What saith the scriptures?

Old Testament

Mischief Thou Shalt not Kill
Transgression My Name
Born Guilty Whose Life?
Before You Were Born Personal Pronoun


"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. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." (Exodus 21:22-25).

What does this passage mean? What is the 'mischief' in view? The death of the child? The death of the mother? Both, or either? A live, albeit premature, birth, is a very much of a possible outcome of an assault on a pregnant woman. Are we to understand the law to mean that, if the child is born living, a fine will suffice to compensate any potential harm to mother or child, but if the child dies, it is murder? Some interpreters do not understand the passage to leave room for this possibility, as if no assault on a pregnant woman ever resulted in a premature delivery, but only in miscarriage. They perceive two possible outcomes: a dead infant and a living mother, or a dead infant and a dead mother. The latter case only, they contend, is considered as murder. This needed to be said? Killing a woman who is not pregnant is murder.

Many contemporary Jews believe this law specifically permits abortion, as murder cannot be compensated by a monetary assessment. How early did this interpretive tradition arise? Certainly it is not novel; Jerome's fourth century Latin Vulgate renders the passage, in accurate English translation, "If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award. But if her death ensue thereupon, he shall render life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." (Exodus 21:22-25, Douay). Under this interpretation the passage is inconsistent with classifying abortion as murder, since murder cannot be satisfied with payment of a fine.

Adding further puzzlement, the passage was evidently interpreted differently by the Septuagint translators:

"And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her child be born imperfectly formed, he shall be forced to pay a penalty: as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he shall pay with a valuation. But if it be perfectly formed, he shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." (Exodus 21:22-25 LXX, Brenton Septuagint).

Philo Judaeus, a first century Alexandrian Jew, expands upon this view: "Therefore, Moses has utterly prohibited the exposure of children, by a tacit prohibition, when he condemns to death, as I have said before, those who are the causes of a miscarriage to a woman whose child conceived within her is already formed." (Philo Judaeus, The Special Laws, Book III, Chapter XX, Section 117). Notice that Philo specifically understands the passage in Exodus to condemn to death "those who are the causes of a miscarriage"; but not all miscarriages, only in the event the child is "already formed." What is the thought process behind this idea of formation? Historically it will turn out to be a dead end; no one now takes the vew that perfect formation is a milestone, but the logic is simple: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If the child in the womb looks like a human being, it is a human being; taking its life is murder. We begin with a few cells, not recognizably human. But in time, we look again, and discover the embryo has two hands and two feet,— bilateral symmetry,— we recognize the human form, we see one of us. This notion of formation is critical to Philo's understanding of this passage in the law, in one of several places where he discusses the matter:

  • “But if any one has a contest with a woman who is pregnant, and strike her a blow on her belly, and she miscarry, if the child which was conceived within her is still unfashioned and unformed, he shall be punished by a fine, both for the assault which he committed and also because he has prevented nature, who was fashioning and preparing that most excellent of all creatures, a human being, from bringing him into existence. But if the child which was conceived had assumed a distinct shape [Exodus 21:22 LXX] in all its parts, having received all its proper connective and distinctive qualities, he shall die; for such a creature as that is a man, whom he has slain while still in the workshop of nature, who had not thought it as yet a proper time to produce him to the light, but had kept him like a statue lying in a sculptor's workshop, requiring nothing more than to be released and sent out into the world.”
  • (Philo Judaeus, Special Laws, The Law Concerning Murderers, Chapter V).

On this understanding, the passage would categorize abortion as murder, but not from the time of conception. While Philo does not directly state when the change occurs, his criteria of human conformation are met at about two months. While Philo's understanding in no way encourages abortion prior to that, his view would not categorize early abortion as murder. That promotion of the charge would be applicable later in the pregnancy:

“And with respect to these matters the following law has been enacted with great beauty and propriety: 'If while two men are fighting one should strike a woman who is great with child, and her child should come from her before it is completely formed, he shall be mulcted in a fine, according to what the husband of the woman shall impose upon him, and he shall pay the fine deservedly. But if the child be fully formed, he shall pay life for life.'” (Philo Judaeus, Meeting for the Sake of Instruction, Chapter XXIV).

