Dealing with Common Justifications for Abortion

Rape and Incest

Readers who consider themselves strongly “pro-life” may yet be uncomfortable with the complete repeal of legalized abortion because of concern for the well-being of women who are pregnant as a result of rape and incest.190 Should abortion be legal in these cases?

Even the discussion of these exceptional cases is dangerous. Pro-lifers have many scars they can show from times they’ve been foolish enough to condemn the killing of babies conceived in rape and incest. If they refused to modulate their position, the attack was vicious and left them tarred and feathered as an extremist, a monster.191 Questions fly: “Why should a woman have to bear the consequences of her violation? Isn’t this validating the sin of the rapist? How can anyone countenance requiring a woman to gaze, day after day, at this child who is a living reminder of the wicked man who violated her?”

The objections are weighty, but let’s bring them into the light of day and examine them.

First, the proportion of abortions due to rape or incest is miniscule. For example, in Germany, the percentage of abortions related to rape or incest is around 0.02 percent annually.192 In the United States, to the extent that such statistics are available,193 the numbers are similar: less than 0.5 percent are related to a prior rape.194 We remember the legal maxim that hard or exceptional cases make bad law when we realize how exceedingly rare abortions due to rape and incest actually are, comprising much less than 1 percent of abortions. Such hard cases should not be allowed to form our nation’s laws on abortion.

But leaving the question of law to the side, are there good reasons not to kill the little one conceived by rape and incest?

First, a word of caution. Since this question is fraught with emotion issuing from some of the most painful circumstances of life, it’s difficult to discuss without surrounding that discussion with pastoral care that is sensitive and ministers to readers the compassion of our Lord for the oppressed and those who suffer. We do work to demonstrate His compassion and tenderness, but we know our efforts will fail to satisfy the needs of readers—needs that are wholly legitimate.

Two things, then: First, please understand that this document is completely taken up with consideration of parts of life and death which have caused many readers great anguish. In many cases such persons are inconsolable separate from the comfort of the Holy Spirit. “In the midst of life, we live in death,” as the Book of Common Prayer states in the committal service at graveside. Rape, incest, and abortion are each part of that death. So yes, like abortion itself, rape and incest cause their victims awful suffering, and we write in full awareness that reading this discussion of these things will add to the suffering of those harmed by these crimes. Given it is true those who have suffered rape or incest are innocent of the crime while those who have committed abortion are guilty of the crime, discussion of these crimes will for many be torment. Yet discuss we must—because all these things are a matter of truth and falsehood, righteousness and wickedness, life and death. It is not possible to proceed with any discussion of the wickedness of abortion, rape, and incest without faith that truth is glorious and needs no justification, whether its discovery and recognition lead to joy or pain. God has fashioned truth in such a way that it is indispensable to the healing of sin and the pain it causes, whether that sin is others’ or our own.

Second, the church is our household of faith and we need her ministry and instruction particularly while considering the subject of this document. The world will be of little help to us, but the church of Jesus Christ will teach and clean and exhort and rebuke and encourage and comfort us as she has every generation since her birth at Pentecost. Considering and repenting of abortion is a work to be done in community.

We have no illusion our arguments here can both convince and console. Nevertheless, these arguments must be marshaled and presented to the church if her members are to repent and give themselves to the protection of mothers and their children. Making those arguments requires raising these painful matters of rape and incest because, over the past half century, no justification of the murder of little ones in their mother’s womb has been more constant and effective than the supposed necessity of the deaths of babies conceived by rape and incest. So now, we turn to it, asking our readers’ understanding for the necessity of our discussion being less than exhaustive.

To begin, then, note that the arguments against abortion made throughout this chapter also apply to abortion in cases of rape and incest. Any murder attacks the image of God He has placed in each child, regardless of the circumstances of that child’s conception. Abortion is a crime against society, destroying the bonds of mutual obligation and fellowship we share, regardless of the circumstances of our conception. Any abortion destroys a human being—the greatest natural resource God has placed on His green earth. Any and every abortion has been universally condemned by church fathers through two millennia and is a heinous crime against nature, man, and God.

Beyond the above, to use the circumstances of the conception of a child as justification for the murder of that child is a denial of a fundamental principle of justice, that we are to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Who is more guilty than the rapist, and who is more innocent than the unborn child?195 To kill an unborn child conceived in rape punishes that little one and her mother—not the rapist. Far from being a just and merciful alleviation of suffering, it multiplies the violence already surrounding this violent crime.

