From Creation to Procreation

As an arena of divine presence, nascent life must be held in respect, for if it is God's work, its development must not be thwarted nor its condition questioned. According to the prophet Isaiah, God declares:

Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter!

Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, "What are you making"?

or "Your work has no handles"?

Woe to anyone who says to a father, "What are you begetting?"

Or to a woman, "With what are you in labor?" (Isa. 45:9-10)

Because procreation is the work of God, it is unseemly to question how or when it occurs, much less speculate about God's competence in making humankind.

Ancient biblical culture is also characterized by the command to propagate (Genesis 1:28) and thus by a strongly reinforced desire for children. In addition to any innate yearning or social pressure for offspring, the infertile in biblical culture no doubt feared being seen as disobedient, and several biblical stories contain impassioned pleas for children. The most notably such plea is that ofpostmenopausal Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who according to the story subsequently gives birth to Isaac from whom all Israel descends. That God can cause this to happen against nature is taken as evidence of God's supremacy over nature.

In view of the involvement of God in procreation and of the command to populate the earth, it is somewhat surprising that Hebrew Scripture says little or nothing about the moral status of human life in utero. Exodus, chapter 21, discusses the legal consequences that follow from an accidental miscarriage: "When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life ..." (Exod. 21: 22-23).

While the text leaves much unsaid, it does prescribe different penalties for causing a miscarriage (a fine) and for causing the women's death (a capital offense), suggesting that these are offenses of a substantially different magnitude. Strictly speaking the scope here is limited to miscarriage or unintentional abortion, so its applicability to an intended abortion is subject to debate.

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