A Biblical Perspective On Abortion

Abortion is a tricky issue, resonating with people on multiple levels (personal, religious, political, among others) and I feel that I should state that in this post I’m not trying to convince someone to think differently here, or come over to my view (which is pro-choice if only because I’m hesitant about people without wombs making decisions for people with wombs, and because I believe that abortion needs to be safely available as part of the effort to provide social equity and begin to fix the socio-economic-educational problems that lead to unwanted babies in the first place).

However, I recently discovered that the Bible does not necessarily unilaterally condemn abortion, so I thought I would share some of that information here in case others find it as thought-provoking as I did. I followed a link (I forget from whom) to the site of a Christian blogger who provides close readings of Biblical passages. The first post, What the Bible Says About Abortion, discusses a passage in Numbers wherein God tells Moses that if a husband suspects his wife is pregnant with another man’s baby, they can perform a ritual that will cause the woman to abort. Whoa… interesting, huh?

In a related post, this same blogger talks about the better-known passage from Exodus wherein if two men are fighting and a pregnant woman is hurt, causing her to miscarry, the husband should be paid a penalty of some kind. What’s notable is that it’s not a life for a life (the harm-doer is not himself killed), but some kind of property reimbursement. Like if you killed someone’s livestock, but not a human being.

Now, I’m aware that issues like which translation and edition of the Bible you’re using will affect how these passages are phrased and interpreted (although, as a folklorist, I feel compelled to point out that having multiple editions of a holy book that is supposed to always be right is also problematic; see Alan Dundes’s Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore for more on this topic). But the one thing that links both these passages that truly concerns me is that they’re written from a male perspective. The first passage depicts a man’s jealousy at possibly not being the father of the child; the second passage is about compensating the man for the loss of his property (a potential child). Neither passage mentions the woman’s feelings about these events: whether she is sad or scared, relieved or in pain, ashamed or ambivalent. It seems like the woman is not deemed important enough to be granted agency in this matter. I mean, I guess I’m not surprised that in a socioeconomic context wherein women were basically property, their opinions on their own bodies were not recorded nor given any weight.

I find that implication somewhat offensive, but then, I’m not Christian, so I don’t have to worry about how these erasures of identity or rules apply to me. But plenty of Christians do believe in taking the Bible literally, and when they’re out protesting and voting in mass, it does in effect concern me. So I do try to reach a basic understanding of their beliefs, such as having a passing familiarity with the Bible. The fact that the Bible contains such a multitude of contradicting tenets, and can be read in such a variety of ways, makes me a little hesitant about using it as the justification for policy-making, however (if you don’t believe me on this, I recommend reading the Dundes book linked to above, which provides plenty of empirical evidence, and not in a negative way either; the fact that the Bible contains variation and multiple existence, the trademarks of human creativity, doesn’t mean it can’t also be the word of God).

My opinion will most certainly differ from that of many people out there in this regard. Like I said in opening this piece, I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, but rather to provoke some reflection on a viewpoint that is frequently transmitted dogmatically.

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About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.