Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
As we noticed in our last article on this subject, abortion has become a national crime of unparalleled proportions. The Supreme Court of our country has legalized abortion completely so that it can be performed legally in this country at any time during pregnancy. In a recent mailing by a pro-life group, the following is stated:
Is abortion legal throughout nine months of pregnancy?
Yes it is.
Contrary to popular belief, the 1973 Supreme Court decisions, (Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton), ruled that any state abortion law in the future would have to meet the following guidelines.
First Trimester. During the first three months of pregnancy, the state must leave the abortion decision entirely to a woman and her doctor.
Second Trimester. In the second three months, the state may only enact laws which regulate abortions in ways “reasonably related to maternal health.” This simply means that a state may determine who is qualified to perform the abortion and where such an operation may take place. The state may not enact laws which safeguard the lives of the unborn.
Third Trimester. After the woman’s sixth or seventh month, the law may forbid her to have an abortion that is not determined to be necessary to preserve her life or health. The court went on to define the word “health” in broad terms: “. . . the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may be related to health.” (Doe v. Bolton, 1973)
On June 8, 1982, after extensive hearings on S.J. Res. 110, (pp. 3-4), the United States Senate Judiciary Committee concluded, “. . . no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy.”
In effect, so long as a woman can find a physician willing to perform one, she has a constitutional right to obtain an abortion in America at any time throughout the nine months of pregnancy, right up to birth.
The result is wholesale murder, condoned and promoted by the highest court of the land. Already millions of abortions have been carried out in our land, and the slaughter continues. The land runs red with the blood of countless murdered infants. What terrible judgments await a country, ostensibly Christian, when such monstrous crimes are committed without a second thought.
In this article we want to examine the moral aspects of abortion so that the teaching of the Word of God may be clear on this matter.
The views of those who support abortion differ widely. A number of evangelicals openly support abortion for limited reasons. Some approve of abortion only when clear evidence is present that the fetus will be, if born, less than human; i.e., that the fetus shows such extensive evidence of brain damage that it cannot live a human life in any significant sense of that term. The trouble with this position is that no one is really able to define what is meant by “significant human life.” Some are cautious and would limit the term to those fetuses who show no kind of response to any stimulus of any kind. Others are more broad in their definition, and would include severe mental retardation. The logic of this position, however, leads to yet broader positions in which any child with any kind of mental handicap is said to be capable of only subhuman life and is a candidate for abortion. It was Jones’ position that abortion is permissible when a fetus is obviously sub-human which created all the stir over his book, Brave New People. First published by Inter-Varsity Press, it was withdrawn from the market after loud protests by pro-life people. Subsequently, Wm. B. Eerdmans published the book after some minor revisions, although Jones’ position was not altered in the least. According to the January 26, 1986 issue of Christian News, this book has been approved by Carl F.H. Henry and Lewis Smedes.
Sometimes abortions are condoned on the grounds of physical disabilities of one sort or another in the fetus which have been detected before birth. Others would permit abortion only in cases of rape and incest where conception takes place as a result. Yet others permit abortion when the physical and/or mental well-being of the mother is endangered by a pregnancy brought to term. The feminist movement drives hard for abortion under any circumstances whatsoever if a woman with child desires to have her fetus aborted. These plagues on society argue that a woman’s body is her own, and she alone has the right to determine what shall happen to it. The result is that the decision to have an abortion is left to the pregnant woman alone. In many states she need not even secure the permission of her husband—or of the man responsible for her pregnancy. And if the pregnant woman be a young girl, still in the parental home, many states permit her to have an abortion without the consent, or even the knowledge of her parents. John Jefferson Davis writes in his book, Evangelical Ethics:
The vast majority of abortions performed in the United States are done not for medical reasons—to preserve the life or health of the mother—but primarily for social reasons: pregnancy outside of marriage, contraceptive failure, economic considerations, questions of personal convenience and lifestyle, and so forth. Even before the 1973 Supreme Court decisions, abortion on strictly medical grounds was becoming increasingly rare (p. 136).
