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Abortion and the Sabbath

A connection you may not have connected


                              Kenneth Westby

 Looking for a fight? Just bring up the subject of abortion
in mixed company. Strongly state your opinion and soon there will
be "blood." Abortion is one of those incendiary topics that sit
at the intersection of religion and politics like a lit match
between two open cans of gasoline. But why has the subject of
abortion become so charged with emotion, vitriol, and even, at
times, violence?
     For most of history the right and wrong of abortion was not
a polarizing issue. Most cultures regarded it as an evil. In
modern, more civilized times, it was a shameful practice and
against the law. People who did speak out in favor of abortion,
such as the Marquis de Sade, were universally condemned as
deviant reprobates.
     In 1973 with the famous Roe v Wade case all that began to
change in America. The U.S. Supreme Court declared "open season"
on the unborn. The court had somehow conjured a "privacy"
principle from the U.S. Constitution, and from that phantom
constructed a "woman's right to choose" - to choose to kill her
yet-to-be-born baby. From 1973 to now the death toll stands at 40
million (and counting) helpless innocents slaughtered in the name
of "a right to choose."
     A third of American women have had their sons and daughters
snuffed out. A quarter of unborn children will die this way.
Those promoting abortion (pro choice) and those abortionists
making money on its thriving business are treated as noble
pioneers in the emancipation of women from the drudgery of
motherhood or the consequences of sexual promiscuity. Those who
stand against abortion (pro-life), especially for religious
reasons, are often portrayed as intolerant, bigots, and out to
abridge freedom and women's rights. How did we as a nation get to
this contorted moral state?


     This moral coarsening of Western civilization had already
begun early in 20th Century with the advent of barbarous
communism, and later, the savagery of German Nazism. These
brutal, anti-God, socialist tyrannies waged war against their own
people and against their people's unborn children. The twisted
ideals of the almighty state took precedence over an individual's
needs and even their right to live.
     If the state deemed some people less than fully human it
forced abortions of the unwanted before they could breathe their
first breath. In the "worker's paradise" women were needed to
work the lathes of industry for yet another attempt at a giant
leap forward and requiring burdensome pregnancies to be
terminated by state-provided abortions. In Hitler's Reich the
weak, mentally or physically handicapped, "racially impure," and
other inconvenient humans, such as the entire race of the Jews,
were terminated whether by abortion, firing squad, starvation, or
the gas chamber. It was "the state's right to choose" that was of
higher value than the helpless innocents.
     It is not too much of a stretch to liken today's killing of
the helpless unborn in America and Europe to the barbarities of
the 20th Century? In raw numbers the abortion death toll in post
World War Two America and Europe surpasses all the killing done
by Soviet communism and Hitler combined. The major difference is
that instead the killing being done in the name of the state; it
is now done in the name of the individual for his/her personal
comfort and convenience - with the blessing of the state. The
state facilitates the procedure by making it legal, and in many
cases, paying for it. This gruesome practice is tolerated by a
majority of the public in all western democracies; the elected
officials who support it are routinely returned to office.
     If government won't stand up to protect the vulnerable, the
weak, and the innocent, who will?

     God has never been silent on protecting those who most need
it. He proclaims himself the defender of the fatherless, the
widow, the weak, the oppressed, and the enslaved. He warns that
he will bring to judgment upon those who abuse the helpless.


     In the Ten Commandments, there is one commandment that
specifically takes up for the powerless and for people (slaves)
owned as "property?" Of course, the unborn in today's culture is
considered the owned property of the woman: "women have a right
over their own bodies" - meaning a woman's ownership includes the
separate human being growing within her body. Apparently the
rights of the unborn count for nothing in the face of the
master's ownership.
     For most of world history including recent American history,
slaves - like the unborn today - were considered property, not
free people like you and me. They had to depend on others to
protect them from abuse.
     What Divine commandment tells us that even the powerless are
humans; even the owned have rights and should be afforded
respect, protection, and kindness?

