What the Bible Really Says About Abortion May Surprise You

In the days since the Supreme Court quashed Roe v. Wadethat had established the constitutional right to abortion, some Christians have quoted the Bible to argue why this decision should be celebrated or lamented. But here’s the rub: This 2,000-year-old text says nothing about abortion.

What a university professor of Biblical studiesI am familiar with the faith-based arguments Christians use to support views on abortion, either for or against it. Many people seem to assume that the Bible deals with the issue head-on, which is not the case.

old context

The abortions were known and practiced in Biblical times, although the methods differed significantly from modern ones. the second century sorano greek doctorfor example, he recommended fasting, bloodletting, vigorous jumping, and carrying heavy loads as ways to end a pregnancy.

sorano treatise on gynecology They recognized different schools of thought on the subject. Some doctors forbade the use of any abortion method. Others allowed them, but not in cases where they were intended to cover up an adulterous relationship or simply to preserve the mother’s good looks.

In other words, the Bible was written in a world where abortion was practiced and viewed with nuances. However, the Hebrew and Greek equivalents of the word “abortion” do not appear in either the Old or New Testaments of the Bible. That is, the topic is simply not mentioned directly.

what the bible says

However, the absence of an explicit reference to abortion has not prevented its opponents or defenders from looking to the Bible for support for their positions.

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Opponents of abortion turn to various biblical texts that, taken together, seem to suggest that human life has value before birth. For example, the Bible begins by describing the creation of humans “in the image of God”: a way of explaining the value of human life, presumably even before people are born. Likewise, the Bible describes several important figures, including the prophets jeremiah Y isaiah Y the christian apostle paulas called to their sacred tasks from their time in the womb. psalm 139 claims that Godweave myself in my mother’s womb.”

One painting shows the hand of God reaching out to touch Adam, the first human being in the biblical story of creation.
‘The Creation of Adam’ from the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican, painted by Michelangelo.
GraphicArtis/Getty Images

However, opponents of abortion are not the only ones who can turn to the Bible for support. Supporters may point to other biblical texts that would seem to count as evidence in their favor.

exodus 21, for example, suggests that the life of a pregnant woman is more valuable than that of the fetus. This text describes a scenario in which fighting men beat up a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry. A monetary fine is imposed if the woman suffers no other harm beyond the miscarriage. However, if the woman suffers additional harm, the perpetrator’s punishment is to suffer reciprocal harm, even for life.

There are other biblical texts that seem to celebrate the decisions that women make about their bodies, even in contexts in which such decisions would have been socially rejected. The fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, for example, describes a woman with a gynecological ailment that has caused her to bleed continuously at great risk: She reaches out to touch Jesus’ cloak in the hope that it will heal her, even though it was believed that the touch of Jesus a menstruating woman caused ritual pollution. However, Jesus commends her choice and commends her faith.

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Similarly, in the Gospel of John, the follower of Jesus, Mary apparently wastes resources pouring an entire container of expensive ointment on his feet and using his own hair to dry them, but he stands by his decision to break the social taboo on touching a man not related to him so intimately.

beyond the bible

In response to the Supreme Court decision, Christians on both sides of the partisan divide have appealed to any number of texts to claim that their particular brand of politics is biblically supported. However, if they claim that the Bible specifically condemns or condones abortion, they are distorting the textual evidence to fit their position.

Of course, Christians can develop their own faith-based arguments on modern political issues, whether or not the Bible speaks directly to them. But it is important to recognize that although the Bible was written at a time when abortion was practiced, it never directly addresses the issue.