Reasons why abortion is not murder, a primer for Christians
There has been a lot of press recently about the attacks made against Planned Parenthood, both by video, by hackers, and by politicians.
I thought I would make an attempt to clear up some confusion some Christians have about the issue, namely, the simple phrase, “Abortion is murder!”
It’s not. Legally, scientifically, and, yes, even from a Biblical standpoint.
I know what you may be thinking, “But, Aaron, you’re an atheist, how can you possibly know what the Bible says about abortion/dare to interpret my holy book/read the Bible without bursting into flames?”
I can read/I have nothing to fear but the opinions of Christians/you’re thinking of a magical realm of sorcery, not reality.
So, let’s start with the legal reason, first.
Legal issues come down, in many cases, to the definition of words. Some words have very clear legal definitions. Murder is one of those words. Let’s go to law.com for our definition (emphasis added by me):
n. the killing of a human being by a sane person, with intent, malice aforethought (prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way) and with no legal excuse or authority. In those clear circumstances, this is first degree murder. By statute, many states consider a killing in which there is torture, movement of the person before the killing (kidnapping) or the death of a police officer or prison guard, or it was as an incident to another crime (as during a hold-up or rape), to be first degree murder, with or without premeditation and with malice presumed. Second degree murder is such a killing without premeditation, as in the heat of passion or in a sudden quarrel or fight. Malice in second degree murder may be implied from a death due to the reckless lack of concern for the life of others (such as firing a gun into a crowd or bashing someone with any deadly weapon). Depending on the circumstances and state laws, murder in the first or second degree may be chargeable to a person who did not actually kill, but was involved in a crime with a partner who actually did the killing or someone died as the result of the crime. Example: In a liquor store stick-up in which the clerk shoots back at the hold-up man and kills a bystander, the armed robber can be convicted of at least second degree murder. A charge of murder requires that the victim must die within a year of the attack. Death of an unborn child who is “quick” (fetus is moving) can be murder, provided there was premeditation, malice and no legal authority. Thus, abortion is not murder under the law. Example: Jack Violent shoots his pregnant girlfriend, killing the fetus. Manslaughter, both voluntary and involuntary, lacks the element of malice aforethought.
Note, this definition specifically touches on the point I was going to make. I didn’t actually realize it until I read through it, but I will attempt to explain further, just to clarify.
Abortion is not murder, legally, because abortion is legal. In order for it to be murder, it would need to be illegal.
Scientifically, let’s discuss the term “human being.”
Imagine Vitruvius. He is an average human being in every way. For sake of brevity, I’ll refer to him as V.
So, we cut off V’s arms. Is he still human? Yes.
Next, his legs. Still human? A bit difficult for him to do traditional gymnastics, but, yes, still human.
How much of V do we need to remove in order for him to stop being “human”? Is it his heart? Then people who have had artificial hearts are no longer human? Is it some other organ? Lungs, pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, kidneys? Nope, all of those have been able to be replaced. Is it his face? So, people who have been severely injured facially are no longer human? Eyes?
Okay, enough gruesome vivisection. *waves magic wand and reassembles V to go on his merry way*
The brain, which stores the sum of all of the experiences a person has gone through in their life, isn’t even it. There have been cases of severe brain trauma and birth defects that have either badly damaged the brain or, in some very rare cases, ended up with people who have no brain. There was a math student who had an I.Q. of 126 who had no physical brain.
So, what is it? Many people would say “soul” but no soul has ever been found scientifically, so we can nix that. Well, sort of. Let me ask a different question.
What is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Is it the paper and ink where the notes are printed? Is it the musicians and instruments playing the piece? Of course not. It is the music, the pattern of notes played in a specific order and in a specific way.
My conjecture is that a “human being” is the pattern of experiences and thoughts, carried out through the physical processes of life. We are, in essence, the sum of our experiences and translated through our brain (or other structure serving that purpose). Some might call that the soul, but, like the music in a symphony, once the instruments and at rest and the performance is over, that symphony does not continue to exist on its own. It requires a medium in which to exist, whether paper and ink, magnetic tape, or in a digital format. It also exists in the memory of the people who heard the performance. The same can be said of humans when they die.
Back to the topic of abortion. Hypothetically speaking, if my conjecture is true, it is not a human being until birth, possibly not until permanent memories begin to form between two and three years. Oddly enough, that’s the Bible’s standpoint as well. But, I will get into that in the next section.
When the case was brought before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, a specific moment a fetus went from human tissue to human being had to be set. So, they did made the most sense: they set it to the average point where the brain is functional and the fetus can be removed from the mother’s body and survive. This is good enough for me and most pro-choice people. It is more conservative than the Biblical view, but it works with today’s understanding of physiology.
The Biblical Perspective
Let’s start with Exodus 21:22-25.
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
So, according to the law, abortion as a side effect of violence was not considered to be murder, or the Bible would demand the offender be killed. Instead, a fine levied by the judges was sufficient.
Next, Hosea 9:11-14.
11 As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.
12 Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.
14 Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
So, it is perfectly okay to ask God to perform abortions.
And then there is the word Nephesh (נֶפֶש). Nephesh is a interesting word. It is translated as “soul”, but the problem is that it is used several times in the Bible to refer to animal life, not human. And the word itself means “breath of life”. Meanwhile, the word “ruah” (רוח) is used to denote the spirit of mankind. Hence, we come to Ezekiel 37:5.
5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live
But, wait, that means the Bible considers life to begin at the point when breath begins. Actually, it goes a bit further than that.
According to the Bible, God tells Moses that children are not even worth counting until they are a month old.
40 And the Lord said unto Moses, Number all the firstborn of the males of the children of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names.
In fact, they are worthless as far as human sacrifice. Oh, did I mention there were specific rules for human sacrifice in the Bible? Not really my point here, but included for context.
27 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the Lord by thy estimation.
3 And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.
4 And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels.
5 And if it be from five years old even unto twenty years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels.
6 And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver.
7 And if it be from sixty years old and above; if it be a male, then thy estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.
Finally, the Bible even goes so far as to provide instructions on how to perform abortions. Granted, it’s more of a magic spell than an actual medical procedure, but that’s common in the Bible (see the cure for leprosy or how to get stripes or spots on livestock).
21 Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;
22 And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
23 And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:
24 And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
25 Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the Lord, and offer it upon the altar:
26 And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
28 And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
To sum up, legally, it does not classify as murder. Scientifically, there is no evidence that a fetus is a “human being” until it is capable of having cognition. From the Bible, fetus are not counted as “life” in terms of crimes, is not a life until it breathes for the first time, and children under a month old are worthless, anyway. Oh, and priests have an incantation that can cause abortion.