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I’m a Christian & I Live in the Real World, Thinking Through Ethics – Abortion

02 Jul

This was part #4 to a series on ethics given during the Sunday PM services at Howick Baptist Church. A full PDF along with related links and an MP3 download of the talk can be found here.

Abortion

Defining Terms:

conception

 

Father’s sperm penetrates mother’s egg cell. Genetic instructions from both parents interact to begin a new and unique individual who is no bigger than a grain of sugar. (Zygote/preembryo/proembryo)
day 1

 

The first cell divides into two, the two into four, and so on.
days 5–9

 

The new individual implants in the mother’s womb. The baby’s sex can already be determined.

 

Day 14

 

Mother’s normal menstrual period is suppressed by a hormone produced by her child.
Day 18

 

The heart is forming. Soon the eyes start to develop.
Day 20

 

The beginnings of the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system are laid.
Day 24

 

The heart begins to beat.
Day 28

 

Muscles are developing along the future spine.
Day 30

 

The child in utero has grown 10,000 times to 6–7 mm (1/4 inch) long. The brain has human proportions. Blood flows in the veins and is separate from the mother’s blood supply.
Day 35

 

The pituitary gland in the brain is forming. Mouth, ears and nose are taking shape.
Day 40

 

The heart’s energy output is 20 percent of the adult output.
Day 42

 

The skeleton is formed. The brain coordinates movement of the muscles and organs. Reflex responses have begun. The penis has begun to form in male infants. The mother misses her second period.
Day 43

(1 1/2 months)

 

Brain waves can be recorded.
Day 45

 

Spontaneous movements have begun, and the teeth are developing.
7 Weeks

 

Lips are sensitive to touch, and the ears may already be taking on the family shape.
8 Weeks

 

The child is well-proportioned, a small-scale baby: 3 cm (1 1/8 inches) sitting up, and a gram (1/30 oz) in weight. Every organ is present. The heart beats sturdily; the stomach produces digestive juices; the liver makes blood cells; the kidneys begin to function; the taste buds are forming. (Referred to as an Embryo up to this stage.)
8 1/2 Weeks

 

Fingerprints are being engraved. They will grow larger, but they are unique and will never change. The eyelids and palms of the hands are sensitive to touch. (Referred to as a Fetus from this point until birth.)
9 Weeks

 

The child will bend fingers around an object placed in the palm. Thumb-sucking begins. Fingernails are forming.
10 Weeks

 

The body is sensitive to touch. The child squints, swallows, furrows his or her brow, and frowns.
11 Weeks

 

The baby urinates and makes complex facial expressions, even smiling.
12 Weeks

 

The baby is capable of vigorous activity. He or she can kick, turn feet, curl and fan toes, make a fist, move thumbs, bend wrists, turn the head, open the mouth, and press the lips tightly together. Breathing has begun.
13 Weeks

(End of the First Trimester)

 

The baby is prettier, and the facial expression resembles the parents’. Movements are graceful, reflexes vigorous. The vocal cords are formed, although without air the baby cannot cry. The sex organs are apparent.
4 Months

 

The baby can grasp with his or her hands, swim, and turn somersaults.
4–5 Months

 

The mother first feels the baby move.
5 Months

 

Sleeping habits are noticeable. A slammed door will result in activity. The child responds to sounds in frequencies too high or low for adults to hear.
6 Months

(End of the Second Trimester)

 

Fine hair grows on the eyebrows and head.

Eyelash fringe appears. The baby’s weight is about 640 g (1 lb, 6 oz), and height is 23 cm (9 inches). Babies born at this age have survived.

7 Months

 

Eyeteeth are present. Eyelids open and close. Eyes look around. Hands grip strongly. The mother’s voice is heard and recognized.
8 Months

 

Weight increases by 1 kg (over 2 lbs), and the baby’s quarters get very cramped.
9 Months

 

The child triggers labor, and birth occurs, usually 255–275 days after conception. Of the 45 generations of cell divisions before adulthood, 41 have taken place. Four more will come during the rest of childhood and adolescence.[1]

 

Spontaneous Abortion:          Technical term for miscarriage, premature labour, and/or early termination of pregnancy.

Abortion:                                The intentional killing of a human embryo or foetus.[2]


 

Cultural/Historical Trends:

Since the 1960’s there has been an aggressive International movement to lower the fertility rates so as to control a perceived population expansion problem.[3]

Since the 1960’s the dominant cultural, sociological, political, & economic philosophy has been “personal autonomy & freedom of choice.” People ought to be freed and empowered to exercise their autonomy. (Hence, on the abortion front the pro-abortion lobby is known as “pro-choice.”)