Many Christians are sympathetic to arguments in favor of aborting little ones conceived through rape and incest, but why? What is the nature of our vulnerability to this tactic of the abortionists?

There are several explanations for this vulnerability:

(1) As Christians, we feel intense pressure to state repeatedly that we share our culture’s commitment to viewing rape as the highest, most horrible crime of violence against woman. It’s as if we have to prove Christians are, in fact, concerned and respectful toward women, and never mind that all prior generations of Christians condemned rape as a heinous crime and subjected those committing it to the most severe penalties.196

Never mind that all past generations of Christian fathers, husbands, and sons loved, cared for, and defended their mothers, wives, and daughters. Never mind the records across Christendom of their grief over the terrible, lifelong suffering of women who had been raped. Why is this not enough for us today? Christians feel the need to prove their respect for women by joining the mob’s attack on the innocent child, executing that child for the crimes of her father. Have we forgotten God’s words to Ezekiel?

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezek. 18:20)

We have not progressed in our moral discernment and compassion above our fathers and mothers in the faith before us. Rather, showing ourselves attentive and concerned for the violence of rape inflicted on the mother by condoning the killing of her child conceived through that act is proof our moral discernment and compassion have decayed. Even if our concern were limited solely to the mother, and not the child, do we not recognize this child shares her mother’s DNA—that in every sense of the word, she is her mother’s child? The execution of the mother’s child for the sins of the child’s father is a more violent attack on womanhood than rape.

In his City of God, Saint Augustine speaks of the comfort women who are the victims of the violence of rape may take in their undefiled chastity. He continues:

A woman who has been violated by the sin of another, and without any consent of her own, has no cause to put herself to death . . . for in that case she commits certain homicide [for] a crime which is . . . not her own.197

If it is homicide for a mother to kill herself for the crime of another, it is also homicide for that mother to kill her baby for the crime of another. Certainly it seems harsh to warn a victim of rape against committing homicide, but this warning is needed. The temptations to utter despair and the crimes attendant upon such despair in the life of man and woman must be anticipated and warned against. These warnings are the fruit of our understanding, love, and compassion.

In our pastoral care, we must not have one eye on our reputation among worldlings and pagans, and another on God. Keep in mind what may be our Lord’s most sober warning:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28)

Rape does terrible violence to the body and soul of the woman, but there is no crime more awful than murder, which Scripture demonstrates by revealing the place “murderers” will be cast on the Day of Judgment:

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)

The point is not that abortion is such an awful crime against man and God that it is beyond the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. No and never! The blood of Jesus doesn’t cleanse us from little sins or some sins, but “all” sins. Right here, given the tendency we have to minimize the sin of murder by maximizing the sin of rape, let us hear the word of God concerning our tendency to deny our own sin and refuse to confess the evil we ourselves have done, and also our tendency to consign some sins and sinners to being beyond any forgiveness:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:6–9)

(2) Another explanation for our vulnerability to arguments in defense of liberalized laws on abortion is that we can identify with the woman’s suffering, but not the baby’s. It is likely each of us knows a woman who has suffered this outrage. Our wife, our daughter, our mother. Those of us who are women can place ourselves in that situation; those of us who are men can sympathize to some extent because of our love for these women. Still, none of us can place ourselves in the womb with the unborn child. It is a hidden world unknown to us, and the child that lives in it for nine months is someone who cannot speak as her own advocate. So when the Deceiver comes to us and insinuates that the suffering of the woman takes precedence over the right of the unborn child to life, we’re suckers. Our heart is bound up with the woman there in front of our eyes—not with the child who remains unseen and unheard. Thus we become guilty of the superficial judgment our Lord warns us about: “Do not judge according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

(3) Another explanation for our vulnerability is our belief that it is unjust for us to suffer consequences for the sins of others. Increasingly, it is true that many of us think grace means freedom from consequences of any sin by anyone. But if going there is a bridge too far, we’ll concede that Scripture teaches that our own sins have consequences. Samson and his libido. David and Bathsheba. Ananias and Sapphira. But bearing the consequences of others’ sins? No way. The just God would never require that of anyone.

