BREAKING DOWN CARL SAGAN’S LOGIC ON ABORTION Part 43 “Is it wrong to abort a pregnancy? Always? Sometimes? Never?” (My 1995 correspondence with Sagan)


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Recently I have been revisiting my correspondence in 1995 with the famous astronomer Carl Sagan who I had the privilege to correspond with in 1994, 1995 and 1996. In 1996 I had a chance to respond to his December 5, 1995letter on January 10, 1996 and I never heard back from him again since his cancer returned and he passed away later in 1996. Below is what Carl Sagan wrote to me in his December 5, 1995 letter:

Thanks for your recent letter about evolution and abortion. The correlation is hardly one to one; there are evolutionists who are anti-abortion and anti-evolutionists who are pro-abortion.You argue that God exists because otherwise we could not understand the world in our consciousness. But if you think God is necessary to understand the world, then why do you not ask the next question of where God came from? And if you say “God was always here,” why not say that the universe was always here? On abortion, my views are contained in the enclosed article (Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan {1990}, “The Question of Abortion,” Parade Magazine, April 22.)

I was introduced to when reading a book by Francis Schaeffer called HE IS THERE AND HE IS NOT SILENT written in 1968. 

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Francis Schaeffer when he was a young pastor in St. Louis pictured above.

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Francis Schaeffer and Adrian Rogers

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(both Adrian Rogers and Francis Schaeffer mentioned Carl Sagan in their books and that prompted me to write Sagan and expose him to their views.

Carl Sagan pictured below:

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Francis Schaeffer

I mentioned earlier that I was blessed with the opportunity to correspond with Dr. Sagan. In his December 5, 1995 letter Dr. Sagan went on to tell me that he was enclosing his article “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. I am going to respond to several points made in that article. Here is a portion of Sagan’s article (here is a link to the whole article):

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Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan pictured above

 “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”

by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The issue had been decided years ago. The court had chosen the middle ground. You’d think the fight was over. Instead, there are mass rallies, bombings and intimidation, murders of workers at abortion clinics, arrests, intense lobbying, legislative drama, Congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, major political parties almost defining themselves on the issue, and clerics threatening politicians with perdition. Partisans fling accusations of hypocrisy and murder. The intent of the Constitution and the will of God are equally invoked. Doubtful arguments are trotted out as certitudes. The contending factions call on science to bolster their positions. Families are divided, husbands and wives agree not to discuss it, old friends are no longer speaking. Politicians check the latest polls to discover the dictates of their consciences. Amid all the shouting, it is hard for the adversaries to hear one another. Opinions are polarized. Minds are closed.


Is it wrong to abort a pregnancy? Always? Sometimes? Never? How do we decide? We wrote this article to understand better what the contending views are and to see if we ourselves could find a position that would satisfy us both. Is there no middle ground? We had to weigh the arguments of both sides for consistency and to pose test cases, some of which are purely hypothetical. If in some of these tests we seem to go too far, we ask the reader to be patient with us–we’re trying to stress the various positions to the breaking point to see their weaknesses and where they fail.

In contemplative moments, nearly everyone recognizes that the issue is not wholly one-sided. Many partisans of differing views, we find, feel some disquiet, some unease when confronting what’s behind the opposing arguments. (This is partly why such confrontations are avoided.) And the issue surely touches on deep questions: What are our responses to one another? Should we permit the state to intrude into the most intimate and personal aspects of our lives? Where are the boundaries of freedom? What does it mean to be human?

Of the many actual points of view, it is widely held–especially in the media, which rarely have the time or the inclination to make fine distinctions–that there are only two: “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” This is what the two principal warring camps like to call themselves, and that’s what we’ll call them here. In the simplest characterization, a pro-choicer would hold that the decision to abort a pregnancy is to be made only by the woman; the state has no right to interfere. And a pro-lifer would hold that, from the moment of conception, the embryo or fetus is alive; that this life imposes on us a moral obligation to preserve it; and that abortion is tantamount to murder. Both names–pro-choice and pro-life–were picked with an eye toward influencing those whose minds are not yet made up: Few people wish to be counted either as being against freedom of choice or as opposed to life. Indeed, freedom and life are two of our most cherished values, and here they seem to be in fundamental conflict.

Let’s consider these two absolutist positions in turn. A newborn baby is surely the same being it was just before birth. There ‘s good evidence that a late-term fetus responds to sound–including music, but especially its mother’s voice. It can suck its thumb or do a somersault. Occasionally, it generates adult brain-wave patterns. Some people claim to remember being born, or even the uterine environment. Perhaps there is thought in the womb. It’s hard to maintain that a transformation to full personhood happens abruptly at the moment of birth. Why, then, should it be murder to kill an infant the day after it was born but not the day before?

As a practical matter, this isn’t very important: Less than 1 percent of all tabulated abortions in the United States are listed in the last three months of pregnancy (and, on closer investigation, most such reports turn out to be due to miscarriage or miscalculation). But third-trimester abortions provide a test of the limits of the pro-choice point of view. Does a woman’s “innate right to control her own body” encompass the right to kill a near-term fetus who is, for all intents and purposes, identical to a newborn child?

We believe that many supporters of reproductive freedom are troubled at least occasionally by this question. But they are reluctant to raise it because it is the beginning of a slippery slope. If it is impermissible to abort a pregnancy in the ninth month, what about the eighth, seventh, sixth … ? Once we acknowledge that the state can interfere at any time in the pregnancy, doesn’t it follow that the state can interfere at all times?

