by Dr. Paul D. Simmons
The biblical portrait of personhood begins not with an explanation of conception
but with a portrayal of the creation of Adam and Eve. The biblical portrait
of a person, therefore, is that of a complex, many-sided creature with godlike
abilities and the moral responsibility to make choices. The woman unquestionably
fits the biblical portrayal of person.
The abortion question focuses on the personhood of the woman, who in turn
considers the potential personhood of the fetus in terms of the multiple dimensions
of her own history and future. Because the pregnancy is hers, the decision
to continue the pregnancy is uniquely hers. She is aware that God wills health
and happiness for her, for those she may bring into the world, and for the
human race. Thus, she is engaged in reflection on her own well-being, the
genetic health of the fetus, and the survival of the human race.
The absence of prohibitions against abortion in the Bible does not mean either
that abortion was widely practiced or that there was a cavalier attitude about
pregnancy termination. Then as now elective abortion posed substantive issues
with which a woman or couple must come to terms. Respect for germinating life,
one’s own beliefs, and one’s life plan all enter into the decision.
Certainly reasons beyond mere convenience are needed to make the morally serious
decision to terminate a germinal existence. Abortion is never to be taken
lightly, but it is not a forbidden option.
Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines differ in, among other things,
the degree to which they are legalistic. The Catholic Church would have us
obey the rules formulated by the Vatican, but Protestants believe that we
are free by grace and justified by faith. The phrase “the sacredness
of life” means one thing to Catholic bishops—that the life of
the fetus is all-important—but to most people of other Christian denominations
it means that there is a presumptive right to life that is not absolute but
is conditioned by the claims of others. For us the right to life and the sacredness
of life mean that there should be no absolute or unbreakable rules that take
precedence over the lives of existing human persons.
The pro-life position is really a pro-fetus position, and the pro-choice position
is really pro-woman. Those who take the pro-fetus position define the woman
in relation to the fetus. They assert the rights of the fetus over the right
of the woman to be a moral agent or decision maker with respect to her life,
health, and family security.
Personhood, the Bible, and
the Abortion Debate, by Paul Simmons, Ph.D., Th.M. (PDF)
Is the Fetus a Person? The Bible's
View, by Roy Bowen Ward (PDF)
Respecting the Moral Agency of Women,
by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Ph.D. (PDF)
Abortion: A Christian Ethical
Perspective, by Dr. John Swomley (PDF)
How Good Women Make Wise Choices,
by Rev. Nancy Rockwell (PDF)