BREAKING DOWN CARL SAGAN’S LOGIC ON ABORTION Part 59 “Should it be murder to kill an infant the day after it was born but not the day before” (My 1995 correspondence with Sagan) Francis Schaeffer: Of all the subjects relating to the erosion of the sanctity of human life, abortion is the keystone. It is the first and crucial issue that has been overwhelming in changing attitudes toward the value on life in general!


Carl Sagan asked, “Should it be murder to kill an infant the day after it was born but not the day before?

Francis Schaeffer: Of all the subjects relating to the erosion of the sanctity of human life, abortion is the keystone. It is the first and crucial issue that has been overwhelming in changing attitudes toward the value on life in general!

Is abortion really murder?

compiled by Jim Dowson (B.Th MA) and Dr Ted Williams (FFPHM) 

The latest abortion figures in the UK are truly shocking.  Over 170,000 abortion per year, despite the fact that the birth rate is so low that the population is now no longer replacing itself by natural means.  In the face of these shocking figures, one would anticipate that there would be deep concern among the Christian community.  But we do not see that! Year on year the abortion holocaust continues with hardly a murmur from the Christian community.  Why is this so?  Why does abortion hardly register on the agenda to the Church?

We believe that there are a number of reasons for this sad state of affairs. Many Christians do not grasp the real horror of abortion.  Many see abortion as a difficult, complicated humanitarian issue that requires Christian counselling. Some even support a pro-choice agenda, helping people to make an informed choice whether or not to continue with an unwanted pregnancy.  Others feel that dealing with moral issues, like abortion, interferes with the true mission of the Church, which is to preach the gospel of salvation.  Still others feel that abortion is too controversial for the Church to become involved.  And so there is no agreement among Christians about how to respond to abortion, and many are content to leave the issue to a few prolife organisations.

The purpose of this article is to explain why we are so passionately opposed to abortion.  We hope to encourage our Christian brothers and sisters to become involved in what we believe to be the greatest moral challenge of our time.

 The value of human life

We believe that human life, create in the image of, God is of overwhelming value.  The life of every human, in God’s eyes, is precious. The purpose of the divine command not to murder is for the protection of innocent human life.  According to Francis Schaeffer, ‘Of all the subjects relating to the erosion of the sanctity of human life, abortion is the keystone.  It is the first and crucial issue that has been overwhelming in changing attitudes toward the value on life in general.’[i]

The personhood of the unborn

We believe that the unborn child is just that, an unborn child.  Numerous Scriptures point to the personhood of the unborn child.  King David, for example, acknowledges God’s creative purposes in the womb. ‘For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mothers womb… Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed’ (Psalm 139:13, 16).  The prophet Isaiah wrote: ‘The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name (Isaiah 49:1). The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations’ (Jeremiah 1:5). In the New Testament, the Greek word brephos is used to describe the babe John who leaps in his mother’s womb when she meets Mary the mother of Jesus.  The word brephos, as used in Scripture, describes the unborn, the new-born and the infant. (1 Peter 2:2, Acts 7:19, Luke 18:15).  Indeed, the Scriptures make no differentiation between the unborn child and the new-born child, and neither should we.

In Abortion and the Christian, Dr John Davis concludes, ‘Given the fundamental principle of the sanctity of human life in the image of God, and the indisputable scientific fact of the biological continuity between prenatal and postnatal life, there is a clear scriptural warrant for affirming the sacredness of all human life at every stage of biological development.’[ii]

On the basis of Scripture we believe that the unborn child is just that—an unborn child created in the image of God.  We believe that it is wrong to refer to the unborn child as a foetus, as the pro-abortion lobby does.  The intent of doing so is to dehumanise the unborn, to create the impression that the unborn child is less than human, less than a child.  We therefore insist in using the term unborn child, and would encourage all Christians to do so.  We must not allow the abortion issue to be distorted by the manipulation of language.

 Abortion is murder

The purpose of the sixth commandment, ‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13), is to protect human life.  We believe, from the Scriptures, that abortion is murder.  According to the Bible, murder is the intentional killing of innocent human life.  The murder scenarios described in Numbers 35 all illustrate an intention to kill.  For example, ‘If a man strikes someone with an iron object (curette) so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death… If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies, or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies… he is a murderer.’ (Numbers 35:16, 20, 21).  To purposely destroy a human being, with malice aforethought, is murder. To purposely destroy an unborn child in its mother’s womb, with malice aforethought, is intentionally killing, and that, according to Scriptures is murder.  We therefore refer to abortion as murder of the unborn.

The shocking reality is that around 170,000 babies are being murdered in the UK each year!

 The shedding of innocent blood

Child sacrifice was common practice among the Canaanites.  Children were sacrificed to the god Molech, a practice that was an abomination in the eyes of God.  The Scriptures warn us that God hates hands that shed innocent blood. (Proverbs 6:17). And God warns his people that innocent blood must not be shed in their land. ‘You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you’ (Deuteronomy 19:13).  Yet the unthinkable occurred.  When Israel became involved in idol worship, ‘They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood’ (Psalm 106:37, 38).  On the high places of Baal children were sacrificed, and the valley of Hinnom became the Valley of Slaughter.  The killing of the innocents was the sign of a decadent society given over to evil, a society that had rejected the law of God.  Such a society was a stench in he nostrils of God.