     That special commandment is "the forgotten commandment:" The
Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath commandment. A commandment
regarded by many as obsolete, a doctrinal artifact, extinct like
the dodo bird, and irrelevant. But the dimensions of the Sabbath
commandment include more than a specific day of religious
attention. It speaks of affording kindness and respect to all who
have been made in the image of God and are in some way dependent
upon others for protection. Specifically in view are those most
vulnerable to be abused and neglected. The reason for this Godly
demand for fairness and concern is because all human flesh has
the same creator, the same savior, and the same deliverer. Those
who bear the Image of God are "sacrosanct" and must be given
respect and justice.
     In this commandment, found right in the middle of The Ten,
God tells his nation that in their rest and rejuvenation on the
seventh day they are to insure that the disenfranchised are
likewise given an equal opportunity for rest.


     Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.... On it you
     shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or
     daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your
     animals, nor the alien within your gates. Far in six days
     the Lard made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all
     that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore
     the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 1


     ...But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On
     it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or
     daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox,
     your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within
     your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may
     rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt....2


     Notice that Yahweh (the LORD) is concerned that the
disenfranchised "slave" class of people should rest on the
Sabbath. Though they may be "property" to their masters, they are
humans before God and should be treated as such. The Sabbath
commandment protects the "personhood" of all classes of people.
As the U.S. President reminds us, "liberty isn't something that
nations have authority to grant; it is a gift from God. God has
made all men to be free." And I add, every human should be free
to be born, as life is the greatest gift from God.

     The prestigious Anchor Bible Dictionary, in its lengthy
article on slavery in the ancient Near East, has this to say
about the Sabbath commandment:

     Thus, the 4th Commandment contains an interdiction against
     forcing the slaves to work on the Sabbath (Exod 20:10;
     23:12; Deut 5:14)....We have in the Bible the first appeals
     in world literature to treat slaves as human beings for
     their own sake and not just in the interests of their
     master. Thus, slaves both born to the household and those
     bought with money, just like the free; Israelites, were to
     be circumcised in order to share cultic [religious] life and
     eat the Passover (Gen 17:13,23,27; Exod 12:44; Deut 12:12,
     18; Lev 22:11). The Hebrew law also restricted the master's
     power over his slaves. 3
     What an extraordinary fact: The Sabbath Commandment is the
first appeal in world literature to respect slaves as people and
not just as property to serve solely the interests of their
owners. How might this Sabbath principle be applied to those who
claim ownership over a life growing toward birth? Is not this
most enlightened commandment every bit as applicable to
vulnerable unborn babies as to slaves in another era?
     At the time this commandment was given to Moses the
disenfranchised were male and female servants/slaves who for one
reason or another were in servitude. They were owned. They were
property. Sometimes it was not slavery per se, but a voluntary
servitude usually for financial reasons - although slavery in
that world was not uncommon. Native Israelites could also "sell"
themselves into a specific number of years of servitude in order
to pay off debts. Desperate conditions led others into indentured
servanthood - employees without many "rights" (and certainly no
union representation!).
     Also mentioned in the Fourth Command is the alien who was a
foreigner, a non-Israelite, a person without stake or citizenship
within the nation. These aliens could be considered "strangers"
temporarily travelling through Israelite territory; or they could
be permanent residents. Often the alien took jobs as low-level
servants and attached themselves to a specific family for care
and provision in return for their labor. Later in Israelite
history, prisoners captured in war were made servants or
"slaves." This entire class of people was in large part at the
mercy of their masters. The Torah was clear in its instructions
that Israelite and non-Israelite servants be afforded kind
treatment and abusing them was forbidden.
     The unborn are not in view in the Fourth Commandment as
Israelites did not practice abortion, but the "owned," the
vulnerable, the young sons and daughters, and the weak clearly
are in God's view.


