Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Bible Does Not Support Feminist Abortion Rights

Because of the prevalence of religious rhetoric among anti-choicers, pro-choicers have sometimes taken to the bible as well. I think this is misguided, and not just because we shouldn't care what the bible says for our laws and morals.

Let's look at some scripture:

Anti-choice Verses

Psalm 139:13-15
"You did form my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother's knew me right well; my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret..."

So god specially knits fetuses with love...he might not want you to kill them willy-nilly. Of course, one could say that he created everything, including animals and such we can kill so this one is kind of a wash.

"Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."
The typical pro-choice response to this is that god doesn't specially consecrate all fetuses as prophets, but the evangelical Christian response would be that god has a plan for everyone's life. It sure seems easy to thwart god's plan with a little medical procedure, though...

"And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy." 
This is the same word (brephos) Luke uses in Luke 2:12,16 "You will find a baby lying in a manger." Luke 18:15,16 meaning infants and 1 Peter 2:2 "newborn babes."

So here we have a fetus showing reactions to the world around it, at about 6 months gestation, which would be viable today, if not back then. Supposedly, we also have the same word being used to refer to fetuses and babies. One could argue, though, that this isn't meaningful for much earlier fetuses or embryos.

"Pro-choice" Verses

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
-- Genesis 2:7 (KJV)

The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.
-- Job 33:4 (KJV)
One argument is that breath is synonymous with life, ensoulment, and human personhood in many places in the bible. Jewish abortion positions, which are quite interesting, derive from this principle even though it seems contradicted by the verses above from Jeremiah and Psalms (obviously Jews wouldn't care about the verses in Luke).

"The Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 69b states that:
"the embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day [after conception]."
Afterwards, it is considered subhuman until it is born. 
"Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus 'lav nefesh hu--it is not a person.'
The Talmud contains the expression 'ubar yerech imo--the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,' i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman's body." 1"
Obviously, none of that is going to matter to Christians, so the breath argument is not very convincing.

Numbers 3:15
15 “List the sons of Levi, by fathers' houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.” 
 This is just a BAD argument. The fact that babies under a month old aren't counted due to infant mortality doesn't mean they aren't persons. Look, it only counts males, that doesn't mean that females aren't persons. That doesn't mean you could kill them willy-nilly.

Exodus 21:22
 22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

The major contention here is what happened when her fruit departed? Is this a miscarriage or a premature birth? If mere payment suffices for a miscarriage, this would be a sign that in this part of  the biblical context that fetuses were not seen as persons.

"The key Hebrew word "yatsa" literally means to "lose her offspring.

According to, some liberal theologians see this law as another ripoff of the Code of Hammurabi and Hittite laws where miscarriage is clear

Code of Hammurabi (209, 210) which reads: "If a seignior struck a[nother] seignior's daughter and has caused her to have a miscarriage [literally, caused her to drop that of her womb], he shall pay ten shekels of silver for her fetus. If that woman had died, they shall put his daughter to death."
Hittite Laws, (1.17): "If anyone causes a free woman to miscarry [literally, drives out the embryo]-if (it is) the 10th month, he shall give 10 shekels of silver, if (it is) the 5th month, he shall give 5 shekels of silver..." The phrase "drives out the embryo" appears to relate to a miscarriage rather than to a premature birth.

Now, your average evangelical is NOT going to be impressed by any comparisons to ancient laws. They're more likely to go running to an apologetic like this from John Piper:

"1. There is a Hebrew verb for miscarry or lose by abortion or be bereaved of the fruit of the womb, namely, shakal. It is used near by in Exodus 23:26, "None shall miscarry (meshakelah) or be barren in your land." But this word is NOT used here in Exodus 21:22-25.
2. Rather the word for birth here is "go forth" (ytsa'). "And if her children go forth . . ." This verb never refers to a miscarriage or abortion. When it refers to a birth it refers to live children "going forth" or "coming out" from the womb. For example, Genesis 25:25, "And the first came out (wyetse') red, all of him like a hairy robe; and they called his name Esau." (See also v. 26 and Genesis 38:28-30.)
So the word for miscarry is not used but a word is used that elsewhere does not mean miscarry but ordinary live birth.
3. There are words in the Old Testament that designate the embryo (golemPsalm 139:16) or the untimely birth that dies (nephelJob 3:16Psalm 58:8Isaiah 33:3). But these words are not used here.
4. Rather an ordinary word for children is used in Exodus 21:22 (yeladeyha). It regularly refers to children who are born and never to one miscarried. "Yeled only denotes a child, as a fully developed human being, and not the fruit of the womb before it has assumed a human form" (Keil and Delitzsch, Pentateuch, vol. 2, p. 135)."

Since I don't know Hebrew, I don't know if these are correct translations, but he seems to make good points.

Even if we took the most pro-choice interpretation of this passage, the fact that an accidental miscarriage was not seen as deserving of death would not mean that intentional abortion is not forbidden.

Numbers 5:12-31
 So this is one of the weirdest passages in the entire bible. It's a long and involved how-to for a procedure to do when a husband is jealous, yet has no hard evidence of his wife committing adultery. A man takes his wife to the priest, he makes a small offering, and the priest harangues the wife, unbinds her hair (this is considered shameful, and some commentaries say she is stripped topless as well), then she is forced to drink a concoction of holy water and dirt from the temple floor. If she is innocent, nothing will happen, but if she is guilty:

27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
28 And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.

