On Friday, June 24th, the United States Supreme Court handed down its Dobbs v. Jackson decision reversing the 1973 ruling Roe vs. Wade. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court had claimed that a woman had a constitutional “right to privacy” which included the right to abortion up to the point of viability (the baby could live outside the womb). While constitutionally and morally States had an obligation to ignore and defy Roe, they did not, and this led to one of the most permissive cultures of abortion in the world, rivaling communist countries like China and North Korea.
The Dobbs case originated in Mississippi with a 15 week ban, directly challenging the “viability” standard. Justice Alito’s majority opinion argues that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution and therefore, the issue must be decided by the states. This is a most welcome reversal, but for Christians, it is not yet the full-throated defense of pre-born life we are working toward. The constitution and declaration of independence everywhere assume the right to life granted directly from God, and therefore, it really should not be a matter of democratic vote. But we rejoice in this great deliverance, and we look to Christ to drive this bloody scourge fully from our land.
“If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex. 21:22-25).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
While there is some ambiguity in the text, this biblical law is not ambiguous about the fact that the child in the womb is endowed with a right to life and protection from its Creator (21:22). There are a couple of questions: in the first scenario the child is born, but does it live or die? Jewish tradition takes it to be an early miscarriage, and the Septuagint furthered that interpretation by translating it as “unformed child.” The other question is who/what does “no mischief” refer to? If it refers to both the woman and the child, then it could mean that the child is born healthy and there is no serious harm done to either one, and therefore the fine imposed would be for minor medical costs or loss of time. If the correct interpretation is an early miscarriage, the fine is imposed because it wasn’t obvious that the woman was pregnant. Greater knowledge implies greater responsibility.
In the second scenario, serious harm has come to the woman or the child, and the potential punishment ranges from life to limb to wound to stripe (Ex. 21: 23-25). Again, here, the Septuagint refers the harm specifically to a “fully formed child.” Some modern commentaries try to translate this law as though it is only talking about harm done to the woman (but then why bring the child up at all?) or else try to argue from the Greek translation, that the law is only protecting fully formed babies and somehow allows early abortions for an “unformed child.” But the fact that a fine is imposed even in the case of an early miscarriage demonstrates legal protections from the earliest days of life, and if the principle is knowledge, how much more culpable is a modern person, taking some hormonal forms of “birth control” or morning after pills designed to prevent implantation of a newly fertilized egg?
Commenting on our passage, John Calvin wrote: “…the unborn, though enclosed in the womb of his mother, is already a human being, and it is an almost monstrous crime to rob it of life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his most secure place of refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy the unborn in the womb before it has come to light.”
THE SANCTITY OF GOD & THE RIGHT TO LIFE
Properly speaking, we do not believe in the “sanctity of life,” as though life all by itself is sacred. We believe in the sanctity of God and the holiness of His Word, and because we hallow the Triune God and His Word, we are duty bound to protect the right to life of every human being according to God’s Word. But it is this same standard that permits the wise and judicious taking of animal life for protection, food, and as consistent with taking dominion of God’s creation. It is also this same standard that requires the death penalty for murder and allows for it in some other cases, when due process has been followed (Gen. 9:6, Dt. 19, cf. Lev. 20).
There is a fundamental divide between those who believe that certain rights are directly bestowed by God and those who believe that the state gives and takes those rights according to its own whims. The founders of our nation believed the former: “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” (Declaration of Independence). “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” (Ninth Amendment). Securing fundamental rights is not at all the same as creating them or bestowing them. We are in struggle over this fundamental issue, and it extends from life to the nature marriage, parenthood, family, private property, and from there to all of society.
SCATTERSHOT POINTS & OBJECTIONS
Never forget that we confess the beginning of life at conception every single Sunday when we recite the Apostles’ Creed “… conceived by the Holy Ghost…” When did God become man? When He was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the virgin Mary. When did Jesus begin to exist as a human being? When He was conceived by the Holy Ghost. That is when human life begins.
In the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, some pro-aborts have been weeping and gnashing their teeth saying that the next thing on the chopping block is birth control. If by that they mean chemicals designed to prevent and disrupt implantation, yes, those are abortifacient drugs that should be outlawed. While the Bible says nothing about other faith-filled planning for children in order to maximize fruitfulness, Christians should reject all laws/rulings that divorce fruitfulness from marriage, as though you might enter marriage planning to be sterile.
Some, desperate for a text, have said that Numbers 5:11-31 allows for abortions. But Numbers 5 is a jealously rite that God allowed Israel to perform when a husband suspected his wife of adultery. Despite one bad translation, the text says nothing about causing abortions, only that in the case of a guilty woman, God will cause the woman to become barren (Num. 5:27-28).
You have no doubt heard by now that you cannot be pro-gun and pro-life at the same time. But this is nonsense. This is about as logical as saying that you cannot be pro-surgery and pro-life at the same time. The accidental or intentional misuse of something is not at all equivalent to the intentional murder of an unborn child. Related to this objection, is the occasional comeback that if you are pro-life, you must support every state-funded program the liberals have ever dreamed up. But that’s like saying that if you object to the thugs killing, you must at least hire them to take care of you. Absolutely not. If a lifeguard saves somebody from drowning, he doesn’t owe them food, housing, clothing, and a college education. We cannot get tired of insisting that health, welfare, and education are the primary responsibility of the family, and where there is no family, the church is the backstop, not the state (Eph. 5-6, 1 Tim. 5).
Incidentally, you’ve probably also heard lamentations about Christians not caring for orphans, but the stats prove that Christians are routinely twice (or more) as generous in charitable giving, and more likely to participate in foster care and adoption than unbelievers. And do not forget the thousands of pro-life pregnancy resource centers that have popped up over the last 50 years. Not ready for this moment? Not hardly. God has made us ready.
The common exceptions you will hear are for rape or incest or the life of the mother. We should outright reject the first two since we should never punish an innocent party for the crimes of another. And like other hard providences, God can bring blessing out of great tragedy and hardship (this same point applies to babies with disabilities). With the life of the mother, Christians need to be very careful since it can sound correct and be used for evil. In the very rare instances of an ectopic pregnancy, where a fertilized egg has actually implanted in the fallopian tube, procedures to remove the implanted egg are not an abortion since the goal is not to kill the child, even if we do not yet have the medical technology to save the life of the child. Therefore, we do not support abortion in cases where the life of the mother is threatened since we must always do all in our power to preserve life, and never take it intentionally.
We do not take this Supreme Court decision as proof that America has repented. No, that clearly must still take place, but we should take this decision as a demonstration of God’s power and goodness. We should be sitting on the edge of our seats, eager to see what God will do next, redoubling our prayer, singing, giving, voting, and sharing. And above all else, we should be rejoicing in the Lord. Those Christians who cannot or will not rejoice are not looking to Christ, but at men. We do not trust in horses or chariots, politicians or voting or judges, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Remember, at root, the unbelieving heart hates Jesus, and therefore we will also be hated. But we must not fear this sharp divide; this is where the light of Christ shines the brightest.