Really Sciency

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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Biblical authority for abortion.

Abortion is one of the most contentious subjects in the science/religion debate for some people of faith, along with evolution and homosexuality.

Being from Christian origin I was always totally against it. Now as a non believer I no longer have my Christian belief as a guide and if I claim rationality I must consider other evidence for guidance.  

I can no longer see it as a black and white issue but generally I’m against abortion. It should not be used as a form of contraception and there seems to be plenty of childless couples of good standing who would adopt unwanted children, rather than see them aborted.

But there are many scenarios where I could not claim any moral superiority to say if abortion was justified or not, I’m just thankful that I am not in the position where I need to make any decision. Abortion is an unpleasant fact of life whether planned or unplanned. The morality is an open topic and I would not presume to think I have answers but to get those morals from copper and iron age books when we have another 2000 or more years of ethical debate and medical advancement is a very sad thing to contemplate.

I accept that life begins at conception – that is simple logic.
But for the religious, when does the foetus have a soul and therefore human?
You may again think at conception but is this logical?

Many zygotes (the initial ball of cells that develop after conception) split into 2 and become identical twins. If the soul is present at conception the do twins have the same soul? Obviously not.

And when there are 2 zygotes present they do not always become non identical twins but can combine and can become a single individual known as a chimera. Does a Chimera have 2 souls – again obviously not.

However, from my new un-Christian perspective I began to wonder if there really was any Biblical authority on abortion. The Bible does not comment directly on abortion, even though abortion was practiced then. All Biblical arguments on abortion are indirect and open to interpretation, and debate continues even among the world's most respected theologians.

The most cited verse is the Commandment ‘Thy should not kill’, but it is difficult to believe that abortion was in mind when that was brought down from the mountain. The ‘killing’ is clearly very selective because there is plenty of it in the name of God from that point in the Bible, including pregnant women;

Hosea 13:16 (King James) Samaria will bear her guilt because she has rebelled against her God.
They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to pieces,  and their pregnant women ripped open. 


Also I believe that according to Jewish Law which was in force in the Old Testament, a baby is not considered to be living until thirty days after its birth. One is not allowed to observe the Laws of Mourning for an expelled foetus and these Laws are not applicable for a child who does not survive until its thirtieth day. In fact, the Jews, who are famous for their preservation of tradition, have never considered abortion to be a sin. This makes some kind of sense when considering the high rates of child mortality in the Bronze Age.

Exodus 21:22-23 (New Living Translation) seems to support this;

22 “Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely.  If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve. 23 But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life,

It seems to say that the assailant's life and the stillborn's life are not equal so is proof that the Bible does not count the foetus as a person. It could be argued that it does not explicitly say that the further injury only includes the woman but Jews, who know their own tradition best, have always accepted the first interpretation

There may be some other biblical passages that could be interpreted as being against abortion but there isn’t anything specific that I can find. So it seems that the generally Christian concept that abortion is murder is not very will supported in scripture, and although it is a difficult topic, when considering specific cases perhaps a less fundamentally religious view is called for. One that looks rationally at the issues and ethics and considers the views of those involved to help them make an informed decision rather than dictate what others consider must be so.

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