Pro-life Christians are rejoicing the Dobbs decision, but what does the Bible really say about abortion and why are they so anti-choice?
As anyone who doesn’t live off the grid already knows, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson, effectively removing protections for women to obtain secure safe abortions in the United States. The decision overturns Roe v. Wade, allowing states to outlaw a woman’s right to choose at their discretion, and introducing the potential to criminalize performing or receiving abortions.
But how did restricting abortion rights become the paramount issue for the Religious Right? Abortion wasn’t actually a prominent issue for the Christian voting bloc until recently, within the past 40 years or so.
In an interview with NPR last month, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University and an evangelical Christian, explains the evolution of the Religious Right’s pro-life stance:
In the late 1960s, we have this remarkable issue of Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, discussing this question of abortion. And the conclusion is that it’s a very complicated moral issue. So there are theologians discussing precisely when ensoulment happens – when does the fetus become an actual life? – and weighing the complicated issues not just in terms of rape and incest, but also the health and well-being of the mother and the family. And, yes, the Southern Baptist Convention comes out in favor of opening up access to abortion in many cases in 1971, and then they reaffirmed that in 1974 and in 1976, so after Roe v. Wade.
But what happens in the 1970s is, first of all, with the passing of Roe v. Wade, you see a spike in the number of abortions. And that causes many Americans, not just evangelicals, to kind of rethink is this what we wanted? But I think more importantly, you have the rise of second-wave feminism and, in conservative, white, evangelical spaces, a real backlash against feminism. And over the course of that decade, abortion becomes linked to feminism. And so you see the sentiment start to shift so that in 1979, when political activist Paul Weyrich identifies abortion as a potential to really mobilize conservative evangelicals politically, to help build the Moral Majority, then it is a very effective mechanism for doing so. And from 1979 on, that’s when you see a real kind of shrinking of space within conservative evangelicalism to have any view on abortion that isn’t strictly and staunchly pro-life, life begins at conception.
Wait, so their stance on abortion isn’t rooted in the Bible? Not exactly, although they try very hard to mold scripture to fit their worldview, just like in every other case.
In actuality, abortion is present in the Bible, and it’s condoned by God.
Most notably, in Numbers 5:11-31 we find the test for adultery. In this chapter and verse, a law is explained where, if a woman is suspected of adultery, she shall be given bitter water to drink. If she’s guilty of adultery, the drink will cause a miscarriage if she’s pregnant and infertility moving forward. If the drink doesn’t cause her to miscarry, then she’s innocent. So basically, the test for adultery was an archaic Plan B prescription.
Then we have Hosea 9:10-16, which outlines God’s punishment of the people of Israel for rejecting him. God says, “[I will] give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts,” and then goes further to say, “Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death.”
What a loving god he is.
While Christian apologists will do theological backflips to get around these obvious instances of God aborting fetuses, they’re very clear examples for those of us with moderate critical thinking skills and objectivity. Basically, all they fall back on, in the end, is that God has the authority to make these decisions, not man.
Abortion by God is acceptable, so shut up about it.
As we learn from Kristin Kobes Du Mez though, the central issue for the Religious Right is not the protection of fetuses. It’s a response to the rise of feminism and equal rights, a centuries-old effort to control women, keep them silent and subordinate, and continue the reign of white Christian men for the foreseeable future. As we read in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet,” and in 1 Corinthians, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission.”
This time, however, I think (and hope) those white Christian men and their enablers have underestimated the might and fearlessness of the women, and their allies, who will undoubtedly fight back for their own reproductive freedom.
And they will win.