Abortion without Religion

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Abortion is a divisive issue. (Duh.) It brings up questions about a woman's right to choose on the one hand, and what makes a human life human on the other. But you already knew that, too. What you may not know, however, is that abortion is not, in fact, a religious issue, according to Garry Wills. In an op-ed in the LA Times, Wills explains why "There is no theological basis for defending or condemning abortion," and that you'd be hard-pressed to find mention of the subject in any scriptural doctrine. Fascinating. Check out his piece, and tell us: what do your religious leaders say about abortion? And on what do they base their claims?



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I think Wills has it inside-out. I believe that this is NOT a POLITICAL question, but a moral one, perhaps religiously legislated. I feel that the law should not enter into the debate.

Sent by Kevin S. Gareau | 2:18 PM | 11-5-2007

Rather than asking why conservative Religionists OPPOSE things like abortion and homosexuality, perhaps the question should be why secular Evolutionists are IN FAVOR of them? Why, for example, does the "side" that purports to believe in evolution not seem to understand things like the biological fact that the "life" of any multi-cellular organism begins with the first two cells or that homosexuality is a long-term evolutionary dead-end?

Sent by David | 2:27 PM | 11-5-2007

Abortion is a religious issue because the anti-abortion extremists WANT it to be. A religious movement is free to believe whatever they want. For catholics, anything the pope has decided is the word of God.

Sent by Mike Holloway | 2:35 PM | 11-5-2007

Either abortion should be a religious debate, in which case so should capital punishment, health care and many other practices in this country or it should be treated like the other morale issues, largely ignored by religious supporters and groups. You can't have one without the other in my opnion.

Sent by Joey Schwegel | 2:41 PM | 11-5-2007

Amen. The seemingly inseparable fusion of religion and abortion as always struck me as absurd. I applaud Garry Wills -- whatever his personal stance on abortion is -- for bringing up the proper talking-points surrounding the abortion controversy: autonomy, the definition of life, and the intrinsic value to any life. We do not think nor act morally as a society within a bubble. And the abortion debate has always fascinated me because it is so intertwined with the other hot-button issues like stem-cell research, pre-implantation diagnosis, physician assisted suicide, and how we view the value of life in general including animal research.

BYW As a former Christian, now agnostic, PhD student in Molecular and Medical Genetics I am opposed to abortion. But because fetal development is a gradient and that there is no 'defining moment' in which the fetus is, at one hour, an unthinking blob and in the next a conscious being. And until I find a satisfying developmental line, I have drawn the line at implantation/fertilization (I still waver between the two) -- irrespective of my evolving religious beliefs.

Sent by Jen | 2:44 PM | 11-5-2007

Abortion should not today or as in past days be a religious debate. This has always been a way for the government or a religious group to start a conflict on something that should today and as in days past be the decision each individual has to decide. Especially since we (each individual) has to come to terms with the decision no matter what the outcome, abortion or no abortion.

Sent by Nena Baumann | 2:47 PM | 11-5-2007

Folly to say the Church has no historical texts on this matter. The Church Fathers say much, the teaching of the Church Fathers being part of the Holy Tradition which the Orthodox Church follows. Check out : http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/earlychurchfathers/fatherscover.html

Sent by Deacon Joseph Matusiak | 2:47 PM | 11-5-2007

Psalms 139 tells us: "For you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

Sent by Amanda | 2:49 PM | 11-5-2007

I hope someone reminds the guest, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations" Jeremiah 1:5. In other words even though we may start out as a glob of cells, God knows you not as a glob but as a human.

Sent by William Babcock | 2:49 PM | 11-5-2007

If it's wanted, it's a baby. If it's not wanted, it's a fetus.

Sent by William Babcock | 2:51 PM | 11-5-2007

He's wrong. The bible clearly DOES say that a person IS a person (known by God) while in his mother's womb. David referred to God knowing him while his bones were being formed in his mother's womb. And how about when John the Baptist leaped when he sensed his cousin, Jesus, while BOTH of them were still in utero.

Sent by Arcadia | 2:51 PM | 11-5-2007

God considers a baby in the womb a human life. Abortion is murder.

Jeremiah 1:5
"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."

Psalm 139:13
"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb"

Sent by Julie Taylor | 2:53 PM | 11-5-2007

I would like to reply to Kevin Gareau's statement. Our political legislation and court rooms are infused with morals. And I fail to see why abortion, which deals with the issues of autonomy and the intrinsic value of life, would escape legislation while everyday we legislate other many other cases based on arguments surrounding these philosophical issues (murder etc).