Today, modern Britain has become the Valley of Slaughter as around 5,000 babies are murdered each day.  The UK flows with the blood of unborn children.

 The Council of the Lord

The prophet Jeremiah records the rebellion of Israel against the law of God.  The land was full of adulterers, yet the religious leaders (priests) were living a lie and strengthening the hands of evildoers, so that no one turned from his evil.  They spoke visions from their own minds, saying ‘No harm will come to you.’ Today, in the UK, many are expressing the same attitude to abortion: ‘Be reasonable, be loving, be understanding, things are not so bad.’  But if they had stood in the council of the Lord, then they would have proclaimed God’s words to his people, ‘and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds’ (Jeremiah 23).  We believe that one of the reasons for the feeble response of the Christian Church to the abortion holocaust is that many Christian leaders are not standing in the Council of the Lord.  Many are speaking their own words, using their own reasonable arguments, expressing their own prejudices, instead of speaking the word of the Lord.

 The deception of abortion

One of the reasons why abortion has become acceptable in our society is because the pro-abortion lobby has been remarkably successful is disguising the true nature of abortion.  They have skillfully used language to sanitise the issue. The unborn child has become the ‘product of conception’ or ‘a foetus’.  Unborn children are categories as ‘unviable’ or ‘viable’.  Abortion has become ‘a termination’ of pregnancy. By skillfully manipulating language, the abortion lobby has convinced society that there is little harm in ‘terminating’ a ‘foetus’, or removing the unwanted ‘products of conception’.  Because abortion is done is secret, behind the walls of an abortion clinic, there is no understanding in society of the real nature of abortion.  We believe that it is wrong to allow this state of affairs to continue.  We believe that the blood of the unborn are crying out for the truth to be told.  Our ministry, therefore, is to witness to the reality of abortion.  We always refer to the unborn child as an unborn child; we always refer to abortion as killing, and we remind society that abortion, in God’s eyes, is murder of the innocent unborn.

Another device of the abortion lobby is to present abortion as pro-choice.  That is, a woman is persuaded that she has the right to choose whether or not to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  What could be more reasonable, for no one has the right to force a woman to continue with a pregnancy she does not want?  The pro-choice dogma is so seductive that even an organisation like CARE has been seduced.  CARE’s pamphlet, Making a Decision, helps a woman make an ‘informed’ choice whether or not to have an abortion.  The pamphlet explains to a pregnant woman that ‘when you’re ready, you and your husband or partner will need to consider the options available: parenting, adoption or abortion… Although the decision ahead of you may be one of the most difficult you’ll ever have to make, it must be your decision and no-one else’s.  This leaflet is designed to help you through the decision making process… Make sure you have read all the factual information about each option before you make a final decision.  Having looked at all the facts and explored thoroughly how you feel about each option, you may be ready to make your decision.  It’s important that you feel able to live with the decision you have made.’[iii]  Note the elements of ‘pro-choice’ dogma.  First, the issue of abortion is demoralised.  Abortion is not presented as murder but as a choice.  In this way, abortion and parenting are presented as moral equivalents.  Pro-choice propaganda encourages a woman to believe that her informed decision is a morally neutral action—she is not warned of the moral consequences, she is not told that God hates hands that shed innocent blood.  Second, as abortion and parenting are moral equivalents, a woman is invited to make an informed decision on the basis of factual information and how she feels.  Third, she is persuaded to do what she believes to be right in her own eyes.  A woman is told that it is her own decision; she decides for herself what is right.  What is so sad is that this amoral advice is being offered in the name of the Christian faith.

But no one has the right to kill another human being.  We believe that the most effective way of countering the pro-choice argument is to show the reality of abortion.  When people see the consequences of pro-choice, when they see an unborn baby torn in pieces, when they see the blood shed, it is difficult to maintain that an unborn baby is not a baby, and that abortion is not killing.  The success of the pro-abortion position is dependent on the public’s ignorance about the truth of abortion.  Those who see the pictures know in their conscience that abortion is wrong.  Abortion pictures are effective because they show abortion for what it truly is—the killing of the unborn.  The cunning arguments of the abortionist lose their power to deceive in the face of reality.  This is why the abortion lobby is so vehemently against abortion pictures.  This is why UKLL uses abortion pictures in public demonstrations.

We believe that it is wrong to allow the abortion holocaust to continue unseen.  We believe that it is a grave mistake to allow abortion the sanitisation of abortion to continue.  Our policy, therefore, is to bear witness to the horror of abortion, despite the fact that to do so makes many people uncomfortable, despite the fact that the heart rending pictures raise strong emotions.

 God hates evil

The God of the Bible hates and abhors the evil of shedding innocent blood.  The eyes of God are too pure to look on evil; God cannot tolerate wrong. (Habakkuk 1:13)  In God’s eyes abortion is a detestable abomination.  Six times in Deuteronomy he commands his people to purge the evil from among them. God’s holiness is actively opposed to evil, and all that cheapens, distorts and destroys his creatures. In view of God’s holiness, the Christian has a responsibility – more, the Christian has an obligation – to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness and to oppose their wicked actions.  There can be no compromise with the detestable actions of the abortionists.  We cannot stand back and remain silent while our land is being polluted with the blood of innocent unborn children.

