Thoughts on Abortion

Made in God's Image

Since the days of the early Church, Christians have taught that abortion is ethically wrong. Though not all Christians hold this view today, it is still the conviction of many believers that, in most situations, the lives of the unborn should be protected. Why do Christians hold these beliefs? Do they simply want to deprive women of their rights? Do Christians have hang-ups about sex? Many people who suspect Christians of harboring such motives have never heard a concise, respectful explanation of the traditional Christian view on this controversial subject.

The classical Christian view of abortion grows out of its roots in Judaism. In the Hebrew scriptures, and then later in the writings of the New Testament, we find two theological convictions that explain the traditional Christian position on abortion.

1) Human life is sacred.

The first conviction that leads to concern for the unborn is the biblical principle of the sacredness of human life. The first chapter of the Bible states that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26). The exact nature of the “image of God” in humanity has been debated among theologians for centuries, but all would agree that, at a minimum, it implies a sense of the basic dignity and value of any human being. People have inherent worth, regardless of their race, gender, social status, or abilities. Because of this, the taking of innocent human life is an egregious wrong (Gen. 9:6).

2) Human life begins in the womb.

Though the topic of abortion is never explicitly discussed in the Bible, there are numerous references to the unborn. In these passages, the fetus is depicted as having both humanness and personhood. God is described as lovingly forming people in their mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:13-16). He is said to have known individuals personally while they were still in utero (Isaiah 49:1; Jer. 1:5). The word used to describe an unborn fetus is the same word used to describe a newborn baby (Luke 1:42; 2:12). One Old Testament law existed to protect the unborn against even accidental injury (Ex. 21:22).

When taken together, these two biblical principles lead to a conviction that unborn life is sacred and worthy of protection. Though scripture certainly supports a woman’s right to make decisions concerning her own body, the Bible also suggests that, when discussing abortion, the rights of more than one individual need to be considered – the rights of the mother and of the unborn child. Concern for the unborn, therefore, is linked to the larger biblical concern for human rights in general.


People who hear the Christian case against abortion often respond by pointing out inconsistencies in the positions of pro-lifers. They observe that many who oppose abortion out of concern for unborn babies seem indifferent to the welfare of children after they exit the womb. They also point to pervasive misogyny in the church as the true source of its pro-life position.

These criticisms can be overstated, but Christians must admit that they often contain some truth. The church needs to be consistently pro-life, considering how God’s love for human beings impinges on issues other than just abortion – issues such as poverty, healthcare, racism, climate change, human trafficking, militarism, and the death penalty. The church needs to repent of our lack of respect for women and our lack of concern for the poor. We must also leave behind the vitriolic rhetoric that has often characterized our discussion of abortion, showing respect for those who differ with our point of view.

The church must also demonstrate compassion for women who have had abortions. Sadly, many women who grieve their decision to end a pregnancy view the church as the last place they would turn for comfort, expecting to find nothing but condemnation there. Churches are communities of forgiven sinners. As such, they should be havens of mercy for all people, regardless of their past or present sins.

The existence of hypocrisy among Christians, however, does not nullify the basic ethical problems of abortion (any more than the racist views of northern abolitionists invalidated their opposition to slavery). But until Christians add consistency and compassion to our ethical convictions, we should not be surprised to find our ideas dismissed by the broader culture.

Political implications.

The topic of abortion is sensitive and complicated. Sadly, many pro-life Christians have failed to discuss the issue with the nuance it requires. This is particularly true when it comes to considering the political implications of this issue.

Many Christians feel that, as citizens of democratic societies, they should use their right to vote and their freedom of speech to advocate for legal restrictions on abortion. Given God’s passionate concern for justice as revealed in the Bible, this view is understandable. Proverbs 31:8 instructs us, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Unborn children certainly cannot speak up for themselves. They are among the most vulnerable among us. For this reason, many believers feel that their only viable political option is to support candidates who call for the prohibition of abortion and to oppose candidates who do not.

But not every Christian holds this view. Some, though personally regarding abortion as wrong, feel that women should be free to make their own decisions concerning their pregnancies. Those who hold this view generally feel that the best way to protect the unborn is to change public opinion on abortion through moral persuasion rather than through political action. They point out that, unless people’s views on the subject change, abortion is likely to continue in our society whether it is outlawed or not. Other Christians contend that the best way to decrease the number of abortions is not by banning the practice but by alleviating conditions that lead women to feel that abortion is their only option, conditions such as poverty and lack of access to healthcare. Others, though advocating for restrictions on abortion, recognize that other political issues are also important, leading them on occasion to support pro-choice candidates because of the positions those candidates hold on other matters.  

Though it can be difficult to understand political views that differ from our own, we should acknowledge that the responsibilities of living as citizens in a pluralistic democracy are complex. We need to recognize that other Christians may differ from us in their political response to the abortion debate and still be loyal to Christ. Rather than jumping to condemn fellow believers whose voting record on this issue differs from our own, we should take time to listen respectfully to each other’s points of view.

In all of this, Christians should remember that we are members of the church, the body of Christ. The church is not a political action committee. The church is a community of redeemed sinners chosen by God to bring his message of salvation to a broken world. Though the Bible acknowledges the importance of the state in God’s governance of the world (Romans 13:1-4), we should remember that the deepest problems in our society will never be solved through legislation (Matt. 26:52; John 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:12). Our deepest problems can only be solved by the Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus brings justice and healing to this world as his people proclaim his gospel, beautifying their message through love and good deeds.