Roe v. Wade: What does the Bible say?
By Josh Breslaw
My weirdest encounter as a pastor
It was a Friday last year, and I was enjoying my day off. Then I got a call from my secretary at the church. “I think you need to come up here,” she said. “A woman has been dropped off by public transportation because she thinks we can help her.” This was also the Friday I learned that Cleburne, TX has public transportation. My secretary continued, “she needs a ride to [town about an hour away].” I knew we weren’t going to do that, but I told my secretary I was on my way.
About ten minutes later, I meet this woman; let’s call her Emily. Emily is pregnant and has no place to live. She thinks she might be able to spend the night with an old boyfriend in [town an hour away], so she wants someone to drive her there. I don’t know why she thought my small church was the one to help with this. Then Emily tells me, when she meets up with this old boyfriend, who she thinks is the father of her unborn baby, he is going to pay for her to have an abortion. Emily says she knows that she shouldn’t say that in a church, but that’s what she has to do. She already has three other children who have been taken away from her by CPS. She can’t go through another pregnancy to have another child taken away from her.
So Emily is sitting in my office. And I have to help her make the best choice possible. We don’t have homeless shelters in Cleburne, and she doesn’t want to go to one in Fort Worth. If I help her get to [town an hour away], I’m helping her get an abortion. But frankly, hearing Emily’s story and struggles, I don’t know if getting an abortion is the worst choice she can make. All of this going through my head led me to tell Emily, “you don’t have any good choices. Let me help you make the least bad choice.”
Sometimes as a pastor, you get the joy of helping someone pick the best of several good options. Those are happy times. Other times, like the one I just described, there are no good options and you do your best.
“Do not kill”
The Bible could not be more clear when it comes to killing humans. The command in Exodus 20:13 is concise: Do not kill. While theologians continue to consider how to interpret rasah (the Hebrew word for kill/murder), the simplest interpretation is this: God values human life and humans should not take the life of another human. When it comes to the aborting of a fetus/unborn child in the mother’s womb, this essay will stop with that simple interpretation: God values human life. I am not interested in a discussion of when human life begins. That is a detour from the main point. The Bible says that all human life is valuable. As Christians, we must protect human life, whether that is the child inside a mother’s womb, a mother, an immigrant (legal or illegal), refugees, or people in poverty.
Moving from covenantal law to case law in Exodus, we begin to read how Israel values human life in certain circumstances. Exodus 21:12 doles out the punishment for killing another human. Capital punishment is required. Seems straight-forward enough, but the law starts to get complicated in verse 13. Exodus 21:13-14 gives separate punishments for what we would call manslaughter and murder. Then, there’s Exodus 21:22-24 which seems to separate the punishment for causing a miscarriage versus harming the woman which might show the value Israel put on a fetus. Lex talionis is required if the woman is harmed, but only a fine is required because of a miscarriage. Of course, Exodus 21:20-21 hinders a simple transfer of these laws to today since it mentions punishment for harming enslaved people and certainly shows that an enslaved person had less value than a free person. Let’s also not forget later in Scripture when God requires Israel to kill everything in Jericho and in other battles. Maybe the Bible could be more clear when it comes to killing humans.
Caring for widows and orphans in their distress
James 1:27 says “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” I do not think that we would be putting words in James’ mouth by extending this need to care for all people who are in need. Do you know who is in need? Unborn children who could be terminated. Do you know who else? Mothers who have unwanted pregnancies. Do you know who else? Unwanted children who are carried to term and born into poverty with parents who think these children have ruined their lives. A December 14, 2021 New York Times article (“Who Gets Abortions in America” by Margot Sanger-Katz, Claire Cain Miller, and Quoctrung Bui) explains that 49% of women who get abortions live below the poverty line. Eighty-six percent are not married with only 31% living with the father. These statistics are key for Christians as we consider what is next with Roe v. Wade overturned. Since abortion will become a state issue, people who have the finances to go out of state will go and get abortions. It will be those who cannot afford to go somewhere else who will go through with unwanted pregnancies (or get illegal abortions, but that’s beyond the scope of this essay). The USDA estimates that it costs $233,610 to raise a child from birth to seventeen (“The Cost of Raising a Child”, Mark Lino, Feb 18, 2020). Essentially, mothers who cannot afford to go somewhere else to get an abortion will now be tasked with providing for a child. (As an aside, just saying “well, they shouldn’t have had sex” is nonsensical. It is not a helpful solution.)
Pro-life not Anti-abortion
This is where the church must step in. If we want these babies to be born, and we do, then we must be ready to care for children whose parents don’t want them to be born. We must be pro-life, not just anti-abortion. We should be pro-children and pro-mothers. Funding for pregnancy centers and crisis centers will be even more important now that Roe is overturned. We want mothers to choose life, but the church must choose life as well by providing diapers, food, clothing, child care, etc. Again, the women who will have children because abortion is illegal are ones likely to be poor and single. We must care for these women in their distress. Shouldn’t a mother who chooses life be able to recover from giving birth by having standard maternity leave? Shouldn’t a mother who chooses life be able to have affordable child care? Shouldn’t a mother who chooses life be able to not worry about how she is going to feed her children? Christians who are pro-life must care not just for the unborn but the born as well.
I spoke with Emily for two hours on that Friday afternoon. We talked about every option and knew none of them were good. We talked about healing and the forgiveness that Jesus has given us. We talked about how today could be the first day of the rest of her life. Then, finally, it was time to make a decision. She was reconsidering the abortion. She had relatives in another state who had told her previously that they would take care of the baby if she gave birth. That reconsideration would not have happened if I immediately condemned her for even thinking about an abortion. However, she was determined to get to [town an hour away]. She knew we wouldn’t drive her, so she asked for money for an Uber. I didn’t want to an Uber driver to deal with whatever awaited in [town an hour away], so I said no. Undeterred, she said her ex-boyfriend could pick her up after he got off work. So, we agreed on that choice. My music minister and I took Emily through a drive-thru to get her some dinner and dropped her off at the Cleburne library which is connected to the police station. We knew it would be a safe place for her to be. We prayed for her and never saw her again.
I hope Emily did not have an abortion. I hope she delivered a healthy baby and let her relatives take care of it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up getting an abortion. While it would not be a decision I condone, I would understand her choice. She seemed trapped. Sometimes there are no good options, only bad ones. Whether it’s abortion or any other life choice, the church must be compassionate toward the person making the choice. We serve a God who loves all people and died for all people. We serve a God who abounds in steadfast love and mercy. When it comes to all people who are in distress, we need to follow the example of our God who abounds in steadfast love and mercy as well. And if you live in a state where abortion is about to be illegal, your church better be ready to take care of unwanted children and unprepared parents.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common