Sent by Jen | 2:53 PM | 11-5-2007

From the Buddhist point of view, life begins at conception in that when the sperm and egg conjoin, the consciousness comes from the previous life, joins the sperm and egg, and human life begins. So, the choice as to whether to kill it or not is up to those who have the power to do so but they should be aware that they are killing a human being and will create the karma of so doing. So it's nothing to legislate but people should know what they're doing and the kind of karma they're creating. Is it a religious issue? Depends on whether you think Buddhism is a religion. I think of it more as science.

Sent by Dr Nicholas Ribush | 2:54 PM | 11-5-2007

I think it is covered as a religious issue under the banner of "thou shalt not murder", or however you want to phrase it. Valuing life is perhaps the theological issue.

Sent by Seth | 2:54 PM | 11-5-2007

In Jeremiah 1:5 The Bible, God says "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you: Before you were born I sanctified you.

Sent by Nia Redmon | 2:54 PM | 11-5-2007

My favorite comment among the pro-life groups is "Choose Life" - by their mantra it seems to me that they are supporting the a CHOICE.
My least favorite is that they label real PRO-CHOICE proponents as Pro-Abortion. I don't know ANYONE in the Pro-Choice camp who is an abortion cheerleader - - just people who want to be sure that it's a legal option in unfortunate situations.

Sent by Jennifer Smith | 2:55 PM | 11-5-2007

I don't want to give my name, but I am listening to your show today.

I disagree with so many of your callers. As a victim of child abuse...No one is going to tell me that I have to give birth to my father's seed. I call that an abomination and not the miracle of birth.

I also don't think that women who are raped should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term. Nor should a woman who will die if she continues her pregnancy.

It should be up to the woman to decide if she gives birth. These people who oppose abortion are hurting more people than they are helping. Look today at the number of children who are being abused by parents that didn't want them to begin with. Where are these people when these children are taken from their homes and put in foster care?? If they are so against abortion, they should become foster parents and see first hand how unwanted children are dealt with.

Just my two cents.


Sent by Anonymous | 2:56 PM | 11-5-2007

I agree that abortion is not a religious issue. It's a biological choice. I get offended when people think it's a religious issue or that women shouldn't have a choice to terminate their fetus. People who want to force women to not have the choice to terminate, should also offer support through college for the people who are forced to give birth to unwanted babies.

Sent by Leila Kajiwara | 2:56 PM | 11-5-2007

Yeah! This is not religious! We should be able to make our own decision. I am a woman and according a previous caller, I am apparently the only one who disagrees with when it is called a human. I know of women who have had the back-alley "operations". How dare any man - religious, or political even think they should be allowed to decide.

Sent by Lea Cutcher | 2:56 PM | 11-5-2007

Mr. Willis,

Is 100% correct. Finally someone who really has/had been thinking with his head instead of with some blind/spritual mindset.

Abortion and religion are not equal.

Sent by Wendell | 2:56 PM | 11-5-2007

Actually, for Mr Wills to say the Bible does not make any reference to abortion is not true. Check out Exodus 21:22,23, where the scenario of a pregnant woman's fetus suffers a fatal injury due to a struggle between 2 men. The guilty man would be held liable 'soul for soul', thus equating the fetal life to that of a real person. Also, David in prayer mentions that his creator say 'even the embroyo of me', thus indicating that God is aware of ALL life, born and unborn.

Sent by Lynn | 2:57 PM | 11-5-2007

Abortion is a moral case, but morels are subjective. The anti-abortion argument simply breaks down to people who feel morally superior to others trying desperately to get others to adopt their morals. It's vanity. Plain and simple. Bottom line? Stop being so concerned about what someone else does, and if you dont like the idea of abortion, DONT HAVE ONE.

Sent by Steve Chernick | 2:58 PM | 11-5-2007

In the Muslim Qura'n which the Author failed to mention discribes the fetus and the stages of the child:
Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay); (The Noble Quran, 23:12)"

"Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed; (The Noble Quran, 23:13)"

"Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be God, the best to create! (The Noble Quran, 23:14)"
"Say: "Come, I will rehearse what God hath (really) prohibited you from": Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want;- We provide sustenance for you and for them;- come not nigh to shameful deeds. Whether open or secret; take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom. (The Noble Quran, 6:151)"

Sent by amina | 3:01 PM | 11-5-2007

I feel that most people are arguing that it is "God's" - this means that it is a religious issue. But what about those who do not believe in "God", should they have to follow "God's rule" when it's not something they even believe in? As a woman whom is not a christian, I do not feel that those who DO follow Gods rule should dictate my choices. People respond that I would be "breaking God's law," but to me if there is no god there then there is not a law which I would then need to abide by. It is my choice; yes, I can relate that it is a fetus inside of my body that would eventually become a child, but if I do not want the child then I do not feel that I should have to carry it. It is a political issue and God & State are divided, God shouldn't be in the arguement. If abortion was outlawed and I wanted one, I would still get one (the world is overpopulated as it is, and I am responsible and take several precautions to prevent me from having to make this decision, as it would be a dificult one...but the decision would be mine and I would not regret it).

