Friday, February 24, 2006

Planned Parenthood's Pro-Choice Bible Study

Planned Parenthood posted an article by one of the members of its Clergy Advisory Board about the Bible's silence on abortion. Rabbi Dennis Ross, director of Concerned Clergy for Choice maintains that since neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the New Testament makes explicit reference to the procedure, a biblical case cannot be made against it:

People who want to make abortion illegal may attempt to use the Bible to justify their arguments. However, nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures and nothing in the New Testament supports their attempts, regardless of the passages they cite or how hard they argue. Scripture does not consider the fetus to be a human being. The Bible does not consider the destruction of a fetus to be the equivalent of murder. If the Bible thought abortion was a sin, it would have named it a sin. Instead, when it comes to abortion, the Bible says not a word.
He notes that while the first five books of the Hebrew Bible have much to say about sexuality and reproduction, they are "totally silent about abortion."

Rabbi Ross's argument assumes that only those actions specifically mentioned and identified as sin by the biblical texts are divinely prohibited. But applying this principle consistently leads to conclusions that I doubt Rabbi Ross would be willing to adopt or endorse. For example, to the best of my knowledge there are no prohibitions against having sex with infants or toddlers. From this are we to conclude that God is indifferent toward such violence and that whether or not to practice such is a matter of choice? I see no other alternative if we are to adopt the rabbi's line of reasoning. If sexually abusing children were a sin, the Bible would have explicitly named it so, right?


The weight of Rabbi Ross's argument is given to denying the humanity of the unborn child. For biblical support he turns to
Exodus 21: 22-25 (not Exodus 22 as appears in the article). This passage legislates what was to happen to a man who struck a pregnant woman while fighting with another male. The Hebrew text says that if the woman's children "come out" and there is no harm, the offending party should pay a fine as determined by her husband. In the event that there is harm, the law of retaliation is to take effect. The man responsible for the injury or death is to receive as his penalty the same degree of harm that he has inflicted.

Without offering any detailed exegesis of this greatly disputed passage, Rabbi Ross offers the following interpretation:

If the woman is injured, the inadvertent assailant gets punished, receiving the very same wound he caused the woman: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If the woman dies, then it is a life for a life and the man who caused the injury dies. But if the woman miscarries, then the assailant just pays a fine.
From this he concludes:
So, an injury caused to the woman is one thing. The injury to her fetus is not viewed the same way. This same biblical passage does not say that the fetus is a human being like the injured women or like you or me. If the fetus were considered human, the punishment for injuring the fetus would be the same
punishment as that for injuring the pregnant woman.
Rather than simply restating it here, I urge you to read Greg Koukl's excellent commentary, "What Exodus 21:22 Says About Abortion" in which he provides persuasive textual evidence for understanding the "coming out" of the children as a reference to premature birth rather than to miscarriage. If the children were born prematurely and neither they nor the mother suffered harm, a fine was the extent of penalization. However, if injury or death was suffered by either mother or offspring, the same was to be done to the party responsible for the injury.
Greg suggests asking the following three questions of anyone who points to this verse in support of abortion:
  • Why presume that the child is dead?
  • What in the context implies the death of the child?
  • Ancient Hebrew had a specific word for miscarriage. It was used in other passages. Why not here?
I wonder how Rabbi Ross would answer. Perhaps there would be a different kind of silence.
UPDATE: For another thorough refutation of the interpretation offered by Rabbi, see this article by John Piper (HT: Prone to Wander).

1 comment:

InklingBooks said...

Gosh. The Bible says absolutely nothing against lynching or gas chambers either. Are we to assume that they're also OK?

I think not. Killing is killing. The means is incidental.

--Mike Perry, Seattle, Author of Untangling Tolkien