Life in the Womb & Abortion

OrthodoxyToday | Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews | Jan. 20, 2008

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.


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.

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8 thoughts on “Life in the Womb & Abortion”

  1. Although I am glad to read most of this article, I am appalled that an Orthodox priest would wink at abortion for rape or incest.

    Fr. Hans, am I missing something???


  2. The rape/incest problem is not just that so few of the aborted preganancies come from that category, but that some that do are the result of the abortion providers willingly covering up the criminal abuse of minors.

    The figure may also be inflated because rape/incest becomes an easy category for abortion providers to use in order to justify their blood lust.

    However, I do not see that Fr. Richard is ‘winking’ at the real dilemma faced by a woman who has been the victim of rape or incest and becomes pregnant. Not everyone has the emotional or spiritual resources to accept and live by the reality that the pregnancy is not the baby’s fault. Even those that do face the likelyhood of an equvicable relationship with their children (if any) in the future. It is unquestionably hard.

    The question becomes whether it is an acceptable economia to sacrifice the baby’s life because of the emotional and spiritual difficulties of the mother. Fr. Richard doesn’t say explicitly. His article would be stonger if he had. I would say no, it should not be acceptable in such cases. However, that places a burden of responsibility on us to offer financial, emotional, and spiritual support so the decision and implementation becomes easier for the mother.

    In practice, I have seen strong talk coupled with quiet acceptance of the decision to murder a child in an essentially “pro-choice” mindset.

    It should be taught and practiced that if an Orthodox woman or the parents of an Orthodox child make the abortion decision–excommunication and a period of repentance to facilitate healing will follow (not should follow, but will follow). My priest has publically told folks that if they even accept the ‘pro-choice’ idea, they should not approach the chalice. Certainly, if there are any more than 1 to 3 % of Orthodox women who are even faced with the possible decision to abort it is obvious that the Church’s message on sexuality is not getting across to the faithful.

    How much do we buy into the sexual license mindset? Do we really prize chastity or is it just a quaint, out-moded notion? Even if we are faithful to our spouse do we do it simply out of inertia and lack of opportunity or because of an actual deep commitment? Are we able to communicate with our children about sex intelligently and without embarrassment even if we have been unchaste ourselves in the past? Are we too busy with our own lives to even try to communicate to our children the Church’s understanding on sex in any other than a legalistic or passive manner? Do we work with our children on ways to avoid and overcome temptations?

  3. Michael – Thank you for your comments which I think are honest, balanced, informed and insightful.

    There is no doubt in my mind that abortions for social convenience are gravely sinful. However, abortions resulting from rape, incest, the medical health of the mother, or profound deformities in the fetus, have always been more problematic and morally complex for me. There are other similar situations where Christians have had to make difficult decisions regarding the taking of human life. Orthodox theologians have, of neccesity, wrestled with the morality of war for centuries. Today, Christian theologians continue to try and come to terms with the morality of issues such as the death penalty, and euthanasia for the terminally ill.

    You provided some good guidelines for thinking about such situations.

  4. Al-dean, please don’t agree with me, your going to get me into trouble. To be clear: there is NO moral equivalency between war, captial punishment and abortion. My compassion for a woman who becomes pregnant after a rape or as the result of incest should not be considered an equivocation of the fact that abortion is always, ALWAYS, a sin. Abortion should never be excused no matter what the circumstances. The Church is clear, abortion for any reason is murder (the willful killing of another human being with malice, aforethought). Given the emotional distress of the mother her crime might be considered manslaughter in some cases, but the abortionist’s crime is always murder for hire and cannot be extenuated.

    The Church has always prescribed excommunication for such acts (I don’t know the cannons on length of time, but 12 years comes to mind). During the course of the time spent without communion, a course of spiritual council and repentance needs to be followed, it is not just a matter of ‘serving out your time’. Unfortunately, in today’s Church the person could just transfer to another jurisdiction and probably avoid the medicine and begin to eat and drink condemnation to themselves if they wanted to. Heck, in some cases priests would not even excommunicate the folks involved and they could stay right where they were because the priest doesn’t want to be seen as ‘judgemental’ or face the critics within his own congregation who are pro-abortion and perhaps pay a significant portion of his salary.

    If capital punishment is a concern to you, Al-dean, even in the case of serial murder, you should be adamantly opposed to abortion for any reason. The child is given a capital sentence, without appeal, without due process or representation and for no act the child committed. This is not morally complex. It is so simple as to defy objection unless you dehumanize the child. The state does not have any right to execute a person for the crimes of another–ever. Doctors are ethically and morally bound to protect the life of all under their care. Mother’s will usually sacrifice themselves to prevent any harm coming to their children. Only a culture with a black and bloody heart would ever think otherwise. We practice ritual child sacrifice for the sake of comfort, covenience and expediency. Anyone who dares intervene faces jail, confiscation of property and income.