Abortion and the slippery slope argument above

This conjures up the specter of predominantly male, predominantly affluent legislators telling poor women they must bear and raise alone children they cannot afford to bring up; forcing teenagers to bear children they are not emotionally prepared to deal with; saying to women who wish for a career that they must give up their dreams, stay home, and bring up babies; and, worst of all, condemning victims of rape and incest to carry and nurture the offspring of their assailants. Legislative prohibitions on abortion arouse the suspicion that their real intent is to control the independence and sexuality of women…

And yet, by consensus, all of us think it proper that there be prohibitions against, and penalties exacted for, murder. It would be a flimsy defense if the murderer pleads that this is just between him and his victim and none of the government’s business. If killing a fetus is truly killing a human being, is it not the duty of the state to prevent it? Indeed, one of the chief functions of government is to protect the weak from the strong.

If we do not oppose abortion at some stage of pregnancy, is there not a danger of dismissing an entire category of human beings as unworthy of our protection and respect? And isn’t that dismissal the hallmark of sexism, racism, nationalism, and religious fanaticism? Shouldn’t those dedicated to fighting such injustices be scrupulously careful not to embrace another?

Adrian Rogers’ sermon on animal rights refutes Sagan here

There is no right to life in any society on Earth today, nor has there been at any former time… : We raise farm animals for slaughter; destroy forests; pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; kill deer and elk for sport, leopards for the pelts, and whales for fertilizer; entrap dolphins, gasping and writhing, in great tuna nets; club seal pups to death; and render a species extinct every day. All these beasts and vegetables are as alive as we. What is (allegedly) protected is not life, but human life.

Genesis 3 defines being human

And even with that protection, casual murder is an urban commonplace, and we wage “conventional” wars with tolls so terrible that we are, most of us, afraid to consider them very deeply… That protection, that right to life, eludes the 40,000 children under five who die on our planet each day from preventable starvation, dehydration, disease, and neglect.

Those who assert a “right to life” are for (at most) not just any kind of life, but for–particularly and uniquely—human life. So they too, like pro-choicers, must decide what distinguishes a human being from other animals and when, during gestation, the uniquely human qualities–whatever they are–emerge.

The Bible talks about the differences between humans and animals

Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.

In some animals, an egg develops into a healthy adult without benefit of a sperm cell. But not, so far as we know, among humans. A sperm and an unfertilized egg jointly comprise the full genetic blueprint for a human being. Under certain circumstances, after fertilization, they can develop into a baby. But most fertilized eggs are spontaneously miscarried. Development into a baby is by no means guaranteed. Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult. So if a sperm and egg are as human as the fertilized egg produced by their union, and if it is murder to destroy a fertilized egg–despite the fact that it’s only potentially a baby–why isn’t it murder to destroy a sperm or an egg?

Hundreds of millions of sperm cells (top speed with tails lashing: five inches per hour) are produced in an average human ejaculation. A healthy young man can produce in a week or two enough spermatozoa to double the human population of the Earth. So is masturbation mass murder? How about nocturnal emissions or just plain sex? When the unfertilized egg is expelled each month, has someone died? Should we mourn all those spontaneous miscarriages? Many lower animals can be grown in a laboratory from a single body cell. Human cells can be cloned… In light of such cloning technology, would we be committing mass murder by destroying any potentially clonable cells? By shedding a drop of blood?


All human sperm and eggs are genetic halves of “potential” human beings. Should heroic efforts be made to save and preserve all of them, everywhere, because of this “potential”? Is failure to do so immoral or criminal? Of course, there’s a difference between taking a life and failing to save it. And there’s a big difference between the probability of survival of a sperm cell and that of a fertilized egg. But the absurdity of a corps of high-minded semen-preservers moves us to wonder whether a fertilized egg’s mere “potential” to become a baby really does make destroying it murder.

Opponents of abortion worry that, once abortion is permissible immediately after conception, no argument will restrict it at any later time in the pregnancy. Then, they fear, one day it will be permissible to murder a fetus that is unambiguously a human being. Both pro-choicers and pro-lifers (at least some of them) are pushed toward absolutist positions by parallel fears of the slippery slope.


Another slippery slope is reached by those pro-lifers who are willing to make an exception in the agonizing case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. But why should the right to live depend on the circumstances of conception? If the same child were to result, can the state ordain life for the offspring of a lawful union but death for one conceived by force or coercion? How can this be just? And if exceptions are extended to such a fetus, why should they be withheld from any other fetus? This is part of the reason some pro-lifers adopt what many others consider the outrageous posture of opposing abortions under any and all circumstances–only excepting, perhaps, when the life of the mother is in danger.

By far the most common reason for abortion worldwide is birth control. So shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions. Instead, the United States is far behind other nations in the development of safe and effective methods of birth control–and, in many cases, opposition to such research (and to sex education) has come from the same people who oppose abortions.continue on to Part 3

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The attempt to find an ethically sound and unambiguous judgment on when, if ever, abortion is permissible has deep historical roots. Often, especially in Christian tradition, such attempts were connected with the question of when the soul enters the body–a matter not readily amenable to scientific investigation and an issue of controversy even among learned theologians. Ensoulment has been asserted to occur in the sperm before conception, at conception, at the time of “quickening” (when the mother is first able to feel the fetus stirring within her), and at birth. Or even later.

