|AUG 18, 2023|
Abortion has been a hotly debated topic in the US for decades, especially following the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that declared abortion to be a constitutional right. Although Roe was overturned in June of 2022, the debate has become even more heated as both sides attempt to enshrine their positions in state laws.
Although most Christians tend to be reflexively pro-life based on the teachings of Scripture, few can articulate a persuasive pro-life position, or respond to the most common claims made by proponents of abortion. Given how pervasive the issue of abortion is, it’s almost certain that Christian teens and young adults will have to defend a Christian viewpoint on this topic, or else find themselves overwhelmed by pro-choice objections. We hope pastors and other church leaders will find the material and resources that follow useful for incorporating into lessons, activities, or sermons that help students understand and defend the intrinsic value of human life. We’ll begin with a brief overview of why the unborn should be valued and protected, followed by a series of short responses to common pro-choice arguments.
One final thing to note is that while the following discussion deals with facts and reasoning related to the permissibility of abortion, Christians should respond with compassion and care when interacting with any woman who feels she has to end her pregnancy. Christians should speak the truth in love while listening, offering help, and being a friend. The context of the discussion will determine whether the main focus should be science and logic, or compassionate help (resting on the foundation of Scripture, science, and reason).
Why Should We Protect the Unborn?
The short answer to this question is that we should value and protect the unborn because they are distinct members of the human species who are made in God’s image, regardless of their size and location.1
Many on the pro-choice side claim that the question of when life begins is a theological or philosophical question that can’t ultimately be answered. But this is false. Rather, the beginning of life is a scientific question, and biologists are nearly unanimous that human life begins at conception—the moment when a sperm and egg come together and form a zygote. For example, in their embryology textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, Keith L. Moore and T. Persaud state, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being.”2
The zygote will go through numerous stages of development, but its fundamental identity never changes from what it begins as—a new member of the human species. We’ll say more below about why the unborn is distinct, rather than merely a part of its mother’s body.
Some on the pro-abortion side will bite the bullet and admit that the unborn is human, but claim that not all humans are “persons,” and only persons have a right to life. They’ll typically propose criteria for personhood such as self-awareness or rational thought, which the unborn lack. But adopting this view of personhood that depends on having or exercising certain capacities leads to disturbing conclusions. For example, most newborns lack these capacities as well. Does this make infanticide acceptable? The same question arises in relation to people in comas, those suffering from dementia, or who sustain brain damage in an accident. Are we really prepared to say that humans in these cases cease to be persons and can therefore be eliminated?
In contrast to this is the Christian view, which grounds human value in one’s unchanging identity as an individual made in God’s image. Thus God declared in Genesis that “from each human being . . . I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. . . . for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Gen. 9:5, 6).
Some have attempted to argue that the Bible is silent or even permissive on abortion, but this view can’t be seriously maintained in light of Psalm 139, where David declares that “you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . . My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place” (vv. 13, 15). This reveals that not only was God providentially involved in David’s development in the womb, but that David is the same individual who once existed in the womb. That is, David was himself from the very beginning of his life, rather than a biological entity that became David at some arbitrary point in his development.
Having sketched this brief scientific and scriptural case for the value of unborn life, we’ll look now at responses to a handful of the most common objections raised by those who are in favor of abortion.
Responding to Pro-Choice Arguments
- Abortion Opponents Are Imposing Their Religious Beliefs on Society
It’s interesting that some people become seriously alarmed when those who advocate for life base their actions on their religious beliefs, but express praise or remain silent when the same people oppose war or fight poverty based on their religious beliefs.
Questions about the value of human life necessarily involve beliefs that transcend the material world. Science can’t tell us whether or to what extent we should value human life. Those who promote pro-abortion views may think they’re doing so from a position of neutrality, but they’re just as engaged in metaphysics as the pro-life advocate.
In addition, many who oppose abortion are explicitly non-religious. This includes groups such as Secular Pro-Life, Atheists Against Abortion, and Pro-Life Humanists.3
A double standard is in play when those who advocate for the right to life of children or adults aren’t accused of imposing their religious beliefs on society, but defenders of the right to life of the unborn are.
- A Woman Should Have the Right to Control Her Own Body
This is by far the most common assertion made on behalf of abortion access. We can readily agree that bodily autonomy is important, but only to the extent that what one does with their body doesn’t harm someone else. As one old formulation of the principle goes, my right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins. In the case of abortion, a woman is using her body to harm another human being, as we established earlier.
