Abortion in the Bible
Part 2 of two parts:
Passages from the Pentateuch: the
|Exodus 21:22: (Cont'd)
The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible uses the phrase: "gives birth prematurely." and offers "miscarriage" as an alternative translation in a footnote. These two options result in totally opposite interpretations: one supporting the pro-choice faction; the other supporting the pro-life movement.
Some liberal theologians reject this interpretation. 1 They point out that this passage appears to have been derived from two earlier Pagan laws, whose intent is quite clear:
Author Brian McKinley, a born-again Christian, sums the passage up with: "Thus we can
see that if the baby is lost, it does not require a death sentence -- it is not considered
murder. But if the woman is lost, it is considered murder and is punished by death."
Many Old Testament theologians believe that this is another remnant of the time when the ancient Hebrews and Canaanites ritually murdered their first son, sacrificing him to their god.
It is a bit of a
stretch, but this passage might possibly be interpreted as implying that
personhood begins as an embryo when blood first becomes present. Since the
heart starts beating about 21 days after conception, then one might argue that
the embryo becomes a human person at that stage of pregnancy, or slightly earlier.
A child was only given a value after the age of one month; boys were worth five shekels;
girls were of less value at three shekels; below that age, (and presumably before birth) they were assigned no monetary
Only male babies over one month of age were considered persons for the purposes of
enumeration. One explanation of this policy was that an infant under one month of age and a fetus were apparently not worthy of being
counted as a human person. Another is that the death rate among newborns was so
high, that one could not have a reasonable certainty that the child would
live until it was at least a month old.
describes a ritual that a husband could force his wife to endure if he
suspected that she had engaged in an adulterous relationship. He would
and an offering of barely meal to the tabernacle, where the priest would make a magical drink consisting of holy water and
sweepings from the tabernacle floor. He would have the woman drink the water while he
recited a curse on her. The curse would state that her abdomen would swell and her thigh
waste away if she had committed adultery. Otherwise, the curse would have no
effect. If she were pregnant at this time, the curse
would certainly induce an abortion. Yet nobody seems to have been concerned about the fate of
any embryo or fetus that was present. Needless to say, there was no similar magical test that a woman could require her husband
to take if she suspected him of adultery.
occurred at end of the genocidal campaign against the Midianites. Moses, presumably under orders
from God, ordered the soldiers to kill every boy and non-virgin girl or woman. Presumably,
a significant percentage of
the latter would be pregnant. So, their fetus was killed along with the mother-to-be.
The fetuses would be destroyed, presumably because they were perceived to have
had no value. The
female virgins would be spared, because they were considered to have significant
The Israelites tried to
negotiate peaceful passage through the land of Heshbon. They were unsuccessful. So,
apparently under the instruction of God, they
exterminated all of the people, including innocent children. This
killing the fetuses of pregnant
women . This is an early example of
genocide based on religious belief, not unlike the genocides perpetrated by
Christians against non-Christians in Nazi Germany during
World War II, and in Bosnia Herzegovina
in the 1990s. It demonstrated no regard for the life of the fetuses
who were destroyed.
It is always important to consider the
context of any isolated quotation. Verses 15 to 18 clearly state that
the choice referred to in verse 19 is whether to worship
either Jehovah, or
the gods of the Canaanites, whose land they were about to invade.
Verse 20 picks up the same theme. Verse 19 thus relates to
religious choices and is unrelated to abortion. However, the two-word phrase "choose
life" from this verse is often quoted by pro-life groups. Michigan Christians for Life offered a free, 3" x 6" bumper-sticker
which says simply "Deuteronomy 30:19." 3 Automobile license plates that carry the "choose
life" message are available in several Southern U.S. states,
although their constitutionality has been challenged.
God is here describing how he will commit genocide against a specific nation. He will murder of persons of all ages and both genders, from infants to old people. It also involves erasing the memory of them as a nation. Presumably, fetuses would also die during the genocide.
|History of beliefs about abortion in the early
|Jewish beliefs about abortion|
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