Abortion and Contraception - a Bilblical Perspective
Michael Wilkie, Inverness, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Abortion and contraception are two very delicate and emotive subjects, neither of which is specifically mentioned in the Bible. In light of this, we must seek to discern the general principles of scripture that would govern such matters, and then apply them to these specific situations. Believers often hold strong (and sometimes widely differing) views on these subjects - we must therefore be careful to try to strike a balance between faithfulness to the statements of the word of God and gentleness in our dealings with our fellow Christians.
Dealing first with the matter of abortion, there are, perhaps,
Three principles that we must recognize:
- ‘Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward’, Ps. 127. 3. This clearly states that children are given by God. They are therefore to be regarded as a blessing and a desirable thing, and are not to be despised or undervalued.
- ‘Thou shalt not kill’, Exod. 20. 13. Human life has a sanctity that is unique among created beings - no other species was made in the image and likeness of God as man was, Gen. 1. 26-27. To needlessly end a human life is therefore a great evil.
- Human life begins at conception. This is not explicitly stated in scripture, but it can be seen from the following points:
1. From the moment of conception, when the sperm enters the egg, a new human life exists with its own unique genetic makeup: it is a new human being. There is no change in the fundamental human nature of the unborn child that occurs as the pregnancy proceeds - there is only the development of the various bodily organs and systems. There is not some special event at which a ‘human being’ becomes a ‘person’. It is also important to be aware that from conception the unborn child is a separate entity, albeit a dependent one. It is never part of its mother’s body - it is always biologically distinct, see the references in ‘Further Reading’ below.
2. On several occasions, scripture depicts unborn children as fully human – e.g., Gen. 25. 22-23; Ps. 139. 13-16; Luke 1. 15, etc. Also, the same word is used to describe both an unborn child and an infant [brepho, Strong 1025 - translated ‘babe’ in Luke 1. 41 and ‘child’ in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 15]. Therefore, in attributing full humanity to a child whose human nature is the same as it has always been, scripture teaches us that from the point of conception the unborn child is as human as its parents.
Abortion involves the taking of a human life
In light of these clear statements of the word of God, the Christian position is clear: abortion involves the taking of a human life, and is therefore wrong. A woman who chooses an abortion in order to allow her to make greater career progress, or in order to avoid a public scandal, is guilty of a grievous sin - she has valued her own pleasure and self-interest above the ‘heritage of the Lord’, and been responsible for the death of her own unborn child. It goes without saying that any man who encourages a woman to follow such a course of action is equally guilty. While the grace of God can cover and forgive any sin, the principle still remains - no Christian, whether married or not, should ever contemplate deliberately aborting a child.
Three circumstances which might seem to be exceptions to the rule
However, there are at least three circumstances which might seem to be exceptions to the general rule given above: a woman who becomes pregnant after a rape; a child who will be born with a severe handicap; and a situation where the mother’s life is endangered and can only be saved by ending the pregnancy.
In the first two of these, it is my judgement that the general principle still holds - abortion is not justified in these cases. These children, no less than any others, are the ‘heritage of the Lord’. He will give the strength to bear whatever He sends into our lives because He cares what happens to us, 1 Pet. 5. 7; Judg. 10. 16b. Even in the darkest of circumstances, our Father is still a God of infinite wisdom and mercy. His grace is sufficient for any situation, 2 Cor. 12. 9, and His mercies will be renewed every morning of the child’s life, Lam. 3. 22-23. Note, however, that scripture also says, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens’, Gal. 6. 2. In other words, unless I am prepared to share the burden of raising such a child (with all the emotional, financial and physical struggle that will be involved, perhaps even caring for the intimate hygiene needs of one who after thirty years is still physically and emotionally an infant), I lose the moral right to insist that the child be brought into the world. Our Lord condemned in the strongest terms those who laid heavy burdens on others but would not lift a finger to help them - see Luke 11. 46.
These situations require exercise of the greatest grace and mercy
We must also bear in mind that in our individual dealings with a believer who has had an abortion, especially in circumstances such as these, we must exercise the greatest grace and mercy. This does not mean that we sweep sin under the carpet, but it does mean that always we must show the gentleness of Christ, particularly in our approach to those who must carry the feelings of regret for having been responsible for the death of their own children. Two incidents in the word of God will illustrate this. In Genesis chapter 38 Judah is confronted with the sin of Tamar, and pronounces an unfeeling and hypocritical sentence upon her - ‘Let her be burnt’, Gen. 35. 24. In contrast to this, the Lord Jesus, when confronted with a similar situation of moral failure, uses it as an opportunity for the display of divine compassion, John 8. 1-11. In these things we must ever remember that we are followers of Jesus, and not of Judah.
The third situation described above is perhaps different. There are certain cases where the woman’s life can be endangered by the pregnancy (notably in an ectopic pregnancy, where the child is developing outside the womb - internal bleeding can develop, which, if not treated, can result in the imminent death of both mother and child). It is my judgement that in this setting (i.e., a ruptured ectopic pregnancy) the operation to save the mother’s life should be performed, even although this will result, sadly, in the death of the child. If nothing is done, the child will certainly die along with the mother, and therefore every attempt must be made to save at least one of the lives at stake. This is not an abortion in the normal sense of the word - it is a life-saving procedure for the mother, in a situation where it is no longer possible to save the child.
Two circumstances worth noting
It is also worth noting two circumstances where an abortion may take place without the parents being fully aware that it has happened. First, if a woman is undergoing fertility treatment, this often involves the creation of several fertilized embryos, not all of which will be implanted in her womb. If the non-implanted embryos are used for medical research and then destroyed, this (in my opinion) is an abortion, as it involves the destruction of a human life before birth. Second, there are some types of contraceptives (i.e., intra-uterine coils, and some types of contraceptive pill) which work by preventing the fertilized egg from implanting in the womb; this fertilized egg is then expelled. This means that a miscarriage has been deliberately produced, and as such (again, in my opinion) it is an abortion, even though not readily perceived as such.
The believer and contraception
This leads us on to the second topic of this article, namely the believer and contraception. Scripture is perhaps less explicit in this area, but the principle stated above still holds true - children are a gift from God, and therefore are not to be lightly disregarded. The command of God in Eden was, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, Gen. 1. 28; see also Gen. 9. 1. God’s general desire for mankind is that marriage would be followed by the begetting of children, which contraception is designed to prevent. In light of this, it would seem that believers, where possible, should avoid the use of contraception. It would not be in keeping with our duty as believers to deviate from the divine pattern simply because a child would, for example, represent a barrier to career progress or social life. However, there are circumstances (for example, where the wife has some underlying medical condition that might make the pregnancy a life-threatening condition) where individual couples may feel that contraception is justifiable. Others in the same situation may feel that God would have them trust in His sovereignty and wisdom, and not seek to act on their own behalf. In light of the lack of specific scriptures dealing with this issue it is unwise to be dogmatic, and my feeling is that each couple must prayerfully seek the mind of God for themselves in their particular circumstances.
Further reading In a short article such as this it is not possible to give more than the briefest of outlines of these subjects. There are a number of websites which discuss them in more detail such as:
I do not necessarily endorse all the teaching of the organisations referred to in these links, but their treatment of the abortion issue is helpful.
AUTHOR PROFILE: MICHAEL WILKIE and his wife Eunice live in Inverness, Scotland, and are in fellowship with the believers in the Culloden assembly. He works as an anaesthetist in the hospital at Raigmore. This is his first article for Precious Seed.