The topic of abortion is a very difficult topic, even for the Christian who seeks to live according to Biblical principles. Many honest Christian men and women see the issue as a complex one with several apparently conflicting questions and principles. It is in this light that the Seventh-day Adventist Church published it’s current guidelines on the topic of abortion in 1992 (as follows).
Table of Contents
- 1 1992 Guidelines on Abortion
- 2 Updated Guidelines on Abortion (Approved 10/16/2019):
- 3 Discussion:
- 3.1 Stronger more emphatic language:
- 3.2 Early Embryologic Development:
- 3.3 When does human life begin?
- 3.3.1 At the moment of conception:
- 3.3.2 The role of rape or incest in the value of fetal life:
- 3.3.3 A spectrum of value:
- 3.3.4 Exodus 21:22-25:
- 3.3.5 No human life till birth:
- 3.3.6 No Life till Brain Function:
- 3.4 Mother’s Life vs. Baby’s Life:
- 3.5 Rate of Spontaneous Miscarriage:
- 4 Request to reevaluate the proposed recommendations:
- 5 Related
1992 Guidelines on Abortion
Updated Guidelines on Abortion (Approved 10/16/2019):
However, since this time there have been those who have seen a need to modify the language of this statement – to suggest a more emphatic position of the Church on the topic of abortion. Beginning about two years ago, the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference (offers biblical and theological insight to the church on many issues), was tasked with preparing a statement that “reflects Scriptural principles bearing on the discussion of abortion” – which will be submitted for consideration by the Church in General Conference session this coming year in Indianapolis (June 25 – July 4, 2020). The following draft is largely the result of BRI’s work.
“A Committee of about two dozen specialists from around the world, three of whom are women, considered BRI’s work when formulating this proposal. The result appears to be the BRI’s statement into which, at strategic points, lines from the 1992 statement and other sources have been inserted.” (Link)
An August 27 action of the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM) established a Working Group on Abortion. The 26-member group includes representatives from Health Ministries, Women’s Ministries, Family Ministries, Education, Children’s Ministries, Ellen G. White Estate, Biblical Research Institute, Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, Office of General Counsel, Public Affairs, senior administration, the General Conference Communication Department, and the Adventist Review.
Chaired by General Conference vice-president Artur Stele, the committee includes 23 members from countries other than the United States, including Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Finland, Norway, Jamaica, Senegal, Ghana, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Mauritius, Germany, and Chile. Six members are female; three of those are on the statement Writing Committee.
Drafted Version to be submitted for review:
Final Approved Version, Annual Council (Voted 250:4):
Stronger more emphatic language:
This proposed update to the official recommendations of the SDA Church on the topic of abortion appears to be more emphatic and less nuanced as compared to the current statement of the Church. It strongly argues that God considers the life of the unborn child as equal in value to that of any other human being. In support of this position, passages are used citing God’s foreknowledge of an individual’s existence even before their conception:
“Prenatal life is precious in God’s sight, and the Bible describes God’s knowledge of people before they were conceived. ‘Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Ps 139:16)…”
This seems to suggest the existence of humanity, with all the rights and values of humanity, at the moment of conception, if not before. Also, unlike the Church’s current statement on abortion, this new proposed statement does not address, even briefly, the various forms of birth control that prevent an already fertilized egg from growing inside of the mother in its earliest stages of development. Are such forms of birth control to be considered true forms of “murder” of an actual human being? – as heinous and cold-hearted as the calculated murder of any other human being? Consider the following illustrations of early embryologic development:
Early Embryologic Development:
When does human life begin?
At the moment of conception:
Certainly, there are some Christian groups that view the beginning and full value of human life as originating at the very moment of conception (such as the Catholic Church for example). Such beliefs naturally lead to the conclusion that various forms of birth control that block the support of the fertilized egg from implantation or further development from that point onward as actual forms of murder of a human being. Such a position, of course, naturally leads to the concept that human sexuality is reserved strictly for the deliberate purpose of procreation – never for the mere enjoyment of the act itself alone. This position, of course, vilifies the very concept of birth control as evil and unnatural – never intended, by God, to be part of human sexuality.
