Is abortion morally justifiable?

Background of Roe vs. Wade

Roe v. Wade was decided 46 years ago on January 22nd 1973 by a vote of 7 to 2[1]. The court affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to have an abortion. The court held that the some of the Texas statutes violated the right of privacy. They held that a woman has a right to have an abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.[2] Since then there have been approximately 61million surgical abortions in the United States.

Justice Henry Blackmun wrote an opinion that stated that the restrictive abortion laws (from Texas and Georgia) were unconstitutional.[3] “Blackmun’s opinion stated that because of uncertainty about the medical and moral status of the fetus, the state could not adopt a particular theory of when life begin—they could not decide, for example, that because life begins at conception fetuses have the same rights as newborn infants.”[4]

Although some deny that Roe established a right to abortion on demand, that was its practical effect, as The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States says.[5]

The Natural Perspective on Abortion[8]

We live in a country that is extremely cautious about labeling everything; least something so terrible happen as someone burn their tongue on hot coffee or slip and fall on a slippery floor. We want to protect ourselves from lawsuits but we also want to protect human life.

We live in a country where the height and depth of our steps are regulated, where when our building and property isn’t up to code if it doesn’t have a certain height of handrail. We are cautious people.

We enforce speed limits and fine jaywalkers. We take precautions and enforce caution. We have an administration that monitors our food. We do this to protect our tongues, our bellies, and our lives.

Yet, we also throw caution to the wind as a country. We say we don’t know when a human baby becomes a human baby and so abortion has free reign. Michael S. Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California, said in an article in the New York Times that “We all seem to be in agreement that there must be a point at which moral status should be conferred on an embryo or fetus.”[9] What we don’t agree on, however, is when that moral status should be conferred.

It seems to be though, that in America we rightly side on the side of safety. It seems wiser and more in line with what would seem is the American conviction to say if we don’t know when life begins we should be cautious. After all, we enforce the height of handrails and fine jaywalkers so it seems unreasonable to not be cautious in regard to the most vulnerable. However, it seems in our country that “have it your way” is more important than caution when it comes to unborn humans.

People often bring up the fact that “we don’t know when life begins” but in light of the precautions we take all across America that is really a non-issue. Our government regulates where we can cross the road for safety’s sake but is not safe or cautious with regard to the “intersection” of abortion.

We must take “due diligence” in other matters or be held morally responsible because if we don’t we are morally responsible. To not be “safe” and “cautious” in regard to human life we know is wrong. In America, we have reduced speed limits outside of schools because we desire to do due diligence and protect our children and youth. We enforce lower speed limits near schools not because we know someone will get killed if we drive above a certain speed but because life is precious and we thus take precautions to protect it.[10]

The sentence for vehicular manslaughter in a school zone is obviously a worse offense then if the manslaughter happened outside of the school zone. In fact, if the manslaughter happened in a school zone it can take the charge from second degree to first degree. Yet, in the example of the first degree and second-degree manslaughter the guilty person did not necessarily proactively act upon or intentionally kill yet they failed to do due diligence and be cautious and thus they are rightly held accountable.

In other words, what should stop “pro-choice” people from being “pro-speeding-in-school-zone” people? There are some choices we don’t have. And shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t have the right, and don’t have the right, to speed in school zones. We shouldn’t, but do, have the right to destroy unborn babies. We sadly have the right to abandon caution and crush small human skulls within the protective womb of a mother because we are not sure that what is inside the mother’s womb constitutes human life. When we are “unsure” in any other case, we would “err on the side of caution.”

We have briefly considered what I have labeled a natural argument against abortion. We seek to protect life in all sorts of circumstances even though we don’t know when a certain situation will be lethal or not so that same logic should apply to abortion. If abortion could possibly destroy human life than it is morally unacceptable.

Now let’s turn to the…

The Biblical Perspective on Abortion

As we have already seen, Genesis 1:26-27 tells us we are created in the image of God. Second, Exodus 20:13 tells us, “Thou shall not murder.”

However, are these texts enough? Or could people object that that is all well and good but what is inside a woman’s womb is not a human? What can we say about that question from Scripture?

Exodus 21:22-25 says: “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. [23] But if there is harm, then you shall pay 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” (See Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 159-60, 160n2 and Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 718-21).

There are quite a few things to note on this significant passage. Notice what the result is if there is no harm to the child (see v. 22)? Just a fine. However, what happens if there is harm? “Life for life,” it says. Notice that this still means it is an accident (the men were striving together and hit a pregnant woman) but the punishment is still “life for life.” The baby inside the pregnant woman’s womb is seen as human life. In other cases of accidental manslaughter, this was not the mandate but provision of “house arrest” and protection was made. Therefore, this shows the seriousness of protecting unborn life. If God has such hatred for the accidental death of an unborn child what is His reaction to intentional death? (see Jer. 7:30-34).

