Photo by Pixabay on

AUTHOR NOTE: This is the second in a series of four posts about abortion and religious beliefs. 

Evangelicals and Catholics find justification for their pro-life beliefs in the Bible. Mostly, they took some scriptures, added a whole bunch of interpretation to them, and then concluded that the Bible says God thinks abortion is murder and every Christian has to be pro-life. Well, it turns out if you read some other scriptures from the Bible, and add some interpretation to them too, you can also conclude that God doesn’t think abortion is murder and he’s totally fine with Christians being pro-choice too. The Bible is really useful like that – on a topic like abortion (about which the Bible is essentially silent), you can find scriptures that bolster the principles on both sides of the debate.

My conclusion from my own study of the Bible is that God has never told the prophets to write down anything specific about pregnancy, miscarriages, stillbirths, or women trying to cause their own abortions. The Bible is written by men, for men, upon inspiration from a male God. Topics that pertain exclusively to women are just not given much attention. 

If you don’t remember anything else from this post, remember this point: the Bible says almost nothing about terminating a pregnancy.

The Only Verse About Induced Miscarriage

Let’s start with the only Bible verse I’ve been able to find that is specifically about terminating a pregnancy. Just one chapter after Moses wrote down “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), Moses wrote down all the exceptions, i.e., the death penalties. In Exodus 21, the death penalty is established for: murder (Exodus 21:12), hitting your parents (Exodus 21:15), kidnapping someone to sell them into slavery (Exodus 21:16), and cursing your parents (Exodus 21:17). There are more sins that get the death penalty (see Leviticus 20 and 24) , but Exodus 21 gives a basic idea of how much killing was allowed despite “thou shalt not kill”.

The penalty for terminating a pregnancy is paying a fine, maybe, if the father of the aborted fetus asks for money.

If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. Exodus 21:22.

This is an oddly specific crime. If men are fighting with each other, and (accidentally? on purpose?) hurt a pregnant woman so badly that she miscarries, then the woman’s husband sets the punishment and the fine. No one is sentenced to death, despite how freely God and Moses are setting out the death penalty for every other serious sin. I’ve searched the Bible for any other mention of terminating a pregnancy, and this is it – the only scripture I’ve been able to find that is actually on topic. There is no scripture saying women can’t terminate a pregnancy. There is no scripture punishing a pregnant woman or a midwife for terminating a pregnancy. There is no scripture saying a woman can terminate a pregnancy. There’s just nothing. 

If you continue on after this verse, it does have a contingency if something else happens to the woman besides the miscarriage. “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life or life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” and etc. (Exodus 21:23-24). If the woman dies or is permanently injured, then perhaps further justice is extracted. However, causing a miscarriage is separated from any harm done to the woman. 

A Missed Opportunity

Quite a bit of the next few books of the Old Testament are taken up with laws and rituals governing everyday life. For example, if a mother gives birth to a son, she is unclean for seven days and must be purified. If a mother has a daughter, she is unclean for two weeks (Leviticus 12). Being unclean isn’t restricted to women. If a man has a running sore, he is also unclean (Leviticus 15). These rules are basic hygiene.

That’s pretty much all you’ll find in the Bible about the messy details of childbirth. God really missed an opportunity to set forth some basic rules to help women and their babies survive childbirth. Some guidance about giving expectant mothers good food and letting them rest would have helped. Perhaps some tips on handling the birthing process – such as cleanliness, how to stop bleeding, making sure the newborn nurses on colostrum, wouldn’t have been too difficult, in among the chapters of exactly how the tabernacle should look, how to do an animal sacrifice, property inheritance laws, dealing with leprosy, and the like. I speculate that the midwives and women knew quite a bit about how to help each other during pregnancy and childbirth, but none of it was included in scripture.

God, the Bible and the prophets do not spend time or attention on a pregnant woman’s health or a baby’s survival. To be honest, this is fine. Godly men ought to follow the Bible on this point: keep quiet and let women handle the whole topic.

The Real Reproductive Sin

God himself imposed the death penalty on a man who messed around with procreative sex. 