     Who are the powerless today? Who among the human race have
always been the most dependent, helpless and most in need of
protection? Children, of course. And of children, the unborn are
the most vulnerable of all.
     Why does God mention animals in the Fourth Commandment? Is
God so concerned for animals that he wants them to rest. Plainly
that is not his prime concern. To work animals means to work
people - slaves, farm hands, and servants must work with the
animals. While discussing support for the ministry, the Apostle
Paul mentions the scripture about not muzzling the ox treading
the corn and asks, "Is it about oxen that God is concerned?
Surely he says this for us, doesn't he?" 4

(Let me say here, that though some main thought may be towards us
humans, God DOES concern Himself with proper care for animals
that we humans are allowed to ruler over. As a horseman, working
on Stud Farms and Riding Ranches since a teenager, I can most
assuredly tell you that working horses NEED a day of rest. To
work horses or oxen seven days a week is going to have
detrimental health repercussions, which in the end is not only
cruel to the animal, it is going to shorten the animals life
span. When Roy Rogers [who became the famous King of the Cowboys
with his just as famous golden Palomino horse Trigger] entered
the movies in 1937, he was told by the horse veterinarian that to
use Trigger for all the running scenes of every movie [and
Trigger was in all Roy's movies and TV series, every one of them]
would cost him good health. Roy then often used a "look alike"
horse for Trigger in the distant running scenes. Roy says Trigger
was very well cared for and then lived to an unusual old age for
a saddle horse, of 33 years). 

     The Sabbath command extends to domesticated animals only -
not wild animals since man does not care for or work them.
     In Eden, God didn't commune with the animals on the Sabbath,
but he did with man. 

(I'm sure the Lord went into much more detail on Sabbath keeping
with Adam and Eve than is recorded, so also with marriage and
child-rearing etc. Genesis is a nut-shell story only, especially
in the first chapters. Domestic working animals NEED a day of
rest, this is just the plain truth of the matter, as anyone
working with "working farm and ranch animals" knows very well -
Keith Hunt). 

     God made people free and even if circumstances in life cause
people to lose freedom, they are still people before Him and they
bear His image. As a memorial to man's created purpose, the
Sabbath command tells all who listen, that children, servants and
slaves are people too and are invited to rest and commune with
their Creator on the Sabbath day. They are delivered from work on
this day because God declares: "I am Lord of the Sabbath and I
made man free - today they shall be free to rest, for even I
rested on this day." Jesus said "the Sabbath was made for man,
not man for the Sabbath." 5
     God is demonstrating both the dignity and personhood of the
weak and disenfranchised. He takes up their cause in his role of
deliverer. Deliverer from what to what we may ask? Deliverance
from slavery, abuse, bondage, loss of status, loss of rights,
loss of dignity, loss of hope, loss of land, and loss of a
future. Delivered to enter freedom, if but for only a day of
rest. The Sabbath is the symbol of freedom, a sign of a better
day when the oppressed can cry, "Free, free, thank God, free at
last." And for the unborn, freedom is to be born and live!
     Abortion is not much in view in the OT. It is assumed people
would give birth to their children, not abort them. In Scripture
an unborn child (a fetus) is always dealt with as a person, not
"tissue" (see: Ps 139:15-16; Isa 40:1, 5; Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15) 6.
     Accidental abortion and abortion collateral to violence to a
pregnant woman are dealt with as serious events. An abortion
occasioned by violence against the mother is treated as
manslaughter (a crime) since the death of the unborn was not the
object of the violence. Even prior to the exodus from Egypt
Israelites resisted, at great personal risk, the Egyptian
government's attempts at "partial birth abortions" upon expecting
women. Abortion was the rule of the land, but it was disobeyed by
the God-fearing Israelite women. Moses was one of those babies
targeted to be thrown into the Nile River upon birth. His parents
wouldn't commit infanticide and Moses lived. In time God used him
to deliver an entire nation from slavery.