Psalm 51:5 says: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Remember the context? David is repenting of his sin. What is David saying here? He is saying he has a sinful nature inherited from Adam. He is not saying it was his mother’s fault. Note, “Sin in Scripture is a personal quality, never an impersonal one. It is never a property of things, only of persons” (Frame, DCL, 722). Thus, we see here a very strong argument for personhood beginning at conception. If he had a sin nature in his mother’s womb then it follows that he was a real human being with a soul. “Fetal tissue” or any type of tissue or an inanimate object for that matter are not sinful, people alone are sinful. Do you see the conclusion here? David was a person, a real human person, in his mother’s womb.[11]

We see in Scripture that we should take precautions so as to avoid the possible destruction of life. Deuteronomy 22:8 says: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.”

Thus, even if you are not entirely persuaded by these arguments the principle that we see in Scripture should lead you to not agree with abortion. As Frame says, “Even if the above arguments are only, say, 80 percent certain, they make it highly probable that abortion destroys human lives. And God’s law clearly tells us not to take that risk. So our practical response should be exactly the same as if we were persuaded 100 percent.”[12]

To illustrate this point imagine I go hunting with you. We go out into the thick woods and after a while I hear rustling in the grass so I do what any hunter should do, I don’t hesitate, I point in that general direction, and fire a few shots hoping I hit my intended target. Would you hunt with me very long if that was my practice? No, because you would be either too scared or dead. Do you see the principal? You don’t just shoot at any rustling noise because a human could be making the noise and not a deer. We take precautions to protect life!

The United States Military goes by an ROE (Rules of Engagement).  They, for instance, have to have positive identity before they engage an enemy force. Or they have to use escalation of force.  Our military personnel take great precautions to not destroy innocent life, even to the point of putting their own self in great harm, and yet in our own country we do not take these same precautions with our unborn. We do not have “positive identity” and yet many are okay with taking life. Should we not rather take great precautions even if we are not exactly sure when life begins? If we as a country make people put handrails up on their own house and enforce all sorts of other codes, should we not also protect the unborn even if there is disagreement when life begins? 

It is also important to consider DNA. John Frame points out that “From the point of conception, unborn children have a full complement of chromosomes… Therefore, the child is not ‘part of his mother’s body.’ His genetic makeup is different from hers. So we should not treat the unborn child as we treat hair or fingernails, or even as we treat organs like the gall bladder or liver. The unborn child is a separate and unique human being.”[13] It is also important to note that a baby’s heartbeat begins on the 21st day after conception.

Some say the problem is that the child is dependent on the mother and that the mother then has the choice to abort. Yes the child is dependent on her mother yet the child will also be dependent after she is outside of the womb and that in no way gives her mother the right to kill her. Though there are helpful scientific observations, “Personhood is a metaphysical, religious, theological, and ethical category, not a scientific one. There are no scientific observations or experiments that can detect a difference between a person and a nonperson.”[14] Yet, as we saw above, if we have a ROE for combat how much more should we go to great lengths to protect unborn human life?! 

What about pregnancies resulting from rape or incest? These situations, though few (around 1% or less of all abortions), should be treated with much sensitivity and love. However, the child should not be punished for the sin of the father (Deut. 24:16).[15]

The Sanctity of Human Life

Human life is sacred. This truth is grounded in the Bible. The Bible teaches us that humans are made in the image of God (very often referred to by the Latin imago Dei). This truth is seen in various places in Scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7 Col. 3:10; James 3:9) but the most prominent is Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

So, Christians are called to have concern for and show compassion to all people. Humans–all humans–have great worth! We have worth beyond what we do, we have worth in who we are. We also are to follow the model of Jesus who showed concern for all people.

The Christian Call to Action

The Bible calls us to action. The Bible calls us to stand up for the oppressed (Is. 1:17) and to speak for those who cannot speak (Prov. 31:8-9 cf. 3:27).[6]

God clearly condemns injustice (Ps. 9:8, 16; 10:16-18; 11:7; 33:5; 36:6; 37:6; 45:6; 101:1; 103:6; 106:3; 112:5; 140:12; 146:5-10; Prov. 18:5; 21:15; 29:7; Is. 1:17; Is. 9:7; 30:18; 42:1; 51:4-5; 56:1; 58:6; 59:15; 61:8; Jer. 21:12; 22:13; Ezek. 34:16; Hosea 2:19; 12:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:8; Zech. 7:810; Matt. 12:18; 23:23; Lk. 11:42; Rom. 3:22-26; Rev. 19:11). God loves justice and, conversely, hates injustice. God has compassion for those who suffer injustice—everywhere around the world; He judges and condemns those who perpetrate injustice, and He seeks active rescue for victims of injustice.[7]

1 John 3:18 exhorts us: “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” So, we must not just talk but we must also act. But, we must act with compassion and care. We must extend grace and kindness to people.