Sent by Marcy | 3:01 PM | 11-5-2007

I think the issues with abortion need to recognize that women have unfortunately had abortions for the history of mankind. They used to call it a D and C, before it was made a politcal issue. Before that it was between the woman and the doctor. The issue is to provide these unfortunate women with SAFE abortions because that is their choice. Our moralizing and politicicizingf of this issue has driven women around the world to back alley unsafe abortionists. It is a moral choice to have or not an abortion.

Sent by Jan | 3:02 PM | 11-5-2007

the bible does say that if two men engage in a struggle and happen to harm a pregnant woman in their fight, and the baby comes out as a result and
the baby dies, the men were to receive the death penalty.

Sent by ronald hernandez | 3:02 PM | 11-5-2007

Aren't ALL issues ultimately Religious issues? No matter your religion, or your lack of religion, all ultimately come from a spiritual belief,or lack of belief as the case may be. Abortion is ultimately a moral decision to stop life. It would be immoral if not hypocritical then to ignore or seperate a person's religion from the other aspects of their decision making, including their influence in voting.

Sent by Kane Adkins | 3:02 PM | 11-5-2007

If all you can bring to the discussion is what you THINK the Bible says, or what you believe "God knows," you disqualify yourself from reasonable discourse. You have no business trying to legislate policy that others will be forced to live under based solely on your religious persuasion.

Thus, if you truly believe that your favorite collection of ancient mystic writing condemns abortion - DON'T GET ONE. But that's a decision you get to make about YOU, and those of us who don't take our decision making cues from superstitious books will not allow you to force your religion on us.

Quoting Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1 just means you're ignoring what Wills said during the interview. That some verse claims God's foreknowledge of David is not a valid argument for when personhood begins, any more than it would be an argument for the personhood of an ova or sperm cell, should we concede that God foreknows the person that will result from them.

Sent by Derek Knisely | 3:28 PM | 11-5-2007

To the people that believe the religion plays a role in our sexual lives I have two questions to ask you.
1.) How many unwanted children have you adopted?
There are numerous children who weren't aborted, but are in desperate need of good homes. I have seen unwanted children that have been abused and neglected by their parents (if you can call them that), and have suffered under our Foster Care and Judicial systems. If you believe that God knows us the moment an egg is fertilized he can't be a caring, compasionate God, because no child should be unwanted, abused, neglected, or unloved.
2.) Why is the religious right promoting "abstinence", instead of birth control methods that actually work, if they want to keep people from having abortions?
I don't know of anyone who has had an abortion that practiced birth control (and I am discounting the "rhythm method", because that is not good, reliable birth control). I know several people that have had abortions because they were not using birth control.
Having an abortion is a personal choice. It is between a woman and whom ever she believes in or doesn't believe in.
What we all need to do is eliminate the need for abortions. We can accomplish this by having reliable and economical birth control readily available to anyone that is having sex. We need to educate, educate, educate.
Preaching absinence only and ignoring the fact that children and adults that aren't married do have sex will only lead to more abortions.

Sent by Ginger McGraw | 4:04 PM | 11-5-2007

One should be careful in quoting from the Bible [as indication of God's feelings on abortion] verses pertaining to God knowing a person before they were knit. Such verses are really an indication of God's knowledge of one's destiny rather than the infusion of the rights of personage onto a fetus. When read in the original Hebrew Exodus 21:22-25 clearly puts more weight on the life and welfare of the woman with an edict of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for a life, but only places a financial burden for the loss of the fetus. Thus divine law does not recognize the fetus as a fully living person.

Sent by Biblefan | 4:06 PM | 11-5-2007

David, is homosexuality is a long-term evolutionary dead end why is it still around? Shouldn't evolution have already weeded it out?

