Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The physical and psychological consequences of induced abortion are many and serious. John Jefferson Davis in his book Evangelical Ethics refers to many of them. We include such a list here for its significance to the whole question. (A detailed discussion of this subject may be found on pp. 138ff.)
—While some debate is still going on over this question, it seems certain that the death rate among those who have abortions is significantly larger than the death rate of mothers who carry their children to full term.
—Nonfatal complications resulting from abortion are many, including infection, blood clots, laceration of the cervix, accidental perforation of the uterus, and long-term adverse effects on childbearing capacity.
—Live births are not at all uncommon, especially in second trimester abortions. These babies must be killed after birth either by merely letting them die or killing them with overt physical violence. Davis writes:
In 1977 Dr. William B. Waddill performed a salt-poisoning abortion on an 18-year-old girl in Orange County, California. The baby was born alive, and according to later testimony, Dr. Waddill ordered the staff to do nothing and to let the baby die. Dr. Waddill went to the hospital, and a pediatrician testified that he saw Waddill choke the 2.5 pound baby girl. “I saw him put his hand on the baby’s neck and push down,” testified Dr. Ronald Cornelson in court. Cornelson also claimed that Waddill suggested injecting the baby with potassium chloride or filling a sink and drowning her. In two separate murder trials Waddill denied Cornelson’s story, and the jury deadlocked on both occasions (pp. 139, 140).
—The long-term risks to future childbearing are many and great, and evidence is fairly strong that abortions include the risk of breast cancer.
—Davis writes concerning the psychological consequences: “There is evidence that guilt, depression, and other forms of psychological conflict plague many women who have had abortions” (p. 142). But the psychological price that has to be paid is not limited to the mothers; it is also to be found among the fathers, the doctors who perform the abortions, and the nurses who assist. Davis refers to a striking instance:
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who was once the director of an abortion clinic in New York City that performed as many as a hundred abortions a day, later changed his pro-abortion position when the medical evidence convinced him of the humanity of the unborn. He has personally observed the psychological impact of the routine killing on his clinic staff. Doctors began “losing their nerve in the operating room,” he recalled. “I remember one sweating profusely, shaking badly, nipping drinks between procedures.” Some nurses were plagued by depression, and one doctor’s wife complained to Nathanson at a party that her husband was dreaming continually of blood. “I was seeing personality structures dissolve in front of me on a scale I had never seen before in a medical situation,” he said. “Very few members of the staff seemed to remain fully intact through their experiences” (p. 144).
—Reports continue to surface of experimentation on aborted fetuses and use of these aborted fetuses for other purposes. In an article appearing in Sword and Trowel, a certain Michael R. Gilstrap reports on a book written by William Brennan entitled: Medical Holocausts, Volume I, Exterminative Medicine in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America. A few paragraphs from this article will illustrate the point.
The usage of these bodies (of aborted babies) range from the manufacture of soap and cosmetics to desk paperweights. Brennan cites the testimony of two British reporters, Litchfield and Kentish who were told of a gynecologist who “sells the fetuses to a factory. . . a chemical factory. . . . They make soap and cosmetics . . . and they pay very well . . . .
This sort of exploitation is present in the United States as well. Brennan cites a story published in the Washington Post, February 26, 1976. The Post story discloses that between 1972 and the middle of 1974, D.C. General Hospital’s Pathology Department was preparing and selling aborted human bodies and organs to commercial firms. During this period the pathology department grossed $68,000 from this traffic in human flesh.
What was done with these infants? The catalog of a Chicago biological supply firm gives us one answer. In their catalog, this firm offered for sale human embryos and other organs encased in a “paperweight” type of plastic block to customers throughout the United States. The cost advertised in 1976 were $90 for a human brain, $60 for intestines and $70 for lungs. A human foot encased in plastic was priced at $70 and “embedments of human embryos” were listed for $97.80.
We refer to these consequences of abortion not so much because they in themselves make abortion wrong: the rightness or wrongness of abortion will have to be decided on Biblical grounds; but because these are not just natural consequences resulting from medical procedures, but are God’s judgments upon wicked people who engage in wholesale murder. Paul writes in Galatians 6:7: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Sin has its consequences because God is a holy God and punishes the workers of iniquity in his wrath and anger. No man can commit sin (especially as terrible as murder) and “get away with it” before God.
While the Bible is clear on the truth that a fetus is a person from conception, a growing body of medical knowledge supports this. Davis writes:
No discussion of the medical aspects of abortion should ignore the facts of prenatal development. Advancements in medical knowledge are making it increasingly clear that human life of a very special order is being destroyed every time an abortion takes place. Eighteen to twenty-five days after conception, the baby’s heart is already beating. At eight weeks, brain waves can be detected and fingerprints have already formed. By the ninth and tenth weeks, the thyroid and adrenal glands are functioning, and the child can squint, swallow, and move the tongue. By the twelfth and thirteenth weeks, the child can suck his thumb and recoil from pain if pricked with a needle. By the fourth month the unborn child is eight to ten inches in height. All these changes occur before the fifth month, when the mother usually is first able to detect movements within the womb . . . .