Yet He is just and He does require it. Scripture is full of such examples, from national and societal judgments (the Flood, the Canaanites, Israel, etc.) to sins whose punishment God visits upon families. This continues in our own day. When we are made late to work because of the traffic caused by a careless accident or a speeder. When the used car we bought turns out to have a dying engine because the seller never changed the oil. Sometimes it’s more serious: When our father’s coldness leaves us longing for affection. When we lose our home because of arson. Or even when we’re injured because of a drunk driver. All through our lives, we suffer because of the sins of others. We may protest, arguing this is unjust; we may complain against God; but in the end, it’s to no avail. No matter how big the consequence we think we’ve suffered, there’s one that’s far greater that every man has already suffered, and by God’s decree: the imposition of God’s curse upon each of us for our father Adam’s sin. In light of this imputation of Adam’s sin upon every woman and man, all our complaints of the injustice of the thing fall short.

So yes, the violation of a woman’s soul and body at the hands of rape is a tragedy. It’s a vile evil. It’s a crime deserving of the harshest condemnation which ought to provoke our most tender compassion for its victim. But we may not conclude from this that we have a right to a life free from the consequences of others’ sins. God disposes as He sees fit, and His arrangement of even the sins against us is done in His perfect will. He sees the end from the beginning. He also knows what each of us is able to endure the trials He sends our way (1 Cor. 10:13).

(4) Finally, we are vulnerable to arguments in favor of abortion in cases of rape and incest because we think large thoughts of our own justice, but small thoughts of God’s ability to bring fruit out of suffering, not to mention His everlasting promise to bring every deed into the light at that great Day of Judgment.

Our thoughts and conceptions of justice are small and limited, but God’s are perfect. He specializes in bringing light from darkness, life from death, and fruit from desolation. This is the testimony found across Scripture. We see it in the Garden where Adam’s sin and condemnation bring with them the hope of future redemption through the seed of the woman. We see it in Joseph and his brothers, where the wickedness of his brothers leads to the sparing of God’s people, but also the protection of the nation of Egypt from famine. As Joseph testifies, “God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

Consider what is perhaps the most relevant case in Scripture which is one of the most sordid incidents in Scripture—the incest between Lot and his two daughters. Even in comparison to other sins in Scripture, this one stands out for its horror. It seems to us a filthy climax to Lot’s descent, the final defilement of his body, name, and posterity, mating and producing children by lying with his own flesh and blood.

Yet that is not all of the story, for the account ends, not with Lot’s nor his daughters’ sin, but the fruit that resulted from that sin—in this case, the peoples of the Moabites and Ammonites that sprang from Lot’s incestuous unions. Despite Lot’s sin, despite his daughters’ wickedness, God (as He does throughout Scripture) still grants them children who go on to become two great peoples.

“Some privilege!” the attentive reader of Scripture might say, for the Moabites and Ammonites were not God’s chosen people, but Israel’s enemies. But once again, this too is not the end of God’s story. For out of the vile Moabites God was pleased to bring godly Ruth, as well as her great-grandson who was a man after God’s own heart. His name was David, and from David’s line our Lord Jesus Christ descended. We may think it undignified to have the bloodline of our Lord extend back through Lot’s daughters and their incest, yet here we have another example of God confounding the wisdom of the wise. Faithless men view Lot’s sin with despair. But in God’s economy, nothing is wasted. He is the steward of suffering and habitually produces fruit from that suffering.

Back in 1971, countercultural icon and author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey, gave an interview to Paul Krassner, publisher and editor of the national alternative journal The Realist. During the interview, the subject of abortion was raised—specifically abortion in the case of rape:

Q. And yet, since you’re against abortion, doesn’t that put you in the position of saying that a girl or a woman must bear an unwanted child as punishment for ignorance or carelessness?

A. In as I feel abortions to be probably the worst worm in the revolutionary philosophy, a worm bound in time to suck the righteousness and the life from the work we are engaged in, I want to take this slowly and carefully. . . .

. . .

Punishment of unwed mothers? Bullshit! Care of neither the old nor the young can be considered to be punishment for the able, not even the care of the un-dead old or the un-born young. These beings, regardless not only of race, creed and color but as well of size, situation or ability, must be treated as equals and their rights to life not only recognized but defended! Can they defend themselves?