     The Sabbath Commandment is not the only commandment that
either directly on in principle forbids abortion, but it the one
that reveals God's concern for the most vulnerable among us. The
other nine commandments stand against the practice in various
ways: 1) The first commandment requires us to have no other gods
before him and that would include the "god of self" upon whose
altar the unborn are sacrificed; 2) Idolatry is erecting symbols
of authority (constitutional "privacy," "choice," "my body") in
place of the one true God. It is rebellion against the invisible
Creator; 3) Misusing God's name by destroying the man he has made
in his image and to bear his name, "son of God"; 4) See above; 5)
Abortion dishonors parents by killing their grandchildren. How
can you honor your parents and destroy their grandchildren?; 6)
You shall not murder means what it says. Murder is the deliberate
killing of another without the cause of self-defense; 7) the
command to preserve the integrity of marriage includes the
injunction from creation to be fruitful and multiply. This is
violated when one willingly chooses to kill the fruit of the
God-created union of man and wife; 8) Stealing what is not yours
would include taking a life that is not yours to take. The woman
does not own her child - born or unborn - God does; 9) False
testimony would apply to all the so-called reasons for an
abortion being necessary "I can't have this child," "I can't
afford this baby," I'm too busy, too poor, too young, too old,
etc." "It will change and interfere with my life." The truth
usually is: "I'm too selfish," or "I'm too ignorant" or both; 10)
to covet is to put personal desires ahead of your neighbor's
rights. To want to take things you have no right to take. To put
personal lusts and enjoyment above all else. To take away the
life of your child so you can have a better life. Covetousness is
labelled "idolatry" in the New Testament. 7


     Consider the following comparisons made by Jesus and ask
yourself if the unborn could be included among them. Speaking on
God's care and feeding of lowly sparrows, the most common of
birds, Jesus asks, "Are you not more valuable then they?" 8
We ask, is not the fruit of our bodies more important to God than
sparrows? Elsewhere Jesus says, "Even the very hairs of your head
are numbered." 9  
     If that continually changing, and to us unknowable, number
is indicative of God's detailed concern for us, how much more so
an unborn human made in his image and growing within a woman.
     Ours is a conflicted culture. On the one hand we consider it
double-murder for a man to kill a woman and her unborn child, as
the California case against Scott Peterson for the murder of his
wife Laci and unborn son, Conner, illustrates. On the other hand
politicians proudly campaign for votes by advocating a woman's
right to kill her own unborn child.
     Lamentably, most people are not sufficiently repulsed at
abortion having never seen one performed nor ever cared enough to
read about its gruesome details. We shall let Jane Roe (of Roe v
Wade), whose real name is Norma McCorvey, tell us what pro-choice
advocates don't want known.

     Norma was a 21-year-old street person who was ignorant about
abortion and made up the story she was raped. Her pro-choice
lawyers and handlers deceived her and used her to construct and
advance an argument to make abortions legal throughout America.
She was told that the baby inside her was mere "tissue." Because
of her fame following the Supreme Court case she was regularly
given jobs at abortions mills. Along the way her heart was
changed. She had held the hands of countless women being aborted
as they dug their nails into her palm. In an affidavit she
recently filed in the cause of reversing Roe v Wade, she
describes what it was like in the "clinics:"
     But the most distressing room in the facility was the "parts
room." Aborted babies were stored there. There were dead babies
and baby parts stacked like cordwood. Some of the babies made it
into buckets and because of its disgusting features, no one ever
cleaned the room. The stench was horrible. Plastic bags full of
baby parts that were swimming in  blood were tied up, stored  in
the room and picked up once a week.
     At another clinic, the dead babies were kept in a big white
freezer full of dozens of jars, all full of baby parts, little
tiny hands and feet visible through the jars, frozen in blood.
The abortion clinic's personnel always referred to these
dismembered babies as "tissue." 10
     "This is a scene straight out of hell," writes Pat Buchanan
of Norma's description. In 1995 Norma became a Christian and has
devoted herself to stopping the butchering of these tiny bodies.


     How could our culture slide so quickly into this cruel
abyss? It has taken but one generation for this civilized nation
to so cheapen the value of its helpless unborn children that it
could throw 40 million of them into piles like dismembered
chickens. Peggy Noonan, a columnist, commentator, and the former
speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, illustrates the
startling quickness in changing attitudes toward abortion.
She tells of recently attending the Broadway revival of a popular
play, "Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry, which was first
performed in 1960. Ms.Noonan had seen the play a few times
previously, but not for decades. It is the story of 1950s intact
nuclear black family coping with the cultural changes of the
     The tragic moment in the play comes when the young woman,
married to a ne'er-do-well, tells her mother-in-law she's
pregnant and planning an abortion, and has already put down $5
with the local abortionist. "When this play came out in 1960,"
Peggy writes, "it was perceived by the audience as a painful
moment - a cry of pain from a woman who's tired of hoping that
life will turn out well." Audiences reacted in hushed silence at
the moment's tragic unfolding.
     The Broadway debut she recently attended featured the rapper
P.Diddy, the former Puff Daddy, whose real name is Sean Combs.
The house was packed and Peggy and her friend were enjoying the
well-acted revival of the play until it came to that tragic scene
when the young woman announces her intent to abort her baby. But
this time the audience did not know that it was tragic.