Whether it is categorized as murder from the outset, or not, Philo shares the understanding of other commentators, that abortion is categorically forbidden by the law: "That no one shall cause the offspring of women to be abortive by means of miscarriage, or by any other contrivance." (Philo Judaeus of Alexandria. Hypothetica. Delphi Complete Works of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 77) (Kindle Locations 29106-29107).)

As will be seen shortly, many early Christian writers understand the faith to forbid abortion; are their scruples based on Exodus 21:22-25, or on some other passage in the law? Philo's detour through 'perfect formation' evidently leads nowhere, as it was not the path taken by the Christian interpreters. The fork in the road evidently begins with the Septuagint. Most of the differences between the Septuagint and the later Masoretic Hebrew text are not significant for doctrine; unfortunately this one is. Can the Dead Sea Scrolls provide insight as to the true text?:

"[And if men fight together, and hurt a pregnant woman, so that the child is born, and yet no har]m [comes of the incident, he shall] certainly [be fined as the woman's husband demands of him; and he shall pay as the ju]dge[s determine. But if any harm does come of it, then you shall give life for life, eye for] eye, tooth [for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for] burn, woun[d for wound, blow for blow.] (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint & Eugene Ulrich).

Unfortunately the bracketed material, which is missing, is crucial. Some readers understand "so that her fruit depart from her" to leave room for a live birth. The monetary compensation then covers the potential harm to the health and well-being of the child and its mother resultant from the premature delivery. If that is the case, the passage is unquestionably anti-abortion. It is unfortunate both the text and its interpretation are uncertain. Josephus claimed to have in his possession the temple text of scripture. In Against Apion, he clearly understands the law of Moses both to forbid abortion, and also to categorize it as murder:

  • “The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing human kind; if any one, therefore, proceeds to such fornication or murder, he cannot be clean.”
  • (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, Book II, 25).

Recall, Philo's understanding of the Septuagint categorizes, not all abortion, but that after approximately two months, as murder. But Josephus mentions neither months nor 'trimesters.' Is he understanding the Masoretic text of Exodus 21:22 to categorize abortion as murder, there being no other text which can be in view? It is difficult to say, because in the Antiquities of the Jews, he offers an explanation of this text more in keeping with the conventional rabbinic understanding (Book IV, Chapter 8, 33).

The view that abortion kills a living human being is not predominant in modern Judaism, though it is not altogether absent from the Talmud. Discussing the murder by a heathen of an embryo, Rabbi Ishmael says, "On the authority of R. Ishmael it was said: [He is executed] even for the murder of an embryo. What is R. Ishmael's reason? Because it is written, Whoso sheddeth the blood of man within [another] man, shall his blood be shed. What is a man within another man? — An embryo in his mother's womb." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 57b).

There is nothing in Biblical usage to  contradict the idea that an embryo is a human life, although this view did not come to be dominant in rabbinic interpretation. The text says, "...so that her fruit depart." 'Fruit' is 'yeled,' 'child,' 'offspring.' It is not specific as to age or condition, being used even of young men. Nor does it specify a miscarriage versus a live birth: "Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? Canst thou number the months that they fulfil? or knowest thou the time when they bring forth? They bow themselves, they bring forth their young ones [Strong's 03206, 'yeled'], they cast out their sorrows." (Job 39:13). 'Depart,' 'yatsa,' means just that, 'depart,' 'go out.' So there is nothing in the phraseology that precludes a live birth. In that case, Exodus 21:22 would mean that, if and only if the assault on the pregnant woman results in the premature birth of a live, viable infant, then the assailant is to be assessed a fine; under any other result, including miscarriage or the subsequent death of an infant born live, the assailant will answer for murder.

