ABORTION: WHEN DOES A LIFE BEGIN? AND WHO CAN FINISH IT?
The theme "abortion" is not something new, but gained prominence in the Brazilian media in 2017 because of a specific decision of the STF (Brazilian Federal Supreme Court) favorable to the interruption of pregnancy in cases of less than 3 months of gestation. Previously, abortion was acceptable only in cases of rape, risk of death for the mother, and fetuses with anencephaly (incomplete brain formation). This new decision, however, sets the precedent for many other similar cases, and has been causing a great social mobilization, either for or against it. Without pretending to exhaust the innumerable juridical, ethical, philosophical, and political nuances of this question, I want to focus on the biblical aspects of the subject, and I shall begin with a basic question, but with a not so simple answer:
When does life begin?
Life, in a broader sense, is like beauty: easy to be recognized but difficult to define in words. In the case of human life, at what instant exactly does it begin? Long before the discovery of the microscope, Plato believed that the soul "entered" the body at the time of birth, and abortion was common in ancient Roman and Greek society. Other philosophers, like Aristotle, asserted that life arose when the mother felt the first movements in the belly, and then the controversy had existed since those times. Even in the church of the first centuries, there was no consensus: St. Augustine claimed that life began from 40 days of pregnancy, but other ancient bishops (Tertullian, for example) claimed to happen much earlier. It was only in 1869 that Pope Pius IX proceeded to condemn any voluntary termination of pregnancy.
Science is also far from unanimous on this issue. For some (genetic hypothesis), life begins when the egg meets the sperm (fertilization). From that moment we would have the formation of a person. But even after fertilization, the embryo in its first 15 days can divide into 2 or 3 other embryos. How then could a person come up and then turn into 2 or 3 people? In addition, 50% of the embryos can not attach to the uterus. That is: if fertilization defines the beginning of life, half of the people would die spontaneously from abortions. Another hypothesis (embryological) admits that life occurs in the so-called "gastrulation", when the embryo is already in the uterus, has 3 specific layers of cells and can no longer become 2, being therefore a unique individual. It is based on this hypothesis that doctors who prescribe the "morning-after pill" state that they are not committing an abortion. Another scientific way of understanding when life begins is trying to respond when it ends (neurological hypothesis). If science today claims that death happens when there is no brainwave, then life would come with the onset of the first signs of brain activity (something that is now understood to begin in the eighth week of gestation).
Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
This passage shows that before the formation of our organs, God not only looked upon us as LIVING beings, but He had already drawn plans and purposes for each one of us! The psalmist is even more specific in the matter:
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
In the Old Testament, those who inflicted harm to a fetus would suffer from the same consequences that resulted from harm to an adult. This shows that God considers a life in the mother's belly as important as the life that was born:
"If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. "Exodus 21:22-25
Job says that the Lord clothed HIM with skin and flesh and gathered him with bones and tendons (Job 10:11). He does not say that the Lord formed something (without life) that would one day become Job (person), but that He formed someone, that is: “Job was already Job” in the womb of his mother. He was already a human being. And God already had plans for him. Isaiah says the same: "This is what the LORD says - he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you" (Isaiah 44:2). It does not say: He who formed something that would one day become you! You are already you before God long before you get a birth certificate!
We see in the Bible that God is not the only onde who can see a purpose in our lives still in the womb: even ourselves, with sensitivity and spiritual perception, can discern what are these purposes! John the Baptist is one of the best known examples, where Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophetically declared his purposes before he left his mother's belly:
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the son you will give birth to! "(Luke 1:42)
The Bible also says that the fetus could feel joy (Lk 1:44), like any adult human being. Therefore, it is clear from these and many other passages that God makes no distinction between one who was born and one who was not born. Everyone is already His image and likeness!
Let us then answer the second question, equally worthy of debate:
Who has the right to take someone's life?
Some advocates of abortion claim that the state must legalize it to remain a secular (religion-free) nation. But the definition of life is not only religious, and a democratic and even secular state must have its laws based on the expressed desire of the majority of its population, even if that desire is based on religious principles. To affirm also that the criminalization of abortion is a restriction on the sexual freedom of women is a demonstration of total ignorance of the current means of contraception, which are diverse, safe, cheap and of universal access in Brazil or countries like US. It is worth remembering that the cases of rape and risk of death to the mother represent less than 1% of the current cases of abortion in Brazil (same in US). The great majority of abortions happens quite simply because the mother do not want a child at that time, whether for economic reasons, emotional reasons, or lack of spiritual and family structure. Reasons like "How do I finish my college?", "How am I going to hide this betrayal?" Or "How will my family react?" Will never be sufficient grounds to justify the withdrawal of someone’s life!
The right of one's liberty can not go beyond the barrier of another's right to exist. So, the whole question is focused on WHEN this someone is really someone, not something, a mere heap of cells without individuality and life. As I said at the beginning of the text, there are many nuances to be observed, but here our focus is on the Biblical one. Even if all cases of abortion became legal in Brazil or US, no government is perfect, and we must "obey God rather than human beings!" (Acts 5:29).
And for those who have already done it, or encouraged someone else to do it?
Abortion, like any other sin, is not unforgivable before God. However, the psychological, spiritual and even physical consequences can be terribly damaging. Admittedly, past mistakes can not be undone. However, one can not let remorse and other feelings completely destroy hope for the future. There is a sorrow that according to God can lead to repentance and change of life: "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. "(2 Corinthians 7:10). Let the grace and forgiveness of Jesus take care of your conscience, and what was a death-generating mistake can be an opportunity to enjoy even more deeply the gift of life and justice!
1 John 2:1
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”