ASK AUGUSTINE: What do you think a Christian’s position should be on abortion? Print
Written by Paul A Tambrino, Ed. D, Ph.D   

The principle of the sanctity of life is clearly established in Genesis 9:5-6 and in the Ten Commandments. The Bible clearly states life comes from God and we are answerable to Him for what we do with our own and other people’s lives; thus every taking of life requires justification to God.

Abortion was common in the ancient world with its earliest known written reference from the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung around 2700 B.C. Plato wrote in his “Republic” that ill-conceived embryos should not be brought to birth and Aristotle said that deformed children should be left to die.

But Hippocrates wrote that he would not give women any device to cause abortion and the Code of Hammurabi (1728 B.C.) contained prohibitions against abortions. The first century Jewish philosopher Philo condemned abortion as did early Christian writings. The “Didache- Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (a first century manual of Christian morals and church affairs) as well as the “Epistle of Barnabas” state, “Thou shalt not procure abortion.” Tertullian wrote, “It is not lawful to destroy what is in the womb;” Augustine condemned abortion in no uncertain terms and called it “lustful cruelty.”

In the United States up until the early 1900’s the American Medical Association campaigned vigorously to outlaw abortion, except when the mother’s life was endangered. Abortion was illegal in most states until 1967.

Then on January 22, 1973, by a 7-2 majority, the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade effectively allowed abortion on demand. On July 1, 1976 the Court went further, ruling in Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth that a third party, even a parent or a prospective father, may not veto a women’s abortion decision. On June 15, 1983 the court in a 6-3 decision in the City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc. held that it was unconstitutional to require a 24 hour waiting period for abortions or for a doctor to tell a women that the fetus is a human life from the moment of conception. In 1992 the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, by a 5-4 vote, upheld Pennsylvania law requiring a 24 hour waiting period and parental consent - but at the same time it left intact the “right of a women to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the state.”

Concurrent with these legal developments, advances in medical knowledge have found: that 18 to 24 days after conception a baby’s heart is already beating; at eight weeks brain waves can be detected and fingerprints have been formed; by the ninth and tenth weeks the thyroid and adrenal glands are functioning (a child can squint, swallow and move the tongue); by the 12th. and 13th. week a child can suck the thumb and recoil from pain; and by the fourth month a child is 8 to 10 inches high – all before the moment of “quickening,” about the fifth month when the mother is usually able to detect movements in the womb. A study at UCLA in 1983 showed that the unborn can respond to different colors of light directed toward the mother’s belly, to different types of music and concluded “that from about 17 - 24 weeks, gestational age, all systems are operational – and learning can occur.”

Currently the abortion issue clusters around three major positions. The first position is abortion on demand which sees abortion as morally acceptable under almost all circumstances as it reflects a secular outlook on the value of human life which justifies abortion based on a cost-benefit analysis in terms of the women’s interest. Such a position is repugnant, not only to the Christian community but also to most of humanity, except to the extreme secular humanist.

The second position on abortion assigns value to the life of the unborn, but argues that the greater value of the mother’s life justifies abortion when the physical, social, psychological or economic well being of the mother is threatened. To hold this position (and I do not hold this position), a person must conclude that the fetus is in the “process” of being built into the image and likeness of God, but the process is not “complete” before birth. Psalm 139:13-16 argues against this view. Job 10:8-13 and 31:13, 15 point out that God, and not some blind biological process, is responsible for the creation of human life in the womb.

Some might include the problem of rape to argue this second position. Rape is without question a physically and emotionally traumatic event for the woman involved and she should be offered all reasonable support and assistance; but it should not be assumed that, without further analysis, abortion is justified. Studies document the actual incidence of rape related pregnancies range form 0.001 to 2.2 percent of the victims involved. As a matter of simple justice, it is the rapist who should be punished, not the innocent child conceived as a result of the rape. It is true that the woman has suffered an injustice; but abortion would represent a further injustice against the unborn child.

The third position holds that only in very rare cases, such as a tubal pregnancy or a cancerous uterus, when the continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the mother’s life is abortion morally justified. This position would appear to have the most support from Scripture.

The biblical ethic upholds the dignity and worth of every human being regardless of the state of development or physical dependency, from the moment of conception to natural death. The personal history of Jesus began not when He was born, but when He was conceived. His human history, like ours, began at conception.

Dr. Tambrino is a retired college president. In addition to his two earned doctorates, he holds diplomas from a number of academic institutions including Harvard and Oxford. He is also a retired US Army officer and was awarded the rank of a honorary three-star general in 1997 by the US Air Force.