Q. What viewpoint should we as Christians have toward abortion when the life of the mother is in danger during birth?
A. The Christian Church has taken different positions on this question over the ages. The Catholic Church once taught that such mothers were duty-bound to proceed with the pregnancy and birth in order to protect the sanctity of life of the fetus, even at the risk of the mother’s life. They have since moderated their view. Today, the vast majority of both Catholic and Protestant pastors and theologians would allow the mother to terminate the pregnancy to preserve her own life.
The English Standard Version Study Bible has a section on “Biblical Ethics: An Overview.” In that overview, Dr. Wayne Grudem, Daniel R. Heimbach, C. Ben Mitchell and Craig Mitchell give insight on “Bioethics” (pp. 2540-2541). Grudem et.al. write:
While Christians differ on the issues of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and abortion, which have long been within the realm of bioethics, it is accurate to say that in general Christians are life-affirming. In fact, the vast majority of Christians agree, for various reasons, that euthanasia and assisted suicide are not consistent with the Biblical witness concerning the sanctity of human life and the role of others in providing compassionate care. Likewise, most Christians believe that inducing abortion is wrong, except to save a mother’s life.
John and Paul Feinberg, in their book Ethics for a Brave New World, also discuss “Abortion and Special Problems.” On page 92 of that book, they write:
This argument says the Bible expressly permits self-defense. This Biblical right is extendable to the defense of others. That is, one has a right to defend oneself against unjustified attack. One also has a right, even if it is not an obligation, to defend others whose lives are threatened unjustly. If there ever was a paradigm case of defending the defenseless, abortion is that case.
So here is the answer to our question: If and when a birth genuinely threatens the life of a mother, the husband and wife (i.e. the father and the pregnant mother), in consultation with their physician and pastor, must make the decision. If they terminate the pregnancy, they have done no wrong. The parents chose to invoke the rights of “self-defense,” to preserve the wife/mother’s life, and to allow her to both bear other children and care for her existing family.
If, on the other hand, the parents choose to have the child – to give birth – and run the risk of the mother’s death, they have done no wrong. They have chosen to follow the principle of defending the life of a helpless person. If the mother dies in childbirth, it is a choice the pregnant couple made and cannot be labeled as “suicide.”
Both decisions honor the sanctity of life – either the mother’s life or the child’s life. What cannot be allowed to happen is to abort the child under false pretenses. Some women and their doctors say, “If this woman has this (another) child, she will not be able to psychologically bear it. Her life is threatened and the abortion must take place.” This is wrong. The ease of a mother’s life, her psychological wholeness or her long-term health do not justify the abortion of her fetus. She has alternatives she may choose to both bear the burden of children and preserve the life of her child: the assistance of family members, the hiring of child-care personnel, adoption of the newborn, her spouse's aid, medical and counseling services for her stress, etc.
The only justification for terminating the life of a fetus (a child in the womb) is the self-defense of the pregnant mother’s life. By this, we mean the threat of actual death to the birth-mother, and not her economic, psychological or even long-term health difficulties. The sanctity of life trumps all the other difficulties of life.