Abortion and the Sabbath
By Kenneth Westby
Looking for a fight, just bring up the subject of abortion in mixed company. Strongly state your opinion and soon there will be “blood.” Abortion is one of those incendiary topics that sit at the intersection of religion and politics like a lit match between two open cans of gasoline. But why has the subject of abortion become so charged with emotion, vitriol, and even, at times, violence?
For most of history the right and wrong of abortion was not a polarizing issue. Most cultures regarded it as an evil. In modern, more civilized times, it was a shameful practice and against the law. People who did speak out in favor of abortion, such as the Marquis de Sade (see my article: in The New Millennium), were universally condemned as deviant reprobates.
In 1973all that began to change in America with the famous Roe v Wade case. The U.S. Supreme Court declared “open season” on the unborn. The court had somehow conjured a “privacy” principle from the U.S. Constitution, and from that phantom constructed a “woman’s right to choose” –to choose to kill her yet-to-be-born baby. From ’73 to now the death toll stands at 40 million (and counting) helpless innocents slaughtered in the name of “a right to choose.”
A third of American women have had their sons and daughters snuffed out. A quarter of unborn children will die this way. Those promoting abortion (pro-choice) and those abortionists making money on its thriving business are treated as noble pioneers in the emancipation of women from the drudgery of motherhood or the consequences of sexual promiscuity. Those who stand against abortion (pro-life), especially for religious reasons, are often portrayed as intolerant, bigots, and out to abridge freedom and women’s rights. How did we as a nation get to this contorted moral state?
A Coarse Culture
This moral coarsening of Western civilization had already begun early in 20th Century with the advent of barbarous communism, and later, the savagery of German Nazism. These brutal, anti-God, socialist tyrannies waged war against their own people and against their people’s unborn children. The twisted ideals of the almighty state took precedence over an individual’s needs and even their right to live.
If the state deemed some people less than fully human it forced abortions of the unwanted before they could breathe their first breath. In the “worker’s paradise” women were needed to work the lathes of industry for yet another attempt at a giant leap forward and requiring burdensome pregnancies to be terminated by state-provided abortions. In Hitler’s Reich the weak, mentally or physically handicapped, “racially impure,” and other inconvenient humans, such as the entire race of the Jews, were terminated whether by abortion, firing squad, starvation, or the gas chamber. It was “the state’s right to choose” that was of higher value than the helpless innocents.
Is it not too much of a stretch to liken today’s killing of the helpless unborn in America and Europe to the barbarities of the 20th Century? In raw numbers the abortion death toll in post WW2 America and Europe surpasses all the killing done by Soviet communism and Hitler combined. The major difference is that instead of the killing being done in the name of the state; it is now done in the name of the individual for his/her personal comfort and convenience—with the blessing of the state. The state facilitates the procedure by making it legal, and in many cases, paying for it. This gruesome practice is tolerated by a majority of the public in all western democracies; the elected officials who support it are routinely returned to office.
If government won’t stand up to protect the vulnerable, the weak, and the innocent, who will?
God has never been silent on protecting those who most need it. He proclaims himself the defender of the fatherless, the widow, the weak, the oppressed, and the enslaved. He warns that he will bring to judgment upon those who abuse the helpless.
The Protection Commandment
In the Ten Commandments, there is one commandment that specifically takes up for the powerless and for people (slaves) owned as “property”? Of course, the unborn in today’s culture is considered the owned property of the woman: “women have a right over their own bodies” –meaning a woman’s ownership includes the separate human being growing within her body. Apparently the rights of the unborn count for nothing in the face of the master’s ownership.
For most of world history including recent American history, slaves—like the unborn today—were considered property, not free people like you and me. They had to depend on others to protect them from abuse.
What Divine commandment tells us that even the powerless are humans; even the owned have rights and should be afforded respect, protection, and kindness?
That special commandment is “the forgotten commandment”: The Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath commandment. A commandment regarded by many as obsolete, a doctrinal artifact, extinct like the dodo bird, and irrelevant. But the dimensions of the Sabbath commandment include more than a specific day of religious attention. It speaks of affording kindness and respect to all who have been made in the image of God and are in some way dependant upon others for protection. Specifically in view are those most vulnerable to be abused and neglected. The reason for this Godly demand for fairness and concern is because all human flesh has the same creator, the same savior, and the same deliverer. Those who bear the Image of God are “sacrosanct” and must be given respect and justice.