Sent by jim | 4:18 PM | 11-5-2007

I do not know what bible he is reading but Exodus 21:22-23 stats that 22 And in case men should struggle with each other and they really hurt a pregnant woman and her children do come out but no fatal accident occurs, he is to have damages imposed upon him without fail according to what the owner of the woman may lay upon him; and he must give it through the justices. 23 But if a fatal accident should occur, then you must give soul for soul,

Sent by Kevin Drummond | 4:22 PM | 11-5-2007

The larger and more convoluted the debate gets, the less valued and more stigmatized women become. The particularities of our lives become insignificant; we become either saviors or murderers depending on the "choices" we make.

I agree with Mr. Wills' point that we don't have definitive lines to legislate these choices. We have scripture and religious teachings, which some follow and others don't. Our moral compasses vary, and too will our choices.

The debate should be with the individual, as Mr. Wills points out. Perhaps when the debate is brought down to this level, is no longer abstract and twisted to fit a religious agenda, the women affected by this debate can have the peace and dignity they deserve.

Sent by Stacy Brooks | 5:09 PM | 11-5-2007

Thank God for Mr. Wills bringing clarity to this issue. Why haven't we heard this before? I look forward to Mr. Wills bringing his erudition to the issue of homosexuality. People who think that the bible condemns homosexuals have picked out one text to justify their fears, similar to the above commentators quoting Ps. 139 and Jer. 1.

Sent by Suzanne Haraburd | 5:32 PM | 11-5-2007

Mr. Mills at least makes an argument that is logical and backed up by facts, and not misinterpretation of scripture, as a lot of the above posts appear to be.
The issues surrounding abortion often turn into mindless rants, and I for one applaud Mr. Mills for his op-ed, and hope to check out his book from which his article is taken.

Sent by Janice | 5:47 PM | 11-5-2007

Being an atheist, I am totally for Wills' viewpoint. If I had an unwanted pregnancy, I would greatly appreciate having a choice on whether or not to keep the child. If people want to pass a law banning abortion based on their religious beliefs, then this country would effectively move a step closer to being a theocracy, something that is most objectionable to the Western world. I appreciate my right to religion and I do not want another's religious beliefs being imposed on me in the form of an abortion law. I personally believe that in the primary stages of pregnancy, the child is truly just a foetus in that it has no physical feeling nor sentimental feeling and thus would not be sentient of the fact that it is being aborted. Nonetheless, I know that as a woman I would develop an attachment to the foetus and will be unable to abort it, even if I know that it wouldn't feel anything.
Abortion should be a personal decision, not the society's decision. If a woman cannot take care of the child and if indeed, the society cannot take decent care of the child, why let the child suffer later when it can just be aborted without it even being aware of it?

Sent by April | 7:10 PM | 11-5-2007

Over half of the anti-choice people seem to be male. Come on, guys, we dont get pregnant; in fact many of us are the cause of pregnancy. How dare any of us say anything to a pregnant woman whether or not she must carry a pregnancy to term! This is an issue that only women get to decide! If you care about the women in your life you will support their decisions. If you disagree with the right to an abortion then support women for public office who share your views, not men. We have nothing to say about it, only women are qualified to speak about abortion. 'Nuf said.

Sent by William Hassig | 7:36 PM | 11-5-2007

During the interview, the only religious text mentioned was the Bible. Is it common knowledge that 'religion' is synonymous with 'christianity?' Also, the Bible itself is not religion. A group of people organizing themselves in certain behaviors is religion. To make a decision based on what the Bible says is not a religious decision. Furthermore, during the interview Wills' insight into the line from psalm 139 "when I was woven together in the depths of the earth..." was shallow. He said that "depths of the earth" refers to the forming of all of creation, and therefore says nothing about the state of the fetus. Could not this line be a poetic metaphor for the womb? Afterall it follows the line "woven together," and that is no more a biological actuality then man being created in the depths of the earth. Assuming it's poetry, then, it can be interpreted as God INTENDING a person to be conceived, and, in fact, OVERSEEING this conception. This intention and overseeing of conception signifies that God has a PLAN for the fetus. Logically, the plan for a fetus is for it to become a baby. Therefore, as can be deducted from psalm 139, God sees a fetus to be just as much a person as a baby.

Sent by Rebekah Dawn | 9:23 PM | 11-5-2007

I am a physician and today I was reminded once more why I stopped supporting NPR several years ago. The piece on abortion was scientifically wrong and full of inappropriate statements. Furthermore, I found offensive that the host did not ask more pertinent questions and did not show any surprise or disgust to the statements from the guest. The sad issue overall is that the LA Times will never publish an opinion ed from a person who believes that life is sacred and should be protected and the same is true for NPR.

