Murder and Abortion

June 3, 2009

The recent murder of an abortion provider by a Christianist terrorist (I say ‘Christianist’ because the alleged murderer is no follower of Christ and because, like ‘Islamist’ terrorists, he seeks to impose his religious values on others through violence)–this person presumably justifies his act by feeling that he’s only murdered a murderer. The traditional conservative Christian view is that the fetus is a human being and therefore that abortion is murder.

However, the Bible is quite clear on this point: the fetus is not a human being. Or, more accurately, we become human beings when we draw our first breath, not when a human egg is fertilized. And, of course, we draw our first breath at birth. Genesis 2:7 states this quite clearly:

“then the LORD God formed man [adamah] from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

At the other end of life, the direct connection between human life and breath is reconfirmed by John 19:30, the account of Jesus’ death:

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”

In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for ‘spirit’ and for ‘breath’ are the same. Jesus ‘gave up his spirit’ when he breathed his last.

Thus Christians who would recriminalize abortion on grounds that abortion is murder base their argument, not on biblical testimony, but on science. The Bible is actually rather sanguine sometimes about murdering children. Leviticus allows fathers to kill disobedient sons, Jephthah was required to murder his daughter in order to join the Israelite tribal confederation, and, of course, God the Father required the murder of his only son as propitiation for the sins of the world, according to Paul.

It’s also ironic that conservative Christians rely on the microcosm of developmental biological science (embryology and related fields) to define human life over and against the Bible’s creation story when they categorically reject developmental biological science in the macrocosm (evolution) as the demonstrably verifiable story of creation.

Let me be clear, though: I am sympathetic to the idea that the fetus has special moral status. Somewhere in the development of the fetus, it crosses a line between being a mass of dividing cells and being, if not fully human, at least so close as to be morally indistinguishable. I do not know where that line is. Any attempt to nail it down would be arbitrary, it seems to me. I only point to the contradictions in the fundamental argument against abortion as murder; it’s just not biblical.