“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” - Genesis 1:27
The first chapter of the Bible explains that men and women are distinct from the rest of creation because of their status as image-bearers of God.
Mankind was created to reflect God’s glory. Each unique man and woman was created to reflect God’s glory in unique ways. Therefore, each unique man and woman is endowed with inestimably high value.
Societies that embrace this truth flourish. Societies that reject this truth crumble. American society finds itself in the latter category.
Chief among the signs of our culture’s devaluing of the human person — which is rooted in its rejection of God — is the widespread acceptance and prevalence of abortion. To the tune of 63 million babies in less than five decades, parents have sacrificed their own babies — each created in God’s image — on the altar of convenience.
This article exists as a “field guide” to help young American Christians understand the Bible’s teachings as they relate to abortion. You will find a brief summary of Christian ethics on abortion — including relevant biblical passages, quotes from influential theologians through the ages, and a few helpful resources for further learning — and a set of refutations to common arguments in favor of abortion.
Summarizing the Pro-Life Ethic
What does the Bible say about abortion?
From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures enumerate God’s thoughts on the human person — specifically, that they are infinitely valuable as His image-bearers.
Mankind is made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and told to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).
God commands that men “shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
The law of God prescribes capital punishment for killing a preborn baby (Exodus 21:22-25).
God hates “hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
God intimately and carefully knits us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:14; Job 31:15) and knows us before we are born (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 22:10; Job 31:15).
The preborn John the Baptist “leaped in the womb” when he was in the presence of the preborn Jesus Christ (Luke 1:41).
Children are “a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). The Bible consistently teaches the necessity of caring for children and encourages us to view children as blessings.
Satan has often used infanticide to work against God’s purposes in the world; this happened at the birth of Moses (Exodus 1:15-22) and Jesus (Matthew 2:13-18).
Child sacrifice is a sign of a culture given over to rebellion against God. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites turn to foreign gods in the hopes of deliverance, successful crop yields, and prosperity. God warns that He will personally “set [His] face against” those who sacrifice their children (Leviticus 20:1-5).
God commands His people to “rescue those who are being taken away to death” and “hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).
What have Christians always believed about abortion?
In accordance with the Bible’s teachings on abortion and the value of the human person, Christian theologians through the ages have plainly condemned abortion as an unthinkable evil against one’s own child and against almighty God.
The Didache — a first-century or second-century handbook of biblical ethics that is among the oldest surviving Christian writings outside of the New Testament — instructs believers that “you shall not procure an abortion, nor practice infanticide.”
Tertullian — a second-century Christian writer — wrote in his Apology that “for us, since we have forbidden murder once and for all, we may not even destroy the fetus in the womb, even though at that point the human being still derives its blood from other parts of the body for sustenance.” He noted that “to hinder a birth is merely a speedier killing of a man.”
Basil of Caesarea — a fourth-century theologian — wrote in his letter to Amphilochius that “the woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder.”
Martin Luther — a sixteenth-century monk and German Reformer — wrote in his Commentary on Genesis: “How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God!” He added that “the God who declares that we are to be fruitful and multiply regards it as a great evil when human beings destroy their offspring.”
John Calvin — a sixteenth-century pastor and French Reformer — wrote in his Commentary on Exodus: “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”
What are some recommended resources for learning more?
Eric and Ashley Hoover’s talk on pro-life apologetics and sidewalk counseling explains how University of Pennsylvania students can be actively pro-life on campus.
Pastor Voddie Baucham’s sermon on abortion explains how the Bible describes child sacrifice as a form of spiritual warfare.
Pastor Jeff Durbin’s sermon on sidewalk counseling explains the necessity of confronting the practice of abortion with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Answering Common Objections
How do we know that objective morality exists?
Christians believe that God is the arbiter of good and evil. God’s moral standards do not change. They are objective. Yet, we see that our peers increasingly profess subjective morality — the notion that moral standards do change, often according to the will of each individual. Therefore, the non-Christian may conclude that there is no firm, objective basis upon which anyone can say that anything — including abortion — is wrong.
Nothing could be further from the truth — and the non-Christian knows it.
Paul tells the Romans that non-Christians — even those who have no exposure to the Scriptures — show that “the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” when they “by nature do what the law requires” (Romans 2:14-15). Every human has some degree of knowledge of good and evil. Virtually every culture around the world, for instance, outlaws murder and theft. There is an innate recognition among all human beings that particular actions are against the Creator and His creation.
In other words, every human — including and especially the one who professes subjective morality — innately knows that objective morality exists. Any insistence from the non-Christian otherwise is a cover for a lifestyle that displeases God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18; emphasis added).