An unborn child is not a part of the mother’s body. The child is a distinct individual with its own genetic code, blood type, organs, and sex. To say an unborn male is part of its mother’s body would lead to the absurd conclusion that the mother has both female and male reproductive organs. Or that she has two brains, hearts, and livers.
A terrible irony of the pro-abortion position is that mothers who plan to keep their children are strictly warned not to smoke or drink during pregnancy, to avoid harming the unborn child, but if the child isn’t “wanted,” it becomes okay to destroy it in the womb. This incoherent view makes the value of one’s life dependent on another person’s arbitrary choice.
- Women Will Die from Illegal Abortions
We should not enact laws that make taking an innocent life easier, even if some will try to circumvent these laws and possibly put themselves at risk. Further, the scenario of women having dangerous illegal abortions in back alleys is largely an urban legend. Prior to the Roe decision in 1973, “roughly 90 percent of illegal abortions were performed by licensed physicians in good standing with their state medical boards.”4
In addition, even “safe” abortions carry significant risks, including damage to the uterus or cervix, heavy bleeding, and infection. Pelvic infection occurs in up to 30 percent of women who have abortions, which can lead to significantly higher rates of “spontaneous abortion, secondary infertility, dyspareunia [painful intercourse], and chronic pelvic pain.”5 Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 411 women died from legal abortions between 1973 and 2009.6
- Abortion Is Necessary in Cases of Rape
Rape is an evil and violent act, and Christians should reach out with compassion and love to anyone who has suffered from it. At the same time, we should not transfer our anger or revulsion to the act to an innocent life that results from it. No one should suffer harm due to the circumstances of their conception, which are always beyond their control.
As Randy Alcorn points out, “There’s a close parallel between the violent attack on a woman in a rape and the violent attack on a child in an abortion. Both are done at the expense of an innocent person. The violence of abortion is never a solution to the violence of rape.”7
While carrying a child in such circumstances is difficult physically and emotionally, the alternative of killing the child is much worse. Numerous faith-based organizations exist that will come alongside women facing an unplanned pregnancy and provide counseling, healthcare, financial assistance, and adoption options.8
Alcorn recounts a talk he once gave defending the unborn’s right to life, after which a young woman approached him and said,
I’ve always heard abortion is right when pregnancy is the result of rape, but that’s how I was conceived. And this was the first time I’ve ever heard someone say I deserved to live! My mother was raped when she was twelve. She gave birth to me and gave me up for adoption to a wonderful family. I’ll probably never meet her, but every day I thank God for her and her parents. If they hadn’t let me live, I wouldn’t be here to have my own husband and children and my own life.9
In addition to the resources cited in the footnotes, the following websites are useful sources of information and material that can be used for lessons, activities, and sermons.
Students for Life of America Their list of pro-life movies and documentaries is a helpful resource for youth groups.
Californians for Life (Pro-Life Educational Materials)
National Right to Life (Education)
Focus on the Family (Pro-Life Advocacy & Encouragement)
Life Training Institute
*This article originally appeared at Summit Ministries.
- My discussion in this article is especially indebted to the following sources: Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009); Randy Alcorn and Stephanie Anderson, Pro-Choice or Pro-Life? Examining 15 Pro-Choice Claims: What Do Facts & Common Sense Tell Us? (EPM, 2020); Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
- Cited in Klusendorf, 28. Also see this page, for example, that collects numerous quotations from embryology textbooks that echo this point: https://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/articles/embryoquotes2.html.
- The Pro-Life Humanists website states, “We oppose discrimination against biological humans on the grounds of what they look like and how they function, and we believe that abortion should be rejected on the same ground as racism, sexism and ableism—which place greater importance on what the human entity does and looks like, than on what the entity in question actually is.” See “About Pro-Life Humanists,”www.prolifehumanists.org. Cited in Alcorn, 37-38.
- Rae, 133.
- Alcorn, 34, citing Lars Heisterberg, MD, et al., “Sequelae of Induced First-Trimester Abortion,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, July 1986, 79.
- Alcorn, 68.
- Alcorn, 40-41.
- See, for example, the numerous services listed atstandingwithyou.org.
- Alcorn, 41.
— Christopher L. Reese (MDiv, ThM) is a writer, editor, and journalist. He is the editor of The Worldview Bulletin and cofounder of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. He is a general editor of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017) and Three Views on Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2021) and his work has appeared in Christianity Today, Bible Gateway, Beliefnet, and other sites.