 The true Christian response

We believe that abortion is the greatest moral evil of our time.  According to Francis Schaeffer, in his seminal book on abortion, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? ‘If, in this last part of the twentieth century, the Christian community does not take a prolonged and vocal stand for the dignity of the individual each person’s right to life – for the right of each individual to be treated as created in the image of God – we feel that as Christians we have failed the greatest moral test to be put before us in this century.

‘Future generations will look back, and many will either scoff or believe in Christ on the basis of whether we Christians of today took a sacrificial stand in our various walks of life on these overwhelmingly important issues.  If we do not take a stand here and now, we certainly cannot lay any claim to being the salt of the earth in our generation.  We are neither preserving moral values and the dignity of the individual nor showing compassion for our fellow human beings.’[iv]

How are Christians in the UK responding to the greatest moral test of the 21st century?  What does the gospel mean if Christians can stand aside while 5,000 of the weakest and most vulnerable humans are being slaughter by a State funded abortion campaign?  We passionately believe that it is our responsibility before God to actively stand against abortion.  We urge those who believe with us that abortion is wrong to join in our vocal stand against the evil of abortion.  As David said when he faced the power of Goliath, ‘The battle is the Lord’s’ (1 Samuel 17:47).

Jim Dowson is an Evangelical Christian and member of the UK LifeLeague.  He holds a bachelor of Theology and a Masters Degree in Christian Ethics.

Dr Ted Williams is a consultant in public health.  He has written widely on moral issues, including marriage, cohabitation, divorce and sex education.


[i] Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1980, p19

[ii] John Davis, Abortion and the Christian; what every believer should know, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 1984, p61

[iii] Making a decision, CARE confidential leaflet, CARE

[iv] Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1980, p156

I truly believe that many of the problems we have today in the USA are due to the advancement of humanism in the last few decades in our society.

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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 


Image result for carl sagan and ann druyan
Carl Sagan with his wife Ann in the 1990’s
Image result for adrian rogers francis schaeffer
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.
Image result for francis schaeffer
630 × 414Images may be subject to copyright.






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  • jennacar  On May 11, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Abortion is very simply the casting of your self-hate for participating in sex outside of covenant marriage onto the defenseless child. Anybody who has ever had sex with someone not a committed partner (either outside of a “legal” marriage or in one) knows that instantaneous deep abyss of regret that comes from the fact that what was done was in transgression of a deeply eternal healthful way of managing one’s sexuality. And then when one turns up pregnant per biology, then you put that self-hatred for what you have done onto the child–as if that will take that bad feeling away. Which of course it does not–now murder compounds it.

    • Everette Hatcher III  On May 11, 2019 at 1:54 pm

      Adrian Rogers:

      What Should Christians Be Doing?

      1. Be informed. Do not continue with your head in the sand.
      2. Find out where the candidates stand on the issue of life.
      3. Vote for pro-life senators and representatives.
      4. Work for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
      5. Teach sexual morality at home and in the church. Parents and the Church—the voices who need to be speaking the most—are often the most silent.
      6. Forget our self-righteousness and have compassion for the unwed mother so she is not afraid to come to us. Be filled with love, not a hypercritical spirit.
      7. Show the love and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ for those who’ve had an abortion. There is mercy, forgiveness and grace with Almighty God. He removes the guilt. He may not remove the pain, but He will remove the guilt.
      8. Speak out clearly. Remember,
      “Cry aloud, and spare not…” Isaiah 58:1
      “If thou forbear…” Proverbs 24:11-12
      Speak up in the office, on the street, at the ball game, in the Sunday School class. Refuse to be swayed by high-sounding arguments of liberals, humanists, or social planners. They haven’t got a clue.
      9. Pray that God will give us time as a nation to repent! We are on the threshold of disaster. We need to bring this nation to God in repentance saying, “God have mercy on us for the shedding of innocent blood.”

      I believe we are making progress. The abortion rate is dropping. People are finally getting their eyes opened. But the battle is raging.

      I’m not nearly so much afraid of what terrorists are going to do to us as I am what God is going to do to us in this country of ours. We’d better get right with God. But I thank God that the Bible still teaches in 2 Chronicles 7:14:

      “If My people who are called by My name shall humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked way, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and” [hallelujah] “heal their land.”

      • jennacar  On May 11, 2019 at 2:00 pm

        I’m sorry. For a country–the United States–that purports to be between 75-90 percent Christians, I’m still trying to figure out how Roe was ever passed in the first place. Or how come that same country leads the world in pornography, drug use, you name it. Until the Christians realize that they gutted their own belief system back in 325AD when they got on the Roman bus while throwing the majority of believers of the time under it (non-Jewish assemblies weren’t even invited there; only around 250-300 bishops attended out of a almost 2,000 existing groups).
        Yes, it’s a battle, but it’s one that Christians have chosen to fight in the world’s ways.

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