Sent by giacomo basadonna | 9:30 PM | 11-5-2007

"[T]he bible does say that if two men engage in a struggle and happen to harm a pregnant woman in their fight, and the baby comes out as a result and
the baby dies, the men were to receive the death penalty."

Ronald, that is not what the passages say. They says that if harm comes to the woman then there is retribution. If there is a miscarriage, not only is it not a capital offense, but in fact isn't even a criminal offense. Return to your Bible and read the passages again.

There is in fact no prohibition against abortion at all in the Bible.

Sent by Andrew Austin | 9:47 PM | 11-5-2007

Alas, I was on my way to class and didn't have the chance to hear the rest of my co-religionist, Gary Wills's commentary on NPR. As a Roman Catholic and an anthropologist, I must reaffirm the position Wills provides. The theological arguments stemming from textual "evidence" is simply not there in either the Tanakh or the Gospels. The attempt to frame such moral positions against abortion in the absence of textual precedence usually boils down to a series of definitional arguments framed in the broader area of politics. Thanks for having him on. Another great show from a class act.

Sent by Frank P. Araujo, Ph.D | 11:09 PM | 11-5-2007

When an adult is brain dead, the science and the law consider that his or her body is no longer a human being, even though it is stricly speaking alive, like a plant is alive. Why then should we consider that a foetus is a human being before there is any brain activity? Aren't we suppose to apply the same test to decide when life begins and when life ends?

Sent by Andre Emond | 11:38 PM | 11-5-2007

The question that always gets lost in this debate is what we actually have to power to legislate. With both sides reaching for the halls of Congress, this is well worth considering.

We all believe in consensual sex. Some believe it requires the sanction of marriage. Yet rape happens, adultery happens, child molestation being a particularly vile form of rape - happens. Hell, accidents happen. But legislation has never prevented any of the above.

I can punish transgression, but I cannot effectively mandate behavior. We will therefore always have unwanted or inappropriate pregnancies.

Really the only power I have as a voter no matter my opinion, is to legislate whether or not a safe abortion is available. The abortions WILL take place, the question before the electorate is whether it will be safe for the mother.

As a person old enough to remember when we sacrificed our daughters on the altar of our stated moral values I am not willing to go back to killing our daughters.

Why it is so muddy to the religious I do not understand. Whatever your beliefs, this need will always be there. The only choice is will our daughters survive.

No legal abortion means illegal abortion, means the death of your daughters. Got it? Is your high moral position worth the life of your daughter? Can you compel me to choose the same way you would? Those are the choices we face today. And the underlying question - can you compel me to follow your faith without my consent?

That is not what this country is about. Nor, I think, is that what your religion is supposed to be about.

Sent by Emmett Dignan | 11:53 PM | 11-5-2007

Mainly I believe the argument against abortions in the USA; They are all against the choice of the human having the child. Taking the choice away of any human-what is the legal term for such inhumane practice who is not a legal criminal? What would any human rights group or Christian or Jewish or religious group (even Satanist?) term a practice where a human is forced to adhere to a government's choice or any special interest group's choice? Generally, human rights violations is what is going on here. Against women. Not against a vegetative state- the fetus. The profile of this human seeking an abortion generally is: English speaking, well educated, no criminal history, no threat to Homeland security, charitable, believes in God, is younger than 21 years of age and older than 30 years.
*legal terms against women in USA that seek and choose to have an abortion: Coercion, defense duress, undue influence, harassment and mistreatment, denial of due process, infringement of privacy rights, restrictions of freedom of speech and press, cruel and/or degrading treatment towards women

Sent by Derek Tyler | 1:52 AM | 11-6-2007

I read the following words on a bumper sticker.

Abortion: Keep it legal, keep it safe, keep it rare.

Refreshing wisdom in those words to say the least. Surely the pros and antis do agree that reducing the need for an abortion to zero is a common goal.

Would it not be more intelligent to work on programs and policies to accomplish that rather than continuing to spew venom at each other?

Sent by Jim Hickey | 10:25 AM | 11-6-2007

As a woman who has an abortion, I want to say I have no remorse. Having an abortion was the best decision I ever made.

Did I consider the fetus to alive? Of course I did. Did I consider the fetus to be a person? I did not. I am sick of this arguement that if the fetus is wanted it's a baby. Is the "baby" at 2 weeks gestation a really a person. I don't believe so. It's just semantics.

