A blog by Rev. Curt McCormack, with editing by Jane McCormack.

There are approximately 5 million pregnancies per year in the United States, with 1 million ending in miscarriage (a loss occurring prior to 20 weeks of gestation) and over 20,000 ending in stillbirth at or beyond 20 weeks of gestation. As many as 50% of these losses are categorized as “unspecified.” Dr. Harvey Kliman, Yale School of Medicine, September 19, 2023.

I wonder if pro-lifers ever think about the one million miscarriages that transpire before twenty weeks that take place every year in the US.  I would think that the anti-abortion crowd would by now want to take God to court for what they consider even a divine action illegal. I suppose that just because God can do it doesn’t mean that we should be able to.

Let’s face it, the issue is fraught with complexity and ire on both sides. Were it a simple answer of believing, “yes, I’m for it”, or, “no I’m not” it might resolve some of the more sensitive issues. It seems like there are a ‘million’ circumstances where abortion might occur.

The pro-lifers include the Christian Right and many Republicans. Some claim no to abortion under any circumstances. Others might allow a six-week grace period when in most cases, women don’t even know that they are yet pregnant. Still others argue for a more humane rule allowing for the health and safety of the mother. Others would add to that, cases of rape.  Then there is the problem of who decides when these criteria are met.

The 6th Commandment

I have some concern for the pro-lifers who say an adamant no to abortion under any circumstances. They have decided, like the Catholic Church, that “full life” begins at conception. So they believe abortion under any circumstances is murder.

The basis for their belief is the sixth commandment, “thou shall not kill.”

Contrary to popular belief, this particular commandment meant that you could not kill a fellow Jew. As we know, there is a lot of slaughtering of other peoples, including women and children, under the guidance of the hand of God in the pages of the Old Testament. In some cases, pro-lifers want to prosecute not only the mother but the doctors and nurses who would engage in abortion activity.

Pro-Birth vs Pro-Choice

Many pro-lifers would like the government to issue a national abortion ban to protect the unborn fetus. In essence, they are not talking about pro-life but pro-birth. They believe that the fetus has an inalienable right to be born. However, in most cases, it seems that the pro-birthers want nothing to do with providing health and care service for the future upbringing of the child.  A thirteen-year-old child who has been raped by a family member is on her own to providing for the care of the child. Perhaps they believe that the child will be raised by the grandparents or put up for adoption?

In contrast, pro-choice believers argue that the choice of abortion should be left up to the woman, after all it is her body that is at stake. There are some pro-choice activists, however, that choose to put some restrictions on certain circumstances of abortion, such as when the viability of the embryo/fetus is in question and/or the health of the mother is a serious concern. Obviously, there are other circumstances that challenge abortion. Do you force a 13-year-old child to bring a baby to term? What about a mother who is already sinking in poverty and finds out she’s about to add a fourth child to a family that cannot effectively sustain the other three? I don’t wish to belabor all the circumstances where abortion might be a viable resolve. But remember that abortion not only affects the pregnant mother but the entire family, community, and sometimes the state.

Abortion in Biblical Times

I ran across an article by Dr. Melanie A. Howard, Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Fresno Pacific University, and she gives us a little bit of Biblical abortion history. She says, “Abortions were known and practiced in biblical times, although the methods differed significantly from modern ones. The second-century Greek physician Soranus, for example, recommended fasting, bloodletting, vigorous jumping and carrying heavy loads as ways to end a pregnancy.  Soranus’ treatise on gynecology acknowledged different schools of thought on the topic. Some medical practitioners forbade the use of any abortive methods. Others permitted them, but not in cases in which they were intended to cover up an adulterous liaison or simply to preserve the mother’s good looks. In other words, the Bible was written in a world in which abortion was practiced and viewed with nuance. Yet the Hebrew and Greek equivalents of the word “abortion” do not appear in either the Old or New Testament of the Bible. That is, the topic simply is not directly mentioned.” (This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, July 20, 2022).

When Does Life Begin?

In my mind, there is another significant issue that weighs on the act of abortion. When does life begin? When does the “soul” enter the body? At what stage of conception or gestation does the soul enter the embryo/fetus that makes it a living, breathing human being? For a little clarity, and for those of you who trust the Bible, Genesis 2:7, King James Version (KJV) says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

So, if you believe that every word of the Bible is true at face value, then it would seem that “nostrils” need to be present for God to breathe in life. But an embryo or fetus has yet to develop that feature. Likewise, in order for a fetus to be a “living breathing human” it would have to have working lungs and we know the lungs are not active until the fetus exists the mother’s body. (The fetus receives oxygen from the mother’s breathing in the womb.)