In this commandment, found right in the middle of The Ten, God tells his nation that in their rest and rejuvenation on the seventh day they are to insure that the disenfranchised are likewise given an equal opportunity for rest.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
…But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt….
Protecting the Weak and Helpless
Notice that Yahweh (the LORD) is concerned that the disenfranchised “slave” class of people should rest on the Sabbath. Though they may be “property” to their masters, they are humans before God and should be treated as such. The Sabbath commandment protects the “personhood” of all classes of people. As the U.S. President reminds us, “liberty isn’t something that nations have authority to grant, it is a gift from God. God has made all men to be free.” And I add, every human should be free to be born, as life is the greatest gift from God.
The prestigious Anchor Bible Dictionary, in its lengthy article on slavery in the ancient Near East, has this to say about the Sabbath commandment:
Thus, the 4th Commandment contains an interdiction against forcing the slaves to work on the Sabbath (Exod 20:10; 23:12; Deut 5:14). …We have in the Bible the first appeals in world literature to treat slaves as human beings for their own sake and not just in the interests of their master. Thus, slaves both born to the household and those bought with money, just like the free Israelites, were to be circumcised in order to share cultic [religious] life and eat the Passover (Gen 17:13, 23, 27; Exod 12:44; Deut 12:12, 18; Lev 22:11). The Hebrew law also restricted the master’s power over his slaves.
What an extraordinary fact: The Sabbath Commandment is the first appeal in world literature to respect slaves as people and not just as property to serve solely the interests of their owners. How might this Sabbath principle be applied to those who claim ownership over a life growing toward birth? Is not this most enlightened commandment every bit as applicable to vulnerable unborn babies as to slaves in another era?
At the time this commandment was given to Moses the disenfranchised were male and female servants/slaves who for one reason or another were in servitude. They were owned. They were property. Sometimes it was not slavery per se, but a voluntary servitude usually for financial reasons—although slavery in that world was not uncommon. Native Israelites could also “sell” themselves into a specific number of years of servitude in order to pay off debts. Desperate conditions led others into indentured servanthood—employees without many “rights” (and certainly no union representation!).
Also mentioned in the 4th Command is the alien who was a foreigner, a non-Israelite, a person without stake or citizenship within the nation. These aliens could be considered “strangers” temporarily traveling through Israelite territory; or they could be permanent residents. Often the alien took jobs as low-level servants and attached themselves to a specific family for care and provision in return for their labor. Later in Israelite history, prisoners captured in war were made servants or “slaves.” This entire class of people was in large part at the mercy of their masters. The Torah was clear in its instructions that Israelite and non-Israelite servants be afforded kind treatment and abusing them was forbidden.
The unborn are not in view in the 4th Commandment as Israelites did not practice abortion, but the “owned,” the vulnerable, the young sons and daughters, and the weak clearly are in God’s view.
The Powerless Today
Who are the powerless today? Who among the human race have always been the most dependent, helpless and most in need of protection? Children, of course. And of children, the unborn are the most vulnerable of all.
Why does God mention animals in the 4th Commandment? Is God so concerned for animals that he wants them to rest. Plainly that is not his prime concern. To work animals means to work people—slaves, farm hands, and servants must work with the animals. While discussing support for the ministry, the Apostle Paul mentions the scripture about not muzzling the ox treading the corn and asks, “Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he?” The Sabbath command extends to domesticated animals only—not wild animals since man does not care for or work them.
In Eden, God didn’t commune with the animals on the Sabbath, but he did with man. God made people free and even if circumstances in life cause people to lose freedom, they are still people before Him and they bear His image. As a memorial to man’s created purpose, the Sabbath command tells all who listen, that children, servants and slaves are people too and are invited to rest and commune with their Creator on the Sabbath day. They are delivered from work on this day because God declares: “I am Lord of the Sabbath and I made man free—today they shall be free to rest, for even I rested on this day.” Jesus said “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
God is demonstrating both the dignity and personhood of the weak and disenfranchised. He takes up their cause in his role of deliverer. Deliverer from what to what we may ask? Deliverance from slavery, abuse, bondage, loss of status, loss of rights, loss of dignity, loss of hope, loss of land, and loss of a future. Delivered to enter freedom, if but for only a day of rest. The Sabbath is the symbol of freedom, a sign of a better day when the oppressed can cry, “Free, free, thank God, free at last.” And for the unborn, freedom is to be born and live!