This way of reading the passage vindicates the 'pro-life' understanding:

"Thus the whole sentence really should be translated 'And when men struggle together and strike a pregnant woman [or 'wife'] and her children come forth, but there is no injury, he shall be certainly fined, as the husband of the woman shall impose on him, and he shall give [or 'pay'] in [the presence of] the judges; but if there shall be an injury, then you shall pay life for life [nepes tahat napes].'
"There is no ambiguity here whatever. What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life (nepes) of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second-class status attached to the fetus under this rule; he is avenged just as if he were a normally delivered child or an older person: life for life." (Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 247-248).

Given the multiplicity of potential interpretations, which was prevalent in Jesus' day? It is undeniable that some of the later Talmudic rabbis were not pro-life. But it is safe to say that all the interpretive avenues we find explored today were represented also then, plus a few which are not common today, like Philo's 'perfect formation.' Perhaps, since the invention of the miscroscope and the discovery of DNA, Philo's approach has become obsolete. Some authors understand the law to prohibit abortion, though not necessarily on pro-life grounds. As already noted, not all of the Rabbis excluded the unborn child fro the protection of the law:

"In the name of R. Ishmael it was said: He is put to death even for killing an embryo. Whence is this deduced? Said R. Jehudah: From [Gen. ix. 5]: "Your blood, however, on which your lives depend, will I require," meaning even by one judge. "At the hand of every beast" means even without warning; "at the hand of man" means even with one witness; "at the hand of every man" means of a man but not of a woman; "brother" means even when the witness was a relative. And the reason of R. Ishmael is [ibid. 6]: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood in man, his blood shall be shed." What is meant by "a man in man," if not an embryo, which is in the entrails of his mother?"

(Volume XV, Section Jurisprudence: Damages. Volulme VII, Tractate Sanhedrin. Editor, Michael L. Rodkinson, The Babylonian Talmud (Annotated) (p. 317).)

Far less than any other religious text is the Talmud concerned with consistency, that hobgoblin of little minds. The Sibyls produced a genre of Jewish literature, perhaps not of the utmost respectability, but this woman adds her voice to the testimony that the Jews of the day condemned abortion:

"Those who licentiously defiled the flesh;
And all who loosed the girdle of the maid
For secret intercourse, and all who caused
and all who their offspring cast
Unlawfully away; and sorcerers
And sorceresses with them, and these wrath
Of the heavenly and immortal God shall drive
Against a pillar where shall all around
In a circle flow a restless stream of fire;
And deathless angels of the immortal God,
Who ever is, shall bind with lasting bonds
In chains of flaming fire and from above
Punish them all by scourge most terribly;
And in Gehenna, in the gloom of night,
Shall they be cast 'neath many horrid beasts
Of Tartarus, where darkness is immense."
(Sibylline Oracles, Book II).

The apocryphal book of Enoch also mentions abortion in a context which suggest the author's disapproval. These apocryphal works represent, of course, the opinions of their authors first and foremost; they do not reflect any community consensus. The pro-life view, however, has never been absent from early Israel:

"In those days, they (the women) shall become pregnant, but they (the sinners) shall come out and abort their infants and cast them out from their midst; they shall (also) abandon their (other) children, casting their infants out while they are still suckling. They shall neither return to them (their babes) nor have compassion upon their beloved ones."  (Book of Enoch I, Book 5, Chapter 99:5, p. 80, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, James H. Charlesworth, Volume I).

An obscure passage, admittedly, by an author(s) prone to obscurity; but he seems to associate abortion with child abandonment and lack of compassion.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Thou Shalt Not Kill

"Thou shalt not kill." (Exodus 20:13)

Human life has a unique value all its own which is not related to function or utility to others. One Siamese twin cannot take it upon him or herself to declare, 'What use this superfluous appendage, this extra head? Lop it off!' However inconvenient the situation may be, a human life cannot be ended for the sake of convenience.


"Thus says the LORD: for three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory." (Amos 1:13).

To the most extreme abortion advocates, ripping open a pregnant woman cannot seem a worse crime than ripping open anyone else. There is only one life lost by their count. Yet God sees this crime as especially heinous.

My Name

"Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me." (Isaiah 49:1).