Now, there is very little debate among Christians that once humanity is realized that it is sacred and should be protected. However, among honest Bible-believing Christians, there are honest questions as to when this line is actually crossed – from a mere body part within the woman without human form or dignity, to an actual human being with all the moral rights and privileges thereof. Is this line really established at the very moment of conception? – with a single cell? Or, is it crossed at some later point in time?
Consider that if life begins at the moment of conception, if the fertilized egg becomes a living soul in the sight of God at the very moment of fertilization, what does one do with the formation of monozygotic twins? – where a single fertilized egg subsequently splits into two independent groups of cells, with identical DNA, which eventually end up as two separate babies? – identical twins? When did the lives, the full humanity or the origin of the separate souls, begin for each twin?
The role of rape or incest in the value of fetal life:
Some might also argue that the cause or nature of the pregnancy itself may play a role when it comes to the relative value of the unborn. The Church’s current statement touches briefly on such dilemmas as follows:
Women, at times however, may face exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as significant threats to the pregnant woman’s life, serious jeopardy to her health, severe congenital defects carefully diagnosed in the fetus, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. (SDA Abortion Statement, 1992)
It seems to me, however, that the cause of a pregnancy doesn’t matter when it comes to determining the value of the life of the unborn. This might sound like a repulsive thought in light of a situation like rape or incest – at least at first approximation. However, if I were to find out one day that I myself was, in fact, the result of such an act, would that knowledge suddenly remove my own life from the realm of human value and dignity? Should my life become worthless because of its origin in such a tragedy? I think not. Therefore, the only real question is, when did my own humanity actually begin? And, at what point would I be willing to enforce my own views of the origin of human life onto another person? – at what point would I be willing to accuse another person of the actual murder of a real human being?
A spectrum of value:
For me, personally, that point is on a continuum of human embryological development. I, for one, would not be comfortable accusing someone of the murder of a human being, of being worthy of imprisonment or death for instance, for the deliberate termination of a pregnancy within the first few days of life – when the embryo consists of a single cell or a cluster of unformed cells. Such an embryo cannot think or feel or experience suffering or pain and is not viable outside of the mother’s womb. Now, this position starts to become more of a grey area once the fetus is formed into the human shape with arms, legs, head, and torso, has a heartbeat, and starts to move and react to the surrounding environment. Certainly, once the baby reaches the stage where it can sense, experience, and respond to pain, and would be viable outside of the mother, I would be willing to take action – willing to accuse someone of a true murder for taking the life of such an infant.
Interestingly enough, the Bible also seems to recognize such a spectrum when it comes to the nature and value of human life. It seems as though the Bible values the life of the woman more than the life of the fetus. In Exodus 21:22–25 it seems to many to suggest that if someone causes a pregnant woman to abort, that person should be fined. However, if the injuries result in the death of the woman, then it is “life for life”.
If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. – Exodus 21:22-25 (NKJV)
Philo and other ancient Jewish commentators:
This interpretation is supported by long-standing rabbinical scholarship which says that the fine is for causing a miscarriage and the death penalty is for causing the death of the pregnant woman. The Talmud also permits abortion under certain circumstances, in fact, it requires it if the woman’s life is at stake (Link). There are, in fact, many passages in the Talmud that support the view that 40 days marks the transition from unformed embryo to a human being. Until this time the embryo is neither male nor female (Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 60a). If the woman miscarries before the 41st day it is not a valid childbirth (ibid., Niddah 30a-b). In another place, the embryo is described as mere fluid before 40 days (ibid., Berakoth 60a). However, the Talmud isn’t entirely consistent. Different Talmudic texts support different views as to when a human being receives a soul: at conception; at formation (40 days after insemination); or even at birth.
The ancient Jewish historian Philo taught that the term “harm” refers exclusively to the child – and whether a fine or capital punishment is imposed depends on if the fetus has sufficiently formed or not. According to Rashi and other Talmudic commentators, the term “harm” refers only to the mother, and traditionally, unless the mother was harmed too, only a fine was imposed for causing a miscarriage.
Josephus (37-101 A.D.) also argued along these same lines:
“He that kicks a pregnant woman, if the woman miscarry, shall be fined by the judges for having, by the destruction of the fruit of her womb, diminished the population, and a further sum shall be presented by him to the woman’s husband. If she die by the blow, he shall also die, the law claiming sacrifice of life for life.
