Our Lord seems very much interested and active in helping couples conceive a child. Looking to the Scripture and Holy Tradition, we see several couples who were aided by God to conceive a child: Abraham and Sarah, parents of Isaac (see Genesis); Zacharias & Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist (see Luke); Joachim and Anna (parents of Virgin Mary, see liturgical texts); Mary and Joseph, parents of Jesus (see Matthew and Luke).
Nowhere does God encourage or participate in the destruction of children, inside or outside the womb (except the final plague upon Egypt which killed all the first born).
One of the reasons God favored the Israelites in war against their neighboring peoples, was to counter their pagan, idolatrous beliefs and practices including childand infant sacrifice. God used Israel to help purge such abominable acts.
In light of this rich history of God's favor, how can we allow the womb to become a grave?
The eternal Son and Word of God sanctified life in the womb when He was incarnated in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In other words, He has blessed this stage of life by passing through it. Thus, the Orthodox Christian Church recognizes and celebrates the beginning of life in the womb for three special persons: Jesus' Conception at the Annunciation on March 25th; the Virgin Mary's conception on December 9th and John the Baptist's conception on September 23rd.
Let's ask some questions and seek the answer in the Scripture.
When does life begin?
- Genesis 2:7: "...then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being."
- Job 27:3: "...as long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils..."
- Isaiah 42:5: "Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it."
- Ecclesiastes 11:5: "Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother's womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything."
Who is the author of life?
- Genesis 4:1: "Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have produced a man with the help of the LORD."
- Genesis 4:25: "Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, 'God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.'"
- Ruth 4:13: "So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son."
- Isaiah 44:24: "Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth..."
From when does God recognize us as persons?
- Isaiah 49:1b: "The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me."
- Jeremiah 1:4-5 4: "Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'"
- Psalm 139:13-16: "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed."
- Galatians 1:15: "But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace..."
It's my body and I'll do with it as I please?
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple* of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."
- 1 Corinthians 7:4: "For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does."
What do the Church Fathers say about abortion?
- You shall not slay the child by abortions (Didache, 1st cent.).
- You shall not destroy your conceptions before they are brought forth, nor kill them after they are born (Barnabus, 70AD).
- The life in the womb may not be destroyed (Tertullian, 223AD).
False Reasons for Abortion
You have probably heard many arguments for abortion. Never accept the assertion that a fetus is just "tissue" or "matter". The unborn baby is not part of the mother. It has its own distinct chromosomal make-up and therefore asserts its own rights as an individual human being.
Neither should you accept the idea that a baby should be aborted if it is not wanted or cannot be given a "good" life. Orthodox theologian Stanley Harakas says it is contradictory and relative to hold that human rights should depend on the will or wishes of another. Either rights exist or they do not exist.
As for high risk pregnancies, if the terrible choice needs to be made, the safety of the mother over the life of the baby is acceptable. Of course, this decision should be made in consultation between parents, and medical and spiritual advisors. In the case of rape or incest legal, medical and spiritual counsel should be sought immediately. We must remember however, only 1-3% of abortions are performed for reasons of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or health of the mother and in no way legitimize the other 97-99% of abortions done for convenience sake.
Free-Choice is Not Pro-Choice
Since in the teaching of the Church, abortion is wrong and equivalent to the taking of innocent life, that is, a form of murder, it is a "thing that does damage." The name take by those who encourage and facilitate abortions, to promote their cause is "Pro-Choice." Because few would agree that abortion is a "thing that is good in itself," they do not usually call themselves "Pro-Abortion." By projecting "choice" rather than "abortion" they distract us from the fact that they are encouraging and making easier a behavior that is wrong.
"Pro-Choice" regarding abortion is a propaganda device to divert people's attention from what this movement promotes. It encourages the killing of innocent human beings -- a form of murder. Orthodox Christians should not be deceived by propaganda tricks.
As Orthodox Christians, we must not focus on abortion as a single issue. Abortion is a form of birth control, usually from an unwanted pregnancy outside the context of marriage. Others say this is due to lack of access and education about contraceptives. We say it is fornication. People need to be instilled with a sense of sexual chastity and fidelity as well as responsibility. In other words, the only good, responsible and safe context to have sex is within a committed, healthy and loving marriage.
The insidious exaltation of individualism in American society undermines any objective sense of the sacredness of sex and life, especially the life of the unborn. Our society is full of hedonism. But we are not without hope. Legal means may be used in an attempt to address the problem. However, those contemplating abortion must be provided with reasonable alternatives and compassionate caring and help. Ultimately, real and significant change will only occur when the hearts and minds of the people are converted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.