C Rulon: Pro-Choice Christians (Supported by Biblical Passages)

By | December 20, 2011

By Charles L. Rulon

Pro-choice Christians

Today, tens of millions of American Christians are pro-choice.  For the last several decades, dozens of different Christian and Jewish groups have supported ex­cellent contracep­tion, emer­gency contra­cep­tive pills and a woman’s right to choose.  The Religious Coalition for Repro­duc­tive Choice (RCRC) repre­sents over 40 different denomina­tions and faith groups in this coun­try.  They argue that since major re­li­gious sects in the U.S. strongly disagree among themselves on the abor­tion issue, this issue obvious­ly cannot be a “strug­gle between the God-fearing and the God­less”, as often portrayed by the anti-choice activists.   RCRC surveys have found that wide­spread sup­port exists among Christ­ian and Jewish organiza­tions for repro­ductive choice, including safe, early abor­tions.[i]

There is also a Catholic organiza­tion, Cath­olics For Free Choice. They empha­size that Cath­olics who are con­vinced that their conscience is correct,  must follow their con­science rather than the dic­tates of the Church.[ii]  In both France and Italy, countries which are 80-90% Catholic, abor­tion is legal and paid for by the state during the first trimester.  Most European Catholics do not believe that an em­bryo or young fetus has the same sacred value or inalienable right to life as does a newborn.

For pro-Christians, the Christian God is pro-choice.  They refer to a number of relevant biblical passages to support their position.  And since the Bible is vague about the time of ensoulment, some believe that souls can only thrive in wanted pregnancies, others that the soul can only enter fetuses after the brain and body have be­come sufficient­ly develop­ed to receive a soul.  For still others, it’s when breathing becomes potentially possible.

These pro-choice Christians believe that women are mor­ally equal to men and capable of making their own tough ethical decisions regarding abor­tion.  They believe that God would not want us to try to force the eighty million women on our planet who have unplanned preg­nancies each year to stay pregnant against their will.  By supporting choice they believe they’re do­ing God’s work by help­ing to end mas­sive debil­ita­t­ing infec­tions and excruci­a­­ting deaths from il­legal abor­tions for millions of desperate women.  To quote Reverend Ann Fowler, Episcopal priest,  “To talk theologically about women’s rights to choose is to talk about justice, equality, health and wholeness, and respect for the full humanity and autonomy of every woman.”

Bible passages used to support abortion choice

Just as anti-choice Christians have interpreted selected biblical passages to support their posi­tion, so have pro-choice supporters found passages to support their position.  Here are a few:

a. Given the hundreds of laws, moral edicts and com­mandments in the Bible, mostly telling followers what they cannot do, the fact that the Bible (including all the pronounce­ments by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul) is completely silent regarding both elective abortions and the time of ensoulment speaks volumes.

b. Exodus 21:22 refers to an invol­untary mis­carriage as a re­sult of a woman being caught in the middle of a fight.  Of sig­nifi­cance here is that the woman’s life is held to be much more valu­able than that of the abort­ed fetus.

c. In Numbers 5: 11-31, God tells Moses (accord­ing to one interpretation) to have a priest mix a potion that might produce an abortion if a man’s wife has become preg­nant by another man.

d. The Bible is clear that a person does not begin at con­ception, but with breathing.  In Genesis 2:7, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (in some translations, “a living soul.”) The Hebrew word for a human being or living soul is nephesh, the word for “breath”.  “Nephesh” occurs over 700 times in the Bible as the identify­ing factor in human life.  Thus, if the fetus is not breath­ing (or if its lungs have not yet formed, making breathing impossible – before the 24th week) it is not yet a person in God’s eyes.

e. In Genesis 38 Judah mistakes Tamar as a prostitute and orders her to be burned to death despite the fact that she is pregnant.  Yet, if her twin fetuses had been considered persons, the law would have delayed her execution until the twins were born.

