Answering the Top 10 Questions in the Abortion Debate

The disciples, like many people in Jewish culture, did not value children as much as adults because their needs were just not as important. But children were Jesus’ first priority. In fact, he says children are in the best posture to receive his kingdom, and unless we grasp that we are all like them—vulnerable and helpless, spiritually speaking—we’ll never truly reach out for the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3). When we do, we’ll have a special place in our hearts for the vulnerable and helpless.

There is no group more helpless and vulnerable today than children in the womb.

This year marks 48 years since the Supreme Court declared abortion to be a fundamental right. Abortion was the leading cause of death worldwide in 2018, with 42 million victims. Last year an estimated 900,000 babies in the U.S. were electively aborted, which is more than the total American casualties in the two World Wars and the Vietnam War combined. In the U.S., 90 percent of preborn humans diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated.

Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile says, “It’s staggeringly clear that the largest scale injustice—the most morally outrageous thing happening in our society today—is the killing of children in the womb.”

If you want to defend the vulnerable and fight systemic injustice, there are few places where dire urgency meets such moral clarity and clear opportunity as with the cause of the protection of children in the womb.

But, you may often hear people say …

1. “It’s a lot more complex than that. The baby is a part of a woman’s body, and we need to respect her right to privacy and sovereignty over her body.”

The right to privacy over our bodies is precious. But while the baby is intimately attached to the mother’s body for a period of time, it’s not part of her body. Christian philosopher Thaddeus Williams says in Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth (from which I borrow many ideas here): “From the moment of conception, that baby has its own DNA—its own unique genetic code, a unique heart, circulatory system, brain, and more. If you’re saying it is a part of her body, does that mean she herself has two brains, two hearts, and four arms and legs?” No; the baby is a separate person, even as it is intimately attached to its mother’s body.

Scripture certainly presents the preborn child as its own person: Psalm 139 says that in the womb, God knew us by name; there we were fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together according to God’s plan, with his purpose for us already in mind.

Scripture tells us that John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb because his spirit—in the womb—was filled with the Spirit when he came into the presence of Jesus.

2. “But it’s still in a woman’s body.”

We all know our rights over our bodies are not absolute as far as the law is concerned. Prostitution is illegal in most states, and I don’t know of anywhere in the U.S. you can legally pour drugs into your body just because it’s your body. Our rights to our bodies are relative, stopping precisely at that place where they begin to affect someone else’s, like the preborn.

3. “Well, saying life begins at conception is a matter of opinion, and you shouldn’t force your opinion on others.”

The question of whether or not a being is alive is incredibly important. But one thing should be clear: This is not a question of opinion. An opinion is a preference, one that I hold fully knowing that it’s not universally true. For instance, it would be silly for me to force everyone to stop eating tuna fish just because I don’t like it (i.e., because it’s an opinion of mine, a preference). But we do have a whole system of laws (the FDA) about what people are allowed to sell for food.

What we are talking about when considering the preborn has more in common with FDA regulations than it does my preference for tuna. We are not in the realm of opinion here. We are in the realm of biology and Scripture.

4. “Life begins at birth.”

Scientifically, there is no difference in the nature of the baby five seconds before birth and five seconds after. The only difference is location, which is an arbitrary foundation for personhood.

5. “Life begins with brain function, when the baby can experience pain, when they are in (what scientists call) a sentient or self-conscious state.”

That argument contradicts the position that abortion is a fundamental woman’s right through all nine months of pregnancy simply because it is in her womb. It also creates logical problems for those who have been born. For instance, when I am not in a sentient state, have I lost my right to life? If I go into a temporary coma from which you know I am going to wake up in nine months, my preference is crystal clear: don’t end my life.

6. “Life begins at viability, when the baby can live on its own.”

If viability determines personhood, that means whether or not someone is a person is dependent on how advanced our technology is. That might seem pragmatic, but it’s also pretty arbitrary. Following this line of thinking, those born in more technologically advanced societies would, somehow, possess greater personhood and more rights than those who are born in poor countries. Most people aren’t comfortable making that claim.

