God and Abortion Rights

Like many people who hold religious beliefs and are also pro-choice — and indeed, who are pro-choice in part because of the emphasis on goodness and respect for human rights that are ingrained in their faith — I’m tired of the right-wing anti-abortion campaign claiming that they have a monopoly on God. Skim the Bible for the word “abortion” — you won’t find it. The Bible doesn’t condone nor condemn abortion. It does, in one instance, represent it as a property crime (you cause a woman to miscarry, and you have to pay her husband a fine):

“And if men struggle and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Exodus 21:22-25

If a fetus is the full equivalent of a human life, shouldn’t the man who caused the woman to miscarry be expected to pay with his life?

Luckily, other faith-friendly pro-choicers are coming out on the offensive, and demonstrating that support for reproductive rights is not only not immoral, but fitting within a religious code that values justice and human rights.

The Interfaith Prayer Breakfast has been part of Planned Parenthood’s annual convention for four years. Most ministers and rabbis at the breakfast have known the group far longer.

Margaret Sanger, founder of the organization that became Planned Parenthood, drew clergy members in the early 20th century by relating the suffering of women who endured successive pregnancies that ravaged their health and sought illegal abortions in their desperation, said the Rev. Thomas R. Davis of the United Church of Christ, in his book “Sacred Work, Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances.”

In the 1930’s, Jewish and mainline Protestant groups began to voice their support for birth control. In 1962, a Maryland clergy coalition successfully pressed the state to permit the disbursal of contraception. In the late 1960’s, some 2,000 ministers and rabbis across the country banded together to give women information about abortion providers and to lobby for the repeal of anti-abortion laws.

“The clergy could open that door because the clergy had a certain moral authority,” said Mr. Davis, who is chairman of Planned Parenthood’s clergy advisory board but whose book is not sponsored by the group. “They balanced the moral authority of the critics.”

The role of religious communities in securing abortion rights cannot be emphasized enough. Religious leaders took a look around and saw, for example, that 20% of hospital admissions for pregnancy-related problems in New York and California were the result of dangerous illegal abortions. They saw that poor women were more likely to be maimed or killed by their illegal abortions. They saw that even for the women who were able to secure safe illegal abortions — and thanks to a handful of conscientious providers, these women did exist — the shame of having to go underground for a basic medical procedure was deeply harmful. They saw that, even after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, low-income women like Gerri Santoro (caution: graphic) still lacked the basic resources to make reproductive rights a reality. They saw, basically, that limiting reproductive rights hurts women.

And so they mobilized. Clergy, along with activists, community members and police officers, organized the Jane network, which connected women with safe clandestine abortion services. Should such a service become necessary again, progessive religious people will continue to be some of our strongest allies.

As the scrape of silverware quieted at the breakfast, the Rev. W. Stewart MacColl told the audience how a Presbyterian church in Houston that he had led and several others had worked with Planned Parenthood to start a family planning center. Protesters visited his church. Yet his 900 parishioners drove through picket lines every week to attend services. One Sunday, he and his wife, Jane, took refreshments to the protesters out of respect for their understanding of faith, he said.

Mr. MacColl said a parishioner called him the next day to comment: “That’s all very well for you to say, but you don’t drive to church with a 4-year-old in the back seat of your car and have to try to explain to him when a woman holds up a picture of a dead baby and screams through the window, ‘Your church believes in killing babies.’ ”

Mr. MacColl said of the abortion protester: “She would, I suspect, count herself a lover of life, a lover of the unborn, a lover of God. And yet she spoke in harshness, hatred and frightened a little child.”

Mr. MacColl quoted the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: ” ‘Sometimes the worst evil is done by good people who do not know that they are not good.’ ”

The crowd murmured its assent.

Then Mr. MacColl challenged them. “The trouble is, I find myself reflected in that woman,” he said. “Because I can get trapped in self-righteousness and paint those who oppose me in dark colors they do not deserve. Is that, at times, true of you, as well?”

This time, people were silent.

He makes a good point. It is easy to demonize those who disagree with you, particularly when they’re just as passionate as you are. The difference, of course, is that a passion for limiting rights and oppressing an entire segment of the population tends to be a less salient argument than fighting for basic human rights and individual autonomy.

“The more we are able to cultivate the capacity in every person — women and men — to make informed ethical judgments both in ourselves and our society, the more we are coming into relationship with the transcendent, with God,” said the Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary.

“Human existence as a materialistic quest for power and dominance, a crass manipulation of fear and intolerance for political gain, drives us apart both from one another and from God,” she said. “For what does it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul?”

