A Critical Appraisal of Theological Arguments for Abortion Rights -- By: Francis J. Beckwith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 148:591 (Jul 1991)
Article: A Critical Appraisal of Theological Arguments for Abortion Rights
Author: Francis J. Beckwith


A Critical Appraisal of Theological Arguments for Abortion Rights

Francis J. Beckwith

Lecturer of Philosophy
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada

Many people in the pro-life movement are Christians. They rightly assume that the Bible condemns abortion. However, because this biblical assumption has not been, for the most part, defended with great rigor, and those who defend it tend to ignore objections to their exegesis, some people, who claim to be within the Christian tradition, are making an unchallenged defense of abortion rights by appealing to the Scriptures. They argue either that the Bible does not specifically condemn abortion or that the Bible actually supports the pro-choice position. The purpose of this article is to respond to those who employ these arguments.

Pro-Choice Argument That the Bible Does Not Specifically Forbid Abortion

Some people, such as Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, claim that “nowhere does the Bible prohibit abortion.”1 This claim is simply untrue if one recognizes that the Bible’s statements on some other matters can be used to draw an inference that is consistent with the pro-life position. For instance it is clearly taught in the Bible that murder—the unjustified killing of a human being—is wrong (Exod 20:13). And it follows logically from this that if the Bible teaches that the unborn are fully human, then it would be morally wrong to

kill the unborn. So the real question is whether the Bible teaches that the unborn are fully human, not whether the Bible mentions or directly prohibits abortion. The following passages show that the Bible clearly teaches the full humanity of the unborn, though it is not an exhaustive list.2

Personal Language Applied to the Conceptus

A number of passages in the Bible apply personal language to the unborn from conception. Genesis 4:1 reads, “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.” Commenting on this passage, Davis has observed that “the writer’s interest in Cain extends back beyond his birth, to his conception. That is when his personal history begins. The individual conceived and the individual born are one and the same, namely, Cain.” What follows from this is that Cain’s “conception, birth, and postnatal life form a natural continuum, with the God of the covenant involved at every stage.”3

Job said, “Let the day perish on which I was to be...

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