Josephus, Antiquities 4:278
There is also the interesting problem of the Septuagint’s interpretation of this particular passage. The Septuagint states this concept in a particularly interesting manner, giving increasing value to the life of the unborn fetus as fetal development increases over time:
“And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her child be not fully formed, he shall be forced to pay a penalty as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he shall pay what seems fitting. But if the child be fully formed, he shall give life for life… ” – Exodus 21:22-23 (LXX)
Note that the Septuagint (from the Latin: septuāgintā literally “seventy”; often abbreviated as 70 in Roman numerals, i.e., LXX; sometimes called the Greek Old Testament) is the earliest extant Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. It is estimated that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah or Pentateuch, were translated in the mid-3rd century BCE. The Septuagint was the Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and the base of the Christian Old Testament, and was in wide use by the time of Jesus and Paul (Link).
For further commentary see the work of Thomas McDaniel, 2012 (Link)
As it turns out, the Septuagint was translated from a more ancient Hebrew text than what was used subsequently by the Jewish Rabbinic/Masoretic Hebrew texts. And, as sometimes happens as languages change and evolve over time, the meaning of particular words and phrases may also change and evolve over time. What happened here is that the Hebrew word (אָסוֹן), that is generally translated in modern English as “mischief, injury, harm, death, etc…”, originally meant “fully formed” (Greek: ἐξεικονίσμενον) – at the time that the Septuagint was produced.
= Fully Formed in the original Hebrew language.
What seems to have happened is that the vowel indicators associated with this Hebrew word were lost in subsequent generations. Without these vowel indicators, this same word could mean either “fully formed” (as is the case for the Septuagint translation) or “harm” (as is the case for most modern English translations as well as the subsequent Masoretic texts of this passage. This is because this originally correct interpretation of the original Hebrew text “never made it into the Masoretic or rabbinic texts nor the Hebrew lexicons.” Instead, this word (אָסוֹן) has since been consistently translated as “mischief, injury, harm, death, etc.” (Link) – which is a mistranslation of the intended meaning of the original Hebrew text. In other words, the Septuagint got it right while modern translations, and even subsequent Hebrew texts, did not. (Thomas McDaniel, 2012)
No human life till birth:
Of course, there are also those who actually argue that personhood does not begin until the baby is born in the natural manner and takes its first breath. For me, however, such arguments are contrived since the baby could be born and survive on its own for many weeks before most babies are naturally delivered. Therefore, to feel free to kill such a baby for mere convenience is nothing short of murder in my mind.
No Life till Brain Function:
In the years since the designation of brain death as a new criterion for death, attention has been directed towards the central role of the nervous system in a number of areas of ethical decision-making. The notion that there exists a neurological end-point to human life has led to efforts at defining a corresponding neurological starting-point. This latter quest has led to the concept of brain birth (or brain life), signifying the converse of brain death. The quest for a neurological marker of the beginning of human personhood owes its impetus to the perceived symmetry between processes at the beginning and end of life, thus if brain function is a criterion used to determine the medical death of a person, it should also be the criterion for its beginning.
Just as there are two types of brain death – whole brain death (which refers to the irreversible cessation of function of both the brain stem and higher parts of the brain) and higher brain death (destruction of the cerebral hemispheres alone, with possible retention of brain stem function), there are two types of brain birth (based on their reversal) – brain stem birth at the first appearance of brain waves in lower brain (brain stem) at 6–8 weeks of gestation, and higher brain birth, at the first appearance of brain waves in higher brain (cerebral cortex) at 22–24 weeks of gestation.
Jones, D G (1998). “The problematic symmetry between brain birth and brain death”. Journal of Medical Ethics. 24 (4): 237–242. doi:10.1136/jme.24.4.237. PMC 1377672)
What makes us distinctly human, according to Bennett and many other neuroscientists, is the outer layer of brain, called the neocortex. This critical portion of the brain is the seat of consciousness and complex thought. It enables a person to be aware and respond to what surrounds him.