You are you from conception, and that never changes no matter what physical changes your body takes. And the virile sport in the Mustang driving to work with his muscular forearm tanned and ready for a day’s labor has not one microgram more right to his inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than has the three month’s foetus riding in a sack of water or the vegetable rotting for twenty years in a gurney bed. Who’s to know the value or extent of another’s trip? How can we assume that the world through the windshield of that Mustang is any more rich or holy or even sane than the world before those pale blue eyes? How can abortion be anything but fascism again, back as a fad in a new intellectual garb with a new, and more helpless, victim?

I swear to you, Paul, that abortions are a terrible karmic bummer, and to support them—except in cases where it is a bona fide toss-up between the child and the mother’s life—is to harbor a worm of discrepancy.

Q. Well, that’s really eloquent and mistypoo, but suppose Faye [Kesey’s wife] were raped and became pregnant in the process?

A. Nothing is changed. You don’t plow under the corn because the seed was planted with a neighbor’s shovel.198

As moderns, we recoil at Kesey’s terrible insensitivity, as we see it. Hearing him speak of the fruit of the rapist’s sin horrifies us. How dare he speak of his wife’s potential rape in such gross agricultural terms! How dare he attribute any blessing or fruit to rape!

As we ask our questions, it may become clear to us that our concern is not so much with life as it is with shame. The woman who suffers rape becomes covered with shame. She can’t help herself. Her shame makes her want to die. Such shame requires something heavy. Something on the order of the sacrifice of her child. This shame cannot be healed or removed by talk of some hypothetical goodness or fruit proceeding from the rapist’s violent and filthy ruination of her.

But shall we stop our train of thought long enough to consider that God’s thoughts are not ours? That all of His attributes exist in perfect harmony, and thus there is no tension between the justice due the rapist and the justice due the mother and innocent child:

The Lord has prepared everything for His purpose—
even the wicked for the day of disaster.
(Prov. 16:4, HCSB)

The rapist has his coming day of reckoning, if not by the state performing its duty, then by God carrying out His prerogative. Meanwhile, both the rapist’s crime and God’s punishment of him will conform to God’s purposes, and not our own.

This is hard for us to fathom. We comfort ourselves with the lie that such terrible evils are outside God’s appointments. Actually, though, this is no comfort at all, for then we are left with unchecked evil and a powerless or compassionless God.

In the end, we must face the God Who Is—not the idol we make of Him in our own mind. This true God is never the author of sin,199 but neither is He a passive observer watching sin wreak its havoc. In His economy, the woman who suffers rape is not simply doomed to an interminable shame and victimhood from that moment onward. The God who forgives sin also heals shame, calling His redeemed ones to find their honor and glory in His adoption of them as His sons and daughters. He restores the years the locusts have eaten—and often that restoration comes in the form of new grain, new fruit, and new life brought about through others’ sins against us.

This is a message of true compassion. It is not the compassion of the world, which postures itself as love for others while refusing to declare the truth. Rather, this is the true charity that mourns the indignity and outrage of rape and grieves with women and children, while also refusing to let their lives be consumed by it.

The true love that fully recognizes the terrible violation of woman such evil does will not be overcome by attacks upon God or the unborn little one, but only by the sustaining mercy of Christ. This true compassion will lead the sufferers to Christ. For Jesus knows what it is to be attacked, what it is to be innocent and violently abused, and what it is to commit His soul to the keeping of the One who is righteous. “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

Health of the Mother

After all the other arguments above, the final accusation abortionists throw at pro-lifers often sounds something like this:

You men are so fixated on women giving you as many babies as possible that you couldn’t care less about their difficulties in pregnancy and childbirth! All you care about is babies and more babies. Even if her baby is killing her, you tell the mother she has to stay pregnant. She can’t have an abortion even if it saves her life. She has to die so the baby can live. That’s how insane you are!

Now maybe the many decades of our combined years in the anti-abortion movement aren’t typical, but through those years we do not remember hearing any pro-lifer saying (or writing) that a mother must be told to die herself if a doctor tells her it’s between her and her baby. Pro-lifers are quite reasonable and loving, and their love for babies is not greater than their love for mothers.

Anyhow, it’s never going to be constructive during polemics with abortionists—speaking from the malice of their bloodguilt—for the Christian to try to have a rational discussion of various threats to a pregnant woman’s health and the connection those threats may or may not have to the continuation of her pregnancy. For abortionists, this accusation is only a ploy. It’s never a real argument.

