With an election now called in Australia and the ALP declaring that, under a Labor government, Federal funding to hospitals will depend on them providing abortion services, the issue of abortion is clearly on the election radar.
Why is abortion such an important issue for people of faith? Over the next few weeks, I will be presenting a few short articles looking at some of the issues involved in this debate.
This week, we’ll look at the very foundation of this discussion and that is the issue of human life – what is it and when does it begin?
Asking when human life begins may, at least on the surface, seem to be a simple question, however the reality is that it’s a very complex question that has biological, theological and ethical considerations and implications.
No matter how this question is answered, there will be many who will strongly disagree, simply because we all “reason” from a biased perspective – that bias being largely informed by our worldview.
Foundational to my worldview is my absolute belief in a God who not only exists, but is actively involved in all affairs of nature and is knowable by all human beings.
Given the belief that He is knowable, then it is reasonable to presume that His ways and His will are also knowable, thus my response to life’s significant questions will be affected by what I believe is God’s revealed purpose and will.
That will always be my “bias” in any consideration of questions such as that of abortion and will always affect my vote come election time.
Science broadly defines any form of life as an object that is able to sustain biological processes on its own, thus distinguishing it from an object that is inanimate – i.e. it has no ability to sustain biological processes. Death would thus be defined as a once living object that has lost the ability to sustain such biological processes.
Within the living cell is a double long chain of molecules (“nucleotides”) that determines the proteins that the cell makes – this is deoxyribonucleic acid (or DNA). It is the genetic code that determines all the characteristics of a living thing.
When a sperm fertilises an ovum and the cell divides, a new living object (as defined above) is formed and within 3 days, it possesses organization and function as an independent unit capable of further development.
Within 5 days of fertilization, it will be comprised of 70 to 100 cells and over the next 2 to 5 days, will attach itself to the wall of the uterus in order for it to receive the oxygen and nutrients from the mother to allow further growth and development.
This tiny living form has DNA that is distinctly human (i.e. it can only be described as human life) and has a genetic code that is unique — different from the genetic code of the mother and father of that embryo.
Thus it is human, but it is not a group of cells that are a part of its mother – it has a DNA that is different to its mother, the uterus is in a sense the “host” in which it grows and develops all of its unique characteristics.
Philosophically, some may argue that “personhood” is not attained until its nervous system begins to form at day 14, or its heart begins to beat at day 18 or perhaps personhood is attained at week 21, by which time it has a small chance of survival if born at this point.
Some even suggest that “personhood” begins at birth. This concept of “personhood” is sometimes used to justify abortion.
Prior to “personhood” being achieved, it is not fully human, thus to terminate its life is acceptable.
It must be said however, that this concept of “personhood” is not a biological concept, nor is it a theological concept – it is purely philosophical and impossible to clearly define.
As a Christian, I believe that humanity was created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and, given that all human life has involved reproduction from those made in that Divine image, every subsequent human being continues to bear that image and thus carries intrinsic moral value based on who we are (i.e. one made in God’s image) rather than some form of extrinsic moral value which is based upon specific functional capabilities that we may possess.
The Bible also tells us that as part of that divine image that we bear, human beings have a spirit as well as a body. Our human identity then involves more than simply a physical body or human DNA or even a form of mental capacity.
Thus the value of human life goes far beyond the developmental stage of the physical body.
Psalm 139:13–16 speaks of God knowing us even when our body was not fully formed (implying a time very early in our embryonic development) and tells us that our days were ordained and recorded by God before they came to be.
There are Biblical examples of God setting aside or “calling” people before they were born (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, John the Baptist). Thus we see that God gives dignity to human life long before birth.
Such an understanding outlined above, of what human life is and when it begins, leads to a simple conclusion. An embryo that develops from the fertilization of a human egg and a human sperm is a human embryo, so it is a human life.
The embryo has, from conception, a DNA code that distinguishes it from being mistaken as a part of its mother’s body (such as any physical organ of the mother), so it cannot be discounted and discarded as one may treat an appendix or kidney etc.
The fertilized ovum from the moment of the first cell division, is a unique, distinct human life that bears the image of God. To premeditatedly and intentionally terminate such a life through the process that we call “abortion”, is an unwarranted taking of a human life and is tantamount to murder.
The Bible clearly forbids murder (Mat 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’; Ex 20:13 you shall not commit murder).
The only conclusion that I can reach, based on my absolute conviction of a living God who is actively involved in every aspect of His creation, is that human life begins at conception and taking such a life is forbidden by God, therefore abortion cannot be condoned.
Come election time, all people of faith should consider this issue of life before casting their vote and perhaps the Labor Party may need to reconsider its position.