New Zealand Fertility Rates:[4]

1894                                                       2.69

1931                                                       3.61

1947                                                       2.63

1978                                                       2.06

2002                                                       1.77[5]

New Zealand Abortion Statistics:[6]

1964 (first year reported)                                 76

1970                                                                                       313

1980                                                                                       5945

1990                                                                                       11,173

2000                                                                                       16,103

2011                                                                                       15,863[7]

“Contraception, Sterilisation, & Abortion Act” was passed in 1977 lifting all legal restrictions on abortion.[8]

New Zealand has no parental notification restrictions on under-sixteen access for abortion.[9]

New Zealand ranks #4 in the world for the number of abortions per 1000 women at 17.3.[10]

What Does the Medical Literature Say?:

Human Life occurs not at conception, but after syngamy:

“the paternal chromosomes decondense within a new envelope to form the male pronucleus, while a membrane also develops around the remaining twenty-three female chromosomes to form the female pronucleus. During the next six to ten hours, the two pronuclei move towards each other. Approximately twenty-two hours after insemination in a case of in vitro fertilization, syngamy occurs when membranes of the two pronuclei break down, allowing male and female chromosomes to mingle. The union of male and female chromosomes at syngamy gives rise to a single cell with a set of twenty-three pairs of maternal and paternal homologous chromosomes, in all forty-six chromosomes. This cell is called a zygote because it yokes or brings together the maternal and paternal chromosomes into one genetically new individual cell.” 33

“On the one hand, one might agree that there is not actually a human life until syngamy, but claim that the fertilized egg before that has all the potential for human life. Though some might say that is true of sperm and eggs that are completely separated from one another, it is not true in the same sense that it is true of sperm that has already penetrated the egg. Sperm and egg that have not united might never unite to begin the process of fertilization. However, the fertilized egg, though not human life until syngamy, has already begun the process of forming human life. That process should not be interrupted. Hence, abortion even during the first twenty-four hours is wrong.”[11]

“Personhood” is separate from “human life” and is the measurement to use:

Paul Ramsey, formerly a moral theologian at Princeton, concurs. He has argued that the debate has taken a new turn. Previously, while there might be disagreement as to the beginning of human life, it was agreed that whenever it did begin, there was a person with rights. Now there is an attempt to divorce human life and personhood. No longer is personhood grounded in the possession of biological human life.38

“Pro-life advocates argue that personhood begins at conception, because at that point the DNA strands are species-specific. That is, if the newly fertilized egg is examined under a microscope, one can determine that the DNA strands are those of human beings. Moreover, it is argued that though the fetus is dependent upon the mother, he or she is an independent individual.39 This view can be called the biological, genetic view of personhood.”[12]

Personhood: Whoever has the basic DNA of human nature qualifies as a human person. This is opposed to the sociological (“quality of life”) or developmental (physiological capacities) definition.

We must protect the personal autonomy of the woman at all costs:

“That word “autonomy” gets us to the heart of the matter. It locates precisely the contradiction between pro-choice ideology and the Christian message. The Bible teaches that we are not autonomous, that we belong body and soul to another, and that we are at his disposal. A human being demanding autonomy is like a fish demanding freedom from water, freedom to live on land. Such freedom is destructive to his nature, and the autonomy of modern, secular thought is equally destructive to human nature. It is not the way to self-fulfillment; it is the way of death. The way to self-fulfillment is, paradoxically, the way of death to self, death with Christ, and eternal life through faith in him. The way to abundant life is the way of the servant of God. This is God’s Word to the pro-choice movement today. This is the message we must bring in our ministry of mercy.”[13]

What Does the Bible Say?:

Exodus 21:22-25

When the baby is born prematurely but unharmed, a fine is assessed. When there is harm to either mother or baby, the law of retaliation is required. And both stipulations apply in a case where what happens is accidental! In fact, this is the only place in Scripture where the death penalty is required for accidental homicide! The obvious condition of the woman should have been a signal for caution on the part of the men, and when they were negligent, the most severe penalty was required. This passage is a special case, but not one that downgrades or devalues developing babies or pregnant women. On the contrary, it shows the extreme importance God places on both.[14]

Psalm 51:5

As an unborn person and since conception, David claims to be a sinner. Sin in Scripture is a personal quality, never an impersonal one. It is never a property of things, only persons.

Psalm 139:13-16

This text represents a general biblical usage of personal pronouns to refer to the unborn. There are no Biblical texts that speak of the unborn as anything by human persons. (Job 31:15-18; Hos. 12:3; Gen. 25:23-36; 38:27-30)

Judges 13:3-5

Sampson’s mother, during her pregnancy, has to keep the Nazarite restrictions (v. 4), because her son is a Nazarite even before his is born and must not be defiled.