UPDATE: Allow me to clarify a minor point. I wrote about this because I thought it was interesting, not because I think that religious beliefs should at all influence legal standards. They shouldn’t. That should be obvious enough from everything I’ve ever written here.

And, not to criticize anyone in particular, but I’m quickly tiring of the legal strawman that is too often propped up in response to any assertion or observation. If I say, “I think it’s really abhorrent that Neil Boortz said that Rep. McKinney looks like a ‘ghetto slut;‘ if you support him by listening to his show, now might be a good time to stop,” it doesn’t mean that I’m trying to legally infringe on Neil Boortz’s legal right to free speech (and I’m not the government, so, you know, that would be tough for me to do either way). And if I say that religious people have had, and continue to have, an influence on abortion rights, it doesn’t mean that I think religion should dictate law on abortion. Ok, bitch over.


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36 comments for “God and Abortion Rights

  1. Tam
    April 3, 2006 at 10:14 am

    While the Bible doesn’t specifically talk about abortion, there are references to God’s hand in the creation of life – Psalm 139. As Mr. Davis said in the article, “They’re a religious tradition, too, and they are moved by Scripture.”

    Just as there are calls to justice and human rights in Scripture, there are also references to life and God’s hand in the creation of that life. As a pro-choice Christian, that is something that I struggle with. My solution – I don’t align my support of choice with my faith.

    Also, I think you need to sit on Mr. MacColl’s statement regarding self-rightousness. Your next statement shows that you missed the point of his statement.

  2. April 3, 2006 at 10:19 am

    I got the point of his statement, I just don’t entirely agree with it. Two different things. Segregationists were just as passionate and self-righteous as anti-segregationists. Doesn’t make the two viewpoints equally valid.

  3. Greta
    April 3, 2006 at 10:39 am

    One factual correction: the Jane network was not in any way formed by clergy members but by a group of women activists. There were in fact two networks in operation in Chicago at that time – Jane, in which women performed abortions for other women, and the separate group of clergy who referred women to abortion providers. The two groups communicated on occasion but were most definitely separate.

  4. April 3, 2006 at 10:42 am

    I wasn’t trying to infer that clergy were the ones who created Jane, just pointing out that they were part of the extended network that helped women access Jane’s services.

  5. human
    April 3, 2006 at 10:49 am

    Then Mr. MacColl challenged them. “The trouble is, I find myself reflected in that woman,” he said. “Because I can get trapped in self-righteousness and paint those who oppose me in dark colors they do not deserve. Is that, at times, true of you, as well?”

    Argh. This is one thing I always hated about Protestantism, when I was still in my churchgoing phase. For god’s sake, you can’t get angry; for god’s sake, you can’t get passionate; for god’s sake, you can’t think you’re RIGHT about a matter of JUSTICE, or you might just find you’re wrong, demonizing the wrong person, and then… well, I don’t know what would happen, but it would be horrible.

    It’s okay to think you’re RIGHT about matters of theology. Or how big of a building the church should build. Or whether to offer a new Sunday school class. It’s okay to attack people personally over that stuff.

    But not matters of justice! Never that!

  6. April 3, 2006 at 10:50 am

    I got the point of his statement, I just don’t entirely agree with it. Two different things. Segregationists were just as passionate and self-righteous as anti-segregationists. Doesn’t make the two viewpoints equally valid.

    I think the point was that they both, to some extent, believed they were doing the right thing. Their understanding was screwed up, certainly, as the pro-lifers’ understanding is today, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and aside from the truly nasty ones, I’d imagine many of the people who supported segregation thought they were protecting their own children somehow, and their way of thinking had been skewed enough (by those people who always pop up in such movements) that they considered their children’s privilege, their privilege, to be a hugely necessary and important thing. I didn’t see anything about the validity of the argument being said; it’s about the validity of the people themselves, and the validity of their desire to do what they see as good. They’re fucking it up royally, in both cases, but they’re trying, and I think he’s suggesting that that is worth something.

    And that they’re not all evil misogynist slavery-advocates, they’re compassionate baby-lovers manipulated into advocating a slavery that they don’t see as slavery, by people who are evil misogynist slavery-advocates.

