If any one piece of legislation could be cited as the single most definitive legal decision of the 20th century, some would not hesitate to cite Roe v. Wade. It was a landmark case that ensconced a woman’s right to abortion as the law of the land. At the time, American politicians in support of abortion cautioned that it should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Many contend it should remain safe and legal, although some seem uncomfortable with how rampant it has become. This evolution is difficult to ignore. What once took place in the strictest privacy is now shouted from the rooftops, as in campaigns such as Shout Your Abortion, whose website proudly proclaims, “WE WILL AID + ABET ABORTION.”
Abortion is a mystery to many people, especially those who have a sanitized idea of what takes place during the procedure. Pushing back against this notion, British journalist Peter Hitchens wrote:
Abortion is the only event that modern liberals think too violent and obscene to portray on TV. This is not because they are squeamish or prudish. It is because if people know what abortion really looked like, it would destroy their pretense that it is a civilized answer to the problem of what to do about unwanted babies.
Hitchens is correct, of course. A person never forgets the first time he or she sees the tiny body of an unborn child—clinically labeled a fetus but in reality treated as a disposable human being. It is an exercise in anger management to see pictures of an aborted baby: little feet that will never run and skip, hands that will never play, and mouths that will never say “I love you” or worship their Creator. There is something unquestionably sickening in viewing the tiny corpse of a child given a death sentence when his or her only crime was being unwanted.
The Bible is clear about several matters related to abortion, even if it does not mention the practice explicitly. Scripture says that children are a blessing (Ps. 127:3). Jesus has a soft spot for children, spending time with them while rebuking his disciples for trying to shoo them away (Matt. 19:14). The Old Testament clearly states that child sacrifice is nothing short of an abomination to God (Lev. 18:21; Deut. 12:31; Ps. 106:37-38).
The Bible celebrates children and condemns child sacrifice in the strongest possible terms. It is worth noting that there are several distinctive parallels between child sacrifice and abortion today. The most obvious is that abortion and sacrifice both end the child’s life. Sacrifice kills a human being, but so does abortion. If a pregnancy continues uninterrupted, childbirth will be a natural outcome nine months after conception. The arrival of that human being (better, a “person”) is, in virtually every case without medical complications, an inevitable result.
Second, what might motivate a person to procure an abortion? For the same reasons the ancient sacrificed their children in antiquity: moments of crisis. During times of civic crisis, the ancients would sacrifice their children—in one case, about 500 children were sacrificed in the North African city of Carthage. There were also times of personal crisis occasioned by financial strain. In riverine cultures like those in Mesopotamia or Egypt, a poor family might find themselves expecting a child they do not have the means to support. With another mouth to feed, the family might elect to send the child down the river, praying for the gods to take care of it. We can imagine similar instances today where hardships of many different kinds might tempt a young mother or couple experiencing a difficult time in their lives to abort their child.
Third, there appears to have been a tendency to abort children because of the inconveniences the child might pose. It is thought that temple prostitutes who became pregnant in antiquity would participate in child sacrifice. Having a child would pose considerable personal difficulties for their religious occupation. Again, it is not difficult to imagine similar examples in the modern world. Hollywood has offered several examples of celebrities, such as Cheryl Burke and Michelle Williams, who have publicly expressed their gratitude for abortion because it helped them continue their careers.
A final reason for abortion in antiquity seems to have been population control. Modern examples are easy to find. Perhaps the most obvious is China, where tens of millions of girls have gone missing. Although some cite problems with birth records as the cause of these missing persons, men outnumber women by a much larger margin than in other countries (nearly 120 men for every 100 women). OBGYNs can and do occasionally recommend abortions to parents of large families.
Child sacrifice was much like our modern practices of abortion in several ways. Or, at the very least, it had some of the same motivations. Whether crisis, population control, financial difficulty, or even just removing an inconvenience, the same causes existed both then and now. However, one thing remains unchanged: it is an intolerable offense in the sight of God.
Many mothers find themselves in situations where abortion might prove tempting. This is where the body of Christ can help. How many expecting women could benefit from the love and generosity of the church? What a marvelous thing it would be if even one single mother, stressed out and struggling with this painful decision, were approached in love, kindness, and truth, and a life could be saved—and that life would serve as a testimony to the power and care of God and his people.