At a political forum in 2008, then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama famously sidestepped the important question of when life begins. He wittily quipped that such a question was above his pay grade. Still, not surprisingly, during his administration he has aggressively pursued the solidification of abortion rights along with tax-funded availability of such services. In so doing, and despite his reluctance to discuss the moral aspects of abortion, he has – along with the Democratic party – justified abortion in the name of women’s choice and reproductive health care.
The 2012 Democratic Platform includes the following paragraph:
“Protecting A Woman’s Right to Choose. The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs” (DNC Platform, 2012).
Abortion is “an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy.” Notably this excludes a very important party of interest, namely, the child in question. Someone within the Democratic Party, who has a pay grade presumably higher than the President’s, has made it clear that human life does not begin until either very late in the pregnancy or at the actual birth.
This whole situation is disturbing on several levels. First, that we the people did not hold then-candidate Obama accountable for his pass-the-buck statement, second, that we the people in large part are ignoring the evidence (scientific and otherwise) on the issue, and third, those that pay the ultimate price have no voice with which to chastise us. They are silent, because we have stolen their voice.
Science is univocal that when sperm and ovum are joined, there is instantly created a self-directing member of the human species with unique DNA. As Moore and Persaud observe, “Human development begins at fertilization” (Moore and Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th Edition, (Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003), 40.). This is a matter of observation, and belongs squarely to the jurisdiction of science. The implications, however, belong to other fields. If we acknowledge that life – that human development begins at conception, then we are faced with unavoidable ethical considerations.
In order to lessen the ethical burden, however, some have attempted to redefine the beginning of human life as something other than the clinical and physiological genesis.
Mary Anne Warren illustrates the breadth of such redefinition, describing personhood as more than physiological life. In order for a living human to be a person, that human must have sentience, emotionality, reason, capacity to communicate, self-awareness, and moral agency (Mary Anne Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” in Ethics: HIstory, Theory, and Contemporary Issues, 4th Edition, Cahn and Markie, Eds. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009), 780.).
The implications of such redefinitions are easily discerned. The personhood of any human lacking all or some of these six components may be questioned. Notice that the argument has moved beyond science (observation and provability) and into the realm of philosophy and worldview.
The Bible makes its own claims about human life and personhood. Genesis 1:27 records “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” First, in this passage we observe the importance of human life to God. Human value is based on the image of God. God values human life highly, and to His estimation we owe any value we have. In fact, He values human life so highly, that he requires the death penalty (to be administered by humanity) for murder (Gen 9:6).
In addition to addressing the value of human life, Genesis 1:27 does something vital. From a Biblical perspective, this single passage decides the issue of when human life begins. “Male and female He created them.” At the very least we can say once a human is male or female, that human is considered by God to be a functional representative of its species. When is gender determined?
Science is helpful on this point. Females have two X chromosomes, and males have both the X and Y chromosomes. Consequently, the sperm is, physiologically speaking, the deciding factor. The sperm can either carry the X or the Y, and the moment the sperm and ovum are joined, the gender is determined.
Male and female He created them.
In Matthew 19:4 Jesus appeals to Genesis 1:27 as part of His answer to a question from the Pharisees. Jesus confirms the legitimacy – and the cosmology – of Genesis 1:27. Warren appeals to six generally necessary characteristics of personhood. By contrast the Bible speaks of a simpler measure of personhood.
Still, some argue that Exodus 21:22-25, for example, shows that the Bible does not view a child in the womb as a person, but in fact, the passage illustrates just the opposite. Within the context of Mosaic Law, verse 22 addresses the consequences for a man who strikes a woman. If the strike causes a premature birth (or literally, the child comes out, Heb. yazah) then there is to be restitution, but not life for a life. However, verse 23 explains that if there is any injury (Heb., ason, harm or evil), then the penalty is life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc. In other words, in the Mosaic Law, causing a premature birth was not an offense punishable by death, but if there was injury to mother or child beyond simply premature birth, then life for life was in play. If a man struck a woman, and she gave birth prematurely and the child died, according to the letter of Mosaic Law, the man was guilty of murder.
It should be noted here that my appeal to Mosaic Law is not to suggest we are bound by it – we are not. It has been fulfilled and is no longer in effect (Mt 5:17, Gal 5:18, Rom 6:14, Eph 2:14-16), even though it still has great value (Gal 3:24-25, Rom 7:12, 1 Tim 1:8). Still, the passage shows that God is consistent in His respect for the unborn, valuing them as people created in His image, and consequently worthy of the “life for a life” valuation first discussed in Genesis 9:6.
In this case, science and the Bible confirm each other, and invite us to ask important questions. If the creation account which was confirmed by Jesus places personhood at conception, then how can we who claim to follow Jesus ignore this simple principle? How can we cede such important definitions instead to those who adhere to anti-Biblical worldviews?
Are there instances in which abortions should be permitted? Of course. In cases where the life of the mother is in danger, for example, there is no question that such an option logically must be on the table. In such cases, the horror of choosing death (either for the mother or the child) is often unavoidable. But a choice must be made. Nonetheless, to otherwise view abortion as a component of reproductive health care flies in the face of not only science, but the Bible as well.
While it is certainly possible for Christians to behave in an un-Christian manner and not lose their Christianity (remember, life in Christ is positional truth first, and practical truth second), to do so in any respect is tragic on many levels. As a Christian who seeks to follow the Bible in every respect, I can identify problems in the ideologies of both Republicans and Democrats – I believe both to be fundamentally flawed. I understand that no political party can solve our deepest problems. However, as for me, I could never vote for any party or representative that gets so wrong something so fundamental as the basic definition of life. Nor could I vote for anyone who claims limited knowledge on the subject (pay grade notwithstanding) and yet still moves forward in preference of death over life.