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Abortion: An old perspective

Abortion: Modern Controversy, Ancient Problem

OFTEN heard in the church today is that abortion was not strongly condemned in the Bible by name because abortion was not used in the ancient world. Others say, maybe it was, but God has foreknowledge, and it was not condemned because it was not a sin. Yet others are saying, sin or not, it is not a matter the scriptures are concerned with. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to work in the hearts of men, the purpose of this paper shall be to expose God's Christians, those humble of heart, to certain thoughts regarding the subject of abortion, and what it means to the people involved.

The scriptures are clear that the knowledge of God, which is found in the scriptures, contains all things pertaining to life and godliness . And Solomon was quite explicit when he recorded that "the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun ." If these things are true, then two things should also be true. First, abortion should be found as an example in antiquity, and second, the scriptures should be found, somewhere, to state an opinion regarding the procedure.

And both statements are true. For example, the medical lore of most ancient societies contain descriptions of properties which with effectiveness ranging from very to nil, cause spontaneous abortion of the fetus. Indeed, it seems that there had been a tremendous schism between Jews and much of the ancient world because of abortions. A wealth of information regarding this can be found in Uta Ranke-Heinemann's 'Eunichs for the Kingdom of God,' Doubleday, USA, 1990. An index of the subject can be found on page 358. Ms. Ranke-Heinemann's extensive quotation of sources regarding ancient and medieval abortion is for the purpose of attempting to demonstrate that the stance of the Church is inherently to the end of subjugating females, and not necessarily comprehensive regarding the subject of abortion itself. However, she provides a wealth of evidence, from sources as varied as the Gynecology of the Ephesian Soranus, to Church Father Tertullian, to Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who lived at around the time of Christ's earthly sojourn, that abortions were common.

In ancient literature, abortifacants are mentioned by divers as Pliny, Soranus, Dioscorides, Ovid, Cicero, and many others, especially among popular entertainment writers. Surgical procedures were mentioned by Pliny, Ovid, Augustus and others.

The point is, abortion existed into antiquity, and has historically been an issue. To say it was non-existent is to ignore events and to cloud the issue.

And there are some who say that abortion existed, yet was ignored because it was even milder than others forms of "family planning" such as abandonment and murder, which were ignored by society at large as being the sole propriety of the family. Ms. Ranke-Heinemann lays to rest these devilish assumptions, demonstrating that these events were condemned by most mainstream Jews, and many pagans, as at best irresponsible and wrong, as in abandonment, and at worse murderous. Church leaders as early as Barnabas condemned these practices, and murder of a child, even by parents, was considered to be murder by Jewish theologians.

Which leads the person interested in knowing the moral significance of abortion to the second question, which is the deciding viewpoint, and that is, what do the scriptures have to say on the subject?

While it is true that abortion as an issue is not apparently dealt with in the scriptures, it is true that the status of the human fetus is. And the scriptures are very clear as to the value placed upon the human fetus. It is those who have developed their own egotistical viewpoints who stand to profit by claiming scriptural silence, and who ignore the clear doctrine of truth.

It seems to the author of this essay that whenever a subject is first broached in the scriptures, while the first usage may not clearly define the entire subject, it will utilize what later proves to be defining aspects of that subject. Such may be the case in a record of the first recorded human birth, that of Cain.

"And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain,... "

Between conception and birth in this reference is left intact as some kind of a body of time. Later in antiquity, the argument regarding abortion became entwined as to what stage of development the fetus was at, and when "animation," the receiving of the soul, took place. Nevertheless, this reference, while acknowledging this period of time as important, seems to add nothing to our understanding of its actual significance.

While it is true that Christ fulfilled the law for us, the Christian, this blessing in no way negates the judgment of standard by which God's covenant to Israel was written. Murder is still murder, adultery is still adultery, idolatry is still idolatry. And while we may be cleansed from guilt regarding our actions come judgment day, all actions still have some kind of effect in this time, unless God actively intervenes. The following situation is in a section of law which deals with capital offenses, and whereby someone dies.

"If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall surely be punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he will pay as the judges determine.
"And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life. "

If the fruit departs, if an abortion is caused, then the man makes a civil payment to the parents, according to the father's will and as mediated by judges. Note that this does not consider the departing of the fruit, the aborting of the fetus, as mischief, or injury, as is the case in the remainder of the segment. If injury occur, to the woman, then it will be a "life for a life." The life of the fetus is not placed upon the same level as that of the woman. Injury to the fetus, an induced abortion, is penalized to the same degree as damage to livestock. Injury to the woman, that she should suffer the fate of the departed fetus, however, is a capital offence.

This clearly answers the question as to whether abortion, whether accidental or intentional, has the same weight as manslaughter or murder. It does not.

This should also be considered in addition to other scriptural revelations, such as life begins with breath, and as the spirit of man which makes him man comes from God and not from the earth (the source of the body and of the fetus) which may indeed provide a wealth of evidence that the current trend to condemn abortion as murder is not Biblical. In fact, it is worldly, another feel-good religious movement based upon the righteousness of man, not of God.

It would seem therefore that those who would condemn pregnant woman who consent to abortion as "murderers" are clearly overstepping their bounds. One thinks of the Greek word hupokritos, from which we get our word hypocrite, and which means "super-judge," one who lays excessive legalistic religious burdens on others.

But this does not negate another basic responsibility Christians. And that is to walk circumspectfully, that it, wisely, which is called a "balanced walk." Simply put, even though abortion is not murder, there is no good reason to use it to "cover," or negate, past careless or sinful behavior. Situations may occur (we do, as Christians, have an adversary, who rules this world,) which may cause some to choose what they perceive as the lesser of evils, abortion versus risk to the mother, for one example. Or the siring of rape or incest induced offspring.

But that it is not murder does not magically ordain abortion as a righteous form of birth control. One thinks of the scripture used for marriage, "what God has joined together, let no man rend asunder." Just as only the most extreme situations justify the rending of the "one flesh" after consummation of marriage, so also one should not rush to rend the "one flesh" of the formation of the fetus.

In addition, there are severe psychological effects upon a woman when an abortion is performed. Effects much akin to the post-severance effects upon an amputation patient. A physicians vow is to first do no harm, and that abortion is not murder in no way justifies the medical purveyors of "abortion on demand," which is used as common birth control. Such doctors would seem to be greedy and inconsiderate. Would they offer "cosmetic" amputations? Some doctors!

Let us also not forget that children are a gift from God, and the life in the fetus is from the God of Heaven, s prescious gift. These then become the suggestions of this paper. First, many fallacies regarding abortion in a historic context exist and truths are ignored, which can be corrected by careful research even by laypersons. Second, abortion is not condemned by the scriptures as murder, and those who would lay such a charge against those who in the past may have made mistakes are hypocrites, super-judges, who do not understand the very law they attempt to foist upon others. Third, while medical contingencies exist that may legitimately make abortion an option, and social contingencies, such as rape and incest, do likewise, it is a conclusion that in unqualified situations, abortion is against responsible behavior, it is against nature, and such as who are part of this are likely to face substantial psychological and moral repercussions, all of which are well documented. And may face doors to spiritual assault, as do all who walk foolishly, or who have to choose bad over worse. However, this is their burden, and for those recovering, (although not all will feel they have anything to recover from, this is their prerogative,) they need comfort and edification, and truth, not blanket condemnation by hypocrites, by self righteous "super judges."

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