Admittedly this passage refers to the Messiah, who pre-existed His incarnation by a factor of eternity. Such eternal existence is not the lot of the average person. Yet this passage does not communicate that there was some nameless mass of tissue filling Mary's womb, which He who had a name waited to inhabit, but rather than the child who bore a name lived in Mary's womb.

Born Guilty

"Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5 NRSV).

A fish or a tad-pole is not a "sinner," because God has laid down no moral law for such creatures to follow. If the psalmist was a "sinner" since conception, he must have been a human person since conception.


Whose Life?

Who owns a human life? Life is in God's hands; it is His gift:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).

Life is not ours to give or take away:

"The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up." (1 Samuel 2:6).

Before You Were Born

  • “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”
  • (Jeremiah 1:5 KJV).

While the first clause can be understood in light of God's foreknowledge, the second addresses not knowledge or choice but consecration. The word 'sanctified' means to set apart, to make holy. If before coming forth "out of the womb" Jeremiah was a lifeless conglomeration of cells, what was consecrated or set apart for service?

“Accordingly you read the word of God which was spoken to Jeremiah, 'Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee.' Since God forms us in the womb, He also breathes upon us, as He also did at the first creation, when 'the Lord God formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life.' Nor could God have known man in the womb, except in his entire nature: 'And before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.' Well, was it then a dead body at that early stage? Certainly not. For 'God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.'” (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 26).

Personal Pronoun

  • “For You formed my inward parts;
    You covered me in my mother’s womb.”
  • (Psalm 139:13).

What personal pronoun identifies the inhabitant of the womb? 'It,' as might be appropriate for a not-yet-human mass of tissue? Or 'me' and 'I,' the pronouns persons use of themselves?

What is the appropriate way to reference a child in the womb? Just that, 'children:'

“Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.' So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb.” (Genesis 22:21-24).

These two nations were present in her womb in the persons of their progenitors, who were, at the time. . . present or absent? Living or dead? In what sense can lifeless tissue be counted a nation? What does it mean to live? What differentiates a living organism from an inert stone? A stubborn persistence, a tendency toward self-organization: "A living organism is a system that continually re-forms itself in order to remain itself, interacting ceaselessly with the external world." (Reality is not What It Seems, Carlo Rovelli, p. 254). The interpretation that the child is inert, is not aiming at survival, is not self-organizing, is not only not congruent with scripture, but is in conflict with observed reality. In scripture, nations are identified with their progenitors; it is not so common for nations to be identified with inert matter.

The Talmud is a compilation of human wisdom, and it offers something for everyone, even a pro-life perspective: "The same [Antoninus] questioned again the same [Rabbi]: At what time does the soul come into the body — at the moment of conception, or at the time the embryo is already formed? And the answer was: When it is already formed. Said Antoninus to him: Is it possible that a piece of flesh shall keep three days or more without being salted, and it shall not become stinking? And therefore it must be said: At conception. Said Rabbi: This teaching I accepted from Antoninus, and a support to him is to be found in [Job, x. 12]: 'And thy providence watched over my spirit.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XVI, Chapter XI, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter, Kindle location 64459). Unfortunately the Talmud is also cited in support of abortion, as it does indeed include both viewpoints.


New Testament

John the Baptist Testimony

John the Baptist

"For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb." (Luke 1:15)

Can something non-living be filled with the Holy Spirit? The child was indeed inspired even while in the womb, "For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy." (Luke 1:44).

"Before these two boys were born, we are told, their relative importance was announced when the fetus of John the Baptist, while still in the womb, leaped to salute the fetus of Jesus (Luke 1:41-44). Surely no one would seriously argue that this story was literal history!" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 21).

Suppose, however, that it is literal history. Can any believer exclude John, in his status in the womb, from the protection of Exodus 20:13, "Thou shalt not kill."

  • “However, even these have life, each of them in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth exults with joy, (for) John had leaped in her womb; Mary magnifies the Lord, (for) Christ had instigated her within. The mothers recognize each their own offspring, being moreover each recognized by their infants, which were therefore of course alive, and were not souls merely, but spirits also.”
  • (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 26).


