The Courts, Bible, and Abortion Issue

Recently the California Supreme Court ruled that a person can be convicted of murder for causing the death of a fetus that has progressed beyond the embryonic stage of seven to eight weeks. This is striking because such a fetus could have been legally aborted if it was not yet capable of surviving outside of the womb—generally not earlier than about 25 weeks.

Some have celebrated this ruling (though it is sure to be appealed) as a move toward recognizing that the fetus is a human being even at early stages of its development.

Yet those who wish that laws and behavior were guided by Biblical standards have reason to object to this decision. The one passage in the Bible that explicitly addresses the legal status of a fetus is considerably more lenient than the California Supreme Court. In Exodus 21:22–25 we are told: “If people, when brawling, hurt a pregnant woman and she suffers a miscarriage but no further harm is done, the person responsible will pay compensation as fixed by the woman's husband, subject to the approval of the judges. If further harm is done, however, you will award life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

The implication is that destroying the fetus is wrong only to the extent that its loss is regretted by the pregnant woman and her husband. The fetus is not treated as itself deserving of legal consideration. If it were, then the “life for life” condition would apply to it as well. Clearly the fetus here is something less than a human being.

This Biblical position may strike many as being too unconcerned about the fetus as well as about the pregnant woman. It certainly strikes me that way. But then let us acknowledge that a conservative position regarding abortion does not simply proclaim God's transparent will. It is, rather, a moral position, influenced by a number of factors, requiring articulation and rational defense. The slogan “abortion is murder” does not end a discussion by invoking God's will—it is only the beginning of a discussion.

James C. Klagge