I'm sure many people in this forum would call me immoral. You know what I think is immoral? Bringing a child into the world that you cannot take care of. The conservatives who talk about saving the "babies" only care about them until they are born. They oppose universal healthcare, subsidized childcare, and public assistance to poor mothers. The best way to reduce abortions is to make "choosing life" a financially viable option.

However, all this should be a moot arguement. Church and state are separate in this country. Some women say "take your laws off my body", I would add "take your religion of my body." Laws should not be subject to the value system of the religious right.

Sent by anonymous | 10:41 AM | 11-6-2007

What Exodus 21:22-25 says depends on the translation, so it is hard to use it to justify either position. NIV footnotes the uncertainty:

"22 If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [a] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, ..."

[a] Or "she has a miscarriage"

If one reads that the woman gives birth prematurely, then one is likely to conclude that "no serious injury" includes the infant. However, if one reads that the woman has a miscarriage, "no serious injury" does not include the fetus.

KJV reads "so that her fruit depart from her", and ASV is similar. In RSV the passage becomes "so that there is a miscarriage", but in NASB "she gives birth prematurely". ESV says "so that her children come out", and NLT footnotes that this is how the Hebrew reads.

Sent by Charles | 11:28 AM | 11-6-2007

Reliance on this passage from Jeremiah:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you: Before you were born I sanctified you"

would indicate that God knows us before ovulation, before insemination, before fertilization, before implantation, and before birth, when God makes known his connection with us. How does this argue for limiting what a woman can do with her body once there has been fertilization, as the anti-abortion crowd would do?

If God is the architect of every life, then he knows which fetuses are going to make it and which are not going to make it through a full term pregnancy.

He knows when a woman is being raped and conceiving through rape. He knows when a woman is too poor to raise another child and feels the need to have an abortion. He knows when a fetus is so badly deformed that not only will it not survive to birth, but also that its continued life will harm the mother's life or future ability to have more children. If God knows all these things, then perhaps God knows not to "ensoul" those pregnancies.

Perhaps God's view of Jeremiah is that he ensouls a baby when it is born, having watched over the lives of the baby's parents to see their budding desire to have children, to see their joy in conceiving, and, in seeing these choices of the parents, knew the child when it was born prior to the time the child was born, because God watches over more than one generation at any given time. And perhaps God is wise and individualistic to understand that not every conception will result in a birth, and he does not dogmatically ensoul every fertilized egg knowing that 1/3 of all pregnancies end in miscarriage (making God the biggest abortionist of all time, BTW) and that a large number of pregnancies end in abortion and stillbirth.

If God knows each of us and interacts with each of us as individuals, then why do we think that God has a bright like rule that applies to us all, regardless of our individual needs? Why can't believers give God the benefit of the doubt that he knows not to ensoul a fetus that's destined to die?

Sent by ekf | 12:14 PM | 11-6-2007

What many people on both sides forget is that this debate is significantly informed by the high birth rate we experience now. Before the advent of modern medicine, many foetuses and infants were lost during pregnancy -- for this reason, people were reluctant to give moral and legal status of personhood to babies until the were successfully delivered. Abortion certainly took place, but since birth was such an uncertain event, it fit into a gray area. Some cultures even refrained from granting personhood until a child had emerged from the threat of many childhood illnesses -- from seven to eleven years old.

Also missing from this context is the belief that other fully grown human beings were not fully human -- famously, African American slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of voting population calculations in America. Therefore, the conversation about what a person is, and when a society confers personhood, cannot be considered static even in America.

Sent by Rachel N H | 12:23 PM | 11-6-2007

Life for an intelligent being can be viewed as a series of judgments and choices. For a God fearer, all of these choices are passed through a "what is God's will" filter and become religious judgments. Our forefathers were aware of the bloody history of man's efforts to use secular government to force its citizens to conform to one religion with its associated box of orthodox moral doctrines. They had the wisdom to set into the Constitution safe guards against government using its authority to establish into law the religious moral doctrines of a favored religion. Morality was effectively separated into two groupings, secular social morality and personal religious morality. Secular social morals are truths recognized to be independant of any particular religion. They believed that it was obvious that all humans were created (by evolution for atheists) equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights. The government was mandated to protect these secular rights and to make no laws favoring one personal religious morality over another.

My advice to those who believe their personal religious morals are superior...demonstrate this by the fruits you produce from applying them to yourself not by how effectively you can force them on your neighbor!