Catholic Theology

Early Catholic theology took on the belief of Aristotle who believed that the human soul entered the body at 40 days in a male embryo and 90 days in a female embryo. However, the current Catholic position believes… “that an immortal soul is infused into the fetus at the moment of conception, but this has not always been its position. The dogma that “ensoulment” coincides with the fertilization of the egg by the sperm was adopted by the Catholic Church only starting in 1869.” (Olivia Jones, 1/31/2023, Fifteen Eighty-Four, Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press).

Jewish Theology

In Judaism… “An unborn fetus in Jewish law is not considered a person (Heb. nefesh, lit. “soul”) until it has been born. The fetus is regarded as a part of the mother’s body and not a separate being until it begins to egress from the womb during parturition (childbirth). In fact, until forty days after conception, the fertilized egg is considered as “mere fluid.” These facts form the basis for the Jewish legal view on abortion. Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller, known as Tosafot Yom Tov, in his commentary on this passage in the Mishnah, explains that the fetus is not considered a nefesh until it has egressed into the air of the world and, therefore, one is permitted to destroy it to save the mother’s life.” (Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law by Dr. Fred Rosner, My Jewish Learning, Say Kaddish Daily, Passover 2024, Published by KTAV).

Muslim Theology

“According to Muslim scholar Rabbi Allen S. Maller, Muslim legal scholars who are the only ones who have a fairly clear scriptural bases for their view, believe that the soul (ruh)… enters the fetus/embryo at around 120 days (4 months) after conception.” (Rabbi Allen S. Maller, When a Human Soul enters a Fetus, Islamic City, May, 21, 2019).

A Therapist’s Perspective

Irna Noles, Past Life Regression Therapist, believes the following: “According to Michael Newton’s research (he took 7000 clients into ‘life between lives” in regression hypnotherapy sessions, including time ‘in utero” before birth) – the soul connects with the fetus between the 4th and 6th month of pregnancy. It mostly stays outside the mother’s body, only creating energetic links with the fetus and working on the brain and body of the fetus to adjust it to its own energy and life plan.” (Quora website, When does the soul enter the body?).

I could go on citing evidence from professionals in theology, psychology, medicine, philosophy, etc., but I believe my point is obvious. Sometime from  conception to birth the embryo/fetus receives the breath of life and becomes a living human being. Why is this important? Because if you believe like the Catholics, that the soul joins the fertilized egg at conception, then you would tend to believe that aborting a fetus would indeed be murder, even though God does it a million times a year in the US.

On the other hand, if you believe that the soul enters the fetus at 90 days, 200 days, or like the Jews, at birth, you might tend to allow that abortion could happen as a choice of the mother prior to any of those dates.

My Philosophy

I do take the Bible seriously but not literally. The creation story is metaphorical on all levels. The Genesis scripture, God… “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”  This simply means that at some point in the gestation of the fetus, between conception and birth, the soul enters the fetus and becomes a living being. I would tend to side with Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller, sited above, that the “fetus is not considered a “nefesh” (soul) until it has egressed into the air of the world and, therefore, one is permitted to destroy it to save the mother’s life.” (Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law by Dr. Fred Rosner, My Jewish Learning, Say Kaddish Daily, Passover 2024, Published by KTAV).

Regardless of how you choose to understand this issue, it does not explain away the fact that God provides over a million abortions a year, just in the US. Some will say that it is not God choosing this act but simply biology functioning as biology does in the body. Maybe so, but that would negate the idea that God has his/her pulse on the function of all life.  Not sure that that qualifies as a moral or ethical argument.

I have to admit that I am pro-choice and have to conclude that I have no say in when abortion should be a yea or a nay. I am an old white man and have absolutely no business legislating on this issue. Therefore, whatever the circumstances, I have no right to accuse, abuse, manipulate or even suggest a possible action. It belongs only to the mother, with advice from her family as she desires.

Most likely, the pro-birth camp and the pro-choice camp may never find a point of compromise. Nonetheless, it is important that we keep government out of our personal morality issues. It is also important that we don’t let a Congress of old men make decisions on women’s health. If Congress feels they need to make laws against women and the doctors that participate in an abortion, then equity should also be played out. It takes two to create a fetus, therefore, if you are going to criminalize the woman, then you should also criminalize the penis that participated in the conception.

Perhaps an Elaina Bobbit action of cutting off her husband’s penis when he was asleep back in the 90’s might be a little too harsh, but given the mistreatment of women on that matter, maybe not. Maybe a fine of $300,000 for the father to help pay to raise the child to age 18. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so they say. Equal and just punishment for both should that be the course taken. Okay, a little tongue-in-cheek here.

I would hope that wiser minds would prevail.  So, let’s bring back Roe vs. Wade and get on with the business of life.