Another thing to keep in mind is the tendency of abortionists to blur any distinction between mental and physical health and life. When they speak of “health of the mother,” abortionists usually are referring to both the physical and emotional health of the mother. To them, both physical health concerns and mental health concerns are sufficient justification for killing the little ones.

Recall that this was the state of affairs prior to Roe v. Wade. At the time, abortion was largely legal for the purpose of protecting the emotional health of the mother—not just her physical health. One year prior to Roe v. Wade, back in 1972, abortion’s death toll was already 586,760. What this shows is the limited protection our little neighbors have from death if the mother declares her emotional well-being is at stake.

If abortion were outlawed for reasons other than protection of the life of the mother, it’s likely “life of the mother” would, in practice, be viewed expansively in its application in order to include threats to the mother’s life due to mental health vulnerabilities, and many abortions would then be performed under these rubrics.

This is particularly so given the fact long known among medical professionals that no preborn child’s death is necessary to save the life of his mother. Physicians both pro-life and pro-abortion have testified to this simple truth for decades now, and it has only become more true as those decades passed. Here’s C. Everett Koop:

Protection of the life of the mother as an excuse for an abortion is a smoke screen. In my 36 years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life.

When a woman is pregnant, her obstetrician takes on the care of two patients—the mother-to-be and the unborn baby. If, toward the end of the pregnancy complications arise that threaten the mother’s health, he will take the child by inducing labor or performing a Caesarian section.

His intention is still to save the life of both the mother and the baby. . . . Because [the baby] has suddenly been taken out of the protective womb, it may encounter threats to its survival. The baby is never willfully destroyed because the mother’s life is in danger.200

On the pro-abortion side, father of Planned Parenthood Alan F. Guttmacher corroborates this understanding:

Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life.”201

Decades ago, the evidence and testimony of both pro-life and pro-abortion physicians made it clear that mothers carrying their babies to term would not jeopardize the lives of their mothers regardless of the sickness or disease any mother contracted or was living with during her pregnancy. So the accusations of abortion promoters and supporters that pro-life men and women say such mothers have a duty to die to save the life of those children is a bald-faced lie. There are no such mothers. There are no such children.

Yet there are mothers who face decisions involving certain risk factors connected with their lives and the lives of their babies, and we have read testimonies of such mothers choosing to put off certain medical treatments needed for their terminal illnesses because those treatments posed a threat to their baby.202 These mothers have cried out to God for healing of their sickness so they can carry their little one to childbirth and life. Their doctor has explained that putting off treatment of their cancer, for instance, might hasten their death, but the mother refuses radiation, instead pleading with God for her own life and the life of her child. She has declined treatment rather than to risk harm to her child. She will speak of her love for her baby. She will remind those reading or listening how Jesus said no man has greater love than to lay down his life for a friend. She may recount how this statement of Jesus made the decision clear to her and her husband.

We ask ourselves if this is good or bad. Many things would have to be considered if one of us were to be faced with the same decision. The relative risk. The desire of one’s husband. The number and ages of any children who would be left motherless. The counsel of the older women of the church, the pastor, and the elders. Whether the doctor was a Christian. Whether the baby was close enough to viability that holding out a couple weeks and taking her by Cesarean section would be an option, allowing radiation to start earlier. The list could go on.

Not one of us, though, would have the desire or claim the authority to take this life-and-death decision out of the mother and father’s hands. Christians repeat our Lord’s command to take up our cross and follow Him, but this is a far cry from one believer declaring to the pregnant Christian mother the specific cross she must take up is foregoing cancer treatment so that her unborn child will not be endangered by the radiation. None of us can imagine saying to such a Christian mother that her baby takes precedence over her, nor that foregoing radiation (for instance) is what Jesus means when He commands us to take up our cross for His sake. Rather, we would understand and agree with this mother if her treatment posed some level of risk to her baby, but she chose to proceed with that treatment.

The mother’s and baby’s lives are inextricably intertwined, and there are times when to save the mother’s health and life is to save the baby’s health and life. There are also times when treatments to save the mother’s health and life pose an equal risk to herself and her baby, yet the decision will be made to proceed with that treatment recognizing that if the treatment ends up killing the child, this was in no way the intent of the physician or of his patient capable of full consent, the mother.203 They both knew he had two patients and everything was considered and done to protect the well-being of both patients, but in the end the second patient, despite their best efforts to keep it from happening, died. In this case, the physician, father, and mother can all take comfort from their vigilance to protect both the mother and her child, knowing the succeeding death of the child was neither their intent nor their fault. They acted wisely and by faith in God’s care for both mother and child, and God’s decree was that the mother would live and the child would die. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).