So in the KJV, it says belly will swell and thigh will rot. What does that mean? I did frequently come across the idea that "thigh" is often used for genitals in Hebrew, meaning that something will happen to her vagina or womb. Here's the NIV

27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

 The NIV is the only translation that seems to use womb and miscarry. I looked all over for a decent explanation of the Hebrew from either a pro-choice or an anti-choice perspective. Nobody seems to know what the fuck is happening in these verses. Most people seem to think that the curse of the thigh and belly is barrenness, which would be a huge deal for a woman at the time. There is no other indication in the text that the woman in question is pregnant.

Even if we interpret it as an abortion or potentially abortifacient, it would be God performing the abortion, at the behest of the husband. It is not an example of a woman's choice.

So we've looked at some of these verses relating to Personhood of the fetus, now let's look at general principles and women.

Children are a Blessing

So after dealing with the explicit passages about fetuses, let us look at the general principles of the bible

Psalm 127:3-5
"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward.Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."
This verse is the Quiverfull standard verse from which the name we call them comes from. There are many other verses praising children and saying that barrenness is a curse. There are no indications in the bible that refusing children in any way is allowable.

Deuteronomy 7:14
 You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock.

Genesis 1:28
 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Status of Women

And now we get to what I consider the crux of the matter. Maybe the bible doesn't value fetuses like people or maybe it only values some fetuses. Maybe god will kill your fetus on demand. That is all unclear. What is not unclear is that women and women's sexuality is NOT valued in the bible.

Genesis 3:16
 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Here we have God cursing women with many children, pain in labor, and patriarchy. The idea of women escaping this curse with anesthetic was considered sinful even in the 1800s. To escape this curse with abortion seems even worse.

Leviticus 12:2-5
 “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.
The birth of a female is twice as ceremonially unclean as the birth of a son.

1 Corinthians 11
 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man,[a] and the head of Christ is God.
 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c]head, because of the angels. 
And here we have some New Testament stuff (in case anyone wants to say this is all Old Testament). Clearly women are lesser.

1 Timothy 2:11-15
 11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
So here we have explicit commands to shut up and be submissive, that we can't have authority, and that we are saved by childbearing. Obviously women choosing abortion is a direct rejection of this.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35
 34 Women[f] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.[g]

1 Peter 3:1-6
 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Ephesians 5:22-24
 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

As we see here, women are to submit to men. Women making decisions about their own bodies is anathema to the overarching theme of the bible. I believe that it is mainly this reason that Christians oppose modern feminist abortion rights.

Sexual Immorality

So while we have demonstrated that the bible is contradictory on the value of fetuses, and the bible denies women agency, we come to the issue of Sex. The bible is quite clear that sexual immorality is a big deal, and women's sexual immorality is even worse.

Over 80% of abortions are on unmarried women, thus assisting fornication. Even if Christians were unsure if God opposed it as murder, it would make sense to oppose it as a practice associated with helping women get away with fornication.

1 Corinthians 6:13-20
 The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”[b] 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.[c]
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies.

If sexual immorality is a sin against your own body, why would you be allowed to then make a choice about your own body to assist in further sin? Also, see the EXPLICIT rejection of Bodily Rights!

Deuteronomy 22:20-21
20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.
Here we have the stoning of non-virgin brides.

The entirety of Proverbs 7 warns against the seductive woman who entices youths to commit adultery,

Proverbs 7New International Version (NIV)

Warning Against the Adulterous Woman

My son, keep my words
    and store up my commands within you.
Keep my commands and you will live;
    guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
    and to insight, “You are my relative.”
They will keep you from the adulterous woman,
    from the wayward woman with her seductive words.
At the window of my house
    I looked down through the lattice.
I saw among the simple,
    I noticed among the young men,
    a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
    walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
    as the dark of night set in.
10 Then out came a woman to meet him,
    dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
11 (She is unruly and defiant,
    her feet never stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the squares,
    at every corner she lurks.)
13 She took hold of him and kissed him
    and with a brazen face she said:
14 “Today I fulfilled my vows,
    and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
15 So I came out to meet you;
    I looked for you and have found you!
16 I have covered my bed
    with colored linens from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed
    with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
    let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
19 My husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took his purse filled with money
    and will not be home till full moon.”
21 With persuasive words she led him astray;
    she seduced him with her smooth talk.
22 All at once he followed her
    like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer[a] stepping into a noose[b]
23     till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
    little knowing it will cost him his life.
24 Now then, my sons, listen to me;
    pay attention to what I say.
25 Do not let your heart turn to her ways
    or stray into her paths.
26 Many are the victims she has brought down;
    her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is a highway to the grave,
    leading down to the chambers of death.

There is FAR more I could post on warnings about sexual immorality.


If all that was a little TL:DR for you, remember what the 2 main issues in abortion are

Personhood and Bodily Rights

Does the bible make a case for the Personhood of fetuses? No. There are at least as many passages that seem to say that fetuses aren't persons as verses that do. This is all very unclear, and unless you know Hebrew and biblical scholarship, you probably shouldn't use any of these.

Does the bible support women's bodily autonomy? That is an emphatic NO. Women belong to men and sexual immorality among women is to be punished, not assisted. No Christian has bodily rights at all, according to Corinthians.

Therefore, modern Christians act in accordance with the bible when they do not support abortion on demand.

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