Luke 1:35

It was at his conception that the Spirit acted supernaturally to being the Son of God into the world. Jesus, then, was the incarnate Son of God, the second person of the trinity, from the moment of his conception by the Holy Spirit. From conception onward, he was the divine-human person.

Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:5-7

Human life is to be valued as having inherent dignity and worth as all people are created in the image of God.

Our Obligation to Defend the Weak and Helpless

Arguably the unborn are the weakest, poorest, most helpless people that there are. Both the Old and New Testaments are profoundly clear, God’s people are morally obligated to defend such people.

Lev. 19:16; Psalm 41:1; 72:12-14; 82:3-4; Prov. 24:11; Isa. 1:17; 58:5-7, 9-10; Amos 4:1; Luke 10:30-37; Acts 4:34-37; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; 9:1-15; Gal. 2:10

Pregnancy as the Result of Sin:

Rape/Incest:

The taking of life cannot be justified due to the sins of another (in this case the father) or to alleviate pain (physical & emotional) in another (in this case the mother).

Unmarried Pregnancy (consensual sex):

The taking of life cannot be justified due to the sins of another (in this case both the father & mother) or to alleviate difficulties (current and/or future).

Marriage is not necessitated under these circumstances.

One must preserve life, even if that life has come about due to sinful choices by both the father & mother.

The couple may marry, but it ought not to be motivated by “I guess we have to now) but by a considered desire to enter into the marriage covenant.

When the Life of the Mother is in Jeopardy:

Ectopic Pregnancy:

An egg has been successfully fertilized, but has become trapped in the mother’s fallopian tube.

  1. The fertilized egg is a human person made in the image of God.
  2. There is no known medical procedure where it is possible to move the baby from the tube and implant it into the womb for further development.
  3. If the baby (and tube) are not removed both the baby and the mother will die.
  4. We must save the life that can be saved.
  5. The tube and baby should be removed, therefore terminating the life of the baby, but preserving the life of the mother.
  6. The couple should be cared for with the understanding that they have just lost the life of their child, though they are not morally responsible for the baby’s death.

Mother with Cancer (uterine)

A woman who is pregnant is diagnoses with uterine cancer. The treatment options are:

  1. A full hysterectomy followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation.
  2. In some cases, if detected early enough, chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Both treatment options will kill the baby. Neither is certain to guarantee the mother’s full recovery.

We should save the life that can be saved.

The baby can be brought to term and delivered safe and healthy. There is no certainly that any treatment will result in the mother’s full recovery from cancer.

Though profoundly difficult, the mother may be called upon to sacrifice her life for the life of her child.[15]

Evangelistic & Pastoral Care:

  1. Be willing to offer long-term hospitality to the mother and/or baby.
  • To care for the mother up to delivery
  • To care for the mother and/or baby after birth
  • To foster, or even, adopt the baby
  1. Provide an expectant mother considering abortion helpful medical data on pregnancy, delivery, and abortion. Truthful & accurate abortion data is widely available online. Much of it is graphic and unpleasant. Yet, be willing to be uncomfortable when fighting for the life of an unborn child!
  2. Share with the expectant mother the life-giving hope of the Gospel of Christ!
  3. For someone who has had an abortion:
  • Love them as a fellow-sinner in need of forgiveness and grace.
  • Point them to the all-powerful, full forgiveness that is only possible in Christ.


[1] John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 53-55.

[5] Replacement fertility rate is estimated to be between 2.5 & 3.3 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_fertility_rate#Replacement_rates)

[8] 1973 in the US with the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

[9] Yet a child under 16 will need parental permission or attend a school field trip or to receive Panadol from the school nurse.

33 Norman Ford, “When Does Human Life Begin?” Pacif 1 (1988): 304.

[11] John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 58.

38 Paul Ramsey, “Abortion: A Review Article,” Thomist 37 (1973): 184–185. See also Paul B. Fowler, Abortion: Toward an Evangelical Consensus (Portland: Multnomah, 1987), Chapter 2. Fowler’s treatment of this issue is excellent and shows that this is indeed what has happened.

39 Paul D. Feinberg, “The Morality of Abortion,” in Richard L. Ganz, ed., Thou Shalt Not Kill (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1978), pp. 129–130.

[12] John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 59.

[13] Frame, John M. The Doctrine of the Christian Life. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2008, pg. 731.

[14] John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 65.

[15] Though Rachel did not die from uterine cancer, her testimony can be very helpful: http://deathisnotdying.com/

 

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