Jesus christ does not condemn abortion
and for interruptions of pregnancy.
RACHEL Located today on one of the green hills surrounding Nazareth, we continue talking with Jesus Christ, who has been kind enough to grant us some exclusive interviews, in which he has made declarations that are capturing the keen interest of our listeners, especially the women.
JESUS It’s the women who always keep their eyes open for the Kingdom of God, Rachel.
RACHEL I suppose you know that the authorities of the Christian churches, the ones that follow you, insist on condemning abortion and consign to hell all the women who interrupt their pregnancies. Would you like to talk with us about that today?
JESUS Yes, why not?
RACHEL While preparing for this interview, I was paging back and forth through the Bible, and I couldn’t find anything that you said about abortion. Could you tell me on what page you speak about it?
JESUS It’s not on any page. I never spoke about abortion.
JESUS Never. So if anyone’s looking for a statement of mine, they won’t find it.
RACHEL But how is that you had nothing to say about such an important topic?
JESUS What was I to say about pregnancy and abortion? We men don’t get pregnant. What do we know about such things?
RACHEL That’s true, but…
JESUS In Nazareth it was the midwives who knew all about that. They helped the women when they were ready to give birth. And they also knew how to put an end to a bad pregnancy.
RACHEL And what would have been a bad pregnancy in those days?
JESUS Well, … the pregnancy of a woman who was sick and without strength. Or that of a poor woman who already had a large brood of kids. There were also girls who were made pregnant by abusive men. In the villages to the north the Roman solders often forced the women, even the girls. A good pregnancy was always a blessing from God, but when there was a bad pregnancy, people had to think about what to do.
RACHEL Did they ask the priest what they should do?
JESUS No. They didn’t ask the priests, who lived in Jerusalem, or the rabbis, who lived much closer, near the synagogues. As I told you, we men didn’t get mixed up in that business. How were we going to get involved if we knew little or nothing about such things? The midwives were the ones who decided.
RACHEL And how did they do it?
JESUS They used herbs. There were no medicines like the ones they tell me there are nowadays. Herbs were the remedies for all types of ailments. The midwives knew all about fennel, wild rue, absinthe… They knew the measures for each sickness. And by using herbs they produced abortions in the women. Those midwives were wise women. Some of them became part of our movement.
RACHEL I have to confess that I’m rather disconcerted … So abortion wasn’t a sin?
JESUS Why would it be a sin, Rachel? The midwives used to pray to God when they attended the women in childbirth, and they praised God when the baby was born safe and sound. They also prayed to God when they helped bring a bad pregnancy to an end. And they thanked him if everything went well. They asked God to guide their hands. They were women of great faith.
RACHEL Do you hear the telephones ringing, Jesus? Everything you’ve been saying sounds extremely strange and even scandalous. Just listen to how many people are calling. This is sure to be a huge controversy. The telephones are ringing now, and they’ll be ringing until our next interview. I remind our listeners that we are also transmitting by Internet, at www.emisoras.latinas.net. Should we continue to talk about abortion, Jesus?
JESUS Of course we should, Rachel. We’ll continue talking about life.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
What the Bible says about abortion
The only mention of abortion in all the books of the Bible is one that refers only to a legal, juridical matter, not to morality. In the book of Exodus we read: When men are fighting together and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 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).
No book of the New Testament makes any mention of abortion, either in the words of Jesus or in the letters of Paul and the other apostles, which are otherwise full of detailed codes of conduct.
What Jesus said about abortion
Jesus gave no teaching about abortion. He didn’t even mention it. It is quite significant that the same Jesus who resolutely denounced those who trampled on human life, those who spurned and excluded the sick, and those who condemned and rejected women, never spoke about abortion. The same Jesus who defended children, lepers, disabled people and others whose lives were at risk, had nothing to say about ending unfortunate pregnancies.
Using texts taken out of context as pretexts
Nothing in the abundant legislation that appears in the Old Testament books, nothing in the many declarations of the prophets, and nothing in the sayings of Jesus or the letters of the apostles to the first communities makes reference to interruption of pregnancy so as to condemn or punish such a practice. Despite such a complete lack of biblical condemnation, the Catholic Catechism and religious groups fiercely opposed to any interruption of pregnancy claim that it is a grave sin, and they justify their opposition using biblical texts which they interpret out of context and with crass literalism.
Some of the biblical texts they cite are Isaiah 49,1; Psalm 139,13-15; and Jeremiah 1,4-5. These three texts, like other similar ones, refer to the calling and destiny of some of Israel’s great figures (King David and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah). The texts speak of them as being called “before birth”, “from the womb”, and “from the entrails” of their mothers. The groups opposed to the interruption of pregnancy take these symbolic, metaphorical expressions and make them into a “scientific” principle, namely, that human life begins at “conception”, at the very instant that the ovum and the sperm join together. Thus they conclude that even in the womb of his mother Jeremiah was already Jeremiah, and that Isaiah at the very moment of conception was already the person he was going to be later. They also cite out of context the equally symbolic text of Isaiah 66,9, which refers to the “birth” of the whole people of Israel.