Abortion is not much in view in the OT. It is assumed people would give birth to their children, not abort them. In Scripture an unborn child (a fetus) is always dealt with as a person, not “tissue.” (see…..). Accidental abortion and abortion collateral to violence to a pregnant woman are dealt with as serious events. An abortion occasioned by violence against the mother is treated as manslaughter (a crime) since the death of the unborn was not the object of the violence. Even prior to the exodus from Egypt Israelites resisted, at great personal risk, the Egyptian government’s attempts at “partial birth abortions” upon expecting women. Abortion was the rule of the land, but it was disobeyed by the God-fearing Israelite women. Moses was one of those babies targeted to be thrown into the Nile River upon birth. His parents wouldn’t commit infanticide and Moses lived. In time God used him to deliver an entire nation from slavery.
The Sabbath Commandment isn’t the only commandment that either directly on in principle forbids abortion, but it the one that reveals God’s concern for the most vulnerable among us. The other nine commandments stand against the practice in various ways: 1) The 1st commandment requires us to have no other Gods before him and that would include the “god of self” upon whose altar the unborn are sacrificed; 2) Idolatry is erecting symbols of authority (constitutional “privacy,” “choice,” “my body”) in place of the one true God. It is rebellion against the invisible Creator; 3) Misusing God’s name by destroying the man he has made in his image and to bear his name, “son of God”; 4) See above; 5) Abortion dishonors parents by killing their grandchildren. How can you honor your parents and destroy their grandchildren?; 6) You shall not murder means what it says. Murder is the deliberate killing of another without the cause of self-defense; 7) The command to preserve the integrity of marriage includes the injunction from creation to be fruitful and multiply. This is violated when one willingly chooses to kill the fruit of the God-created union of man and wife; 8) Stealing what is not yours would include taking a life that is not yours to take. The woman does not own her child—born or unborn—God does; 9) False testimony would apply to all the so-called reasons for an abortion being necessary—“I can’t have this child,” “I can’t afford this baby,” I’m too busy, too poor, too young, too old, etc.” “It will change and interfere with my life.” The truth usually is: “I’m too selfish,” or “I’m too ignorant” or both; 10) To covet is to put personal desires ahead of your neighbor’s rights. To want to take things you have no right to take. To put personal lusts and enjoyment above all else. To take away the life of your child so you can have a better life. Covetousness is labeled “idolatry” in the New Testament.
A Conflicted Culture
Consider the following comparisons made by Jesus and ask yourself if the unborn could be included among them. Speaking on God’s care and feeding of lowly sparrows, the most common of birds, Jesus asks, “Are you not more valuable then they?” We ask, is not the fruit of our bodies more important to God than sparrows? Elsewhere Jesus says, “Even the very hairs of your head are numbered.” If that continually changing, and to us unknowable, number is indicative of God’s detailed concern for us, how much more so an unborn human made in his image and growing within a woman.
Ours is a conflicted culture. On the one hand we consider it double-murder for a man to kill a woman and her unborn child, as the California case against Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife Laci and unborn son, Conner, illustrates. On the other hand politicians proudly campaign for votes by advocating a woman’s right to kill her own unborn child.
Lamentably, most people are not sufficiently repulsed at abortion having never seen one done nor ever cared enough to read about its gruesome details. We shall let Jane Roe (of Roe v Wade), whose real name is Norma McCorvey, tell us what pro-choice advocates don’t want known.
Norma was a 21-year-old street person who was ignorant about abortion and made up the story she was raped. Her pro-choice lawyers and handlers deceived her and used her to construct and advance an argument to make abortions legal throughout America. She was told that the baby inside her was mere “tissue.” Because of her fame following the Supreme Court case she was regularly given jobs at abortions mills. Along the way her heart was changed. She had held the hands of countless women being aborted as they dug their nails into her palm. In an affidavit she recently filed in the cause of reversing Roe v Wade, she describes what it was like in the “clinics”:
But the most distressing room in the facility was the “parts room.” Aborted babies were stored there. There were dead babies and baby parts stacked like cordwood. Some of the babies made it into buckets and others did not, and because of its disgusting features, no one ever cleaned the room. The stench was horrible. Plastic bags full of baby parts that were swimming in blood were tied up, stored in the room and picked up once a week.