    Racism & sexism and similar bigotries are ingrained into people under the guise of “morals,” often by the legitimate authorities of their society. Sometimes there is no one to teach them any better, and sometimes they are taught to ignore such teachings before they even encounter them. Overcoming these obstacles requires the ability to recognize them as such, which rarely comes on its own. How many people here can say they’d be feminists, or gay-rights advocates, or human-rights advocates, or anything similar, if no one ever told you about it, or if you never read anything written about it without dismissing it out of hand as wrong? Many of us raised in more conservative families have “discovered” feminism, but how many would be feminists if there were no feminism to discover? I’d imagine there would be significantly fewer—just the Susan B. Anthonys and Betty Friedans, only the discoverers and never the followers. That is what most of the mainstream anti-choicers are, that is what most of the segregationists were, that is what most of the German soldiers in WW2 probably were—good people who never learned how to be good, who were manipulated into doing bad things, manipulated into thinking they were doing good. Blind, even willfully so after awhile, due to an inability to face their own mistakes, but blind from the beginning. Seekers unable to see, lost, looking for Heaven and directed towards Hell by the people they asked for directions.

    It’s not about the validity of the cause. It’s about the inherent goodness within the people who make up that cause, and the misdirection of that goodness.

  7. Tam
    April 3, 2006 at 11:07 am

    No, segregation and anti-segregation were not equally valid viewpoints.

    In the case of abortion, I just wish there was a way for both sides to find some commonality and work towards a common solution. The self-rightousness of both sides makes it easy for pro-lifers to paint pro-choicers as heartless baby killers and pro-choicers to paint pro-lifers as fascists. Neither are entirely true characteristics.

    While I understand the urgency to protecting abortion rights, especially with this adminstration and the current makeup of the Supreme court. I also think that the following are things to consider as well. Particularly if we want to find ways to co-exist in this society, because neither of us are going away.

    “What if pro-life groups were to become as known for their defense of the poor, ethnic minorities, the ecology, and the improsoned as they are for their defense of the unborn? What if feminst groups were to champion, in the name of women, the most defenseless of all groups, the unborn? What if both groups were to become renowned for their gentleness, their respect for others, and their willingness to sit down and calmly discuss anything?” ~Ronald Rolheiser~

    We often like to point to the inconsistencies in the pro-life movement towards life. That they don’t value the lives that are already here and stand in solidarity for the rights of the living and the protection of the earth that we live on. Wouldn’t you agree that is valid criticism of pro-lifers. Conversely, we are often criticized for our view on life. There is an inability in the pro-choice movement to even discuss the life of the unborn. As if to not not talk about it somehow makes the issue a mute point. It doesn’t. Being pro-choice, I would say that is a valid cricism as well. Because we are so focus on the criticisms of the other, we are unable to see the weaknesses within our own movements and minimize opportunities to find common ground.

    While you would probably say there is not common ground between pro-choicers and pro-lifers. I would disagree. In the end, I’m sure both sides want to see less abortions and less unwanted pregnancies. I would much rather sit in a room and discuss solutions to that, than yell at each other across protest lines. I would much rather find ways to fuse abstinence messages with responsible birth control messages. While not all pro-life or pro-choice folks are willing to do this work, I think that those of us are, should. Or at least be willing to consider this as an option in the battle.

  8. Gabriel Malor
    April 3, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Kyra, that rocks.

    Part of what frustrates me about extremists on all sides of issues is their tendency to view people not on their own side as evil.

    All supporters of stricter immigration laws are not racists.
    All Christian fundamentalists do not hate America.
    All pacifists are not cowards.
    All pro-lifers are not woman-hating sexists.
    All feminists are not ugly.–just kidding. (Okay, I just threw this one on the list for a laugh. I know that ugly people are not evil.)
    .

  9. Thomas
    April 3, 2006 at 11:34 am

    Tam, you’re either hopelessly naive or completely disingenuous. The resistance of RTL organizations to contraception ought to tell you that the anti- side is not interested in finding ways to reduce abortion and unwanted pregnancy. Further, if you have followed the abstinence-only debate at all, you know that fusing abstinence messaging with responsible education is our position, and the AO position is that abstinence must be taught in the absence of any useful information about how to be sexual without risking pregnancy and disease. In fact, the hard core of the RTL movement believes that pregnancy and disease are god’s chosen consequences for sex. You’re talking about a movement that is willing to pull funding from overseas organizations just for talking about options they don’t like.

    You’re looking for common ground in areas where our opponents have clearly already rejected it.

  10. April 3, 2006 at 11:44 am

    Thomas is right — the pro-choice movement has been stressing “working together” for decades, but the mainstream anti-choice movement and the political right wants none of it. A short list of all the things we’ve suggested to lower the abortion rate and make it easier for women with unintended pregnancies to have children:

    -Better access to affordable contraceptives and safer sex devices
    -Medicaid coverage of contraceptives
    -Affordable childcare
    -Financial aid to low-income women with dependent children
    -Comprehensive maternity and paternity leave policies
    -Comprehensive sexual health education which covers both abstinence and safer sex
    -Universal healthcare

    What has the anti-choice side offered? Illegalizing abortion and limiting contraception. We’ve extended the olive branch time and time again. They need to start trying to work with us, too.