Besides, the more vulnerable and less viable a person is, the more we as a society should do to protect them. Cardinal Roger Mahony says, “We judge societies on how they treat their weakest members—the last, the least, and the littlest.”

Even if you are unclear on this and are not convinced that personhood begins at conception, shouldn’t you err on the side of life? “If you’re hunting in the woods and hear a rustling in the bushes and you’re uncertain as to whether it’s your friend or a deer, morality and common sense dictate that you don’t pull the trigger, given the potential risk of murder” (Williams, p. 177).

7. “If abortion were made illegal, people would just go back to coat hangers and back-alley butchers.”

Sadly, desperate people have—and will—attempt to end the lives of babies they don’t want. But there are two important things to keep in mind here. First is that statistics of these back-alley butchers are small. The year before Roe v. Wade, 39 women were reported to have died from complications after illegal abortions. The total number was probably higher, since (being illegal) some deaths were not accurately reported. But it wasn’t anywhere near the 900,000 babies who died in state-sanctioned abortions in the last year alone.

Second, Thaddeus Williams points out that the “coat hanger” argument misses the point that the preborn are people. Pointing out the negative side effects of a restriction doesn’t justify removing the restriction altogether, especially when we are considering ending human lives.

8. “What about in the case of genetic disabilities? We shouldn’t bring babies into the world with disabilities, whose lives will be reduced to hardship and unhappiness.”

First, note that people with disabilities are vehemently opposed to this argument. There is not a single organization of disabled people in the world that I know of that is in favor of elective abortions of those who have disabilities.

Second, this argument makes a false correlation between genetic deformities and unhappiness: “No study … has found that handicapped persons are more likely than non-handicapped persons to want to die or commit suicide …. This report, which came out in Baltimore, said: ‘In fact, of the 200 consecutive suicides in Baltimore last year… none had been committed by people with congenital deformities’” (Williams, p. 170). If you’re trying to say that we should be able to abort those whom we know in advance are the most likely to be unhappy, then you shouldn’t start with people with genetic disabilities. They are on the happy end of the scale.

But, again, who are we to determine when another life is not worth living? The preborn baby is a person. Believing they might experience hardship in their lives does not justify killing them in advance.

9. “Abortion sometimes helps poor women escape crushing financial burdens. Banning abortion would cause overpopulation and massive poverty.”

This kind of statement confuses “finding a solution” with “eliminating a problem.” Think of it this way: If the neighbor’s dog keeps pooping in your yard, and you go out and shoot the dog, you’ve eliminated a problem—but you haven’t come up with a solution.

Again, the point is that the preborn are people. You can’t justify killing a person because it eliminates a problem. If you use that line of reasoning, where does it stop?

Poverty is a problem. It’s a massive problem. But let’s keep working to find a solution to that problem, rather than taking unjust shortcuts that don’t consider the value of every human life.

10. “What about in cases of rape or incest?”

I can’t imagine the pain involved in something like this. It’s unspeakable. And many who ask this question are thinking less about abortion and more about an instance of personal abuse they’ve endured. (If that’s you or someone you know, please reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-4673.)

But in thinking about the preborn, we have to keep perspective. These kinds of tragic and heartbreaking cases make up less than 1 percent of all abortions. If we argue that abortion is moral in these cases, are we then agreeing that the other 99 percent of abortions are wrong?

The bigger point is that a person is not defined by the circumstances that brought them into the world. Whether a person is conceived by rape or incest doesn’t change the fact that they are still a person. I have talked with many adults who later discovered they were conceived by rape. This has been, as you would imagine, a difficult truth for them to grapple with. But never have I thought that these adults were less human.

Stay focused on the central question: Is the preborn baby a person? If they are, how they became a person is irrelevant.

That little person in the womb—regardless of how they got there and even when they are no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence—is made in the image of God. That speck has more value than all the planets and stars in the vast cosmos. God lovingly made them, Jesus died for them, and they have an eternal future.

Scientifically and scripturally, there is no question about how Jesus feels about these little children. “Let them come to me,” he says. Their lives are precious and valuable.

If you care about Jesus, you’ll care about the preborn children and not dismiss them, like the disciples did, as an inconvenience.