Evangelicals might be taken back by the pro-choice position of Progressive Christianity. Indeed, the conversation is difficult when it’s with someone in the church who uses a similar moral framework. Scripture is thrown around, presuppositions are questioned, and long-held beliefs are challenged. The pro-choice position mostly concludes in either of two ways; the Bible teaches abortion is permissible, or, it teaches abortion is not permissible, but we should be pro-choice because pro-life legislature leads to more abortions. Each conversation will look different, but ultimately the pro-choice conclusion boils down to one of these two.
The first conclusion is straight forward to address. Is there an acceptable exegete for permitting abortion? Does, in fact, the Bible teach that abortion is morally acceptable? An often-cited passage is Numbers 5:11–22. There are others1, but this passage is compelling and will be the one investigated to benefit the pro-choice position to prevent a straw-man. This Old Testament passage describes a judicial procedure enacted when a man suspects his wife of adultery without eyewitness. The woman in question was to take an oath of her innocence and proceed to drink a “bitter water that brings a curse”. If she was guilty, the passage describes what would happen next, “may The Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”
Here, the NIV is cited, though the translation reads quite differently from the ESV. Verses 19–22 from the ESV read “Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’
The translations are distinctly different, and it should be noted that only the NRSV and NIV use the word “miscarriage”. There is much debate amongst scholars whether “thigh” is a euphemism for the reproductive organs, or if the text is even related to pregnancy.2 Other views are that the passage is only mentioning a curse of infertility or disfigurement. Nonetheless, to address the strongest form of the pro-choice position, it will be assumed that Numbers 5:11–22 is describing the abortion of a pre-born child that is ordained by God. If the traditional pro-life position is the truly the biblical one, it should stand against this steel-man.
It’s critical to pay attention to the text here. “the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’. Cleary, it is the Lord who is decreeing the death of the child. It is not the priest, or the man, or the woman. Nowhere is there a human taking the life of another within the text. Instead, God is. We see God taking and giving live all over The Old Testament. And, yes, often children are not spared.3 4 God has sovereignty over his own creation and can take or give live as he pleases (unless doing so would break one of His promises, that would go against His nature).
God is very clear about this, “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’”6 The pro-choice position seems to argue, perhaps unintentionally, that if God can ordain life and death in the womb, man can too. To remain logically consistent whoever argues for this must also affirm that man can ordain life and death outside the womb as well – Just like God does. But, of course, man does not wield this authority. God’s sovereignty over His creation doesn’t change with its geographic location and neither does man gain any.
The second position is more nuanced and requires some critical thinking. But, when taken to its logical conclusion this position falls under its own weight. The abortion rate data and pro-life legislation won’t be investigated, but the claim that pro-life legislation increases abortions will be assumed as true to address the pro-choice position in its strongest form. So, if less abortions occur when it is legal, isn’t that a net good?
“Special pleading” is a fallacy wherein someone applies a standard to a situation yet fails to apply the same standard to other situations, avoiding circumstances that aren’t beneficial to their position. For this second position, the moral price tag becomes far too expensive if one is to avoid this fallacy. If making child abduction legal reduced child abductions, would Progressive Christianity be open to lifting the legal status of it? What about homicide? Not only would one have to accept that these atrocities are written off as legal, but in accepting this position, they would also have to permit letting them go unpunished. Thus, a resulting “net good” doesn’t seem so obvious when taking into consideration an absence of responsive justice to evil. Whoever holds to this position must accept either a logical fallacy or moral bankruptcy. But, a third option is the orthodox one – Pro life.
In the final analysis, the burden of the pro-choice position is far too heavy when it’s logic is fully investigated. It is uncertain when fully accepting the logical conclusions how Progressive Christianity remains morally sound, and certainly, biblically acceptable.
- Exodus 21:22–25
When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe
- Jeon, J. 2007. Two laws in the Sotah passage (num. v 11-31). Vetus Testamentum 57:181–207.
- 2 Samuel 12:13–14
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan answered, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You will not die. But what you did caused the Lord’s enemies to lose all respect for him. For this reason the son who was born to you will die.”
- Exodus 12:12
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.
- Deuteronomy 32:39
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”