Ten Reasons Why It Is Wrong to Take the Life of Unborn Children

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

This is not a defense of the humanity of the unborn. It is an argument that if the unborn are human they ought not to be aborted. There are some abortionists who believe that the unborn are human beings. But these doctors do abortions regularly anyway because they believe that taking innocent human life, while tragic, is justifiable in view of the difficult circumstances faced by mother and child. Some of these doctors want to be Christian and Biblical, and do not see their practice as wrong. I have written this brief paper to encourage these doctors to reconsider.

1. God commanded, "Thou shalt not murder" (Exodus 20:13).

I am aware that some killing is endorsed in the Bible. The word for "kill" in Exodus 20:13 is the Hebrew rahaz. It is used 43 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It always means violent, personal killing that is actually murder or is accused as murder. It is never used of killing in war or (with one possible exception, Numbers 35:27) of killing in judicial execution. Rather a clear distinction is preserved between legal "putting to death" and illegal "murder". For example, Numbers 35:19 says, "The murderer shall certainly be put to death." The word "murderer" comes from rahaz which is forbidden in the Ten Commandments. The word "put to death" is a general word that can describe legal executions.

When the Bible speaks of killing that is justifiable it generally has in mind God's sharing some of his rights with the civil authority. When the state acts in its capacity as God's ordained preserver of justice and peace, it has the right to "bear the sword" as Romans 13:1-7 teaches. This right of the state is always to be exercised to punish evil, never to attack the innocent (Romans 13:4).

Therefore, "Thou shalt not kill," stands as a clear and resounding indictment of the killing of innocent unborn children.

2. The destruction of conceived human life — whether embryonic, fetal, or viable — is an assault on the unique person-forming work of God.

Can we say anything from Scripture about what is happening when a life in the womb is aborted? Consider two texts. Psalm 139:13 says, "Thou didst form my inward parts, Thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb."

The least we can draw out of this text is that the formation of the life of a person in the womb is the work of God. God is the "Thou" in this verse. Further we can say that the formation of life in the womb is not merely a mechanical process, but is something on the analogy of weaving or knitting: "Thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb." The life of the unborn is the knitting of God, and what he is knitting is a human being in his own image, unlike any other creature in the universe.

The other, less well-known, text is in the book of Job. Job is protesting that he has not rejected the plea of any of his servants, even though in that culture many people thought that servants were non-persons and only property. The thing to watch for here is how Job argues.

Job 31:13-15 says, "13) If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, 14) what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? 15) Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not One fashion us in the womb?"

Verse 15 gives the reason why Job would be guilty if he treated his servant as less than a human equal. The issue isn't really that one may have been born free and the other born in slavery. The issue goes back before birth. When Job and his servants were being fashioned in the womb the key person at work was God. That's the premise of Job's argument.

So both Psalm 139 and Job 31 emphasize God as the primary Workman — Nurturer, Fashioner, Knitter, Creator — in the process of gestation. Why is that important? It's important because God is the only One who can create personhood. Mothers and fathers can contribute some impersonal egg and some impersonal sperm, but only God creates independent personhood. So when the Scripture emphasizes that God is the main Nurturer and Shaper in the womb, it is stressing that what is happening in the womb is the unique work of God, namely, the making of a person. From the Biblical point of view gestation is the unique work of God fashioning personhood.

We can argue, I say, endlessly over what "full" personhood is. But this we can say, I think, with great confidence: what is happening in the womb is a unique person-forming work of God, and only God knows how deeply and mysteriously the creation of personhood is woven into the making of a body. Therefore it is arbitrary and unwarranted to assume that at any point in the knitting together of this person, its destruction is not an assault on the prerogatives of God the Creator.

To put it positively: the destruction of conceived human life — whether embryonic, fetal, or viable — is an assault on the unique person-forming work of God. Abortion is an assault on God, not just man. God is uniquely at work in the womb from the moment of conception. This is the clear testimony of Psalm 139:13 and Job 31:15.