We mustn’t have a holier-than-thou mindset that sets us up as perfect. That is far from the truth. We all do wrong. The Bible says everyone is a sinner. But it also thankfully says that whosoever goes to Jesus in faith and repentance can receive new life and be saved by the grace of God. 1 John 1:9 gives us all hope: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We must extend grace, forgiveness, and hope to those who have had an abortion. How can we not extend grace when God has extended such lavish undeserved grace and kindness to us?! (see e.g. Matthew 18:21-35)


Christians are called to love and compassion. We are to love and extend tinder care to people who have had abortions, are thinking about it, or those who are going to have an abortion or abortions. We, however, are called to speak out against injustice. This will require prayerful wisdom and dependence upon the Holy Spirit; but we must, as our faithful predecessors (like John the baptizer and the Apostle Paul), stand up for justice. And we must do so with grace and candor knowing that we are not called to be the moral majority since we are sojourners and exiles and this is not our home. We must also speak up for those who cannot speak even while realizing it is the gospel that is the power to salvation and thus heart change.  


[1] Mr. Justice White, with whom Mr. Justice Rehnquist joins, dissenting, said, “The Constitution of the United States values the convenience, whim, or caprice of the punitive mother more than the life or potential life of the fetus” (“United States Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade: Majority Opinion and Dissent,” p. 224, in Contemporary Issues in Bioethics, Tom. L. Beauchamp and LeRoy Walters eds.).

[2] “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (section 1). Ironically, the 14th Amendment, which says, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life,” has used the 14th Amendment to do just that.

[3] “The opinion divided pregnancy into three periods, or trimesters. During the first trimester the woman had an essentially unrestricted right to choose abortion in consultation with her physician… During the second trimester, when according to medical experts abortion posed a greater threat to a woman’s health, states could regulate abortion to protect her health. Only in the third trimester was the state’s interest in protecting the potential life of the fetus great enough to warrant severe restrictions on abortion” (Kermit L. Hall, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, 740). “In essence,” Leonard H. Glantz says, “the court ruled that, during the first trimester of pregnancy, the state could have essentially no role in the regulation of abortion; that in the second trimester, the stacte could regulate abortions in ways designed to further maternal health; and that after fetal viability (not the third trimester), in furtherance of the state’s interest in protecting fetal life, the state could prohibit abortions except those that were necessary to protect the life or health of the pregnant woman” (“Abortion: A Decade of Legal Decisions,” p. 228 in Contemporary Issues in Bioethics).

[4] Ibid., 740.

[5] Ibid., 741.

[6] We should also realize that the problem of abortion cannot be fixed by mere legislation (abortion was happening when it was against the law and infanticide has sadly been around for thousands of years). Legislation is important, even if the fundamental problem is deeper.

[7] Gary A. Haugen, Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World, 83. Regarding the crusades see Rodeny Stark, “The Case for the Crusades” in SBJT 20.2 (2016): 9-28 and his book, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. Much of secular society, however, does not have a reason to condemn injustice. Nietzsche actually lambasts Christianity and compassion and Dawkins seems to think compassion and justice are just mistakes. He says, “Could it be that our Good Samaritan urges are misfirings”? By Dawkins account we have “programmed into our brains altruistic urges, alongside sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges and so on…. We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce). Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes” (Richard Dawkins, the God Delusion, 252-53).

[8] Ken Martyn wrote an interesting essay called “Technological Advances and Roe v. Wade: The Need to Rethink Abortion Law,” pp. 235-39 in Contemporary Issues in Bioethics. Martyn, writing in the 1980s, argued that there are advantages of defining the beginning of life in terms of brain function. I personally believe that life starts at conception and that the principle of the sanctity of human life should cause us to defer to protect life even if we are unsure when life actually begins. However, I believe that Martyn makes a good argument that should be employed to argue that abortions should at least not take place after it has been shown that embryos have brain function.


[10] There is such a thing as child endangerment, as there should be. Parents can (rightly) get in trouble for merely endangering their child. Why? Because human lives are innately precious and we must take precautions to protect human life. We do not even have to talk about the destruction of innocent human life; the endangering, or failure to take “due diligence,” be cautious, with human lives alone is a moral atrocity. We are anything but cautious, in contradiction to so much of the American way, when we literally go into (i.e. proactively act upon) the protective life-sustaining womb and destroy the unborn baby.

[11] See also: Psalm 139:13-16 (cf. Job 31:15-18; Ps. 22:9; Hos. 12:3; Gen. 25:23-26) says: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. [14] I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. [15] My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. [16] Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” We could also look at Luke 1:35. Jesus too was a divine-human person from conception (cf. Heb 2:17-18; 4:15; Lk. 41-44 cf. 2:16). 

[12] John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 724.

[13] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 725

[14] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 726.

[15] Others say that if abortion is not allowed it is a wrongful restriction of freedom. However, I don’t think that makes sense. The government makes restrictions, isn’t that what we have empowered them to do? I do not have the freedom to drink and drive. I am not allowed to shoot guns at people, not even outside city limits… the government is restrictive… As we can see, the government restricts people and that is right and good. We should not be able to drink and drive, shoot guns at people, etc.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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