When life begins to be human
When does a fetus begin to be human? The answer is given by science. What makes a fetus human is not that it feels, moves or breathes. Animals, and even plants, also feel, move and breathe. What makes us human is not our movement, our feeling or our breathing. And what makes a fetus human is not the human “shape” that it gradually acquires as it develops. When we see an echogram, the fetus appears to us to be a “miniature” person, but that is simply appearance. If we were to see the fetus of a little monkey, it would be very similar to that of a human.
What is proper and specific to human beings is in our brain, and more particularly in the grey matter of the brain, with its hundred billion neurons. Through the trillions and trillions of possible connections among them, the neurons allow us to think, speak, know who we are, choose, plan, transform reality, dream, decide, create, and know that we are going to die. All this is what makes us human.
The regular and specific characteristics of the human brain do not appear in the fetus until about the thirtieth week of gestation, that is, at the beginning of the third trimester. An embryo and a fetus are human life in potency, in process, under way. They are seeds with the capacity of becoming trees, but they are not yet trees. Do we really have the obligation to transform every seed into a tree?
When human life begins to have a “soul”
Where science asks when life begins to be human, “religion” asks when God “infuses the soul” into the body of a human being. This question is answered differently in different religions and has also had a variety of answers in the course of the history of Christian theology.
First we need to understand what the “soul” is: how do we define it? For the Brazilian Catholic theologian Ivone Gebara, the soul is the metaphor that seeks to express what is most profound in us. It is a metaphor that seeks to reveal our most beautiful desires and our personal hopes. The soul is the poetic way of speaking about our dreams, our utopias, our aspirations, our intimacy.
We may also answer that the “soul” is what makes us human, or that the “soul” is rooted in the brain. There will never be a way to prove the exact moment when a human being “receives the soul” – because such a “moment” does not exist.
In the different religions, and even in Christianity, there have been wide-ranging opinions and tremendous debates on this matter. And the question remains open. For that reason people hold a variety of views about abortion, including Christians and other religious people.
In western Christian culture it was thought for a long while that the human body acquired a soul 40 days after being conceived. This idea was influenced by the symbolic importance that the number 40 has in the Bible. Some of the more misogynist theologians held that if the new being conceived was female, then the soul was not infused until after 80 days. Such calculations were not only ideological, but quite inaccurate: since the masculine semen was something observable, the role of the woman in procreation was considered totally “passive”; she was simply a recipient of the male sperm. The existence of the female ovum was not demonstrated scientifically until 1827.
Augustine of Hippo (4th century) and Thomas Aquinas (13th century), the two most influential theologians in the history of Catholic theology, speculated about this without much scientific knowledge. Augustine stated: According to Christian law, abortion is not considered homicide in the early stage because a body lacking in sensation cannot be said to have a soul. Thomas held the opinion that the soul was not received into the body at the first moment, but at some later point. He was one of those who set the “infusion of the soul” at 40 days for boys and at 80 days for girls. Thomas Aquinas considered a woman to be a “botched man”.
When microscopes were developed in the 17th century, the ever misogynist theologians “demonstrated” that the soul resided in the sperm. Observing the sperms’ movement and finding them to be shaped like “little men”, they theorized that those little males, tiny but already endowed with souls, were nourished by the menstrual blood of the mother. Later on they considered that there was a soul only after the fetus had a “human form”, or when the mother felt its movements. Some also thought that God infused the soul at the very moment of birth.
The advances of science has led many Christian theologians to believe that there is no “soul” as long as the fetus has not formed the gray cortex of its brain and as long as it has not reached the point where it is capable of surviving independently outside the mother’s womb. Some theologians propose that there should be no talk of “soul” until there are biological proofs of “cerebral life”, just as we presently understand death in terms of “cerebral death”, which occurs when the brain ceases to function, even though other organs of the body continue to function.
Only in the last century and a half or so – since the proclamation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854 – has the Vatican been imposing on the Catholic Church the idea that the soul exists from the very instant of conception, that is, from the moment when the ovum and the sperm fuse. This is often spoken of as “conception”, a term never used in science or gynecology. Several evangelical churches have also taken up this idea. In the historical Protestant churches, which defend the basic principle of freedom of conscience over dogmatic interpretation, there are much more flexible positions with regard to abortion.
An anti-abortion “saint”
As a part of the anti-abortion campaign that the Vatican has been waging all over the world, John Paul II in May 2004 proclaimed the Italian doctor Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-62) to be a “saint” of the Catholic Church. The heroic act that earned her this honor was choosing to give birth instead of caring for her own health and her own life.
