Thursday, November 12, 2015

Aborting what, exactly?

When we speak on the subject of “abortion,” as when we speak to any subject, it is important to define our terms. To “abort” is to stop, cease, terminate, discontinue prematurely. But when we are speaking culturally and ethically on the subject of “abortion” we are being more specific. One would not accuse the military, after it chose to abort a mission, of having performed an illegal government funded abortion on that mission. When we talk about abortion, we obviously are not talking about the abortion of missions. So what are we talking about? Aborting what exactly? We might say that we are talking about aborting the pregnancy, but this also is not correct. A cesarean section ends the pregnancy prematurely by surgically bringing the baby out alive, and this is not an abortion. If an abortion procedure is performed, and the baby comes out alive, this is referred to as a botched or failed abortion, even though the pregnancy was successfully ended. These two examples show us something important. The C section is not an abortion because it does not end the unborn life. The procedure described above as a "botched abortion" is a botched abortion because the baby did not die. It is plain, then, that when we speak of “abortion” we are talking about aborting the unborn life. Ceasing, terminating, prematurely ending a life. Our usage makes it clear, we are talking about killing.

Killing what? Well, from the moment of conception all the way until death, it is the same distinct human life. While the emotions of our culture may make this a controversial thing to say, it is still not a questionable or debatable thing to say. At the moment the sperm of the father combines with the egg of the mother, a not only genetically unique, but undeniably living and distinctly human organism comes to be. This organism goes through a rapid early development from a single cell to a more familiar form with organs, skin, nerves, etc. It’s stages of development include fast changes in physical form and attributes, but never is there a point after conception that this now distinct and genetically human life can be said to have changed from one essential thing to another, much like being an infant, a 17 year old high school athlete, and a 90 year old man are all physically quite different states, though all are the same human person at different points in development. A biologically distinct human being comes into existence at conception. Objectively, visibly, observably, scientifically, this is as certain as any human knowledge. If we cannot know this, than we can know nothing at all, for we know this on the same clear basis as we know any other basic fact of clear, consistent, repeatable observation. From conception until death, we are talking about a human life.

As Christians, we have an even surer foundation for knowing this with certainty. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear! From beginning to end, again and again, we see reference to unborn existence as personal, human life. We see places like Job 31:15, Psalm 139:13, and Isaiah 44:2, 44:24; 49:5 and others that all speak directly of personal human life formed in the womb. Jeremiah 20:17 even refers to taking life in the womb as “killing”, and makes clear that the life in his mother’s womb was already personally Jeremiah’s life. Psalm 51:5 even indicates that one at conception is not only a personal human being but is already under the curse of sin. Likewise, Luke chapter 1 indicates the personal humanity of the preborn John the Baptist. Yet we need not stop even there. In both the gospel narratives we have which describe for us the details of the nativity, the language indicates that the incarnation of of the Son of God began at conception. As the 2nd century Christian writer Aristedes describes it, Jesus "clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man." Jesus took on human flesh, and lived a fully human life. He did so from conception, because human life begins at conception. There is no basis to think that the second person of the trinity became a non-person for six months or so. Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit, and what she conceived was the Son of God. Jesus personal human life, and all personal human life, began at conception.

The early readers of the scriptures understood as much. The earliest Jewish writings we posses denounce the nations around them fro practicing abortion. One document even attributed the practice’s origin to demonic instruction! Another fascinating example looks at Leviticus 22:28 which tells us that “But you are not to slaughter an animal from the herd or flock on the same day as its young” and the dead sea scrolls in 4Q943 and 4Q947 freely apply this law in judging cases of slaughtering pregnant animals, showing that the Jewish community understood from the scriptures that the life in the womb was the same life as the the life to be born, and applied the law accordingly. The pregnant animal was already a mother with young that could not be slaughtered on the same day, so both must live. The so called “Damascus document” agrees with this, and this document has been found both in the dead sea scrolls and outside among other Jews, showing this interpretation was not unique to the Dead Sea community. The early Jews honored the unborn life because the testimony of the scriptures. Likewise the Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings going back to perhaps even the first century AD, includes the command “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born”. Other early Christian writings such as the Epistle to Diognetus and the Epistle of Barnabas concur with this interpretation. It was clearly understood by these early believers in the scriptures, both Christian and Jew, that human life began at conception with all of its rights and privileges. Scripture, science, logic, observation, and history all stand in agreement. There is just no reasonable doubt on this matter.

But let's say for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that somehow we did not know whether or not the child in the womb was a living human being. What do we do in other cases where we are considering a destructive action and do not know if there is a human there? Do we demolish a building if a living human might be inside? Do we fire a gun at a target if we simply don't know if a living human is standing behind it? No, or course not! So even if we somehow did not know that the unborn child was a living human, it would still be absurd to say, "well, it might be a living human, but since I'm not quite sure, I'll air on the side of dismembering it." Even in ignorance, this would be an immoral act. How much more evil is it, then, to kill and destroy what we fully know is an innocent and defenseless human life? This is the issue at hand when we are discussing “abortion.”

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.

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