  11. Chet
    April 3, 2006 at 11:48 am

    In the case of abortion, I just wish there was a way for both sides to find some commonality and work towards a common solution.

    Well, there is. The compromise is this: women who want to have abortions get to have them, safely. Women who don’t want their pregnancies aborted aren’t forced to have abortions.

    See your problem is that you’ve already swallowed the anti-abortion framing of the issue. You see the two camps as equidistant-from-the-middle polar opposites. But the opposite of “no abortions for anyone” is “abortions for everyone whether they want one or not.” Which is not the pro-choice position. In fact it’s not the position of anyone in the debate.

    You’re asking for a compromise between a position that is a compromise – the pro-choice position – and a position that is an extreme, but what you think you’re asking for is a compromise between extremes. This is how you’ve been fooled by the anti-abortionists.

    The compromise is personal choice. People who want abortions get them. People who don’t aren’t forced to have them. That’s the position of the pro-choice side and it’s the only side of the issue that actually represents a practical compromise. The debate isn’t between two polarized extremes; it’s between the proponents of a practical solution and the extremists at one end who refuse any compromise, whatsoever. It’s between reason and extremism.

  12. April 3, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    The public understanding of an issue is always enriched when the debate is framed in terms of the desires of invisible beings as expressed in ancient books, instead of an examination of the actual facts of the matter. Let’s apply the same standard to gay rights and slavery.

  13. Gabriel Malor
    April 3, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    The compromise is personal choice. People who want abortions get them. People who don’t aren’t forced to have them.

    That may seem like a compromise to you, but it doesn’t to people who think abortion is murder. Your “compromise” is just that people who choose to murder can do so; those who choose not to murder will not be forced to. That is not a very generous compromise. Pro-lifers certainly won’t accept it.

    An actual compromise would be to limit abortion in some way. Some limitations are already in place (e.g. timing of abortion during the pregnancy, types of abortions permitted, etc.). Pro-lifers want more.

    They want:
    Abortion limited to those instances where it must be used to save life. Thus, the overly-restrictive (in your view) legislation from South Dakota that only provides an exception for the life of the mother. (In that instance, pro-lifers are balancing the two lives involved and erring on the side of the mother.)

    I think that’s too much of a restriction on abortion (and already unconstitutional, too). But that’s the goal they are working towards.

    You want:
    People who want abortions get them. People who don’t aren’t forced to have them.

    So a compromise would be further restriction on the timing and method. This is the partial-birth abortion debate. Other compromises up for grabs are prohibiting abortion except for: (1) health of the mother; (2) rape; (3) incest; or (4) defect.

    Note: only 1 and the SD legislation-type can be justified by the “murder” argument. 3 and 4 can be argued based on a “no personal responsibility” argument. I’m having trouble justifying 5 off the top of my head, but I’m sure it has something to do with “pain and suffering” and a terrible life, etc-whatever.

  14. April 3, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    Gabriel—

    Perhaps a better way to look for a compromise (hopefully we’re seeking one that forces neither side to give up what they most value) would be to look at the effects each party is trying to avoid, look at their motivations for supporting what they support.

    Instead of saying “pro-choicers want abortion to be legal, available, and safe,” which is certainly true, let’s look at why they want that. I’d say that the general consensus is, pro-choicers want women to not be burdened with unwanted pregnancies. The ability to kill babies is not the end goal.

    Pro-lifers want pregnancies to be continued to term not because they want to force women to be pregnant (I’m talking here about not the nutjob misogynists but the people we might actually be able to compromise with), but because they want every baby conceived to be able to be born.

    This changes the focus of the argument, from “how do we allow abortions to women who want them and also give the pro-lifers the abortion bans they want?” to “how do we save every baby conceived without forcing women to be pregnant and give birth against their will?”

    Any ban or allowance of abortion results in whoever didn’t win, losing. Either pro-lifers have to accept some abortions, or some women have to accept unwanted pregnancies, or both. But these other goals, the truly important things to each side, have a much better chance of being fulfilled to more people’s satisfaction. More effective birth control and better access to it, or reversible sterilizations, would result in fewer women becoming pregnant when they don’t want to, and a pregnancy which is prevented cannot be aborted.

    As for the unwanted pregnancies that do happen, and those that suffer health-or-life-threatening complications, a functioning surrogacy program would help (if one woman does not want to or cannot continue a pregnancy, another one could offer her uterus and the fetus/embryo could be transferred, with payment to the surrogate covered by health insurance just like any other life-support treatment), as would artificial wombs.