Sent by David E Hostetter | 1:06 PM | 11-6-2007

Abortion doesn't have to be a religious issue. I think some people just have an aversion to throwing away tissue that we all know will grow into a baby. The issue becomes a religious one because people that have that aversion are supported by the bible, which is "inspired of God" (2 Timothy 3:16)and it's really too bad Gary Wills was not more accurate when he says the Bible has nothing to say on the matter of abortion. Exodus 21:22, 23 clearly states the value unborn children have in God's eyes. It says, "???And in case men should struggle with each other and they really hurt a pregnant woman and her children do come out but no fatal accident occurs, he is to have damages imposed upon him without fail according to what the owner of the woman may lay upon him; and he must give it through the justices. 23??But if a fatal accident should occur, then you must give soul for soul,". If harm should come to the pregnant woman or her child, there has to be compensation. In addition, there is a scripture at Psalms 139:16 that says, "Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, And in your book all its parts were written down in writing..." The unborn child clearly has value in the eyes of God. So in the end, it's not a religious question or a political issue. The issue is more God's sovereignty. We have His view on the matter. The only issue now is do we respect the Creator's right to decide what is right or not.

Sent by Deja A Dowdell Nielsen | 2:57 PM | 11-6-2007

I find Gary Will???s claim that abortion is not a religious issue patently absurd. If one believes in the God of the Bible, that humans are made in the image of God as noted in Genesis, and that God took on human form and suffered death to provide salvation for humans, how could a decision to intentionally terminate a pregnancy not have profound religious implications for those involved in the decision?

Sent by Mark Dungan | 3:07 PM | 11-6-2007

Just wanted to make a quick comment about what Gary Wills said about the soul being infused by God some time after conception. Since he talked about God it's only fair I talk about the Bible. "All scripture is inspired of God" (2 Timothy 3:16). Souls being infused into the body and being talked about as something seperate from the body doesn't harmonize with what the bible says. Genesis 2:7 says, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Doesn't say had was given a soul. It says he became a soul, rather Adam was a soul. The soul refers to life itself or living beings. For other arguments that the soul is not a seperate thing from our bodies look up: Joshua 11:11, Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 25, Leviticus 24:17, 18, Acts 3:23, 1 Peter 3:20, Ezekiel 18:4 etc...

Sent by Deja A Dowdell Nielsen | 3:17 PM | 11-6-2007

During the conversation on Talk of the Nation, Willis responded to a question revolving around Exodus 21. I believe he quoted verse 22 and he asserted that the verse demanded only financial compensation for the loss of a child within the womb, and that the value was upon the right of a patriarch to an heir. However, verse 22 points to a pregnant woman who is struck and yet her child lives. Then the husband exacts a fine. In verse 23, the author continues by saying, "but if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life." It is a misunderstanding of the text to say it points to patriarchal prodigy. In the greater context, the passage reflects the concern of life. This includes slaves, men, women, children, and children within the womb. He has read onto the text something that is true but not appropriate to the current context. This passage if anything, defines the extent of life and the priority of life, not lineage.
I would continue to challenge his study to extend to the book of Leviticus where blood is the source of life, versus mental coherence. It is problematic when he attempts to redefine what we generally consider as life. Sure, cells are life, but we imply dignity and the image of God by human life, not just cellular life.
I appreciate his challenge, but i believe his argument is simplistic, and does not consider a thorough consideration of Biblical material (including Chirst sacrificial role for the sins of those who have abortions), even if it is a thorough consideration of evangelical thought.

Sent by Lanier Wood | 4:38 PM | 11-6-2007

I would say have to agree with Mr. Wills in saying that abortion is not a religious issue. It is a life and death issue. Sanctity of human life is an issue in our constitution.
I also agree with him as in that the Bible doesn't specifically say that abortion is a sin. But the Bible also doesn't mention masterbation, but it does say don't look at a woman lustfully. The Bible does though mention the value and sanctity of someone in the womb.
In Jeremiah 1:5 the Lord tells Jeremiah "...before you cometh out of the womb, I sanctified thee.." Sanctifing is making one holy and valuable.
Also in Luke 1 when Jesus was in Mary's womb and they went to Elizabeths house. John the Baptist was in her womb and he was filled with the Holy Ghost by just the presence of the fetus of Jesus. In verse 42 it is said, "blessed is the fruit of thy womb." So whatever it is, a fetus or a human, it is blessed. And even a fetus can understand the presence of Jesus. Also, the Holy Spirit thinks the fetus is holy enough to fill it.
Even though the Bible doesn't directly say 'Do not murder a fetus,' I would have to argue that It does say that whatever is in the womb is special.