“The neocortex allows us to recognize one another, speak and make plans,” Flower said. “Without our neocortex,” Bennett added, “we wouldn’t be much better than a reptile.” (Link)
The first neocortical cells appear about a month after conception, but three-quarters of the neocortex is not formed until the fetus is close to 6 months old, according to Dartmouth College’s Miguel Marin-Padilla, an expert on human fetal brain development. Although the fetal neocortex is nearly developed at this time, the bulk of it will not be working for several more weeks–“the phones are in place, but there are no wires connecting them,” according to Flower.
In order for the neocortex to function, its nerve cells must establish a chain of communication by sprouting interconnecting fibers. A few isolated connections between nerves in the neocortex and the muscles they control can be detected in a fetus as young as 15 weeks, and by 22 weeks the most primitive part of the cortex that governs movement of the fetus’s limbs has matured to the point of being functional, according to Marin-Padilla.
But at this point, there still is not enough circuitry for intentional movements. “If I pinch a child that is born at 22 weeks after conception,” Marin-Padilla said, “he’s going to move his arm away because of his reflexes. He’s not thinking, ‘He pinched me, therefore I’m going to move my arm away from him.’ ”
Starting about 28 weeks, there is a burst of connections made between the neurons in all parts of the neocortex by cells appropriately called interneurons. “The bulk of what we do with our brains,” Marin-Padilla said, “is done by these interneurons. These little guys allow you to write, play tennis and carry out a variety of complex functions.”
Studies seem to support the notion that 28 weeks marks a dramatic turning point in the fetus’s brain development and is more important than birth itself. Neurologist Dominic Purpura, now dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, showed several years ago that babies delivered shortly after 28 weeks can see as well as newborns, unlike those delivered before that time.
Because sight is a sense made possible by the neocortex, this finding bolsters the claim that the neocortex does not function until after 28 weeks…
MILESTONES IN FETAL BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
7 weeks–Neurons form a brain stem atop the spinal cord.
8 weeks–Brain stem resembles that of newborn. Embryo has face, hands and feet, but lacks upper part of brain that controls intentional movement.
22 weeks–The most primitive part of the brain, the cortex, is sufficiently formed to control limb movement.
28 weeks–Interneurons form, linking the cells within the neocortex. Such connections are essential to performing multitask functions, such as writing or playing tennis.
30 weeks–Electroencephalogram recordings resemble those of a newborn baby. Distinct sleep-awake patterns emerge. Fetus can usually survive outside womb.
Mother’s Life vs. Baby’s Life:
But what about those very unusual cases (in this modern age of medicine) where the mother’s life is actually on the line? – where the choice is the mother’s life vs. the baby’s life? First off, such situations are almost nonexistent where modern medicine is available. If such a real situation were to arise, I certainly would not be willing to accuse anyone of murder, regardless of the choices made, during such a trying emergency.
Rate of Spontaneous Miscarriage:
Among women who know they are pregnant, the spontaneous miscarriage rate is roughly 10% to 20%, while miscarriage rate among all successful fertilizations is around two-thirds of all fertilized eggs (with some scientists suggesting a failure rate of up to 80%). Around 80% of these miscarriages occurring in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the first trimester). (Link, Link) It is for this reason that most medical professionals do not consider a woman to be “pregnant” until the developing embryo successfully implants into the lining of the uterus.
So, for those Seventh-day Adventist Christians who believe that humanity begins at conception, this would seem to suggest a massive death rate of real human souls. Is God going to resurrect all of these billions of lost zygotes and embryos on Resurrection Morning? How is this going to be done? If this were the case, many women would probably be giving birth, in Heaven one day, to hundreds of children. Or, is God going to raise up these unborn embryos with sped up maturation perhaps? Either way, it would suggest that the significant majority of the human population of Heaven and the New Earth one day is going to be comprised of humans who were never actually born.
This also begs the question as to why God would have created such a process whereby the majority of human souls are spontaneously killed off before having the chance to even be born and experience, well, anything?
In any case, for those Christians who actually believe that complete humanity is achieved at the moment of conception, this certainly seems like something to think about…
Request to reevaluate the proposed recommendations:
It seems prudent to me, therefore, that any modification of the Church’s position on this difficult topic should at least touch on such relevant nuances of the various difficult problems of abortion that face honest Christians in the modern age…