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There's Nothing About Abortion in the Bible -- So How Do Right-Wing Christians Justify Their Crusade Against Women?

The modern religious right is trying to bring back the Bible's teaching that women are inferior and should be the possessions of men.

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The most common Christian-right apologetic is that this verse in the original Hebrew refers to the woman giving birth prematurely, not miscarrying. But how plausible is this? Even if it were medically realistic that a punch or a kick could induce labor in a pregnant woman without causing any injury to the fetus, is it at all likely that a premature infant would survive in an ancient society with no notion of modern medicine? The situation that today's apologists invite us to imagine is improbable in the extreme.

The Census

If an unborn fetus possesses the moral status of personhood, then a pregnant woman should be counted as two people in the census. That seems like an obvious conclusion to draw. But the authors of the Bible didn't think so. In chapter 5 of the Book of Numbers, God commands Moses to take a census of the Israelites:

The Lord said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, "Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more." So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.

Not only does God not instruct Moses to count pregnant women twice, he doesn't even want children less than a month old to be counted! This may well have been a harsh necessity in an ancient society that couldn't afford to get too attached to its newborns until it was likely that they were going to survive, but it hardly fits with the modern "pro-life" view. Unlike his politically inclined modern-day followers, God doesn't even consider personhood to begin at birth, let alone at conception. (Leviticus 27:6-7 teaches the same message, setting out the monetary value of human lives: it places no value on children of either sex less than a month old, and no extra value on pregnant women.)

The Law of Jealousy

One of the strangest laws of the Old Testament comes from the Book of Numbers, chapter 5. This commandment, which God personally speaks to Moses, prescribes that if a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful, even if he has no witnesses or any other proof, he may bring her to the priests to undergo a bizarre trial by ordeal:

"The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water... The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her.

...If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children."

In other words, this potion of "bitter water" will have no effect if the woman has been faithful, but if she's cheated on her husband and gotten pregnant, it will rot her body and cause her to have a miscarriage. Whether or not you believe in this sort of black magic, the people who wrote it clearly did, and that tells us something about their worldview.

 
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