The story goes like this: Tamar married Er, the son of Judah (Genesis 38:6). Er committed some undescribed wickedness, and the Lord killed him. In those days, if a man died without children, the man’s brother was to impregnate the wife so that the dead man could still have an heir. Er’s brother was named Onan, and he wasn’t happy about the idea of fathering children for his brother. When he was having intercourse with Tamar, he spilled his seed on the ground (Genesis 38:8–10). God killed him for that.

Onan’s coitus interruptus meant that Tamar wouldn’t get pregnant. Nowadays, any man using a condom is ejaculating in a way that won’t cause a pregnancy. The Lord doesn’t impose the death penalty for that anymore. Bible-thumping pro-lifers also don’t argue that every time a man ejaculates, he should be trying to conceive a baby. Presumably, that wouldn’t go over very well with their supporters, either male or female. Birth control is pretty popular. But it’s right there in the Bible that the Lord considers it a sin for a man to have sex and not want the woman to become pregnant. 

The Hebrew Midwives

When the Israelites, recently freed from their bondage in Egypt, battled the Midianites, Moses ordered the Israelite men to kill all the male children and babies, but to keep alive “for yourselves” any virgin or girlchild (Numbers 31:7–18).

That’s an important story involving Moses, because one of the scriptures the Christian pro-life movement quotes to emphasize the evils of abortion is the story of Pharaoh in Egypt ordering the midwives to kill all Hebrew male newborns at birth. The Hebrew midwives refused to do it, and lied to protect the newborn boys (Exodus 1:15–22). For this bravery, the Hebrew midwives were blessed.

Pharaoh’s command to kill newborns isn’t comparable to a woman choosing to have an abortion — it’s more comparable to the Chinese government forcing abortions on women who wanted babies, when enforcing the one-child policy. Or it should be compared to the United States government forcing surgical sterilization on people without their consent during the eugenics movement. This story about Pharaoh is as horrifying to the pro-choice movement as it is to the pro-life movement. The government should never make that choice for women. A woman who wants to have a baby should be allowed, supported and encouraged to have a baby.

Moses was born during the time when Pharaoh wanted all the male babies killed at birth. The story doesn’t say if his birth was attended by a midwife or if his mother birthed him without help. His mother hid him for three months, and then set him loose on the Nile in a basket, where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the royal household. That was how Moses survived his birth and grew up to become a prophet of God and lead the Hebrews out of bondage (Exodus 2:1–10). Then as an adult, while leading the Israelites to claim the promised land, Moses ordered a massacre of the Midianite boy children and babies, apparently with the Lord’s approval.

That wasn’t an isolated incident. While traveling towards the Promised Land, Moses and the Israelites fought King Sihon and his men, then destroyed his cities, killing every man, woman and child who lived there (Deuteronomy 2:34). The people in the land ruled by Og, king of Bashan, received the same treatment (Deuteronomy 3:1–6). Joshua, Moses’ successor, continued the practice of killing the children and babies in conquered lands. All the inhabitants of Jericho, except Rahab’s family, were killed, including the children and babies (Joshua 6:21). The people of Ai were slain and their city burnt (Joshua 8). It keeps going like that for chapter after gruesome chapter, bloodbath after bloodbath, with the death of everyone, including babies, children and pregnant women.

God commanded the death of babies.


The prophet Jeremiah records that the first words the Lord said to him were “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). The pro-life movement uses this scripture to show that the Lord knew Jeremiah in the womb — therefore life begins at conception and the unborn are all sacred to the Lord. We’ve already seen that the Lord doesn’t intervene to save the lives of pregnant women and babies in general, but some babies are important. 

Presumably, if a baby is going to grow up to do something that matters to the Lord, the Lord can make sure the baby is born. One of his methods is to withhold a baby until a woman has grieved her barrenness, enduring all the pity and condemnation from a society obsessed with male babies, and then to send her a son. Sarah was elderly when she gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21). Jacob/Israel’s wife, Rachel was so upset with being barren that she fought with her husband about it, and he blamed God for withholding children from her (Genesis 30:1–2). Rachel eventually died giving birth to her second son (Genesis 35:16–19). Samson’s mother was barren until an angel appeared to tell her she would bear Samson (Judges 13). Hannah promised the Lord she would give her son into his service if he would heal her barrenness, which resulted in the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1). Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was well-past childbearing years when God sent her the baby boy who would grow up to be John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus Christ (Luke 1).

