This week, the Arkansas State Legislature voted to override Gov. Beebe’s veto of a bill that would ban abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy. This means that Arkansas now has the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.
In this news story, the new law is referred to as a “near-ban” since it contains exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, the life of the mother, and highly lethal fetal disorders. Such exceptions are no surprise as virtually all new abortion bills proposed by pro-life legislators contain them. It is assumed that without these exceptions, such bills have no chance of seeing a vote, much less becoming law.
The problem with the continued allowance for these exceptions is that it undermines the moral argument against abortion. The typical conservative argument is that abortion is murder. Certainly, this is a biblical position. The Bible consistently assumes the personhood of the unborn (Psa 51:5, 71:5-6, 139:13-16; Jer 1:5; Luke 1:39-45; Gal 1:15). That is, humans are humans while in the womb, from conception. Humans are made in the image of God, unlike any other creatures in God’s world. This is why God regards the killing of a human being as qualitatively different from the killing of an animal. In Genesis9:3, God gives man the right to kill “every moving thing” for food. However, regarding the killing of man, He says,“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6).
Because the Bible treats the unborn as persons made in the image of God, and because the killing of those made in the image of God requires the death penalty, it should be no surprise to find a passage like Exodus 21:22-25, which condemns to death anyone who causes the miscarriage of a pregnancy or the premature birth and subsequent death of a baby. In biblical terms, causing the death of a human being, whether in the womb or after birth, calls for “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exo 21:23-25).
This is the moral argument against abortion. It is wrong to take innocent human life. If that is an inviolable principle, there is no room for the exceptions that we find in modern abortion bans. It is difficult to imagine something more traumatic than enduring rape or incest. Carrying a pregnancy that results from one of these crimes would be even more difficult. So the argument against these exceptions is not intended to minimize the pain of these experiences. However, the question that must be asked is this: are human beings who are conceived as a result of rape or incest not created in the image of God? The answer is obvious. They are undoubtedly created in God’s image. Therefore, it is morally wrong to kill them. The same can be said of those pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother and those that involve “highly lethal fetal disorders.” These human beings are also created in the image of God. Therefore, it is morally wrong to kill them.
By passing abortion bans that contain these exceptions, we weaken our argument by violating the inviolable principle that undergirds it. Man’s being created in the image of God is the foundation of the argument that it is morally wrong to take innocent human life. When we make exceptions in cases where the image of God is not in question, we silently testify that the image of God is not the foundation of our argument. This leaves the argument with no foundation at all. Like a house from which the floor joists have been removed, the argument will collapse. The result will be that the lines we refuse to cross become completely arbitrary.
It is perfectly normal to feel some sense of emotional conflict over such extreme cases of pregnancy. But we must base our positions and arguments on Scripture, not on emotion. We serve a God who sovereignly and routinely brings about great good out of horrendous evil (Gen 50:15-21). He is the One whose “grace is sufficient” to see us through any trial (2 Cor 12:9).
While the Arkansas legislature deserves credit for seeking to limit the availability of abortion, a more careful look at our guiding principles would do much to strengthen the pro-life cause.
Posted by Greg Birdwell