortionists say that unwanted children can be put up for adoption.
A. This is a cruel hoax - all this talk about adoption. There are currently 120,000 children in this country - and uncounted millions elsewhere in the world - who are unadoptable. Nobody wants them. Blue-eyed, blond, white-skinned children are quickly adopted. But if a child is black or physically handicapped or mentally retarded, he or she is not likely to find a permanent home. It's a shame, but it's true. (Incidentally, there are many black couples who would love to adopt black babies but can't afford to.)
Q. Can you give an example of a case in which abortion is the desired alternative?
A. A mentally retarded 12-year-old girl was raped by her father and she became pregnant. Doctors' tests indicated that the fetus was physically deformed with a strong probability of mental retardation. The girl's mother - who was living in terrible poverty - wanted the girl to have an abortion, and her pastor concurred. I think God favored this abortion. There are many other cases, of course, which could also be cited.
Q. Do you think that babies that do come into the world with handicaps should be killed?
A. Of course not. Once a baby is born, it is to be loved and cherished and helped as much as possible. Here is an interesting comment made by a woman who wrote to columnist Ann Landers: "I am the mother of a child with Down's Syndrome. I believe that a special child can enrich one's life. My husband and I have devoted a major part of our waking hours these past 12 years to making sure our son has a full and productive life. Our older children have also made this commitment to their brother. Given the chance, we would choose to have the beloved child again - just as he is. We would also choose not to bring another one like him into the world. Why? It is not that we lack compassion, it is simply a matter of energy." She goes on to say that she and her husband are strongly in favor of a woman's freedom to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
Q. The anti-abortionists talk about the pain that the fetus feels during abortion. Is there really pain involved?
A. Yes, any abrupt change in tissue structure results in "distress." Yes, the fetus twitches. But you could carry this pseudo-scientific logic to an extreme: scientists have proven that plants are as sensitive as animals; when plucked by their roots, they "scream" with electrophysiological "pain." Should we therefore stop harvesting vegetables because of this "pain?"
I am not moved by the "pain" of an embryo, which is a smidgen of tissue. (At four weeks, an embryo is no bigger than a kernal of corn - don't let blown-up photographs mislead you.) I am moved, however, by the abuse of a child who is battered and slashed by parents who never wanted him.
Q. Are you saying that the anti-abortionists are indifferent to the pain of child abuse?
A. Though many anti-abortionists are fine, sensitive human beings, the fanatics among them seem to have a concern that begins with conception and ends with birth. Columnist Carl T. Rowan says the fanatics want to "force poor women to have babies, curse them when their children go on welfare, deny the children even a minimum level of decency, then wait for them to get pregnant at age 12 or 13 when they can tell them, 'No abortions, you must have babies.'"
Q. Don't you admire the anti-abortionists for being motivated by reverence for life?
A. That's not their main motivation. Their main motivation is revenge. They want to see pregnant teenagers suffer the consequences of their sin. I have seen the evil gleam of vengeance in the anti abortionists' eyes as they say, "She had her fun; now she has to pay the price."
When the mob wanted to stone the woman who had committed adultery, Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8:7) I'm afraid that if Jesus were to repeat those words today, these self-righteous hypocrites would pick up stones and smash the poor girls who have been guilty of making a mistake. Stoning is not far from what these fanatics are in fact trying to do today. They are not so much pro-life as they are pro-vengeance. Their stones are these cruel words: "You must have that baby!"
To the woman who says, "I have seven children already," the fanatics reply, "You must have that baby!"
To the woman who says, "I was raped," the fanatics reply, "You must have that baby!"
To the woman who says, "My doctor says I will die if I have this baby," the fanatics reply, "You must have that baby!"
You must have that baby - words of stone, crueler than the stones hurled at sinners in Jesus' day by self righteous Pharisees.
Q. Isn't it a good thing for teenage girls to be made afraid of getting pregnant? Doesn't this discourage premarital sex?
A. I share the anti-abortionists' concern about teenage sex. I think it's wrong. We should try to discourage teenage sex and teach young people that sex is a part of marriage. But studies show that fear of pregnancy does not deter sexually active teenagers from having sex. They have the attitude, "It won't happen to me."
Q. Well shouldn't pregnant teenagers be made to suffer the consequences of their wrongdoing?
A. If the girl wants to go ahead and have the baby, fine; but she shouldn't be forced to have it. Why? Because the one who will suffer the most is not the mother but the child. Unwanted, unloved children are frequently abused, and they often grow up to become delinquents and criminals. Then society is made to suffer, as well. The "punishment" of the mother is enormously out of proportion to the "crime."
Q. How do you know that unwanted children often become criminals?
A. There are dozens of studies, but let me cite just one - by the late Mickey McConnell, a prison minister: "Approximately 80 percent of the people in prison were unwanted and unloved children. And a large majority of the mass murderers and violent killers in American history were brutalized children. Imagine our society if every child is wanted and taken care of: we would virtually wipe out crime and close most of our jails. As someone once said, "There wouldn't be anyone on the FBI's Most Wanted List if these men had been wanted by their parents when they were little." We would avoid stunted, thwarted lives; we would eliminate poverty and the grinding burden of welfare. We would see the flowering of every person's intelligence and humanity.
Q. Anti-abortionists tell women who have had abortions, "Aren't you ashamed, and don't you wonder night and day what the baby would have looked like?"
A. This is just part of the vicious, insensitive campaign to make women feel guilty and sinful for having had an abortion. As I have already pointed out, most fertilized eggs fail to implant themselves in the uterus and are washed away unnoticed. Should a woman weep and wail over all those lost "children?"
Q. Shouldn't a woman who has had an abortion feel some amount of shame?
A. No, there is no need for her to hang her head in shame. She is showing respect for life and devotion to God when she says, "Life is too precious for me to bring a child into the world at this time. I want to wait until I have the money or the emotional resources to be a good mother."
Q. Aren't all good Christians opposed to abortion?
A. No, there are many, many denominations that either favor abortion or favor a woman's right to decide for herself. The people in these denominations outnumber the fanatics. Here are just a few of the national religious organizations which have come out in favor of a woman's right to decide for herself. People in these denominations outnumber the fanatics.
American Baptist Churches, American Jewish Congress, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church in the U.S., Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.
Q. Since the anti-abortionists are so sincere in their views, shouldn't their views be written into law?
A. No, because putting their views into law would take away my freedom of religion. It would mean that they would force their religious beliefs upon me. (The Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in blood transfusions; that's fine, but what if they tried to get the laws changed so that a blood transfusion was illegal?)
I believe that abortion is sometimes the Christian and humane alternative. I believe that God wants us to bring into this world only the number of children which we can adequately take care of. I believe that God has given us this safe surgical procedure as a gift to hold down the population in a world that is choked with too many people and not enough food, a world that is filled with unwanted children.
I am thankful to God for abortion. Anyone who reads the Bible with an open mind and - more important - an open heart, will see that our Heavenly Father wants quality, not quantity, for His children.
Copyright 1982, by Graham Spurgeon
All rights reserved.
Second Printing, 1982 Third Printing, 1983, (Revised) Fourth Printing, 1983 (Title Revision)
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