Gianna Beretta had a husband and three children. In the second month of her fourth pregnancy there was discovered near her uterus a cancerous fibroma that threatened her own health and that of the fetus. Her doctor told her that in order to save her life she would have to interrupt the pregnancy. There were three alternatives: 1) a total laparotomy, which would remove the fibroma and the uterus; this would have saved her life and stopped the development of the fetus; 2) interruption of the pregnancy and removal of the fibroma, which would allow her to have more children; and 3) removal of the fibroma only, without interrupting the pregnancy. In order not to interrupt the pregnancy, in order not to “sin”, Gianna chose the third option, the most dangerous for her and the most ominous for her future.
She was operated on and the pregnancy continued. Seven days after giving birth to her fourth child, she died of cancer, just as the doctors told her she would. She left behind a widowed husband and four children. Upon learning of her death, Pope Paul VI lauded her decision and called it “premeditated immolation”. Pope John II, in canonizing her, proposed her to Catholic women and wives as a model and example of the pure, chaste and fecund beauty of conjugal love lived as a response to the divine call.
What do the non-Christian religions say about abortion?
All religions have reflected on abortion and have commandments about the interruption of pregnancy, because all religions seek after the meaning of life and lay down norms for what should be done to respect, develop and preserve life. All religions understand that life is sacred; it is a gift of God, or of the gods.
In Judaism the most orthodox are opposed to abortion, but they accept it whenever the life or the health of the mother is in danger. In all the currents of Judaism the mother always has priority over the fetus, which is not considered a full person endowed with rights until the moment that it is born. Most often the decision about abortion is left in the hands of the woman, in consultation with the rabbi.
Islam has several different currents, which range from strict prohibition of abortion to unconditional freedom with regard to it. The most commonly accepted idea is that the fetus begins to have a “soul” about 120 days after gestation; therefore abortion is generally permitted within that time. The mother’s health and life are always given priority, even in the strictest currents.
Hinduism considers human life to be in perpetual evolution, and it always gives priority to the life and health of the woman. It has very broad views regarding the interruption of pregnancy.
The different schools of Buddhism hold that respect for life, all life, and rejection of all violence is essential. They also teach that the intention with which a person acts and the self-knowledge of the person acting are also essential. Given these perspectives, there is great flexibility regarding the decision to abort, and consideration is given to the quite variable circumstances of a person’s decision.
The greatest severity
The official Catholic positions regarding abortion turn out to be the most rigid ones that exist. The Vatican not only opposes abortion, but it is condemns most forms of birth control. It therefore heads women down a dead-end street. Even though it is known that family planning, with its very anti-conceptive methods, is the best way to prevent abortions since it avoids unwanted pregnancies, the Vatican doctrine is opposed to any birth control that uses “artificial” methods and accepts only the “rhythm” method, which is often complicated and ineffective. The Vatican even condemns the use of the condom and the “morning-after” pill.
The message implicit in all these prohibitions, as well as in the Church’s suspicions and reluctance regarding good sexual education in the schools, is that the true destiny of women is to accept “all the children that God sends them”. None of the other religions shares the Catholic ideas of the Vatican about birth control. Practically all of them allow and even support the artificial methods of birth control, claiming that they are not contrary to their religious beliefs.
Why such severity?
It is not easy to understand the deeper reasons for the severe and intolerant insistence with which some clergy oppose all abortion under any circumstance. Aside from the traditional ecclesiastical misogyny and the general desire to control female sexuality and limit women’s freedom of conscience, the German theologian Eugen Drewermann, a psychoanalyst by profession, points to one of the more obscure or hidden reasons that might explain the severity of the Church’s position:
In a psychoanalytic perspective, [the reasoning] is all perfectly motivated – from the strict rigor of prohibiting the “murder of a child in its mother’s womb” to the amazing and theoretically incomprehensible comparison by which Cardinal Josef Hoffner (in 1986) placed abortion on the same plane with the mass extermination of so many “useless lives” in the gas chambers of the Nazi regime. To understand such motivation, it suffices to presuppose that the defenders of this position had an early childhood experience that is transformed, when they reach maturity, into overwhelming evidence that, if they are in fact alive, this is due only the heroic, sacrificial will of their own mothers. Consequently, the person who discovers such evidence is expected, like another Abel, to assume his own personal readiness for sacrifice. Thus, when they are made priests of a demanding God, they become capable of demanding of everybody, especially of mothers and other women, that they act in the same way and “freely” offer their personal sacrifice.
Other more sensible and more compassionate voices
Many pastors, priests, religious and even bishops are questioning and contradicting the Vatican positions regarding abortion. For example, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, who for many years was archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazi