The subject of abortion is perhaps one of the most highly charged issues of our day. Finding an honest answer to the question “is abortion murder?” takes courage for those who have performed abortions or have had abortions themselves. The Bible is clear about the fact that murder is wrong (Exodus 20:13). However, in some cases, the Bible does not forbid killing. Soldiers representing their country were expected to kill soldiers on the opposing side (Joshua 11:20). That is not murder. Animals were killed for food and for sacrifice (Exodus 24:5; Genesis 9:3–4). That is not murder either.
Murder is defined as “the unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Murder is unlawful killing—that is, killing that is done by the judgment of one human being against another, for personal (rather than national) reasons. The Bible condemns murder repeatedly as a characteristic of a wicked society (Deuteronomy 5:17; Isaiah 1:21; Hosea 4:2; Matthew 5:21). Determining whether or not abortion is murder involves two considerations: first, whether or not a fetus in utero is actually a human being, and, second, if a fetus is a child, whether or not abortion can be rightly called murder since it is legal in most countries. If murder is unlawful killing, it would follow that a lawful killing would not be murder.
One reason murder is outlawed in many places is that it is unethical for one person to unilaterally decide the fate of another. Under the Old Testament Law, a murderer was not put to death unless there were multiple witnesses: “No person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Numbers 35:30). In war, soldiers do not decide to kill for their own purposes; rather, they kill in the national interest—if they fight for an honorable nation, the national interest will be to protect innocent civilians from some threat. Abortion is different. Abortion is killing based on a mother’s unilateral judgment and choice. Such unprovoked killing of the defenseless is unethical and should define abortion as murder in any society—unless the fetus is not human. If the fetus is just a mass of impersonal tissue or something less than human, ending its life would not face the same ethical challenge and would not be considered murder.
So, is a fetus a human? Or is it something else? Biologically speaking, human life begins at conception. When the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm come together, they combine and create a new string of DNA that is personalized and totally unique. DNA is coded information, the blueprint for the new human’s growth and development. No more genetic material needs to be added; the zygote in the womb is as human as the mother in whose womb it dwells. The difference between a fetus and any one of us is one of age, location, and level of dependence. When a mother aborts the process of fetal development, she is destroying a unique life.
The Bible clearly points to conception as the beginning of human life. Samson said, “I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb” (Judges 16:17). He refers to his unborn self as having already been what God planned him to be—a Nazirite. David says, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Again, we see David referring to himself as a person in the womb. Then, he says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). David is saying that God had all of his days planned out for him while he was still in the womb. Again, this evidence points to personhood beginning at conception, rather than at the moment of birth. We see God had a similar plan for the life of the pre-born Jeremiah: “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” (Jeremiah 1:5).
The Bible considers a fetus to be an unborn child, a planned human being that God is forming from the moment of conception. This being the case, it doesn’t really matter what human jurisprudence says or how socially or politically acceptable abortion is. God’s law takes precedence. A mother who decides to abort her child is unilaterally making a decision to end another person’s life—and that is and always has been the definition of murder.