Some modern readers might be surprised at the medical competency of the ancients, in both the field of pharmacology and surgery. Abortion is not a modern innovation, it was practiced in antiquity both by surgical and pharmacological means; it's mentioned in the Hippocratic Oath, and by Galen: "Now abortifacent drugs [αμβλωθριδιοις, see αμβλοω, Liddell & Scott, 'cause to miscarry,' φαρμακοις] or certain other conditions which destroy the embryo or rupture certain of its membranes are followed by abortion. . ." (Galen, On the Natural Faculties, Book III, Chapter XII, p. 285 Loeb edition). Plato, in his Republic, who famously recommends the sexual congress of all and sundry, nevertheless does not want the children of unauthorized unions to see the light of day: "And we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any embryo which may come into being from seeing the light: and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly." (Plato, Republic, Book V, 461). So the technology was there. How did moralists respond?

Christians were against it. The Christian authors quoted below are fallible human beings who say, sometimes very profound things, sometimes rather silly things. But these early authors did understand their Christian faith to forbid abortion:

  • “...you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.”
  • (Didache, 2.)

  • “And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it.”
  • (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, Chapter 35).

  • “Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born.”
  • (Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 19).

  • “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth.”
  • (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 9)

  • “There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its infanticide function, the name of εμβρυοσφακτης, the slayer of the infant, which was of course alive. Such apparatus was possessed both by Hippocrates, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus, and Herophilus, that dissector of even adults, and the milder Soranus himself, who all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive.”
  • (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 25).

  • “And I see that you at one time expose your begotten children to wild beasts and to birds; at another, that you crush them when strangled with a miserable kind of death. There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in
    their very bowels, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your gods.”
  • (Minucius Felix, Octavius, Chapter 30, p. 379 ECF 0_04).

  • “Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten; for 'everything that is shaped, and has received a soul from God, if it be slain, shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed.'”
  • (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 7, Section 1, III.)

In the fourth century the Christian emperor Valentinian outlawed both infanticide and abortion. Both surgical and chemical abortion were available in antiquity:

"But how few gilded beds contain a female sweating in labor!
It shows how fatal the skill, how potent the drugs, on babe or
Mother, when an abortionist gets high prices to kill
Mankind in the womb. Rejoice, poor husband; give her the pill
Or the dose yourself." (Juvenal, The Satires of Juvenal, VI. 594-598).

No statistics are available, but Seneca believed many women resorted to this measure:

"You have never been ashamed of your fruitfulness as though it were a reproach to your youth: you never concealed the signs of pregnancy as though it were an unbecoming burden, nor did you ever destroy your expected child within your womb after the fashion of many other women, whose attractions are to be found in their beauty alone." (Seneca, On Consolation to Helvia (His Mother), Chapter XVI).

Closing out the era of antiquity, Procopius, in his hit-piece against the Empress Theodora, recounting the early days of her theatrical career, says, "She frequently became pregnant, but as she employed all known remedies without delay, she promptly procured abortion." (The Complete Procopius Anthology, The Secret History, Kindle location 8668).

Evidently this procedure could be lethal, not only to the child, but also to the mother, on occasion. The emperor Domitian impregnated his niece Julia, then compelled her to have an abortion:

"Later, when she was bereft of father and husband, he loved her ardently and without disguise, and even became the cause of her death by compelling her to get rid of a child of his by abortion." (Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Domitian).

Ovid's girlfriend survived an abortion: "My rash Corinna, seeking to rid herself of the burden she bears in her womb, hath risked the loss of her own life." (Ovid, Amores, Book II, Elegy XIII). Ovid, along with several other pagan authors, realizes this procedure kills a living human being, "O women, why will ye desecrate your entrails with the instruments of death? Why offer dread poisons to infants yet unborn?. . .Many a time she slays herself who slays her offspring in the womb." (Ovid, Amores, Book II, Elegy XIV).

