Does the Bible Really Say Abortion Is Murder?

In today’s abortion debate, one side maintains that abortion is wrong because killing a baby (at any stage of life) is murder, which the Bible clearly condemns (Ex. 20:13, De. 5:17). The other side, however, argues that abortion is not murder since an unborn baby is not a person, but nothing more than a clump of cells, a parasite, or a tumor. While Scripture has nothing to say whatsoever on the topic of elective abortion, God’s word does teach us whether an unborn baby has any value, and, more than that, whether God considers it a person. It is this instruction that we can then apply to the subject of abortion.

Exodus 21:22-25 provides us insight into the value of an unborn child. In this passage, Moses is giving commands concerning a situation in which two men may be fighting, and in the midst of the struggle, a nearby pregnant woman is hit.

“And when men struggle with each other and strike a pregnant woman, and her children come out but there is no harm, the man is certainly to be fined according to the husband of the woman, and he must give payment through the judges. But if there is harm, then you must give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.” (mjlt)

Moses describes what happens when the woman is hit, saying that the child has “come out” of her. According to the 1985 JPS Tanakh, this means that the woman has simply miscarried—that the child has come out dead. When the passage is understood this way, then the “harm” can only be referring to the mother. If this is so, then the unborn child has no life-value, and a miscarried baby is not the death of person.

But not only does such an understanding violate the plain sense of the passage, it is clear from elsewhere in Scripture that “come out” means “was born.” In Genesis 25:24-26, employing the exact same Hebrew phrase, it says,

“And [Rivqa’s] days to bear the children were fulfilled, and look! twins were in her womb. And the first came out red, his whole body like a hairy robe, and they called his name Esav. And afterwards his brother had come out, and his hand was taking hold on the heel of Esav, and they called his name Ya’aqov…” (mjlt)

“Come out,” then, means exactly that—no more, and no less. During the fight, the child comes out of the woman.

Then Moses lays out two scenarios. In the first, the child comes out, but there is no harm done to it or to the woman. The baby was born prematurely, but both are alive and well. In this case, the man who hit the woman is only required to pay a fine. But in the second scenario, the child or mother is harmed. The hit causes a spontaneous abortion (or miscarriage or stillbirth), or even the mother is killed or hurt, in which case the man “must give life for life, eye for eye,” and so on.
In other words, if hitting the woman causes the child to come out and die, then the man who caused it must face the death penalty for murder—namely, “life for life.” This means that the life of the baby is worth exactly the same as that of the grown man. Therefore, in the eyes of the Torah—from the standpoint of making restitution—that unborn baby was a person with the same value as any person. The one who takes that life must then pay for it with his own—just as in any murder, according to Torah (Ex. 21:12, Le. 24:17, Nu. 35:30).

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Scripture, then, while not speaking directly to elective abortion as we have it today, does in fact speak to the value and worth of the life of an unborn child, and therefore establishes a biblical principle concerning abortion. According to the Torah, every single precious, little life is a person, worth exactly the same as any other, and causing its death—including by abortion—is murder.

“Before I formed you in the belly, I had known you; and before you came out of the womb, I set you apart…” (Jeremiah 1:5, mjlt)

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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