Jefferson is correct. Pregnancies and children interfere with one’s personal conveniences, one’s life style, one’s pursuit of monetary gain. Children cost money. They tie one down. They make the pursuit of pleasure and fun more difficult. They keep women from working outside the home and adding to the family finances with their weekly paycheck. It is by no means an exaggeration to say that the situation in our country is as bad as that which prevailed in Judah when the Israelites offered their children to the god Moloch and burned children in his fiery arms. Today children are offered on the altar of selfishness to the god pleasure. The crime is as great and the wickedness as horrible.
We want to examine a bit more in detail the position of D. Gareth Jones which he sets forth in his book,Brave New People, because it really leads us to the heart of the issue.
While Jones is at great pains to define his position as being as close as possible to the position which various pro-life groups take, even going so far as to disapprove of abortion on the grounds of rape and incest, nevertheless he approves of it in cases of fetal abnormalities. Even here he is very cautious: “I am not, therefore, advocating easy abortion and certainly not abortion-on-demand. My argument is based on the premise that the decision to abort is made on profoundly serious grounds and not for overtly self-centered reasons, and I would always prefer an alternative course of action” (p. 178). Nevertheless, circumstances arise, in Jones’ opinion, where abortion is justified. He writes:
A frequently quoted ground for abortion is the mental health of the mother. In the present discussion I am concerned with this as a possible reason for abortion when the fetus is known to be seriously deformed. My contention is that there may be extreme instances where this should be seriously considered, although such instances will always be exceptions to the general rule of fetal protection. By their very nature they are compromises, because what is being done is far from ideal. And yet there may sometimes be family situations in which a whole host of adverse social conditions taken together may lead to an inability to cope with the birth of a severely deformed or retarded child. An abortion may, under such dire circumstances, be regarded as the least tragic of a number of tragic options (p. 178).
When everything else is said and done, therefore, clearly Jones argues in favor of the abortion of seriously deformed children. He considers the birth of such children and, under certain conditions, the consequences of such a birth for the family and for society, to be such great evils that the evil of abortion is to be preferred.
What is particularly interesting is the fact that Jones discusses all this in the context of the question whether a fetus is in fact a person. The implications of this question are discussed at some length by the author. And he frankly admits that, “The view that the fetus has the status of full personhood from the moment of conception implies absolute protection for the embryo and fetus at every stage of development” (p. 164). So clear is this to Jones that the logic of his position leads him to deny the fact that the fetus or embryo is indeed a person at every stage of its development. And this is the crucial point on which the whole argument turns. He writes:
The perspective I wish to develop, therefore, is that each fetus is a human life, representing a potential (here the underscoring is ours, H.H.) for personhood from very early in its development. From this early stage it is a potential person, and from about eight weeks onwards has a recognizable individuality as manifested by its circulation and brain activity. It is well on the road to full personhood, and for most practical purposes may be considered to be a person. Nevertheless, I do not wish to draw a line between when a fetus is not a person and when a fetus is a person. Throughout the whole of its development the fetus is potentially an actual person, and deserves the respect and treatment due to a being with this sort of potential (p. 162).
After an extremely brief treatment of the Biblical data on this important question, Jones concludes:
. . . Very important as these principles are, they should not be used to suggest that the fetus is to be equated with a living person . . .” (p. 174).
And that brings us to the heart of the question: Does the Bible teach that the fetus, from the moment of conception, is a person? If the fetus is not a person at some (or every) stage of its fetal development, then abortion is not wrong: it is only the severing, from the body of the mother, of a glob of tissue. Jones may speak all he wants about a potential person, about “the fetus being built into the image and likeness of God” (p. 174), but the fact remains that it only has certain potentials for personhood, and is not in fact a person at all. But if the fetus is a person from conception on, then abortion is murder, because murder is the killing of a person.
But further discussion on this will have to wait till our next issue.