Different religions have different teachings. Among hunter-gatherers, there are usually no prohibitions against abortion, and it was common in ancient Greece and Rome. In contrast, the more severe Assyrians impaled women on stakes for attempting abortion. The Jewish Talmud teaches that the fetus is not a person and has no rights. The Old and New Testaments–rich in astonishingly detailed prohibitions on dress, diet, and permissible words–contain not a word specifically prohibiting abortion. The only passage that’s remotely relevant (Exodus 21:22) decrees that if there’s a fight and a woman bystander should accidentally be injured and made to miscarry, the assailant must pay a fine.

Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas considered early-term abortion to be homicide (the latter on the grounds that the embryo doesn’t look human). This view was embraced by the Church in the Council of Vienne in 1312, and has never been repudiated. The Catholic Church’s first and long-standing collection of canon law (according to the leading historian of the Church’s teaching on abortion, John Connery, S.J.) held that abortion was homicide only after the fetus was already “formed”–roughly, the end of the first trimester.

But when sperm cells were examined in the seventeenth century by the first microscopes, they were thought to show a fully formed human being. An old idea of the homunculus was resuscitated–in which within each sperm cell was a fully formed tiny human, within whose testes were innumerable other homunculi, etc., ad infinitum. In part through this misinterpretation of scientific data, in 1869 abortion at any time for any reason became grounds for excommunication. It is surprising to most Catholics and others to discover that the date was not much earlier.

From colonial times to the nineteenth century, the choice in the United States was the woman’s until “quickening.” An abortion in the first or even second trimester was at worst a misdemeanor. Convictions were rarely sought and almost impossible to obtain, because they depended entirely on the woman’s own testimony of whether she had felt quickening, and because of the jury’s distaste for prosecuting a woman for exercising her right to choose. In 1800 there was not, so far as is known, a single statute in the United States concerning abortion. Advertisements for drugs to induce abortion could be found in virtually every newspaper and even in many church publications–although the language used was suitably euphemistic, if widely understood.

But by 1900, abortion had been banned at any time in pregnancy by every state in the Union, except when necessary to save the woman’s life. What happened to bring about so striking a reversal? Religion had little to do with it.Drastic economic and social conversions were turning this country from an agrarian to an urban-industrial society. America was in the process of changing from having one of the highest birthrates in the world to one of the lowest. Abortion certainly played a role and stimulated forces to suppress it.


One of the most significant of these forces was the medical profession. Up to the mid-nineteenth century, medicine was an uncertified, unsupervised business. Anyone could hang up a shingle and call himself (or herself) a doctor. With the rise of a new, university-educated medical elite, anxious to enhance the status and influence of physicians, the American Medical Association was formed. In its first decade, the AMA began lobbying against abortions performed by anyone except licensed physicians. New knowledge of embryology, the physicians said, had shown the fetus to be human even before quickening.

Their assault on abortion was motivated not by concern for the health of the woman but, they claimed, for the welfare of the fetus. You had to be a physician to know when abortion was morally justified, because the question depended on scientific and medical facts understood only by physicians. At the same time, women were effectively excluded from the medical schools, where such arcane knowledge could be acquired. So, as things worked out, women had almost nothing to say about terminating their own pregnancies. It was also up to the physician to decide if the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman, and it was entirely at his discretion to determine what was and was not a threat. For the rich woman, the threat might be a threat to her emotional tranquillity or even to her lifestyle. The poor woman was often forced to resort to the back alley or the coat hanger.

This was the law until the 1960s, when a coalition of individuals and organizations, the AMA now among them, sought to overturn it and to reinstate the more traditional values that were to be embodied in Roe v. Wade.continue on to Part 4

If you deliberately kill a human being, it’s called murder. If you deliberately kill a chimpanzee–biologically, our closest relative, sharing 99.6 percent of our active genes–whatever else it is, it’s not murder. To date, murder uniquely applies to killing human beings. Therefore, the question of when personhood (or, if we like, ensoulment) arises is key to the abortion debate. When does the fetus become human? When do distinct and characteristic human qualities emerge?

Section 8 Sperm journey to becoming Human 

We recognize that specifying a precise moment will overlook individual differences. Therefore, if we must draw a line, it ought to be drawn conservatively–that is, on the early side. There are people who object to having to set some numerical limit, and we share their disquiet; but if there is to be a law on this matter, and it is to effect some useful compromise between the two absolutist positions, it must specify, at least roughly, a time of transition to personhood.

Every one of us began from a dot. A fertilized egg is roughly the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The momentous meeting of sperm and egg generally occurs in one of the two fallopian tubes. One cell becomes two, two become four, and so on—an exponentiation of base-2 arithmetic. By the tenth day the fertilized egg has become a kind of hollow sphere wandering off to another realm: the womb. It destroys tissue in its path. It sucks blood from capillaries. It bathes itself in maternal blood, from which it extracts oxygen and nutrients. It establishes itself as a kind of parasite on the walls of the uterus.By the third week, around the time of the first missed menstrual period, the forming embryo is about 2 millimeters long and is developing various body parts. Only at this stage does it begin to be dependent on a rudimentary placenta. It looks a little like a segmented worm.By the end of the fourth week, it’s about 5 millimeters (about 1/5 inch) long. It’s recognizable now as a vertebrate, its tube-shaped heart is beginning to beat, something like the gill arches of a fish or an amphibian become conspicuous, and there is a pronounced tail. It looks rather like a newt or a tadpole. This is the end of the first month after conception.By the fifth week, the gross divisions of the brain can be distinguished. What will later develop into eyes are apparent, and little buds appear—on their way to becoming arms and legs.By the sixth week, the embryo is 13 millimeteres (about ½ inch) long. The eyes are still on the side of the head, as in most animals, and the reptilian face has connected slits where the mouth and nose eventually will be.By the end of the seventh week, the tail is almost gone, and sexual characteristics can be discerned (although both sexes look female). The face is mammalian but somewhat piglike.By the end of the eighth week, the face resembles that of a primate but is still not quite human. Most of the human body parts are present in their essentials. Some lower brain anatomy is well-developed. The fetus shows some reflex response to delicate stimulation.By the tenth week, the face has an unmistakably human cast. It is beginning to be possible to distinguish males from females. Nails and major bone structures are not apparent until the third month.By the fourth month, you can tell the face of one fetus from that of another. Quickening is most commonly felt in the fifth month. The bronchioles of the lungs do not begin developing until approximately the sixth month, the alveoli still later.