    With the two above compromises, every woman could abort a pregnancy without the killing the pro-lifers so hate, and the pro-lifers could end the “evil” part of abortion without forcing any woman to stay pregnant against her will. Everybody gets exactly what they want, which is a better compromise than one in which everybody gives up part of the thing that’s most important to them.

  15. Chet
    April 3, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    That may seem like a compromise to you, but it doesn’t to people who think abortion is murder.

    Granted. Such people are unreasonable people who will brook no compromise.

    I mean, what’s the midpoint between “nobody has any abortions ever” and “only people who want abortions have them”? It has to be something like “only some people who want abortions can have them” and who decides who has an abortion and who doesn’t? Not to mention; abortion is a definate state. You can’t give every woman a half-abortion; you can only give half of the women complete abortions. For the woman who’s part of the one-half of women who aren’t allowed abortions, that’s no compromise whatsoever – it’s total surrender to the anti-abortionists.

    An actual compromise would be to limit abortion in some way.

    That’s no compromise for the woman who wants an abortion but isn’t allowed to have one because she doesn’t fall under your arbitrary limitations. The pro-choice compromise does limit abortion “in some way” – it’s limited to those who want abortions.

    The compromise is avaliable and more than reasonable, and it’s the position of the pro-choice advocates. You can’t compromise a compromise; restricting choice is merely surrender to the anti-abortion camp. Again, it’s misleading to suggest that a compromise is needed when the position of the pro-choice side is the perfect compromise.

  16. April 3, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    That may seem like a compromise to you, but it doesn’t to people who think abortion is murder. Your “compromise” is just that people who choose to murder can do so; those who choose not to murder will not be forced to. That is not a very generous compromise. Pro-lifers certainly won’t accept it.

    It bears pointing out that the “compromise” you’re suggesting isn’t there, has already been given. You are saying that such a compromise offers the pro-life side nothing, but as often happens with an argument between extreme and middle ground, it is already there because the pro-choice side has never tried to take it away.

    I am speaking of the fact that pro-choicers do not want to force anyone to have an abortion. We offer to our opponents the same thing we want for ourselves: the availability of whichever choice the person in question wants.

    The counterpart of restricting abortion would be restricting the ability to continue pregnancy. We don’t do that. The counterpart of allowing the choice of abortion is allowing the choice of continuing the pregnancy. The compromise above is a compromise; however, it does not seem like one because pro-choicers have never wanted the true equivalent of what pro-lifers want.

    Your analogy would display the compromise better if “being forced to murder” were a significant threat. Then it would be a more generous compromise. But we never wanted that; women who want their pregnancies don’t have any cause to fear that Planned Parenthood and NARAL will have their allies in the government pass a law outlawing childbirth and making abortion mandatory for every pregnancy.

    If the compromise in question does not sound very generous, it’s because we have already shown more generosity (in not forcing anybody to do anything) than the pro-lifers have (in trying to force people to keep pregnancies). The benefits that we’d gain from such a compromise, pro-lifers already have: the ability to not be forced to take the option you don’t want. We are not the reflection of pro-life, we’re the mirror it is reflected by, in the middle between forced pregnancy and forced abortion. We are not the antithesis of it but a compromise in itself. We make the true opposite invisible, and that is why it doesn’t seem like a compromise anymore.

    But compare pro-life with its true opposite, forced abortion, and then letting each person choose looks like much more of a compromise. But pro-choice doesn’t sink to that level.

    “Those who complain that roses have thorns ought to be thankful that thorns have roses.”

  17. Gabriel Malor
    April 3, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Kyra, I agree with your solution completely. Faster, please? (And what do we do in the meantime?)

    I especially like your characterization of the common goal: “how do we save every baby conceived without forcing women to be pregnant and give birth against their will?”

    As is so often the case with social policy, technology will be our answer. Until then, trade-offs will have to be made.

  18. April 3, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Until then, trade-offs will have to be made.

    the only ‘trade-off’ i’m willing to accept is the one that respects choice.

  19. r4d20
    April 3, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    “If a fetus is the full equivalent of a human life, shouldn’t the man who caused the woman to miscarry be expected to pay with his life?”

    But the patriarchy must reward violence against women, so in this case it acts as a mitigating factor that lessens the punishment.

  20. randomliberal/Robert
    April 3, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    The public understanding of an issue is always enriched when the debate is framed in terms of the desires of invisible beings as expressed in ancient books, instead of an examination of the actual facts of the matter. Let’s apply the same standard to gay rights and slavery.

