On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Roe v. Wade that the Constitution granted a fundamental right to abortion. That ruling effectively legalized abortion in all 50 states and ignited a 50-year culture war for the lives of unborn children.
In the decades following Roe, over 60 million children would be aborted. Pro-life advocates would challenge the merits of Roe in several subsequent cases, but each time the court upheld the fundamental right to abortion — until June 24, 2022. In an earth-shattering decision “heard around the world,” the Supreme Court, in Dobbs v. Jackson, overturned Roe v. Wade and returned the issue of abortion back to the states.
The Dobbs decision was a day of great triumph and jubilation for those who fought for decades on behalf of unborn children. The constitutional battle for the unborn had finally been won, and the culture war had suddenly shifted. It was a Gettysburg moment. In spite of the incredible victory, however, it wasn’t long before the culture war shifted to state governments.
In the wake of Dobbs, Christians who had fought for decades to overturn Roe were now faced with new questions: Where do we go from here? What kind of pro-life policy should my state enact? Should there be exceptions for abortion? If so, which ones?
Christians need to consider these questions carefully in light of Scripture. Most evangelical Christians are pro-life, generally speaking. They know the Bible says something about abortion, but they may not know exactly what it says or how to articulate their pro-life position from a biblical worldview. In this article, we will consider a basic biblical case for the pro-life position and what it means for the battles ahead.
Before jumping into the biblical evidence, we should first consider a basic, logical argument (a syllogism) for the pro-life position. It goes like this:
Most Christians will not dispute (1), but they may doubt (2) and (3) if they are unsure what the Bible says about abortion. Therefore, it is important to demonstrate that (2) is true, and therefore, (3) is also true. In order to do so, we to prove that the Bible sees a continuity of identity between unborn and born states of being. In other words, we need to show that the Bible attributes equal dignity and characteristics to the born and unborn alike. If so, then the unborn are persons deserving of the same respect as other human beings, and therefore, abortion is immoral.
Now, let’s look at the biblical evidence.
God’s knowledge of the unborn implies a continuity of identity for each person between unborn and born states of being. For example, the unborn are known by God in the same way He knows the same person later in life (Jer. 1:5; Psalm 139:13; Job 31:15). Also, God has knowledge of the unborn even at the earliest stages of pre-natal development (Ps. 139:16). At times, the terms “birth” and “conception” are even used interchangeably for the same person (Job 3:3). Moreover, the Greek word brephos is used both for a child inside the womb and outside the womb (Lk. 1:41, 1:44-2:12, 16: 18:15; Acts 7:19; II Timothy 3:15).
In fact, the Bible consistently refers to the unborn as children (Gen. 25:22-23; Exod. 21:22; Judges 13:2-7; Isa. 49:1; Lk. 1:41, 44, 2:12, 16). For example, Jesus Christ is referred to as a child from the point of conception (Matt. 1:18; Lk. 1:35), and Mary and Elizabeth recognize Jesus as “Lord” at the earliest stages of development (Lk. 1:43). Did you catch that? The incarnation itself occurs before Jesus’ actual birth!
These instances, when considered together, indicate that the unborn are persons. They imply a continuity of identity between a person’s earliest moments as an unborn child and their later life as a living, breathing adult person.
Consider some additional evidence. The Hebrew word geber can refer to an unborn child, a small boy, or an adult (Ex. 10:10; Deut. 22:5; Judg. 5:30; Job 3:3), implying that the unborn are persons in the same sense that an adult man or a small boy are persons. The Bible also attributes sin nature to the unborn from the moment of conception (Ps. 51:5), and it attributes personal emotions to the unborn (Lk. 1:41, 44). In a negative sense, the punishment for injuring or killing an unborn child was the same as killing an adult human being under the Mosaic Law (Ex. 21:22-23). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Bible considers the unborn as persons deserving of equal dignity and treatment as other human beings.
Someone might ask why the moment of conception, and not some other stage of development, is the point when Christians should consider the unborn as persons. Perhaps the Bible simply values the unborn as persons but doesn’t specify when (precisely) they become persons. Other articles answer this question in greater detail, but there are three basic reasons to consider the moment of conception as the biblical position.
First, conception is the only time a radical break occurs and a new, biologically distinct entity comes into existence — the sperm and egg fuse to become a zygote. Second, the SLED Test. There are no essential biological differences between an embryo and an adult. The only differences are size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency (SLED). Third, from the moment of conception, the zygote possesses a human nature. It does not become a human being; it already is a human being and is developing in accordance with its nature. With time, it grows and develops into and through the different stages of human personhood, from zygote to fetus to infant to toddler to teen to adult.
For these reasons, attributing personhood to the unborn from the moment of conception is the most biblical and logically consistent position. Certainly, many policy decisions still need to be made in many states with respect to the limits of abortion and any exceptions for extreme cases (i.e., ectopic pregnancies, life-threatening diseases, etc.), but Christians advocating for pro-life policies should certainly take this evidence into account.
The Bible does not answer every legal question on abortion, but it does give us the basic moral foundation for treating the unborn with the same dignity and respect as other persons. Armed with this basic moral foundation, Christians can advance the pro-life cause in the public square with confidence that their fight for the unborn is both virtuous and worthwhile. For if God cares about the unborn, so should we.
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Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.