As the late Presbyterian minister R.C. Sproul facetiously remarked, one could demonstrate the existence of objective morality to a non-Christian by stealing his wallet. Chances are, he would start proclaiming an objective moral standard that sounds a lot like “you shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). He has the law of God written on his heart.
Isn’t it the woman’s right to choose what happens to her body?
For the past several decades, the adage of “my body, my choice” has largely defined the abortion debate. It is indeed a compelling rhetorical device; after all, no one wants to be caught discriminating against a particular group of people or restricting their liberties. Nevertheless, this argument is deeply flawed.
The preborn baby is definitionally not a part of his or her mother’s body. The baby has a distinct set of DNA from the moment of conception. Within weeks, the baby has a distinct set of organs, a distinct heartbeat, and a distinct nervous system. He or she is no more a part of the mother’s body than the one-year-old that is in the mother’s arms.
Some may argue that the preborn baby is an unwanted intruder inside of the mother’s body. Some may even compare the preborn baby to a parasite. It is true, of course, that the preborn baby draws nutrients from his or her mother. Nevertheless, this point fails to recognize that the choice of whether or not to have sex is the decision point at which a woman could choose to avoid the results of sex — namely, reproduction.
Regardless of the circumstances in which a baby is conceived — including reprehensible circumstances in which a mother is not given a choice — Christians who minister to abortion-minded mothers are eager to help with any burden that may stand in the way of a mother supporting her baby. Why? Because the mother and baby alike are image-bearers of God, endowed with infinite value from their Creator.
What about rape and incest? What about the life of the mother?
In the case of rape and incest, we again return to every person’s status as an image-bearer of God. Because the circumstances of one’s conception — regardless of its potential reprehensibility — do not determine personhood, it is objectively true that babies conceived in the context of a healthy marriage, in the context of a one-night stand, in the context of rape, and in the context of incest all equally possess the right to life.
Consider two ultrasound images held in front of you. Suppose that one of the two babies was conceived in rape: could you point out which baby was conceived in rape and which was not? Likewise, consider meeting a person on the street: do you have to ask about the circumstances of that person’s conception before treating him or her as an image-bearer of God?
The case of the life of the mother is rooted in the same reality. To the greatest extent that is possible under current medical advancements — and by petitioning God through prayer — it is the duty of the mother to fight tooth and nail for her baby’s life. It is important to uphold the life of the mother and the life of the baby unless there is no other option.
The so-called “exceptions” of rape, incest, and the life of the mother, however, are often distractions from the actual issue at hand: whether mothers have the right to kill their own children.
If a pro-choice individual brings up a category that represents a small fraction of abortion cases, one simple question will reveal his or her motives: “Let’s say I agree with allowing abortion in response to rape and incest, as well as to protect the mother’s life. Would you still affirm with me that all of the other types of abortion should be illegal as well?” If the answer is “no,” then this person merely brought up the “exceptions” as a facade. The central question — whether mothers have the right to kill their own children — remains the core issue at hand.
Isn’t it wrong to bring a baby into a life of poverty or abuse?
As with a baby’s status before birth, a baby’s disadvantaged status after birth does not make him or her any less of an image-bearer of God.
The issue of poverty, for example, is highly relative. Poverty in the United States is drastically different from poverty in Cambodia. Virtually the entire population of the United States — even those who fall below the poverty level, as defined by cultural norms and governmental institutions — enjoys a higher standard of living than the people of Cambodia. However, every Cambodian life is equal in value to every American life. The same is true of children born into families earning $20,000 per year and children born into families earning $200,000 per year.
The issue of poverty does not justify murdering one’s baby anywhere in the world. Yet, as previously mentioned, millions of Christians in the United States are willing to help mothers in need of financial assistance in order to take care of their children.
Likewise, the prospects of a baby being born into abuse — though unfortunate — are by no means sufficient to justify his or her death. We would never call for the execution of a two-year-old experiencing abuse: rather, we would deploy every measure available to remove the child from his or her abusive home. The same is true of preborn babies facing the prospect of abuse — because all humans are created equally in God’s image.
Isn’t it wrong to have a baby with mental or physical disabilities?
Though a consequence of the fall, mental and physical disabilities — are you noticing a trend here? — do not modify one’s status as an image-bearer of God.
Once again, the notion of “disability” exists on a spectrum; for instance, physical imperfections can range from birthmarks to missing limbs. It would be absurd to state that either imperfection is sufficient cause for someone’s death.
Regardless of who we are, where we come from, our circumstances, or our characteristics, every member of the human family can say with the psalmist: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).
And even more so, God invites every member of the human family to experience redemption through Jesus Christ.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30