This discussion emphasizes the necessity of reminding physicians and one another that when we treat a pregnant mother, our treatment inevitably treats her child also. Pharmaceutical corporations know this very well and are vigilant to warn physicians, pharmacists, and customers of the danger their products pose to babies in the womb of the mother ingesting those products. Everyone knows pregnant mothers should not smoke or drink if they desire to protect the little child in their womb. When a child is listening to her mother’s songs, feeling her mother’s movements, sensing her mother’s joy and pain, eating her mother’s food, sharing her mother’s oxygen, and swimming in her mother’s amniotic fluid, her health is inseparable from her mother’s health.

The doctor who prescribes medicine or treatment for the mother knows this very well, being motivated to know it by the potential of a malpractice suit if she or he prescribes a drug or treatment which produces fetal anomalies in that child, leaving the child disabled when she enters this world.

Physicians also know it because, over the course of the 1970s, amniocentesis became the standard of care for pregnant mothers older than 35 years of age.204 This was due to their considerably higher risk of giving birth to children with Down syndrome or aneuploidy.

Today the physician must provide their patient with the options of amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, or more often cell-free fetal DNA screening,205 along with other fetal diagnostic procedures that protect the right of the parent (and yes, also the child) to exercise the option of termination of pregnancy in order to prevent what is legally referred to as “wrongful birth” and “wrongful life.”

Malpractice suits are filed by both parents and children accusing physicians of neglecting to follow standards of care which would have made a diagnosis and termination of pregnancy possible, thus preventing the birth of a child of low quality of life because of a defect which might otherwise have been diagnosed in the womb.206 In 1990, over thirty years ago, fetal testing was so common that 200,000 pregnant women were subjected to amniocentesis procedures.

Let us confess our faith by stating that we who belong to Jesus Christ abominate this practice which now results in the aborting of over 90 percent of children with Down syndrome today in North America.207 Let us confess our faith by declaring that we Christians don’t kill babies to protect ourselves from giving birth to a handicapped child. Christian physicians don’t talk mothers into killing their baby in order to protect themselves from malpractice suits. In fact, no civilized person kills babies. What is the meaning of “civilization” and the “rule of law” when citizens protect their time and money by shedding the blood of their babies?

Abortionists see only one person, the mother, and so they kill her baby. They say it forthrightly, and often. Some of them deny the babies are persons. Some deny babies are alive. Sometimes they are brutally honest, saying the mother’s right to abortion is absolute, and this is “whether or not it’s a life!”208

There will, as was pointed out above, be mothers who choose to reject treatment of their disease because the treatment poses a very serious danger to her preborn child. In such extraordinary cases, we acknowledge our Lord’s declaration, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Clinical Callousness

Before we move on, we want to give one pastoral caution concerning the medical professionals who care for us.

Babies and pregnancy are the times of greatest vulnerability for mothers, and also fathers (to some lesser extent). For this reason, when a physician or other medical authority (and yes, they are authorities) warns us we should consider aborting our child, it shakes us to our core. Sometimes the suggestion arises from a problematic ultrasound showing the little one might have this or that anomaly indicating some potentially serious genetic disorder. Other times it arises from a serious diagnosis of the mother herself made during her pregnancy which requires a treatment that could harm or kill the baby in her womb (as in the examples mentioned above).

Regardless of the reason for the suggestion or recommendation, the simple fact is that your professional healer has just suggested or recommended to you that you kill your child. Don’t let the clinical tone of the suggestion throw you off guard, leaving you in shock so that you fail to react with the horror which you ought properly to feel and express. Prepare yourself beforehand so the medical professionals, who normally serve us so well, can have our help restoring their lost or attenuated instinct to protect mothers’ loving solicitude towards their little ones, as well as the little ones themselves. Something like this might be said:

What did you say? Did you really just suggest to me that I kill my child? Is my child not your patient also? Surely you weren’t serious, were you? Are you so afraid of a malpractice suit that you have taken to saying such things? I’m so sorry for you. Go ahead and tell me what we can do about this problem, but don’t you dare ever even in the slightest way suggest any solution to our problems that involves the death of the little one we both want to bring to term and deliver . . .