. . . Numerous studies have shown that the unborn can respond to different colors of light directed toward the mother’s belly, and to different types of music. (Vivaldi, apparently, is calming, while hard rock is not.) “We know that from about 17 to 24 weeks, gestational age, all the system are operational. The baby does respond, and early learning can occur,” stated Ludington (pp. 136, 137).
From a Biblical point of view, the whole debate concerning abortion revolves around the question whether the fetus is or is not a person. As we noted at the end of our last article, if the fetus is not a person at any time during its development, to abort it is nothing more than ridding the body of a glob of tissue. But if the fetus is a person, then abortion is disposing of a person, and is, therefore, murder.
Now it ought to be clear that the Bible does not give us ready-made definitions of the terms “person, ” “soul, ” “mind, ” “will,” etc. The Bible is not written for that purpose, for it is the infallibly inspired record of the revelation of Jehovah God as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. But it stands to reason that the Bible, even being the kind of book that it is, will have much to say about these things. Herman Bavinck writes in his “Biblical and Religious Psychology”:
Scripture furnishes no popular or scientific psychology any more than it hands us an outline of history, geography, astronomy, husbandry, etc. To this extent it is completely accurate to say that the Bible does not teach us how the stars move, but how we go to heaven . . . .
But. . . the study of Holy Scripture introduces us to man’s soul life in a way in which no other book does or can. It describes for us what changes in that man, who remains the same according to his essence, are and are produced through sin and grace. It follows that man through these changes, until, in the deepest hiding places of his heart, it brings to light what happens in secret, and manifests itself also in this sense to be a Word of God which is living and powerful and penetrates to the dividing of soul and spirit. And finally it never does all this in abstract connections, but it makes us see everything in the full reality of life. It puts persons on the stage for us, which are worthy of each one’s considerations, and who together form a gallery which can never be seen anywhere else. And among them, or better, high above them, Christ stands, the unique One among men, full of grace and truth.
A couple of considerations will demonstrate what this means and how it applies to our subject.
In the first place, while it may be difficult to define in a formal way what the term “person” means, it is clear from the whole of Scripture that, among all God’s creatures, only man has a rational and moral soul. He alone possesses a mind and a will. He alone can think and know, can desire and wish, can remember and reason, can laugh and cry, can hate and love. This soul-life is the absolute proof that evolutionism is wrong. It is not difficult to see that, on evolutionary premises, abortion is permissible. If man is only material, if he possesses no spiritual soul, to abort a fetus is indeed to rid one’s body only of a blob of cells. Even man is nothing else but a blob of cells; birth and development after birth do not change that. We ought to notice in passing that this is exactly why abortion leads to euthanasia—mercy killing so-called, and that the murder of infants finally bears its fruit in the murder of any person.
But however that may be, if a man has a rational and moral soul, he is also a person. It is impossible to conceive of one who has a mind or a will and is not at the same time a person. One cannot have an impersonal soul. And the opposite is also true. One who is a person is one with a mind and will. One cannot even think of a person who does not think, will, remember, reason, desire, and all the rest. One cannot have just a person. So the question is: Is a fetus, from the moment of conception on, a creature of God with a soul? If it is, the fetus is also a person.
In the second place, we must remember that this question of person is an extremely important question in connection with the doctrine of Christ. And this is a matter of the creeds of the whole Christian church. When the Christological controversies troubled the church in the 4th and 5th centuries, the church finally defined the truth of Scripture in the well-known creed of Chalcedon, a creed which is accepted by the whole of Christendom. But that creed defined the truth concerning Christ as being this: the human and the divine natures of Christ were perfectly united in one Person, “the only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, the creed made a distinction between “nature” and “Person” and said that the Scriptures teach that Christ possessed a complete human nature of both body and soul, though no human person, but that the divine nature was united with the human nature in the Person of the eternal Son of God.
What is of interest and importance to us is the fact that the creed distinguished between nature and person, but at the same time insisted that Christ’s human nature, like ours in everything except our sin, was a personal human nature because Christ united in Himself, as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, both this human nature and the divine.
Now it is clear from Scripture that this was true of Christ from the moment of conception. It was not true that Christ’s human nature was conceived in the natural way in which other people are conceived so that Joseph was the natural father of Christ’s human nature, but that after this human nature had developed for a while, the Person of the Son of God united Himself with it. Scripture teaches a virgin birth. When the angel Gabriel explains to Mary how it is possible for her to be the mother of Christ, he says, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). From the moment of conception in the womb of Mary, Christ was the eternal Son of God united with our flesh.
If this seems far removed from our subject, let it be understood that Christ was like us in all things except for our sin. Christ was a Person from the moment of conception, though, of course, the Person of the Son, of God. He possessed a human body and a human soul, but that human nature was a personal human nature from the moment of conception.