By Mark Ballard
President, Northeastern Baptist College
Recent months have seen increased discussions on abortion. They first appeared on social media. Many of the discussions escalated into passionate debates. Protests quickly followed. Churches across the nation saw protests in front of their facilities. Some protestors even interrupted church services. This past week, in response to the May 2nd leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion, which if finalized could in effect nullify Roe v. Wade and return the abortion issue to the states, the protests moved to the front of the homes of five United States Supreme Court Justices. And, just before I began this article, a Fox News alert came across my phone: “Pro-choice ‘Bans off our Bodies’ protestors take to the streets in cities across the country.”
Unfortunately, conservative churches, denominations, and pro-life entities have not spoken with unanimity. The debate among pro-lifers is not whether abortion is right or wrong, but over the nature of future abortion laws in pro-life leaning states. On Thursday, May 12, 2022, several pro-life advocates, including the acting president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, issued a letter opposing state legislation that, while abolishing abortions, would make a mother responsible and criminally punishable for choosing to have an abortion. Reactions were sharp among Southern Baptists. SBC presidential candidate Tom Ascol said, “The SBC has a rogue entity in the ERLC. The messengers spoke loudly & clearly about our commitment to abolish abortion & see equal protection under the law for preborn children.”
Regrettably, the Ephesian mob described in Acts 19 could characterize many of the pro-abortion protestors as well as some of the heated debates among pro-lifers. “Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.” (Acts 19:32)
As I noted in a 2021 book about the nature of the gospel, “Words Matter,” when people use the same vocabulary but a different dictionary, real communication is impossible. Such is the case with the word abortion. To find clarity and common ground in our abortion discussions, we must define out terms clearly. I believe there are three basic understandings of abortion.
ABORTION–A MORAL CHOICE
First, some, like those who put forward a constitutional amendment in my own state of Vermont, believe abortion is a moral choice. Every woman, they believe, has a right to make all decisions about her own body; abortion is a “reproductive right.” They also believe abortion is a moral right that every woman should enjoy without any government interference. And, of course, the government should fully fund this “reproductive autonomy.” Anything less would be misogynous discrimination against women.
Of course, the obvious question is, “What about the rights of the baby?” After all, many are baby girls. I am amazed that those who demand we must follow the science feel free to ignore the science when it flies in the face of their desired outcome. Medical science has proven that a baby in the womb can hear music and conversations, experience sadness and pain, and even survive though forced out of the womb long before the due date. The United States Constitution guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to every human. That would include the life of a child in the womb.
What about the limitation on a woman’s rights? “Rights” are limited regularly. If my pursuit of happiness infringes on the rights of another, my rights must be limited. What if a mother argued that she was pursuing her “right to happiness” when she disposed of her month-old baby in a garbage bin? The outcry would be great, and so it should. Thus, many see that consistency demands equal protection under the law for all human life, from conception to natural death.
ABORTION–AN IMMORAL CHOICE
Second, many across the United States view abortion as an immoral choice. They acknowledge that abortion is a choice. A woman chooses to have an abortion. Sometimes a husband, boyfriend, family member, and/or friend chooses to help pay for the abortion. Doctors and their medical staff choose to perform the abortion. Hospitals and clinics choose to provide a room and the necessary equipment to perform abortions. Typically, insurance companies choose to pay a portion of the costs of abortion. Many choices are made. However, many believe the choice to abort to be an immoral choice.
Often those with this understanding of abortion work to oppose abortion on demand. They are horrified at the arguments to make abortion legal to the moment of birth. Among these there are some who argue that abortion should be extremely rare and have personally made a commitment to never have an abortion. Many in this camp would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned but are concerned about how various states will respond. Most in this camp would oppose Vermont’s attempt to guarantee abortion up to the moment of birth in its constitution.
However, many with this view also see a problem with complete abolition of abortion, particularly if it means women who have an abortion after the law is passed would face criminal charges. Often they argue that doctors should be held criminally liable, but a woman who asks the doctor to perform the abortion should be seen as a victim of the abortion industry, not a criminal.
ABORTION–A MURDEROUS CHOICE
Third, many argued, leading up to and since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that by definition, abortion is murder. Murder has been defined traditionally as the intentional taking of innocent human life. Those who hold this definition do not deny that abortion is a choice. A woman intentionally chooses to take the life of a baby in her womb. A doctor and his medical staff intentionally choose to take the life of the baby. In some forms of abortion, such as “partial birth abortion,” the procedure not only ends the life of the baby but also inflicts torturous pain prior to death. However, we should be clear. All successful abortions (no matter the procedure) painfully and intentionally end a human being’s life.
Those who hold this third definition believe abortion is a choice, an immoral choice, and also a murderous choice. When a murder is committed there are serious, permanent consequences.
1st A baby’s innocent life is intentionally ended; the consequence cannot be undone.
2nd The mother has intentionally ended the life of her baby; she cannot undo her choice.
3rd The doctors and medical staff have intentionally taken an innocent human life; their choice cannot be undone.
Imagine. A mother decides to end the life of her 8-year-old daughter. However, the thought of murder seems completely repulsive. She cannot bring herself to do it. Rather, she decides to hire a trained hitman to efficiently perform the murder. She asks the hitman to make it as quick and as painless as possible. A week later, her daughter is found dead.
An investigation uncovers the entire plot. The District Attorney, however, also discovers the eight-year-old daughter was causing emotional and economic distress for the mother. Parenting responsibilities were robbing her of equality with fellow workers who had no childcare responsibilities. Further, the daughter was an affront on her autonomy. The DA decides to bring charges against the hitman but to let the mother go free. She was also a victim of the hitman industry, and of a patriarchal society. She goes free, with the court’s sympathy, while the hitman pays for the permanent consequences of his crime.
But consider the facts. The hitman would have never murdered the eight-year-old girl, if the mother had not hired him to do so. If the hitman were held accountable for his choice, but the mother went free for her choice, would it not be viewed as a serious miscarriage of justice?
The only difference between an abortion and the above scenario is that the child is still in the mother’s womb. The doctor would never have murdered the baby if the mother had not asked him to do so. If abortion is indeed murder, the intentional taking of an innocent human life, it should be illegal. The consequences of breaking the law should be serious for the woman who chooses, the medical staff which chooses, and anyone who contributes to the intentional taking of an innocent human life.
In the end, my definition of abortion does not settle the issue. Louisiana and Vermont cannot decide what abortion is. The Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission do not have final say. God determines the nature of abortion. The good news is we have God’s thoughts in the Bible. As we conclude this article, consider what He said.
- Life begins at conception – “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
- Taking an innocent human life is sin – “Thou shalt not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)
- Murder has temporal consequences – “And He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth…” (Genesis 4:10-11)
- Sin separates us from God – “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a)
- There is forgiveness in Jesus – “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)
- You can experience Jesus’ forgiveness by turning from your sin and trusting Jesus – “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mark 1:16)
- God’s forgiveness does not automatically remove all the temporal consequences of our sinful choices – “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)
 Ballard, Mark H. and Timothy K. Christian Words Matter, What is the Gospel? Bennington, VT: Northeastern Baptist Press, 2021.