Something along those lines will be sufficient, and yes, it really will be helpful to many physicians who are only making the suggestion because it’s a standard of practice, and not doing so can make them liable to a lawsuit if the child ends up being born with some congenital anomaly, or if carrying the little one to term contributes to the mother’s death. Even if your physician reacts by sending you to another OB-GYN, rejoice that the Lord might have used you to reawaken her or his conscience, in time. Our social media generation needs to be reminded there are many things more horrible than relational or conversational awkwardness, or shame, or personally pronounced moral judgments.

Also remember that medical professionals are very limited in their knowledge, let alone ability to predict the future. If we hear the whistle of an artillery shell coming our way and are staring at mayhem all around us from previous shells that have rained down near us, it would be foolish not to take cover. But this is a far cry from reading an ultrasound and crying “wolf.” Medical standards of practice might require a warning, but even as pastors, we can all recount times our sheep have come to us terror-stricken by the possible prognosis their OB-GYN just gave them, going on to suggest they consider terminating their pregnancy, after which it turned out to be a false alarm. Doctors might be required to give false alarms, but we are the children of the Great Physician for whom nothing is impossible.

Walking by faith includes pregnancy and childbirth. God loves our little ones more than we could ever love them, so even while they’re still in the womb, practice entrusting them to Him.


  1. Although the crimes of rape and incest are distinct, the latter often involves the former, so we will mainly address rape.↩︎

  2. For instance, during a debate, Richard Mourdock, the 2012 US Senate candidate for Indiana, uttered the words, “I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” His confession of faith in God’s sovereignty brought an abrupt end to his previously successful candidacy. See Kevin Robillard, “Buchanan: Mitt Romney Rejects ‘Rape’ Remark,” Politico, October 24, 2012, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1012/82808.html.↩︎

  3. See this report from the Gesundheitsberichterstattung des Bundes (Federal Health Monitoring System): https://www.gbe-bund.de:443/gbe/pkg_olap_tables.prc_archiv?p_indnr=240&p_archiv_id=1081842&p_sprache=E. Note as well that abortions related to the health of the mother make up less than 4 percent of the total, and this where health is defined broadly as physical and mental health, and a doctor must certify the threat in writing.↩︎

  4. In the United States, government agencies almost never require the keeping of data on abortions after rape or incest, or due to health concerns related to the mother. See Kortsmit et al., “Abortion Surveillance.”↩︎

  5. According to a 2004 anonymous survey conducted by the Guttmacher Institute among 1,209 women who had aborted their children, less than 0.5 percent were related to rape, and 4 percent to the mother’s health. See Lawrence Finer et al., “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37 (2005), no. 3: 110–118. Florida is exceptional among the states, providing an annual report on abortions which includes a statement of reasons given for the abortion. In 2020, 0.16 percent of abortions were related to rape and incest, 1.68 percent to the mother’s physical health, and 1.88 percent to the mother’s psychological health. See “Reported Induced Terminations of Pregnancy (ITOP) by Reason, by Trimester,” 2020, https://ahca.myflorida.com/MCHQ/Central_Services/Training_Support/docs/TrimesterByReason_2020.pdf.↩︎

  6. We are not declaring the unborn child’s absolute innocence here. In Psalm 51, David confesses he was “conceived in sin.” Saying this, David was not referring to any sin of his father and mother in the circumstances of his conception, but to his own sin. David’s confession of his own original sin from the moment of his conception is equally true of all men and women. In terms of relative innocence, though, the unborn child is the most innocent of all men.

    Still, in connection with the entirety of this paper, Calvin’s comments on David’s confession of guilt from his conception in the womb are instructive:

    Interpreters have very properly rendered [the Hebrew] “hath conceived me.” The expression intimates that we are cherished in sin from the first moment that we are in the womb. David, then, is here brought, by reflecting on one particular transgression, to cast a retrospective glance upon his whole past life, and to discover nothing but sin in it. . . . [David] refers to original sin with the view of aggravating his guilt, acknowledging that he had not contracted this or that sin for the first time lately, but had been born into the world with the seed of every iniquity.