At another clinic, the dead babies were kept in a big white freezer full of dozens of jars, all full of baby parts, little tiny hands and feet visible through the jars, frozen in blood. The abortion clinic’s personnel always referred to these dismembered babies as “tissue.”
“This is a scene straight out of hell,” writes Pat Buchanan of Norma’s description. In 1995 Norma became a Christian and has devoted herself to stopping the butchering of these tiny bodies.
In One Generation!
How could our culture slide so quickly into this cruel abyss? It has taken but one generation for this civilized nation to so cheapen the value of its helpless unborn children that it could throw 40 million of them into piles like dismembered chickens. Peggy Noonan, a columnist, commentator and the former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, illustrates the startling quickness in changing attitudes toward abortion.
She tells of recently attending the Broadway revival of a popular play, Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, which was first performed in 1960. Ms. Noonan had seen the play a few times previously, but not for decades. It is the story of 1950s intact nuclear black family coping with the cultural changes of the time.
The tragic moment in the play comes when the young woman, married to a ne’er-do-well, tells her mother-in-law she’s pregnant and planning an abortion, and has already put down $5 with the local abortionist. “When this play came out in 1960,” Peggy writes, “it was perceived by the audience as a painful moment—a cry of pain from a woman who’s tired of hoping that life will turn out well.” Audiences reacted in hushed silence at the moment’s tragic unfolding.
The Broadway debut she recently attended featured the rapper P. Diddy, the former Puff Daddy, whose real name is Sean Combs. The house was packed and Peggy and her friend were enjoying the well-acted revival of the play until it came to that tragic scene when the young woman announces her intent to abort her baby. But this time the audience did not know that it was tragic.
They heard the young woman say she was about to end the life of her child, and they applauded. Some of them cheered. It was stunning. The reaction seemed to startle the actors on the stage, and shake their concentration. I was startled and turned to my friend. “We have just witnessed a terrible cultural movement,” I said. “Don’t I know it,” he responded.
And I can’t tell you how much that moment hurt. To know that the members of the audience didn’t know that the taking of a baby’s life is tragic—that the taking of your own baby’s life is beyond tragic, is almost operatic in its wailing woe.
…They reacted as if abortion were a political question. They thought that the fact that the young woman was considering abortion was a sign of liberation. They thought the cry of pain was in fact a moment of self-actualizing growth.”
America has changed in but a generation. While our modern culture prides itself on its newly found sensitivity to all sorts of politically correct concerns, on its Herculean efforts to save the whales, endangered rodents, and pigs from being used in medical research, it has nevertheless become hard, calloused, indifferent, and even cruel to humans beings in their most helpless and vulnerable state.
Sabbath as Symbol
I wonder if our culture could have become so coarse had its citizens every week paused to listen to and internalize the message of the 4th commandment.
The Sabbath stands astride our culture as a beacon, like the Statue of Liberty, to welcome those who need rest, who need protection, who need liberation from bondage. Jesus illustrated what the Sabbath represents by choosing that day to heal a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. He was promptly criticized by an indignant synagogue ruler who said Jesus had six days during the week to do his healing business and the Sabbath wasn’t the place for it. Jesus replied,
You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated….
We in this great land should likewise be humiliated that we have such love for animals, yet care not for those in greatest need, our young innocents, who bear the image of God, struggling toward birth and life.
Proforma Sabbath keeping is no guarantee that people will automatically share God’s concern for the vulnerable, as the example above illustrates. Neither does washing your face give you a clean mind. But the kind of Sabbath celebration our Creator has in mind for us requires our heart to be in fellowship with him.
Perhaps those of us who understand our Creator’s great passion for the weak and vulnerable, as expressed in the 4th Commandment, should sometimes use our Sabbath days to bring rest, or aid, or deliverance to someone in need. And with every Sabbath we celebrate let us pray and cry out for an end to the slaughter of the innocents.
I have indeed seen the misery of my people….I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them….”
 Exodus 20:8-11, NIV
 Deuteronomy 5:14-15
 The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 6, article: Slavery in the Old Testament, p.65.
 I Corinthians 9:9-10
 Mark 2:27
 Colossians 3:5
 Matthew 6:26
 Matthew 10:30
 The Human Life Review, Summer 2003, p. 88
 The Wall Street Journal, Opinionjournal.com, April 29, 2004.
 Luke 13:10-17
 Exodus 2:7-8