    Umm, too late. The abolitionist movement was anchored in Christianity (and in the facts of the matter — it’s not an either/or proposition), and while i realize my experience is in no way representative, the Gay-Straight Alliance on my ridiculously conservative Christian campus is heavily supported by…University Ministries. Also known as the official Most Liberal Place on Campus. Our unofficial staff sponsor is an intern in UM, and almost all of our logistical support comes from the University Ministries office. Not coincidentally, all of the social justice groups on campus are based out of UM, because they will actually take the time to help us out.

  21. April 4, 2006 at 7:07 am

    I think you raise an important point. So much has been made of the Religious Right, and their efforts to influence domestic policy, that we tend to forget about the importance of the Faithful Left in securing reproductive rights for women.

    Too often we forget about the important services that religious groups in America provide in helping the poor. I myself was a beneficiary of such an organization several years ago. When circumstances left me unexpectedly poverty-stricken and forced to drop out of college, it was a Lutheran Social Services charity which provided me with free housing and food while I worked to get back on my feet. Had it not been for my caseworker there, I’d probably still be homeless.

    I stumbled across your site by accident, but enjoy what you do here. I think yours is an important voice, and I look forward to following your future posts. Thank you.

    M. Freeman

  22. April 4, 2006 at 8:00 am

    Umm, too late. The abolitionist movement was anchored in Christianity (and in the facts of the matter — it’s not an either/or proposition)

    I’m talking about the standard of Biblical inerrancy, which Jill has proposed we apply to the abortion debate. She’s made a case that abortion should be allowed because Exodus doesn’t condemn it. What does the Bible say about homosexuality and slavery?

  23. April 4, 2006 at 10:53 am

    I’m talking about the standard of Biblical inerrancy, which Jill has proposed we apply to the abortion debate. She’s made a case that abortion should be allowed because Exodus doesn’t condemn it. What does the Bible say about homosexuality and slavery?

    …that’s not what I did at all. And I’m getting incredibly tired of being purposely misunderstood. I did not say that abortion should be allowed because Exodus doesn’t condemn it. Not even close. I did say that the Bible doesn’t condemn or condone abortion. I did so to poke a hole in the religious anti-choice argument that God says abortion is wrong. That’s all.

  24. Gabriel Malor
    April 4, 2006 at 11:27 am

    I did say that the Bible doesn’t condemn or condone abortion.

    Your attempt to engage pro-lifers on their own terms is admirable, but you don’t quite make it there with this observation. You are right to say that the Bible is silent when it comes to the word abortion. It is less silent, however, on the topic of murder.

    (Yes, I realize that’s a harsh rejoinder, but if you want to talk to pro-lifers you might as well address their position. Of course, if you’re not willing to grant any legitimacy to their position (even for the sake of argument) then you’re probably not going to get very far. Finally, if the purpose is to grab some of the middle ground–people who are undecided or swayable–it would be best to address the actual arguments at issue since it is so easy to respond to strawmen.)

  25. April 4, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    Your attempt to engage pro-lifers on their own terms is admirable, but you don’t quite make it there with this observation. You are right to say that the Bible is silent when it comes to the word abortion. It is less silent, however, on the topic of murder.

    Well, sure. But when the Bible does mention abortion (not the word itself, but the general idea) it doesn’t portray it as murder. It portrays it as a property crime. That was the first point I made in the post

  26. April 5, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Hey, Jill, I think I’ve actually pointed this out to you before, and I’m surprised that you would take such a narrow proof-texting route with something like this but… I just wanted to mention… the (some say outdated) version of Exodus 21:22 you quoted is a translation which becomes highly suspect when examined in Hebrew. Alternate translations (NIV, for instance) read (roughly, as translations always are):

    If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life..

    You assume in your translation that the “injury” to be justified with the taking of “life for life” refers solely to the mother, but the Hebrew implies something else. You also assume that the verse contains intonations of “further” injury only directed at the mother, but this is not substantiated either. The Hebrew does not even use any of the normal terms for “miscarriage”. The word used is “yatsa,” which is repeatedly found in the OT as a reference to live birth. In the context of Exodus 21 it reads much closer to “premature birth” or “causing to come forth/forward/out.” The implication here is that the baby has not been killed or seriously injured in the altercation, resulting in monetary, rather than capital, punishment.

    Intelligent people have explicated this far better than I will ever be able, so I would suggest checking out the many interesting and various debates surrounding this controversial verse before basing an argument on it. When I read what you said in the last comment, I could not help but feel the need to write this note. Exodus 21:22 does not even refer to the “general idea” of abortion (or, if translated more closely from the Hebrew, miscarriage); unintentionally caused premature birth, and any death that might follow as a result, is not the same thing as abortion, though if the baby dies, the verse still seems to portray this loss of innocent life as punishable by death.