    Obviously in cases of rape and incest, the emotional, physical and financial state of the mother needs to be taken into account when the child is born. Adoption might be the best course for the child and the mother. Absent rape or incest there is no possible extenuation. In fact, the sin of fornication or adultery is merely compounded with murder.

    As Orthodox we need to strongly preach the truth and even more strongly support the mother and the child to meet what is necessary for their salvation. Salvation is not easy and demands hard choices. Not killing your child may make life more difficult for you–the Church and her people should do what we can to help those mothers and children bear their burden, but to simply reject the burden by participating in a horrible sin should not ever be counciled.

    The disrespect for human life that abortion engenders and the dehumanization it demands is directly linked to violence, especially sexual violence, against women and children; the increasing proclivity for men to simply abandon their responsibility when they knock-up someone (the phase indicates how much they actually give-a-damn about the woman in the first place); the continuing and expanding sexual license and hedonism that dominates our culture; the lack of care for the environment; the greater willingness to attack civilian populations in war and to engage in torture; a growing disrespect for our elderly and other people who are infirm or who were once a ‘fetus with severe abnormalities’ (what an unctious and disgusting euphemism, the child within simply has physical difficulties that need care); the unwillingness to care for the poor and the homeless (they should have been aborted); the continuing assault on the family which damages women and childen economically more than men. So don’t next begin accusing me of being ‘single issue’ either.

    Al-dean, I doubt that you still consider my position balanced. For the muddle-minded egalitarian, I’m sure it is not balanced, but it is the truth.

  5. Your comments are balanced because you expressed sympathy for the mother in a difficult situation and recongnized the complicated nature of certain situations, but did so without compromising the the teachings of the Church.

    You are also correct that abortion engenders a culture of violence. Listening to a news report on the hienous murder of the pregnant US Marine last week, I was shocked to hear the reporter say that homicide is the leading cause of death for expectant mothers in the US.

    Saint Paul’s declaration that all human life is sacred and of equal value in the eyes of God is one of the most far-reaching and important pronouncements in human history. Through the centuries it has inspired causes such as the abolition of slavery, worker’s rights, and women’s suffrage. To the list of pairs that are equally valued in the eyes of God, Jew and Gentile, Free and Slave, Male and Female, we must include Born and Unborn. You cannot draw from one part of that belief and omit another.

  6. Oh, BTW Al-dean, if you want to compare abortion to anything involving war, the closest thing I can think of is the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Belsen. A more recent, less accurate analog is Saddam’s use of poison gas on the Kurds, or Saddam’s son’s putting enemies through giant shredders. Our children have become our enemies. Even if we let them live we set out to destroy them with sex, drugs, and ‘music’ that attacks the soul, warps the mind and sucks innocence from them like vampire’s suck blood — with much the same effect.

    If that doesn’t work, try consumerism, that will finish them off but good.

  7. Michael, Fr. Richard SHOULD have said that killing people is not a solution to any problem, however difficult it is.

    You said that if we are going to insist on prohibiting abortion in the cases of rape and incest, it places a burden of responsibility on us to offer financial, emotional, and spiritual support so the decision and implementation becomes easier for the mother.

    Of course! How is that different from any other situation where abortion is offered as a solution to the “problem” of the existence of a brand new human being?

    You also said that not everyone has the emotional or spiritual resources to accept and live by the reality that the pregnancy is not the baby’s fault.

    That’s exactly why it should be illegal to kill the baby.

    The question cannot be whether or not it is an acceptable “economia” to sacrifice the baby’s life because of the emotional and spiritual difficulties of the mother.

    If we’re going to make exceptions about killing people based on our ability to accept and live by the reality that we should do good rather than evil, then we are opening the door to the idea that killing is an acceptable solution to the difficult realities of life. It is never acceptable to sacrifice anyone’s life because of the difficulties that person’s life may cause to someone else.

    If it were, someone would have knocked me off long ago! : )

    Ronda Wintheiser

  8. Unfortunately, it does seem as if Fr. Richard leaves the door open to believing that it is acceptable to kill because of the diffculties the life of another being imposes on you. That is not that far from Peter Singer’s postion.

    I agree, abortion except to save the life of the mother should be illegal.

    I’m sorry if anything I said gave the impression otherwise.

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