So, if only a person can be murdered, when does the fetus attain personhood? When its face becomes distinctly human, near the end of the first trimester? When the fetus becomes responsive to stimuli–again, at the end of the first trimester? When it becomes active enough to be felt as quickening, typically in the middle of the second trimester? When the lungs have reached a stage of development sufficient that the fetus might, just conceivably, be able to breathe on its own in the outside air?

The trouble with these particular developmental milestones is not just that they’re arbitrary. More troubling is the fact that none of them involves uniquely humancharacteristics–apart from the superficial matter of facial appearance. All animals respond to stimuli and move of their own volition. Large numbers are able to breathe. But that doesn’t stop us from slaughtering them by the billions. Reflexes and motion are not what make us human.

Sagan’s conclusion based on arbitrary choice of the presence of thought by unborn baby

Other animals have advantages over us–in speed, strength, endurance, climbing or burrowing skills, camouflage, sight or smell or hearing, mastery of the air or water. Our one great advantage, the secret of our success, is thought–characteristically human thought. We are able to think things through, imagine events yet to occur, figure things out. That’s how we invented agriculture and civilization. Thought is our blessing and our curse, and it makes us who we are.

Thinking occurs, of course, in the brain–principally in the top layers of the convoluted “gray matter” called the cerebral cortex. The roughly 100 billion neurons in the brain constitute the material basis of thought. The neurons are connected to each other, and their linkups play a major role in what we experience as thinking. But large-scale linking up of neurons doesn’t begin until the 24th to 27th week of pregnancy–the sixth month.

By placing harmless electrodes on a subject’s head, scientists can measure the electrical activity produced by the network of neurons inside the skull. Different kinds of mental activity show different kinds of brain waves. But brain waves with regular patterns typical of adult human brains do not appear in the fetus until about the 30th week of pregnancy–near the beginning of the third trimester. Fetuses younger than this–however alive and active they may be–lack the necessary brain architecture. They cannot yet think.

Acquiescing in the killing of any living creature, especially one that might later become a baby, is troublesome and painful. But we’ve rejected the extremes of “always” and “never,” and this puts us–like it or not–on the slippery slope. If we are forced to choose a developmental criterion, then this is where we draw the line: when the beginning of characteristically human thinking becomes barely possible.

It is, in fact, a very conservative definition: Regular brain waves are rarely found in fetuses. More research would help… If we wanted to make the criterion still more stringent, to allow for occasional precocious fetal brain development, we might draw the line at six months. This, it so happens, is where the Supreme Court drew it in 1973–although for completely different reasons.

Its decision in the case of Roe v. Wade changed American law on abortion. It permits abortion at the request of the woman without restriction in the first trimester and, with some restrictions intended to protect her health, in the second trimester. It allows states to forbid abortion in the third trimester, except when there’s a serious threat to the life or health of the woman. In the 1989 Webster decision, the Supreme Court declined explicitly to overturn Roe v. Wade but in effect invited the 50 state legislatures to decide for themselves.

What was the reasoning in Roe v. Wade? There was no legal weight given to what happens to the children once they are born, or to the family. Instead, a woman’s right to reproductive freedom is protected, the court ruled, by constitutional guarantees of privacy. But that right is not unqualified. The woman’s guarantee of privacy and the fetus’s right to life must be weighed–and when the court did the weighing’ priority was given to privacy in the first trimester and to life in the third. The transition was decided not from any of the considerations we have been dealing with so far…–not when “ensoulment” occurs, not when the fetus takes on sufficient human characteristics to be protected by laws against murder. Instead, the criterion adopted was whether the fetus could live outside the mother. This is called “viability” and depends in part on the ability to breathe. The lungs are simply not developed, and the fetus cannot breathe–no matter how advanced an artificial lung it might be placed in—until about the 24th week, near the start of the sixth month. This is why Roe v. Wade permits the states to prohibit abortions in the last trimester. It’s a very pragmatic criterion.

If the fetus at a certain stage of gestation would be viable outside the womb, the argument goes, then the right of the fetus to life overrides the right of the woman to privacy. But just what does “viable” mean? Even a full-term newborn is not viable without a great deal of care and love. There was a time before incubators, only a few decades ago, when babies in their seventh month were unlikely to be viable. Would aborting in the seventh month have been permissible then? After the invention of incubators, did aborting pregnancies in the seventh month suddenly become immoral? What happens if, in the future, a new technology develops so that an artificial womb can sustain a fetus even before the sixth month by delivering oxygen and nutrients through the blood–as the mother does through the placenta and into the fetal blood system? We grant that this technology is unlikely to be developed soon or become available to many. But if it were available, does it then become immoral to abort earlier than the sixth month, when previously it was moral? A morality that depends on, and changes with, technology is a fragile morality; for some, it is also an unacceptable morality.