    The passage affords a striking testimony in proof of original sin entailed by Adam upon the whole human family. It not only teaches the doctrine, but may assist us in forming a correct idea of it. . . . The Bible, both in this and other places, clearly asserts that we are born in sin, and that it exists within us as a disease fixed in our nature. David does not charge it upon his parents, nor trace his crime to them, but . . . before the Divine tribunal, confesses that he was formed in sin, and that he was a transgressor ere he saw the light of this world. (Comments on Psalm 51:5, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 2, trans. James Anderson [Calvin Translation Society, 1846], 290)

     ↩︎

  7. Under the Mosaic Law, rape of a married woman was punishable by death (Deut. 22:22–23), and Western law has consistently punished rape with harsh penal sanctions.↩︎

  8. City of God 1.18: “Far be it from us to so misapply words. Let us rather draw this conclusion, that while the sanctity of the soul remains even when the body is violated, the sanctity of the body is not lost; and that, in like manner, the sanctity of the body is lost when the sanctity of the soul is violated, though the body itself remains intact. And therefore a woman who has been violated by the sin of another, and without any consent of her own, has no cause to put herself to death; much less has she cause to commit suicide in order to avoid such violation, for in that case she commits certain homicide to prevent a crime which is uncertain as yet, and not her own.”↩︎

  9. “An Impolite Interview with Ken Kesey,” The Realist, no. 90 (May/June 1971): 46–47, http://www.ep.tc/realist/90/46.html. Emphases original.↩︎

  10. Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1, https://evangelpresbytery.com/westminster-confession-of-faith/#III.↩︎

  11. C. Everett Koop, interview with Dick Bohrer, Moody Monthly, May 1980, reprinted in Dick Bohrer, Sell Your Homework: 24 Ways to Write What You Think, lesson 8 (“The Speech Critique”) (Glory Press Books, 2005), 17.↩︎

  12. “Abortion—Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” in The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (Diablo Press, 1967), 9.↩︎

  13. It is also worth noting that a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicated that “Prenatal exposure to maternal cancer with or without treatment did not impair the cognitive, cardiac, or general development of children in early childhood.” Frédéric Amant et al., “Pediatric Outcome after Maternal Cancer Diagnosed during Pregnancy,” NEJM 373, no. 19: 1824–1834, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1508913.↩︎

  14. It may not need to be said, but this is the very opposite of the mother paying for an abortion. This mother takes the life of her child, almost never to save her own life or health, but to keep her future plans and lifestyle intact and unhindered.↩︎

  15. “In the United States, the current [1995] standard of care in obstetrical practice is to offer either CVS or amniocentesis to women who will be greater than or equal to 35 years of age when they give birth . . .” Richard Olney et al., “Chorionic Villus Sampling and Amniocentesis: Recommendations for Prenatal Counseling,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), CDC, July 21, 1995, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00038393.htm.↩︎

  16. Laura Carlson and Neeta Vora, “Prenatal Diagnosis: Screening and Diagnostic Tools,” Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America 44, no. 2 (June 2017): 245–256, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5548328/.↩︎

  17. For wrongful birth, see, as an example, Turpin v. Sortini, 31 Cal. 3d 220 (1982), https://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/3d/31/220.html. For wrongful life, see, as an example, Curlender v. Bio-Science Laboratories, 106 Cal. App. 3d 814 (1980), https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/3d/106/811.html. In Curlender, the California appellate court found Roe v. Wade to be “of considerable importance in defining the parameters of ‘wrongful-life’ litigation,” because of the Supreme Court’s determination “that parents have a constitutionally protected right to obtain an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy,” at 820.↩︎

  18. Rebecca Lobo and Garnett Genuis, “Socially Repugnant or the Standard of Care: Is There a Distinction between Sex-Selective and Ability-Selective Abortion?” Canadian Family Physician 60, no. 3 (March 2014): 212–216, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3952749/.↩︎

  19. One of us participated in a debate over abortion at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in which each side was asked to summarize the other side’s position. He was asked to go first and summarized the abortionists’ position by saying they felt any abortion is tragic, but there are times when the circumstances of a woman’s pregnancy are so harmful to the woman that having an abortion is less tragic than the alternative. Further, that since it’s unclear whether or not the unborn is a real human life, choosing to have an abortion can be the moral decision. With anger, the female abortion proponent, nearly shouting, said, “No!”

    The moderator responded, “No what? Are you saying this summary of your position isn’t accurate?”

    She responded, “Yes! We are not saying it’s not a life. We are saying the woman has a right to have an abortion whether or not it’s a life!”↩︎