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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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While America languishes in an economic depression, Republican officeholders are bending all their efforts... to ban abortion. In the last few weeks and months, we've seen a blizzard of anti-choice legislation in Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and many other places. These laws stall women seeking abortions with mandatory waiting periods, brutalize them with invasive and unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, force doctors to read shaming scripts rife with falsehoods, and impose onerous regulatory requirements that are designed to be impossible to comply with so that family-planning clinics will be forced to close. At the federal level, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted for a bill banning all abortion after 20 weeks, without even putting up a pretense that this was constitutional.

One would think the drubbing taken by anti-choice zealots like Todd Akin in the last election would have given Republicans an incentive to step back and consider whether this is a winning strategy. Instead, it seems as if their losses have only inspired them to fight harder. For the right-wing Christian fundamentalists who dominate the Republican Party, banning abortion, or at least piling up pointless regulations to make it as burdensome and difficult to obtain as possible, has become an all-consuming obsession, akin to a religious crusade.

Given the amount of effort and political capital the religious right puts into trying to restrict abortion, you'd guess that opposition to women's choice must take up a huge portion of the Bible. But the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Bible says nothing whatsoever about abortion. It never mentions the subject, not once, neither in the Old Testament nor the New. This isn't because abortion was unknown in the ancient world. Much to the contrary, the ancient Greeks and Romans were well-acquainted with the idea. Surviving writings from these cultures recommend the use of herbs like pennyroyal, silphium and hellebore to induce abortion; others advise vigorous physical activity to cause a miscarriage, and some even discuss surgical methods.

It's impossible to imagine that no Jewish or Christian woman in the ancient world ever had to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Thus, it's reasonable to conclude that the Bible's authors never mention abortion because they weren't especially concerned about it. This often forces modern Christian anti-choicers to resort to laughable rationalizations like, "It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code." (This, in a book whose authors thought it worthwhile to set down the punishment for having a threesome with your wife and mother-in-law.)

There are later Christian writings that explicitly mention and forbid abortion, such as the Didache. But none of these documents made it into the canon of the Bible, which must be frustrating for modern anti-choicers who'd love to have a "clobber verse" they can throw at women seeking to exercise control over their own bodies.

Instead, religious-right activists are forced to engage in creative reinterpretation of vague biblical passages, trying to wring out something they can use to "prove" God is in favor of mandatory childbearing. One of the common ones is Jeremiah 1:4-5, which they claim as a divine endorsement of fetal personhood:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

The most obvious problem with this, besides the fact that it says nothing specific about abortion, is that it's not a general statement about all of humanity; it's a special predestination intended only for the prophet Jeremiah. What's more, from an anti-choice standpoint, it says too much: it says that God knew Jeremiah not just while he was in the womb, but before forming him in the womb. Perhaps the pro-life slogan should be, "Life begins before conception"?

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