Abortion as such is not discussed in the Bible, so any explanation of why it is not legislated or commented on is speculative. One possibility is that the cultural preoccupation with procreation evident in the Hebrew Bible ruled out consideration of terminating pregnancy. Archaeological evidence indicates that in ancient Israel the infant mortality rate was as high as fifty percent. It is also possible that, given the diet and living conditions at the time, female fertility was low. Male control of reproduction and a belief that numerous decendants are a sign of divine blessing are also found in the Bible. These factors support the view that abortion would not have been common.
Alternatively, it can be argued that abortion was practiced without censure. Many women died in childbirth, a strong incentive to avoid carrying a pregnancy to term. Bibilical legislation, as in Leviticus 27.3–7, indicates that the lives of children as well as women were not valued as highly as those of adult men, while no value whatsoever was given to a child under the age of one month. There is no indication that a fetus had any status.
A key text for examining ancient Israelite attitudes is Exodus 21:22–25: “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman's husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Several observations can be made about this passage. The Hebrew text at v. 22 literally reads “and there is no harm,” implying that contrary to current sensibilities, the miscarriage itself was not considered serious injury. The monetary judgment given to the woman's husband indicates that the woman's experience of the miscarriage is not of significance, and that the damage is considered one to property rather than to human life. This latter observation is further supported by the contrast with the penalties for harm to the woman herself.
Several texts have been influential in late discussions of abortion. Both Jewish and Christian traditions have regarded the divine command “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1.28) as demanding a high rate of procreation incompatible with abortion in a non‐life‐threatening situation. Like Leviticus 27, later rabbinic teachings differentiated between life under and over the age of one month, while relying on biblical injunctions to respect and choose life in determining that abortions could be performed to preserve the life of the mother. Christians opposed to abortion have referred to Luke 1.41–44 as evidence that a child is cognizant in the uterus.
Drorah O'Donnell Setel