One thing these famous mothers had in common was a desire to be a mother. They suffered emotional anguish from being barren, and rejoiced to finally be pregnant and bear sons. The Lord apparently only sent important babies to women who spent their lives wishing to be a mother. However, the idea that every baby’s life is important is gone in the list of entire populations of children and babies slain at the Lord’s command.

Another, more horrific, story showing the Lord is only concerned with the survival of babies who will grow up to be important is the slaughter of the innocents when Jesus was born. King Herod, jealous that the people were saying a king had been born, sent his soldiers to kill every baby in Bethlehem under the age of two. The Lord warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and baby Jesus and flee to Egypt. The rest of the babies and toddlers in Bethlehem were killed by soldiers (Matthew 2).

The point is that the Biblical God really isn’t dewy-eyed with tenderness about the sanctity of life, even the life of babies and children. This doesn’t necessarily mean that God is cruel and vicious; heaven is a wonderful place and we know that babies and children are saved in heaven without any further testing or suffering while on earth. Perhaps the reason God doesn’t mind if children are killed (by God’s command, by disease, by starvation, by natural disaster, by miscarriage, abortion or any other way), is because he doesn’t see a child’s death as a tragedy. Eternal perspective and all that.

What Christ Said

Whew, that’s enough from the Old Testament. That’s a bloodbath of babies. Let’s leave that behind and get to the teachings of Jesus.

Christ loved children. When his disciples told people not to bother Jesus with children, he famously told them, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for of such is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus told his disciples that unless they became like children, they couldn’t enter heaven (Matthew 18:1–5). Christ’s love for children serves as a counterweight to the Catholic teaching that the Lord sends unbaptized babies (miscarried, aborted or stillborn) to limbo or hell.

Jesus Christ didn’t say much about pregnant women either, and what he did say wasn’t very encouraging. Christ foretold the destruction that would precede his Second Coming, and said this about women who were pregnant or had newborn babies:

And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! (Matthew 24:19).

That comment comes in the middle of Christ telling people who see the signs of the Second Coming to just run for it — don’t even take the time to get something out of your house. Pregnant women and new mothers are the only group of people he singles out for a special ‘woe’ in this chapter, and there isn’t any mention of hoping they’re alright, or telling anyone else to look after them, or even promising them divine help. It’s more of a ‘sucks to be you’ comment. Being pregnant or a new mother around the time Christ comes again will be a woeful experience.

Christ renewed that warning after Pilate condemned him to death:

Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. (Luke 23:28–29).

Rather than telling people that pregnancy is the Lord’s will for women, and everyone should help pregnant women during hard times, he said that women who didn’t have children were lucky. It is not a blessing to be pregnant or give birth during tumultuous times.

There is no recorded miracle where Jesus stopped a miscarriage or saved the life of a newborn baby or the life of a mother dying in childbirth. If that happened, the stories were not deemed important enough to write down.

Christ compares the end of suffering to childbirth:

A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world (John 16:21).

Nothing in this statement says that motherhood is the Lord’s plan for all women. Christ is making an observation about a woman’s feelings about childbirth. 

Jesus loved children, but he didn’t have much to say about pregnant women. Those are the only scriptures I found in which Jesus spoke about pregnancy or childbirth.


The assumption that the Lord has strong opinions about abortion one way or the other is simply not supported by the Bible itself. Some of his modern-day followers certainly have strong opinions, and they have skewed the debate by leaving out the stories and verses that support pro-choice principles.

The reality is that there are verses and Bible stories that support either side of the argument, and no clear scriptures that settle the question. It’s entirely possible to be a devoted Bible-reading Christian AND to believe that a woman should be able to terminate her pregnancy.