Are the Unborn Human Beings?

It is curious to me that we are not hearing more about abortion in this election season, especially after Chris Wallace presented the issue to presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the candidates’ debate last month. Immigration, the economy, ISIS, gun control laws, lewd comments and private servers have been widely discussed, but not abortion so much. Has the culture become so complacent and hardened that abortion no longer gets our attention? Or has the issue simply taken a back seat to other issues that are rightfully getting attention, such as racism and sexism?

In light of these things, I feel compelled to offer this reminder about the Biblical view of abortion. This is actually a summary of a sermon I gave at New Life Presbyterian Church on this topic last fall, and it borrows from points made in Scott Klusendorf’s book, The Case for Life.

There are three points to make, each of which flows logically from the previous point:

1. The unborn are members of the human community. The question of abortion really revolves around the question of the essential nature of the unborn. Are the unborn human, or are they not? To the degree that the discussion gets derailed from this central and foundational point, we will lose clarity as to what is at stake.

The Bible is the Christian’s highest and ultimate authority in all matters related to faith and practice. When we consult the Bible, we find it declaring that the unborn indeed are human. In Is. 49:1, it says, “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.” In Ps. 139:13, the psalmist declares, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” In both of these passages, the one being spoken of in the womb is not merely a fetus or a mass of tissue, but “me” — the human being writing the passage of Scripture. When Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, met Mary, pregnant with Jesus Christ, we read in Luke 1:41 that “the baby leaped in her womb” (referring to Elizabeth’s womb). The word for “baby” in this passage is translated as “child” or “infant.” In fact, it’s the same word used in 1 Peter 2:2 for “newborn infants” who long for pure spiritual milk.

Even the most liberal scholars agree with this assessment. Peter Singer, the infamous and controversial ethicist from Princeton University, wrote in his 1993 book, Practical Ethics: “There is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and egg is a human being.”

2. It is morally wrong to kill an innocent member of the human community. I use the adjective “innocent” in this statement, because I do believe there are occasions when it is justified to take the life of someone who has unlawfully taken the life of another human being. Gen. 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Notice, according to this passage, that it is not mental capacity or self-awareness that confers value to the human being, but instead it is the person’s status as an image bearer of God. The fact that an embryo lacks certain capacities does not make him/her any less human. And the fact that the embryo is human (see point #1) is what makes abortion morally unacceptable.

How ironic that a culture that expresses so much concern about equality and human rights is so inconsistent when applying this standard to the unborn. As Klusendorf writes, “We used to discriminate on the basis of skin color and gender (and still do at times), but now, with elective abortion, we discriminate on the basis of size, level of development, location and degree of dependency. We’ve simply swapped one form of bigotry for another.” (p.66).

3. Successful abortion kills the unborn, who are members of the human community. Therefore, abortion is morally wrong. Let’s not candy coat what is actually happening when an abortion takes place — the living unborn are being killed. In fact, the latest statistics indicate that about 1.3 percent of the 1 million abortions that take place annually in this country are done in the 21st week or later. That equals 13,000 babies a year. How perplexing to realize that unborn women don’t have a right to life, but they do have a right to an abortion.

The answer to so many questions related to abortion hinges on this central issue — whether the unborn are human. For instance, it is often asked whether abortion is justified in the case of rape. Well, is the unborn in a rape case a human being? If no, then abortion is justified. But if the unborn is human, then abortion is not justified. Of course this is an example of an extremely difficult and heartbreaking situation, but the person to be punished in such a case should be the rapist, not the unborn human child.

Sometimes people say they are personally opposed to abortion, but are still pro-choice. Again, the question of humanity is the crux of the matter. If the unborn is not human, then why are you “personally opposed” to abortion? What is objectionable about removing a mass of tissue from your body? But if the unborn is human, then why are you pro-choice? You certainly wouldn’t say, “I’m personally opposed to slavery, but others should have the choice to have slaves if they choose.”

Sometimes people say a woman should have the right to do what she wants with her body. Once again, if the unborn is not human, this would make total sense. Certainly a woman has the right to remove a tumor or an unwanted growth from her body. But if the unborn are human, then the issue is not whether a pregnant woman has a right to do something with her body, but whether she has the right to take the life of someone else’s body.

By her own admission, Hillary Clinton won’t be defending the rights of the unborn. Donald Trump says he will appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, but to me he seems slow and inarticulate in speaking up for life. Apparently it will fall to us, the church of Jesus Christ, to not only offer free grace and full pardon in the shed blood of Jesus to everyone complicit in abortion who will come to him in faith, but to also make a patient, persuasive and persistent case for why the weakest and most vulnerable in our society have the basic human right to be defended and protected.