f. The Incarnation, or the “Word made Flesh” (John 1:14) was celebrated at Jesus’ birth, not at the speculative time of Mary’s conception.  This biblical tradi­tion is followed today, since we count age from the date of birth rather than from conception. The state issues no conception certificates, only birth certificates. It issues no death certificates for fertilized eggs that do not im­plant or for miscarriages.

 g. In Numbers 3:15, only male babies older than one month were to be counted as persons.

h. Jesus said of Judas: “It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). In effect, Jesus is saying that it would have been better if Judas’ mother had had a miscarriage or an abortion.   And by extension, couldn’t one argue that all mothers whose chil­dren will likely grow up to denounce Jesus should have abor­tions?

i. Ecclesi­astes 3 tells us that “To every thing there is a season… a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which has been planted…”  Is this just referring to agricul­tural advice, or does it, instead, refer to abortion. The Japanese refer to abortions as “thin­ning seedlings.”  Both the Japa­nese and the ancient Heb­rews were close to the soil; it was natural for them to discuss hu­man af­fairs in agri­cult­ural terms. The good farmer plucks up those seedlings that have been planted too close to others.  Like­wise, the good wife and mother aborts those “seedlings” that come too close together in time to permit good mothering or survival of all.

Thou shalt not murder

Christians who oppose choice respond by quoting the 6th Commandment, “Thou shalt not murder (Exodus 20).  But by so doing they conveniently ignore all those God-sanctioned killings that were “excep­tions” to this Command­ment—kill­ings that would be considered barbaric in mod­ern humane societies.  For example, the Old Testament god instructs his follow­ers to kill those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15; 35:2), to kill children who curse their parents (Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18-21) and to stone to death brides found not to be virgins on their wedding night (Deut. 22:13-21). A husband even had this god’s auth­or­ity to kill his wife and children if they pressured him to change his religion (Deut. 13:6-10).

Vir­gin girls also could be righteously offered to angry mobs to protect male guests from harm.  In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:6-8), Lot refuses to turn over his two male guests (angels in disguise) to the angry mob and, instead, offers his two virgin daughters.  Yet the two angels still viewed Lot as a good man and his family the only family worth saving in the entire town.  A similar story occurred in Judges 19.  The woman was offered to the mob to pro­tect a male guest.  She was raped all night, dying a hor­rible death!  But again, there was no mention of outrage or even moral disap­proval at her having been turned over to the mob in the first place.

This tribal god also had no intention of protect­ing the elderly, the crip­pled, the women and the children in enemy villages. They were all slaughter­ed with no mercy as he ordered (Deut. 2:34, 3:3-7, 7:1-6, 20:16-18).  In the Book of Joshua, his followers killed tens of thousands; they “utter­ly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel command­ed (Joshua 6:21-24; 10:40).”  After the second city fell (with Joshua and his men killing 12,000 men, women and children), Joshua wrote upon stones a copy of the Ten Commandments, including “Thou shalt not kill” (Joshua 8:24-25, 30-32).  The slaughter continued in the books of Judges and Kings with “utterly monstrous blood­baths”.  Over 400 cities were demolished by the Israelites.  The campaign lasted some 170 years.

Of course, when those powerful male leaders opposed to abortion righteously quote the 6th Command­ment they conveniently ignore all of these “God-given excep­tions”.  They also ignore the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it say that God cares about fetuses at all.  He certainly didn’t seem to place much value on them (or babies) when he drowned them all (Genesis 6-7).  And when the Sam­arians rebel­led against this god, he had their preg­nant women “ripped open” and their “little ones dashed to the ground” (Hosea 13:16). Nor did the biblical god seem to care about the innocent fetuses in enemy villages since, as just mentioned, he ordered all the pregnant women to be slaughtered.


Charles L. Rulon is an emeritus professor of Life and Health Sciences at Long Beach City College, California.

[i] <www.rcrc.org>

[ii] <www.cath4choice.org>


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