Aulus Gellius, in the Attic Nights, condemns the practice in passing: "They do this with the same insensibility as those who endeavor by the use of quack medicines to destroy their conceptions, lest they should injure their persons and their shapes. Since the destruction of a human being in its first formation, while he is in the act of receiving animation, and yet under the hands of his artificer, nature, is deserving of public detestation and abhorrence. . ." (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, Volume II, p. 323, Book XII, Chapter I). Cicero reports a trial for abortion which resulted in conviction, though unfortunately the grounds are somewhat unclear in his account:

"I recollect that a certain Milesian woman, when I was in Asia, because she had by medicines brought on abortion, having been bribed to do so by the heirs in reversion, was convicted of a capital crime; and rightly, inasmuch as she had destroyed the hope of the father, the memory of his name, the supply of his race, the heir of his family, a citizen intended for the use of the republic." (Cicero, For Cluentius, Section XI, 32).

Quintilian mentions this case in his Institutes of Oratory, Book VIII, Chapter IV, 11. Clement of Alexandria mentions in passing, "Thence also the Romans, in the case of a pregnant woman being condemned to death, do not allow her to undergo punishment till she is delivered." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book II, Chapter XVIII). It is ironic that a polity that did not protect the right to life of already-born children should be so considerate! Infanticide was freely and openly practiced right up to the Christian period. Indeed in some cases in pagan antiquity, the state required the murder of children born imperfect. What changed all this was Christianity.

Which is not to say that the pagans felt no unease; Diodorus Siculus mentions the practice in Egypt, as also elsewhere, of deferring the execution of a female criminal condemned to death, but pregnant, until she delivers, on grounds which include recognition that killing the guilty mother would involve also the unjust murder of an innocent, "Pregnant women who had been condemned to death were not executed until they had been delivered. The same law has also been enacted by many Greek states, since they held it entirely unjust that the innocent should suffer the same punishment as the guilty . . ." (Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book I, Chapter 77, Section 9).

The danger to the woman was one factor evoking unease about abortion, but the child's murder is a second, independent matter, as Basil, writing in the fourth century, explains:

"A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder. And any fine distinction as to its being completely formed or unformed is not admissible amongst us. For in this case not only the child which is about to be born is vindicated, but also she herself who plotted against herself, since women usually die from such attempts. And there is added to this crime the destruction of the embryo, a second murder—at least that is the intent of those who dare these deeds." (Letters of Basil, Letter CLXXXVIII, Chapter II, St. Basil, The Letters, Volume III, pp. 21-23 Loeb edition).

Basil also considered the woman who provided the abortifacient as a murderer:

"And so women who give drugs that cause abortion are themselves also murderers as well as those who take the poisons that kill the fetus." (Letters of Basil, Letter CLXXXVIII, Chapter VIII, St. Basil, The Letters, Volume III, p. 35 Loeb edition).

At the close of the early church period, Jerome writes to Eustochium, "Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder." (Jerome, Letters, Letter 22, Chapter 13, p. 118, ECF_2_06).

There are no early Christian authors who were in favor of abortion, that I can find. Again, what men who were not reliably inspired by God believed in antiquity is neither here nor there respecting the personhood of an unborn child. However for some reason this circumstance is often misstated in contemporary debates. Abortion is not a modern innovation. Pagan moralists hold varying views, while the Christian authors are united in their opposition to the practice. These Christian authors are not, from the evangelical perspective, authoritative, but their united witness should be confronted.

To go beyond 'uninspired' to 'disreputable,' the third-century Roman author of the Clementine Homilies considered abortion to be child-murder: "But I say, that even if these dreadful things do not occur, it is usual for a woman, through association with an adulterer, either to forsake her husband, or if she continue to live with him, to plot against him, or to bestow upon the adulterer the goods procured by the labor of her husband; and having conceived by the adulterer while her husband is absent, to attempt the destruction of that which is in her womb, through shame of conviction, and so to become a child-murderer; or even, while destroying it, to be destroyed along with it." (Clementine Homilies, Homily 4, Chapter 21). While reluctant to quote pseudepigraphic works, I would like to emphasize the unanimity of the church in that era. Equally disreputable with 'Clement' are the Sibylline oracles, quoted above,— the 'Sibyl' is as much who she claims to be as is 'Clement,'— nevertheless, believers in that day responded to abortion just as do believers in our day.