3. Aborting unborn humans falls under the repeated Biblical ban against "shedding innocent blood."

The phrase "innocent blood" occurs about 20 times in the Bible. The context is always one of condemning those who shed this blood or warning people not to shed it. Innocent blood includes the blood of children (Psalm 106:38). Jeremiah puts it in a context with refugees and widows and orphans: "Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place." Surely the blood of the unborn is as innocent as any blood that flows in the world.

4. The Bible frequently expresses the high priority God puts on the protection and provision and vindication of the weakest and most helpless and most victimized members of the community.

Again and again we read of the sojourner and the widow and the orphan. These are the special care of God and should be the special care of his people.

"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (And you were all once babes in the womb!) You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, (like the blood of Abel cried our to God from the ground, Genesis 4:10) I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn." (Exodus 22:21-24).

"Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in His holy habitation" (Psalm 68:5).

"Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 82:3-4).

"They slay the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and say, 'The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive. 'But the Lord will wipe them out for their wickedness" (Psalm 94:6-7,23).

5. By judging difficult and even tragic human life as a worse evil than taking life, abortionists contradict the widespread Biblical teaching that God loves to show his gracious power through suffering and not just by helping people avoid suffering.

This does not mean we should seek suffering for ourselves or for others. But it does mean that suffering is generally portrayed in the Bible as the necessary and God-ordained, though not God-pleasing, plight of this fallen world (Romans 8:20-25, Ezekiel 18:32), and especially the necessary portion of all who would enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4) and live lives of godliness (2 Timothy 3:12). This suffering is never viewed merely as a tragedy. It is also viewed as a means of growing deep with God and becoming strong in this life (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:3-4; Hebrews 12:3-11; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 4:7-12; 12:7-10) and becoming something glorious in the life to come (2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:18).

When abortionists reason that taking life is less evil than the difficulties that will accompany life, they are making themselves wiser than God who teaches us that his grace is capable of stupendous feats of love through the suffering of those who live.

6. It is a sin of presumption to justify abortion by taking comfort in the fact that all these little children will go to heaven or even be given full adult life in the resurrection.

This is a wonderful hope when the heart is broken with penitence and seeking forgiveness. But it is evil to justify killing by the happy outcome of eternity for the one killed. This same justification could be used to justify killing one-year olds, or any heaven-bound believer for that matter. The Bible asks the question: "Shall we sin that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1) And: "Shall we do evil that good may come?" (Romans 3:8). In both cases the answer is a resounding NO. It is presumption to step into God's place and try to make the assignments to heaven or to hell. Our duty is to obey God, not to play God.

7. The Bible commands us to rescue our neighbor who is being unjustly led away to death.

"Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'We did not know this,' does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not requite man according to his work?"

There is no significant scientific, medical, social, moral or religious reason for putting the unborn in a class where this text does not apply to them. It is disobedience to this text to abort unborn children.

8. Aborting unborn children falls under Jesus' rebuke of those who spurned children as inconvenient and unworthy of the Savior's attention.

"Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God'" (Luke 18:15-16). The word for "infant" in Luke 18:15 is the same word Luke uses for the unborn infant in Elizabeth's womb in Luke 1:41,44.

"And Jesus took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me'" (Mark 9:36-37).

9. It is the right of God the Maker to give and to take human life. It is not our individual right to make this choice.

When Job heard that his children had all been killed in a collapsing house, he bowed to worship the Lord and said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).

When Job spoke of coming from his mother's womb, he said, "The Lord gave." And when Job spoke of dying, he said, "The Lord has taken away." Birth and death are the prerogatives of God. He is Giver and Taker in this awesome affair of life. We have no right to make individual choices about this matter. Our duty is to care for what He gives and use it to His glory.

10. Finally, saving faith in Jesus Christ brings forgiveness of sins and cleansing of conscience and help through life and hope for eternity. Surrounded by such omnipotent love, every follower of Jesus is free from the greed and fear that might lure a person to forsake these truths in order to gain money or avoid reproach.

My prayer is that anyone involved in the practice of abortion would consider these things very seriously and pray for the faith and the courage to stand for life and love in Jesus Christ.