Should Abortion Mothers Be Punished?

If RU486 or clinical abortion were options in his day, we have every reason to believe King David may have resorted to having the illicit child in Bathsheba’s womb aborted as a means of avoiding exposure to public shame and the death penalty—the law of the land for adultery. It goes without saying, the Scriptures were not written in a time when abortion as we know it existed. Nevertheless, the Scriptures were written to apply to all times—ours included—by the all-seeing, all-knowing Creator of the universe. As the apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”

Thankfully, the Scriptures can be studied and applied to current events. Take the topic recently brought into the limelight during an interview with presidential candidate Donald Trump and host Chris Matthews. The indirect question posed to Trump was, “Should a woman be punished for having an abortion?” Trump hesitantly answered in the affirmative. The transcript from politifact.com is as follows:

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?

TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS: For the woman.

TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form.

Punishment for mothers involved in abortion. This is the concept that drew a firestorm of outrage and disapproval from all quarters—including “pro-life” Christian leaders! Many offered their opinions. Many diverted attention by attacking Trump.

But what do the Scriptures say?

At the time of writing the Scriptures, abortion as we know it was non-existent, so we have no direct Scriptural case example to study. Instead, we have to correlate. At least three things come to mind when thinking through this issue: murder, culpability, and impartiality.

First, murder. Scripturally, murder is not simply killing another person, but killing with evil and purposeful intent. Accidents do happen, and in such cases the “killer” is to be granted immunity, even given a safe house where he or she can flee (Deuteronomy 19:4-6). But if it is no accident, the killer—on the testimony of two or three witnesses—is to be punished by death (Deuteronomy 19:11-13). Since abortion, generally speaking, involves purposefully taking the life of an unborn person, Scripture prescribes the death penalty for those directly responsible. But who is directly culpable? The mother? The doctor? Someone else? To answer this, let’s consider the case of adultery.

Adultery mutually involves a woman and a man (or numerous men as in John 8:1-11). According to Scripture, in the case of adultery—on the testimony of two or three witnesses—both the woman and the man were to be stoned. Unless, however, the woman demonstrated resistance by screaming or “crying out.” In such cases, only the man was to be executed. The woman was to be granted immunity (Deuteronomy 22:22-27). From this, we deduce that some women may resist participating in an abortion. In such cases the woman who demonstrated resistance should be granted immunity. Nevertheless, if the woman showed full compliance by traveling to the clinic and quietly spreading her legs, both her and the performing doctor according to Scripture are worthy of death. If the woman self induced by willfully taking a chemical abortifacient, she alone should be punished by death, according to Scripture it seems.

Lastly, the subject of impartial justice comes into play. Many have argued against punishing the woman on the grounds that the lives of more babies could somehow be saved by punishing only the doctors or other entities. Scripture, however, strongly condemns partiality in judgement. Practicality or efficiency is never to drive our system of law, neither are bribes, gender, or status. The words of our impartial God are clear:

“Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16:20

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