And why, exactly, should breathing (or kidney function, or the ability to resist disease) justify legal protection? If a fetus can be shown to think and feel but not be able to breathe, would it be all right to kill it? Do we value breathing more than thinking and feeling? Viability arguments cannot, it seems to us, coherently determine when abortions are permissible. Some other criterion is needed. Again, we offer for consideration the earliest onset of human thinking as that criterion.

Since, on average, fetal thinking occurs even later than fetal lung development, we find Roe v. Wade to be a good and prudent decision addressing a complex and difficult issue. With prohibitions on abortion in the last trimester–except in cases of grave medical necessity–it strikes a fair balance between the conflicting claims of freedom and life.What do you think? What have others said about Carl Sagan’s thoughts on 


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Carl Sagan with his wife Ann in the 1990’s
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I grew up in Memphis as a member of Bellevue Baptist Church under our pastor Adrian Rogers and attended ECS High School where the books and films of Francis Schaeffer were taught. Both men dealt with current issues in the culture such as the film series COSMOS by Carl Sagan. I personally read several of Sagan’s books.  (Francis and Edith Schaeffer pictured below in their home at L’ Abri in Switzerland where Francis  taught students for 3 decades.
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Christian Ethics

Christians today are confronted with moral and ethical issues that were rarely raised in previous generations. Not only have the advances of technology and science raised ethical questions on which we must all make decisions, but moral values and perceptions have radically changed in our society. Behaviours that were mentioned only in whispers or behind closed doors are accepted as ‘normal’. Actions and relationships that were unthinkable fifty years ago are now commonplace. In addition, global communication networks impact us with the suffering of the whole world, so that, being informed, we can no longer use ignorance as an excuse for inaction.

This series of studies seeks to define and affirm the biblical ethic in the context of our contemporary post-Christian culture.


© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016

The issue of abortion is an issue about the sanctity of human life. It also concerns other issues:

When does human life begin? At conception? At some point during the pregnancy? Or at birth? Obviously if human life begins at conception then all abortion is murder and is forbidden by the Bible.

The issue of human self-centredness.

The issue of ‘human ‘rights’.

The issue of contemporary sexual ‘freedom’.

Note: in this study the term ‘pro-choice’ is used to refer to those who maintain a woman has the right to choose to continue or discontinue her pregnancy. Some people who would not themselves abort except for genuine medical reasons, do however believe that each woman has a right to determine what happens to her own body. Effectively, pro-choice ends up equating with pro-abortion


A.1 Abortion in your country
You can find information about abortion and abortion law in your country here:

From this information identify:

[1] Conditions under which abortion is legally permitted

[2] Up to which week of pregnancy

[3] Is abortion considered a criminal act?

[4] Any other relevant comment.

A.2 Position statements

You can read a United Nations position statement here – . It focuses on abortions carried out because of foetal abnormalities or the mother’s health.

If it is possible, find the Position Statement of the Medical Association in your country.

A.3 Abortion statistics

You can find abortion statistics for your country here:  [abortions per 1000 women]

and here  [regional statistics per 1000 live births]


In the USA the following reasons are identified here:

Over 90% of abortions are sought for personal reasons: 
21% believe they don’t have enough financial resources to raise a child
21% don’t feel ready for the responsibility of raising a child
16% don’t want their life changed – eg plans for education, career, other commitments
12% because of difficulties in relationship with partner
11% say they are too young or immature to become a mother
8% don’t want to add to their family because (a) they are already grown, or (b) there are enough children already

[Influences possibly contributing to the above reasons:

The father or the woman’s parents pressure the woman to have an abortion 
Woman doesn’t feel she has the emotional and/or physical strength to go through the pregnancy and raise the child.
Woman believes that having an extra child to raise would short-change her existing children.
Woman feels raising the child would be too difficult and disruptive at her time in life.
She doesn’t want other people to know that she became pregnant.
A child would interfere with her career or education.
Fear of physical abuse from a parent if they learn of her pregnancy.
Fear of being tossed out onto the street by a parent if they learn of her pregnancy.
In the case of a multiple pregnancy, the woman may be faced with giving birth to more newborns than she feels she can deal with.

About 6% of all abortions are sought because either the woman or foetus has medical reasons:

Exposure of the foetus to high levels of toxic chemicals, medications that might be dangerous to the foetus, alcohol, drugs, etc. 
Extreme youth of the mother. 
The foetus has a genetic defect or other health problem. 
The woman may develop eclampsia. The results can be fatal to both the woman and foetus.  
Impact of multiple pregnancies on survival of foetuses and on long term health of the children after birth.

About 1% of all abortions are sought because of abusive sexual act:

The conception resulted from rape or incest.

Study the above reasons why people have abortions.  Identify and comment on reasons that fall in the following categories:
Selfish or self-centred reasons

Reasons centred on personal ‘rights’ of mother or both parents

Reasons centred on personal ‘freedom’ of mother or both parents

Genuine medical reasons

Consider/discuss which, if any, of these are biblically valid reasons for abortion


The question ‘When does human life begin?’ evokes a wide range of answers, including:

At conception
At the first splitting of the original cell
At around day 14 of the pregnancy [after which twins can no longer be formed]
When the heart develops
When the embryo starts to ‘look’ human
When ‘brain-waves’ can be detected 
When the foetus responds to pain
When the foetus moves
When the foetus can survive out of the womb
At birth
At sometime after birth

A more extensive list of opinions can be found at .

Obviously, it is in the interest of pro-choice advocates, women’s ‘rights’ advocates and abortion clinics to see human life commencing later rather than earlier.

C.1 Does the Bible have anything to say about life in the womb?
In the scriptures below God is seen at work on life in the womb, and/or life in the womb is referred to in terms which assume or infer that life in the womb is human life:

Study these scriptures:

Job 3:10-11: Job speaks as if he existed as a person prior to birth.

Job 3:16: Where the words ‘child’ and ‘infant’ are used in reference to a baby that is born dead.

Job 31:15: ‘Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?’ [Job says this to indicate the value of all human life – that all humans have significance and should be treated with kindness because the same God formed all of them in their mothers’ wombs.]

Psalm 127:3: Teaches that children are a ‘heritage’ and a ‘reward’ from the Lord. The Hebrew text reads that ‘the fruit of the womb’ are a reward. [The living children only exist because they were first formed by the Lord in the womb. To abort the child in the womb is to also abort and forgo the divine reward or blessing of the living child.]

Psalm 139:13-18: Here the Psalmist describes in poetic language God’s sovereign hand in forming the infant within its mother’s womb.

Isaiah 44:2: Refers to God at work forming people within the womb.

Jeremiah 1:5: God speaks to Jeremiah telling him of his sovereign hand upon Jeremiah in the womb, and his knowledge and appointment of Jeremiah even before that.

2Kings 15:16; Hosea 13:16; Amos 1:13:    In these verses specific reference is made to the ripping open of pregnant women as a particularly horrific action of invading forces.

Galatians 1:15: In some translations, including an NIV footnote, this verse refers to God’s action on Paul prior to his birth.

In addition, the developing embryo/foetus is referred to as a ‘child’ or a ‘baby’ with the same words as used to refer to children or babies after birth.

C.2 Exodus 21:22-23
Depending on the Bible translation used, these verses are used by both pro-choice and pro-life advocates to argue their position.

Pro-choice advocates support their position from translations which infer or state that in verse 22 a miscarriage is referred to, and that this miscarriage is not considered ‘harm’ or ‘serious injury’ as this refers only to the effect on the mother. The ‘life for life’ etc of verse 23 is understood only in relation to the mother.

Pro-life advocates support their position from translations which infer or state that a premature, but live, birth results from the injury; and that the ‘harm’ or ‘serious injury’ referred to includes not only harm to the mother, but also to the child. The ‘life for life’ etc is understood to refer both to the mother and the child.

John Piper has written an excellent short study on the meaning of these verses. Go to  and read what he says.

Make a brief summary of Piper’s study

For further study:   [this article includes references to historical Christian pro-life viewpoints.]   [this page contains links to a long list of articles on abortion.]

C.3 Various answers from science
From the pro-life perspective, and also from simple logic, the question of ‘when does human life begin?’ would seem to be beside the point. Both the spermatozoa and the ovum are human: human sperm and human ova – not some other life form. From the very earliest point of union onwards this zygote, this embryo, this foetus, is human – packed with human DNA – not the DNA of some other life form.

The question for which people are seeking an answer to either excuse or condemn abortion is not the voiced question ‘when does human life begin?’ but rather the unspoken question ‘up to what point in this pregnancy am I justified in terminating the existence of this child that is growing within me that for one reason or another I do not want?’ It is, after all, in most cases, the expected living child that is not wanted, the expected living child that is being rejected.

The article on this page includes reference to a range of viewpoints. You might find these helpful in trying to understand terminology and various opinions. This ‘confession’ of an ex-abortionist is very instructive:

What do you personally believe about when human life begins?

C.4 A challenge from Schaeffer
Having briefly discussed the fact that smaller and smaller premature babies are surviving due to advances in technology, and referring to the presence of human DNA immediately after the union of the sperm and the egg, Schaeffer states:

‘Our question to a pro-abortion doctor who would not kill a newborn baby is this: “Would you then kill this infant a minute before he was born, or a minute before that, or a minute before that, or a minute before that?” At what point in time can one consider life to be worthless and the next minute precious and worth saving?’ [p296f Whatever Happened to the Human Race?’]


D.1 Impact on the child – death and pain
Depending on whether you are reading material from pro-life or pro-choice advocates you will find different ‘information’ about the effect of abortion on the child. Obviously the child will not live, or if it does survive a late term abortion, it will be either deliberately killed outside of the womb or simply left to die, with the various nurses and attendants making no attempt to help it live. Its termination is the whole purpose of the abortion. Whether this termination is called the death of a child depends on the viewpoint of the writer of the article you are reading. A second issue is that of pain: if and when the developing child feels pain during the abortion procedure.

D.1.1 Methods of terminating pregnancy
Many web pages describe methods used at various stages of pregnancy. When one considers the aggressive and brutal nature of abortion methods, including late term and due date abortions, and views the images of aborted babies, one cannot avoid feelings of repulsion and horror. When one compares these practices performed upon unborn human children, with practices that government legislation punishes as cruelty to animals one can only be amazed at the contrasting standards.

For example:

The Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 [Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries] lists penalties ranging from $35,340 to $235,600 or 1 to 3 years imprisonment, for the mistreatment of ‘animals’.  Note that the definition of ‘animal’ in this legislation includes the following: ‘a live pre-natal or pre-hatched creature as follows: if it is in the last half of gestation or development – (i) a mammalian or reptilian foetus; (ii) an avian, mammalian or reptilian pre-hatched young.’

Any surgery must be ‘carried out in a humane way’ and ‘for the animal’s welfare’!  

Under this Act, also, a person is considered to be cruel to an animal, and liable to prosecution if he/she kills it in a way that—
‘(i) is inhumane; or
(ii) causes it not to die quickly; or
(iii) causes it to die in unreasonable pain.’

Note that animals from mid-term pre-natal development onwards are given the same legal protection against cruelty and inhumane killing as living animals! Human embryos are not. Humane treatment and humane killing is legislated for animals and animal embryos, and totally brutal killing of unborn human children is legal! The ‘welfare’ of animal foetuses is required by law; the ‘welfare’ of the unborn human child is not under consideration in most cases of abortion.

D.1.2 Does the baby feel pain?
There is growing consensus of opinion that from at least 20 weeks on the baby does feel pain. Some experts believe that pain is felt much earlier than this.

On one level this question is irrelevant because, irrespective of when the baby begins to feel pain, it is still a human baby. [One can reasonably assume that an unborn animal would also feel pain.]

However, the knowledge that the baby does feel pain is a strong argument against abortion, from a mother’s perspective, and from a humanitarian perspective. Some politicians are working towards legislation that will make it mandatory for abortionists to inform mothers that their baby will feel pain during abortion from 20 weeks onwards, and also to make anaesthetizing the baby for late term abortions mandatory.

To research this issue of foetal pain further go to: . [This video, Silent Scream, is narrated by Dr Bernard Nathanson. This doctor was one of the key players in the lead up to the legalization of abortion in the USA [1968-1973]; he has performed tens of thousands of abortions. However, be became a strong anti-abortionist, maintaining that the baby responds to pain as early as 11 weeks.

D.2 Impact on the mother
The impact of abortion on the mother is also variously presented depending on the pro-life or pro-choice stance of the writer. provides a comprehensive list of impacts on the mother. It is important that you look up these lists so that you are informed of the impact or potential impact of abortion on the mother.

Immediate medical risks such as:

Damage to the womb or cervix
Uterine perforation (accidentally putting a hole in the uterus with one of the instruments used)
Excessive bleeding
Infection of the uterus or fallopian tubes
Scarring of the inside of the uterus
Reaction to the medicines or anesthesia, such as problems breathing
Not removing all of the tissue, requiring another procedure

Long term medical risks, including permanent damage to the uterus and inability to conceive.

Emotional and psycho-physical effects

Francis Schaeffer, in Whatever Happened to the Human Race? raises the following questions:

‘Why is it that so few abortion counsellors are fair to the “whole person” of the pregnant woman? ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me?” is a fair question from a girl suffering the after effects of a recommended abortion. ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me I would feel like a mother with empty arms?” ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me I risked spoiling the possibility of having a normal pregnancy, because of the damage that might be done to my body by the abortion?” These are not just theoretical questions put forth in an abstract academic debate. Abortion counsellors rarely talk about physical dangers, emotional results, and psychological consequences. They seldom tell the woman what is going to happen or what may be involved.’ [ibid p306]

D.2.1 The RU 486 abortion pill 
RU 486 is touted as putting the act of abortion in the mother’s hands rather than the surgeon’s, and as being a safer and easier method of abortion.  A comprehensive presentation of facts about this pill and its effects and side effects, can be found at (click the links in the top menu), including reference to the increased emotional and psychological impact this method has on the mother.

D.3 Impact on society 
Legalization of abortion-on-demand has an impact on the attitude of a society towards abortion, but also a flow-on impact on other perceptions within a society.

D.3.1 Decrease in the perceived dignity and value of the human being
One of the arguments used to promote abortion on demand in the USA was that by eliminating unwanted children the legalization of abortion would decrease the incidence of child abuse. This, however, was far from the case.

D.3.1.1 Increase in child abuse
Schaeffer, writing in 1979, stated:

‘Those who fought for liberalized abortion policies have had their way, and since 1970 it is conservatively estimated in the United States that there are probably ten million fewer children who would now be between the ages of one and seven. Since these ten million were “unwanted” and supposedly would have been prime targets for child abuse, it would seem reasonable to look for a sharp drop in child abuse in this same period. But in fact, since the legalization of abortion-on-demand, child abuse has grown remarkably, and it is not due to just more efficient reporting.

‘This is because nationwide abortion-on-demand has what might be called an “educational impact.” The West German Federal Constitutional Court … in its February 1975 decision banning abortion-on-demand during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy stated this: “We cannot ignore the educational impact of abortion on the respect for life.” The German court reasoned that if abortion were made legal for any and every reason during the first trimester, it would prove difficult to persuade people that second- and third-trimester foetuses deserve protection simply because they are a few weeks older. The court apparently feared that what would happen to older foetuses could also happen to children after birth. As Harold O. J. Brown observes, parents, perhaps unconsciously, could reason, “I didn’t have to have him. I could have killed him before he was born. So if I want to knock him around now that he is born, isn’t that my right?”

‘Is it not logical, after all, that if one can legally kill a child a few months before birth, one should not feel too bad about roughing him up a little bit (without killing him) after he is born?’ [ibid p295]

A few pages earlier Schaeffer quoted child abuse statistics:

‘… in 1972 there were 60,000 child abuse incidents which were brought to official attention in the United States. Just four years later, in 1976, the number that received official attention passed the half-million mark. Reported cases of child abuse probably represent only about half of what really occurs.’ [ibid p292]

This increase of child abuse includes an increase of sexual crimes against children, including incest, which is considered by some to be the major form of child abuse in the USA.