Abortion was criminalized by the Christians, once they had obtained enough political power to make it happen:

"Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor, was succeeded by Valentinian I (364-375), a professing Christian. As noted in chapter 2, Valentinian continued on a path that promoted the effects of the Christian transformation by criminalizing abortion and infanticide, two widely accepted barbaric practices in the Greco-Roman world." (Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, p. 37).

Just the Facts

No doubt it's of no interest to atheists what the scriptures say about abortion or anything else. But if any of that persuasion are still reading, I wonder how they can dismiss the real and striking evidence that a child in the womb is already one of us:

"A new study from a team of psychologists examines the behavior of twins in utero, and finds that 'by the 14th week of gestation, unborn twins are already directing arm movements at each other, and by the 18th week these ’social’ gestures have increased to 29 percent of all observed movements.'" ('Are We Social Even in the Womb?' New York Times website, October 28, 2010).

The study described, as presented in the article "Wired to be Social," includes photos of the unborn twins interacting which do not appear to be two blobs of protoplasm interacting:

Child fondling twin sibling's head

It is a known fact that a child in the womb will shrink from contact with a sharp object, as would we all:

"But there is evidence that fetuses do feel pain during abortions. Unborn children have been observed trying to move away from needles and other sharp objects inserted into the womb. Now that surgery can be performed on fetuses before birth, anesthetic is routinely used to keep them from moving during the procedures and to speed their recovery." (Richard Capriola, A Nation Under Judgment, Kindle location 876).

The Other Side

The arguments in favor of allowing the destruction of the unborn range from an explicit acknowledgement of infanticide to claims that a fetus, lacking a fully developed nervous system, enjoys fewer rights than a fully grown cow:

"It goes without saying that Singer supports abortion rights, explaining hin his book Practical Ethics that 'the life of a fetus is of no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc., and that since no fetus is a person no fetus has the same claim to life as a person.'" (Peter Singer, quoted p. 274, Ann Coulter, Godless: the Church of Liberalism).

Several millenia ago, Siddhartha Gautama set out to live his life according to the ethical maxim of avoiding suffering. That this is the main goal of a human life is not apparent. Christian ethics avoids any such instruction, saying rather, "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24), implying that there might be circumstances where duty requires you to fail to avoid personal suffering even when it is avoidable. Nevertheless, there is a purportedly 'secular' system of ethics based on the enlightened one's insight that the main goal in life is to avoid suffering. This one single maxim is the foundation of an entire ethical system. Though popular, it is, unfortunately, a bad system which can rationalize even worse atrocities than abortion:

What is Utilitarianism? Subjective Feelings
Sermon on the Mount Body Pile
Trojan Horse Baboon Troop
Hate Literature Good Folks
Peaceful Co-Existence Barn-Yard
Sadists' Rights Comrade Mother
Grand Inquisitor Humpty Dumpty
Gorgias Wrath of Achilles
Flash-Light Unmet Expectations
Fallacy of Scale Hall of Mirrors
Pretty Pebble Great Leap Backwards
Bow-Wow Minority Rights
God's Math

The French Revolution sent its unending stream of victims to the guillotine under the authority of the committee of ten. Under the old Roman Republic, the decemvirs, the 'ten men,' likewise needed to be reminded when their time on stage had run out. We have, not ten, but nine, black-robed tyrants who have usurped the people's right to legislate. This is not by design; our government is a democracy. Hopefully it will return to being such, while the Supreme Court can return to its proper role of umpire, not autocrat.

Unfortunately, when you can find a politician who is right on the issue of abortion, let's say Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, this politician will likely also, for reasons beyond my ability to fathom, also favor 'soak-the-poor' flat tax schemes and a belligerent foreign policy. Why is this?:

William Jennings Bryan