    I am no Torah or Bible scholar, but I only hope to point out the difficulty in using this verse to further your point when its translation and interpretation is so widely thrown into question. Singling out verses from scripture is never quite as simple as you (or fundamentalists, or those who abuse Denzinger) would like to believe. The Bible is a delicate, multi-dimensional work — no verse can be taken alone and examined out of context. This is how you get people running around condemning people for “pulling out” of their wives during sex, or masturbating (the lesson of Onan is NOT about masturbation, at all).

    But, in answer to your question, “If a fetus is the full equivalent of a human life, shouldn’t the man who caused the woman to miscarry be expected to pay with his life?”, a close reading of the original would imply that the verse actually does affirm a fetus as “equivalent of a human life.” At least, when that fetus comes out prematurely, anyway.

    Jeremiah 1:5 speaks more appropriately to the issue of God’s relationship to the unborn. …And I know I said verses can’t be pulled out of context, and I recognize that this verse has other dimensions and interpretations, but roughly translated it reads: “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you.” There are tracings of this idea in the Psalms, as well as elsewhere, but I think this has been mentioned. Pro-life themes are pretty consistently threaded throughout scripture… though I wonder if the final plague in Egypt, you know, the one that killed everyone’s first born, counted for those still in the womb? It would be interesting if the Hebrew offers any evidence… anybody ever asked their Rabbi?

    One more note about Exodus… I have heard some say that the beginning of the verse refers to an “accidental” injury of the fetus, creating a distinction between murder and an irresponsible mistake that does not need to be “paid for” with one’s life. I don’t think this is as clearly substantiated in the Hebrew, though, and thus prefer the translation quoted above.

    However, it should be noted that nothing in the verse indicates the involvement of intent or premeditation, again creating a distinction between murder and killing (though still punishable by death if innocent life (the baby, or the mother, or both) is lost). I think that’s closer to the point of the verse: because the “life for a life” clause actually depends on /intent/ (murder has different degrees of distinction — obviously you know this more than I, you’re in law school ;-), the specific problem of negligent, gravely irresponsible men unintentionally causing loss of fetal life must have come up, and thus had to be addressed. So we have verse 22 of Exodus 21.

  27. Chet
    April 5, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    So, Jenni, what you’re asking us to believe is that, in ancient Israel, with absolutely no real medical hygene or science whatsoever, the situation of a fetus surviving a premature birth due to abdominal injury to the mother was not only possible (itself an impossible claim to swallow) but indeed so common that it would need to be the subject of Hebrew bylaws?

    Why do I get the sense that you’re not advancing an argument that you’ve thought too hard about? I invite you to go to your hospital’s maternity ward and see how much technology is required to preserve the life of a prematurely-born infant. And we’re supposed to believe in the idea of ancient Hebrew preemies?

    the specific problem of negligent, gravely irresponsible men unintentionally causing loss of fetal life must have come up, and thus had to be addressed.

    Indeed, it had been addressed, which is why you’ll notice that Judaism has, historically, rarely been opposed to abortion. Your interpretation of Exodus is clearly in error, and not in any way related to the traditional exegesis of that passage.

  28. ohureo
    April 5, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    The resistance of RTL organizations to contraception ought to tell you that the anti- side is not interested in finding ways to reduce abortion and unwanted pregnancy. Further, if you have followed the abstinence-only debate at all, you know that fusing abstinence messaging with responsible education is our position, and the AO position is that abstinence must be taught in the absence of any useful information about how to be sexual without risking pregnancy and disease

    Exactly, to think of what they’re doing as just trying to bring all pregnancies to term is to misunderstand or be ill-informed on the true agenda.

    On the issue of compromise, perhaps we pro-choicers need to come from a more extreme position to effect the compromise. Say, after 2.5 children all subsequent pregnancies must be aborted. Then we can strike a compromise of you do what you want and I’ll do what I want. Let’s see if we can get a groundswell for mandatory abortion – there could be some arguments made.

  29. April 5, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    I’m pointing out the problem of mistranslation: if you read the passage in Hebrew, it doesn’t jive with what Jill is saying. I don’t know why you have to get … well, rude, about it, but that’s why I don’t comment on Jill’s blogs anymore (and won’t be commenting here again). You haven’t responded to anything based in the text — all you’ve done is call me stupid and ignorant and insinuate that the rest of the Jewish people were too crudely unsophisticated to have “real science,” (like us, I guess), in ancient Israel.

    “So, Jenni, what you’re asking us to believe is that, in ancient Israel, with absolutely no real medical hygene or science whatsoever….”