D.3.1.2 Changing attitudes to infanticide
A further sanctity of life issue flowing on from the legalization or liberalization of abortion is the issue of medical infanticide, in which doctors refuse to provide life support for disabled new-borns. Consider the following:

‘… no newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and that if it fails these tests is forfeits the right to live’ [Francis Crick, 1978, quoted by Schaeffer, ibid p320].

‘My personal feeling … is that… when public opinion is ready for it, no child should be admitted into the society of the living who would be certain to suffer any social handicap – for example, any physical or mental defect that would prevent marriage or would make others tolerate his company only from a sense of mercy.’ [Millard S. Everett, quoted by Schaeffer on page 320].

But these statements take us into the area of euthanasia, which is the focus of our next study.

D.3.1.3 Sale of baby parts
In D.1.1 we have already seen the desensitization that occurs when abortion-on-demand is legalized. There is yet another area in which this desensitization is taking place. Does anyone stop to ask ‘What happens to the aborted babies?”

We hear rumours of baby parts being sold in places like China, but this is also happening in the USA and Australia:

From :

‘The international trade in body parts of aborted babies and embryos is estimated by US market consultants to reach $1 billion by 2002. Melbourne IVF vivisectors, frustrated by Victorian regulations, import stem cells from embryonic humans destroyed in Singapore; other re-searchers can order specific foetal organs, excised and packaged within minutes of death, from “harvesting companies” in the US, which charge around $150 for the retrieval of a tiny liver or $500 for a trunk (with or without limbs); a spinal cord … for $325.’

And this from two quotes from the Australian Law Reform commission of the Australian Federal Government: [no longer available online]

‘Foetal tissue transplants: A separate, but not unrelated, subject is that of foetal tissue transplants, i.e. the transplantation of tissue taken from an aborted foetus. This form of transplantation has scientific appeal because foetal tissue appears to possess qualities in relation to tissue rejection which makes successful transplant much more likely.’

‘Status of removed tissue: What is the legal status of human tissue removed during surgery, or otherwise in the possession of a doctor or hospital?[34] Such tissue, for example, amputated limbs, placentae, etc. may be waste to be destroyed, or may be susceptible of use for medical education, research, or therapy. There is no reason to endow such tissue with the attributes of property. At present, the Commission takes the view that such tissue has no status in law. The law is silent concerning severed or removed body parts except to the extent that it deals with the subject as a matter of public health or the like.[35] It is possible to envisage the creation of legal rules treating such tissue as personal property. Allowing it to be owned, sold, bequeathed, or alienated in some other fashion. It is also possible to envisage the application to such tissue of ‘sale of goods’-type warranties and conditions. There have been persistent attempts in the United States to assimilate transfused blood to goods for legal purposes, treating it as an article of commerce.[36] There is no need at present to create statutory rules for such tissue. The creation of procedures for the lawful giving for transplant and other therapeutic use, of tissue taken from living and dead persons, should be sufficient in the Australian community today. The identification of that tissue and its investment with legal attributes of the kind mentioned above, appear to be unnecessary. This view rests upon the conclusion that, in the context of medical therapy, the Australian sees his body and its tissues not as an object of commerce but as something to be the subject of voluntary gift. We have received no information of activities which causes us to believe that legal regulation is required. Like questions of legal status will apply to the lawfully-aborted foetus, at least when aborted at a stage of development when it could not be regarded in law as a dead human being.’

But here we enter into the area of bio-ethics, the focus of a further study.

D.3.2 Reduced numbers of babies available for adoption
This is a simple fact. Yet most late term abortions are not performed for medical reasons. To continue the pregnancy for a few weeks longer would provide the child with its life and infertile couples with a child to love.

D.3.3 Impact on population
The availability of abortion reduces the birth rate. Indeed this is the desired effect of abortion laws in some countries. In countries where sons are favoured above daughters girl babies are aborted and the population has a higher percentage of males than females, creating demographic problems. Populations become aging populations; this in turn impacts national productivity and social security.

D.3.4 Increased number of abortions
In the USA prior to the legalization of abortion-on-demand there were approximately 100,000 illegal abortions annually, and very few legal ones. In the first year following legalization 750,000 legal abortions were performed. Ten years later the abortion figure for 1983 was 1.5million.


E.1 Be personally convinced
Study the scriptures to provide yourself with a solid base on which to base your own attitude to abortion, and from which to speak with authority to others.

E. 2 Be informed
Keep abreast of what is happening.

In Australia, the Australian Christian Lobby website maintains up to date files concerning:

What politicians are saying about abortion
Statements/reports on abortion issues in Australian press [currently over 200]
ACL media releases [brief ACL statements] on abortion issues

Australian pro-life organizations also provide information. Most of these can be found in the Links on the ACL website.

E.3 Be heard
Writing letters to politicians, letters to editors of local or national newspapers, signing of petitions – these are easy, non-confrontational ways to help arrest the liberalization of abortion law.  This silent protest can be powerful if enough people engage in it. Whenever politicians are debating the issue, let them hear your voice.

Active involvement in a pro-life organization is a more confrontational way of speaking up for the un-born children.

Those who support abortion-on-demand are vocal. For those who oppose it to remain silent is to let the babies die.

E.4 Be compassionate
The gospel of Christ commands forgiveness, compassion and grace. Irrespective of our personal understanding of abortion we are never relieved of this responsibility towards those who support abortion or towards mothers who have had abortions.

Write a personal position statement on Abortion. Include your personal stance; reasons why you have chosen this stance; any course of action you consider appropriate for yourself in relation to the abortion debate.








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