Sent by Jeffrey | 12:31 AM | 11-7-2007

I think Wills' claim that there are no relevant Biblical texts on this topic is absolutely false. Luke 1:39-44 says the baby in Elizabeth's womb leapt for joy when Mary greeted Elizabeth. This passage clearly demonstrates that the Bible teaches that an unborn baby has joy, and some understanding of itself and others -- i.e.: it is a person, with individual thoughts, emotions and actions.

It baffles me that Wills did not deal with this important Biblical passage.

Sent by Greg | 12:43 PM | 11-7-2007

According to my faith- based on the text, OAHSPE- the Supreme Being unquestionably issues a new soul to a human at the instant of conception. But for me, it's a no-brainer. The argument-sited by the author- that human life begins in a vegetable state is moronic. So is the notion that a fetus, up to a certain point, can become something other than a human- such as a dog or cat. A fetus conceived by humans can never be anything but human. To me, the issue isn't religious nor political, but legal. Some years ago, I took the time to read the U.S. Constitution, and was struck by the document's use of the word, born, as in setting the limitations as to who can be President, etc., etc. Because of the way it uses the word, the Constitution comes across as ambiguous as to the legal status of those in a state of pre-birth. I think this is because the so-called Founding Fathers simply didn't foresee abortion as ever being an issue; they, after all, lived during a different age of the world, were just men and didn't possess a crystal ball. Now that it is an issue, if there is ever to be a resolution of the question, it must be answered on a Constitutional level. What is the legal status of the unborn? Are they citizens of the United States Of America and entitled to rights and protections, the same as other citizens? If they are not citizens, then what is their status? Are they property? If so, who's? The mother's? Father's? Both? The State's? Since some find value in human embryonic stem-cell research, are the unborn fair game for commerce for profit? Are they subject to taxation as a commodity? The Preamble of the Constitution states, "....all men are created equal...." Again, this is a no-brainer. Any other view is patently un-American. Giving birth is merely a step in a process. The "process" of creation begins at conception, if not before. I'm not so poor, nor greedy nor frightened that I must support the denial of life and rights to others- including my unborn sisters and brothers (sorry if that has a "religious" connotation)- to promote my own survival, personal gain nor security. I'm an American.

Sent by Jeff Skinner | 1:40 PM | 11-9-2007

Life is God's job ... ours is to protect it ... from the beginning to the end. It is a human/moral issue. It is about creating a culture of life. I wish someone had cared enough to try to talk me out of it, instead of defending my "right" to do whatever I please. Abortion destroys more than a child's life ... it destroys a culture ... future generations ... it's an assault on God. I had lunch the other day with two devout Catholic men who suggested Roe v. Wade serves men, not women. I couldn't agree more. I can sympathize with the rape/incest victim ~ but abortion isn't the answer. Changing the behavior is. Until we prosecute the perpetrator, it won't happen. As long as abortion is an option, there's no reason to prosecute. We've created, and condone, a vicious cycle. All life is sacred (not sure about the hair, finger nails and carrots~a little extreme, I'd say).

Sent by Jane Frantz | 8:02 AM | 11-15-2007

It is true that abortion is not a "religious issue" any more than stealing or lying are religious issues.

Most religions, and ethical systems, agree that killing a person is wrong, or unethical, or sinful, depending on the language used. The issue with abortion is deciding at which point the human being can be considered a "person".

I think the tendency of those speaking out against abortion to be religious conservatives can be explained by the movement's embrace of "human being" as synonymous with "person", which seems to me to be the safest and most logical route. For someone who has embraced the secular, social liberal point of view, identifying the unborn child as such, even if true, interferes with the individual's almighty right to "choose" whatever she wishes to do with her body, and with the ability to live a promiscuous lifestyle and still have a back-up in case birth control fails.

Sent by Jacob G. Norlund | 5:03 AM | 11-18-2007

Abortion as SAFE and RARE:
We have aborted over 50,000,000 babies since 1973. We used to average 1,500,000 abortions per year. That works out to 1 every 21 seconds every hour of every day of the year. This year we only aborted 1,200,000 or 1 every 27 seconds. That is neither safe nor rare.

Sent by John Mader | 2:38 PM | 1-22-2008

I find the term "unwanted pregnancy" highly offensive.

Sent by ang | 1:23 AM | 1-23-2008

Thanks to all for speaking out for those who are the most vulnerable and unable to speak for themselves, and therefore the most need of protection. May the Great Spirit who resides in each and all Bless you.

Sent by Ruth | 8:51 PM | 3-4-2008