    I don’t think past societies are full of morons with absolutely no understanding of how the human body works. They’re no more or less intelligent than you or me. And, the verse doesn’t specify /how/ premature the baby might be in its consideration. Surely a baby born a few weeks prematurely has a chance?

    My point, anyhow, was that the verse isn’t necessarily talking about miscarriages, or abortion, or “whether the fetus is a human being,” as Jill was assuming, because it doesn’t use the word for miscarriage. It uses the word for birth. Accepting the verse’s meaning as Jill and her article posit would be to ignore a whole host of factors that many intelligent scholars have been debating for quite some time. I was simply outlining and reiterating some of those talking points, as I have discussed this with many members of my family in great detail. If you don’t really want to join the debate because the people of Ancient Israel didn’t have in-door plumbing or the internet, the least you could do is be polite about it.

    “Your interpretation of Exodus is clearly in error, and not in any way related to the traditional exegesis of that passage.”

    .. My rough (and I admitted this above) interpretation matches various translations of the verse /in print/ and of my Orthodox Jewish family, friends, and Rabbis, while your dogmatic ultimatum “clearly in error” ignores the prismatic elements of interpretation. If scholars are still debating who is “in error” here (and there are many who interpret it differently than Jill’s article), how are you making a productive statement that facilitates inquiry? Anyway, didn’t mean to get on people’s nerves — I wanted to point out a nuance that was being ignored, but as usual no one actually wants to discuss. Take care. ~~~

  30. April 5, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    Alas, Jenni, Jill already said (quite correctly):

    But when the Bible does mention abortion (not the word itself, but the general idea) it doesn’t portray it as murder. It portrays it as a property crime.

    Take care. ~~~

  31. randomliberal/Robert
    April 6, 2006 at 12:48 am

    <nerdy preacher’s kid>

    Most translations that i’ve seen of Exodus 21:22-25 do not have any reference to a live premature birth, as NIV does. The two versions that i currently have in front of me (New Revised Standard Version and The Message) read the same way as Jill’s translation. First, NRSV:

    22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no frther harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

    The Message:

    “When there’s a fight and in the fight a pregnant woman is hit so that she miscarries but is not otherwise hurt, the one responsible has to pay whatever the husband demands in compensation. But if there is further damage, then you must give life for life–eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

    These two translations have quite different geneses: NRSV traces its roots to the King James Version through the American Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version. The Message is a translation in contemporary language begun 15 years ago by a Protestant American pastor and finished within the last five years, taken from this particular man’s (and his friends, i would assume) own study of ancient Hebrew and Greek.

    Also, it wouldn’t really make sense for there to be a fine if there was a premature live birth but the baby and its mother were otherwise unharmed. Where was the harm? Methinks the NIV translators had a minor agenda when they set about making the new translation.

    </nerdy preacher’s kid>

  32. April 7, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    And I’m getting incredibly tired of being purposely misunderstood. I did not say that abortion should be allowed because Exodus doesn’t condemn it. Not even close.

    Jill: You said you were “religious” and cited from Exodus as a refutation of the notion that right-wing anti-abortionists have “a monopoly on God.” The only reasonable interpretation of that statement is that you have a competing belief in a God who is pro-choice, i.e., the God of Exodus (as you interpret Him). If you what you meant was “the Bible is pack of crazy fairy tales and the people who believe in it are so stupid that they don’t even realize it doesn’t support their position,” you should have said that instead of pretending to be breaking their monopoly with your own religion. And while you were at it you could point out that Bible celebrate the slaughter of infants, which is what next week’s Passover celebration is all about.

    You should really stop using Gerri Santoro as an example. The link you give says she was “[t]errified that once her abusive husband returned to town and learned it was Dixon’s baby she was carrying, he would kill her.” That’s not a choice. Even if abortion was legal back then, wouldn’t one of Planned Parenthood’s highly trained counselors made sure she wasn’t being pressured into it by death threats?

    But when the Bible does mention abortion (not the word itself, but the general idea) it doesn’t portray it as murder. It portrays it as a property crime.

    The “general idea” of abortion is two men scuffling with each other and accidentally causing a woman to miscarry? Hmmm. I think a fine is imposed because it was unintentional, not because it was property. If one of them had deliberately punched her in the belly I bet the punishment would have been different. Although I guess you could still try to convince the woman who miscarried that it was just property, even if she wanted the child.

  33. April 7, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Has the raving atheist read the bible anytime recently? Property rights are much of biblical law.

  34. April 7, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Just FYI, very few pro-lifers go to Exodus. As Jenni rightly points out, they’re much more likely to go to the vaguer, but more moving world of Jeremiah or my favorite, Psalm 139:

    13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

    15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place.
    When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

    16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
    All the days ordained for me
    were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

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