     They heard the young woman say she was about to end the life
     of her child, and they applauded. Same of them cheered. It
     was stunning. The reaction seemed to startle the actors on
     the stage, and shake their concentration. I was startled and
     turned to my friend. "We have just witnessed a terrible
     cultural movement," I said. "Don't I know it," he responded.
     And I can't tell you how much that moment hurt. To know that
     the members of the audience didn't know that the taking of a
     baby's life is tragic that the taking of your own baby's
     life is beyond tragic, is almost operatic in its wailing
     ...They reacted as if abortion were a political question.
     They thought that the fact that the young woman was
     considering abortion was a sign of liberation. They thought
     the cry of pain was in fact a moment of self-actualizing
     growth." 11

     America has changed in but a generation. While our modern
culture prides itself on its newly found sensitivity to all sorts
of politically correct concerns, on its Herculean efforts to save
the whales, endangered rodents, and pigs from being used in
medical research, it has nevertheless become hard, calloused,
indifferent, and even cruel to humans beings in their most
helpless and vulnerable state.


     I wonder if our culture could have become so coarse had its
citizens every week paused to listen to and internalize the
message of the Fourth Commandment.
     The Sabbath stands astride our culture as a beacon, like the
Statue of Liberty, to welcome those who need rest, who need
protection, who need liberation from bondage. Jesus illustrated
what the Sabbath represents by choosing that day to heal a woman
who had been crippled for eighteen years. He was promptly
criticized by an indignant synagogue ruler who said Jesus had six
days during the week to do his healing business and the Sabbath
wasn't the place for it. Jesus replied, "You hypocrites! Doesn't
each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall
and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a
daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long
years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated...." 12

     We in this great land should likewise be humiliated that we
have such love for animals, yet care not for those in greatest
need, our young innocents, who bear the image of God, struggling
toward birth and life.
     Proforma Sabbath keeping is no guarantee that people will
automatically share God's concern for the vulnerable, as the
example above illustrates. Neither does washing your face give
you a clean mind. But the kind of Sabbath celebration our Creator
has in mind for us requires our heart to be in fellowship with
     Perhaps those of us who understand our Creator's great
passion for the weak and vulnerable, as expressed in the Fourth
Commandment, should sometimes use our Sabbath days to bring rest,
or aid, or deliverance to someone in need. And with every Sabbath
we celebrate let us pray and cry out for an end to the slaughter
of the innocents.

     I have indeed seen the misery of my people....I have heard
     them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am
     concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to
     rescue them .... 13

End Notes

1.  Exodus 20:8-11, NIV 
2.  Deuteronomy 5:14-15 
3.  Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 6, article: Slavery in the
Old Testament, p.65.
4.  1 Corinthians 9:9-10
5.  Mark 2:27
6.  Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol.1, p 33: "The early Christians
opposed both abortion and infanticide. While there is no direct
reference to either practice in the NT, the pharmakoi
["sorcerers," KJV] mentioned in Rev 21:8 and 22:15 may refer to
those who obtained abortifacients (d. 9:21; 18:23; Gal 5:20).
However, other writings of the early period of Christianity, such
as the Didache and the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, expressly
condemn both abortion and infanticide."
7.  Colossians 3:5
8.  Matthew 6'.26
9.  Matthew 10:30
10. The Human Life Review, Summer 2003, p. 88
11. The Wall Street Journal,, April 29, 2004.
12. Luke 13:10-17 
13. Exodus 2:7-8

Kenneth Westby is the founder and director of the Association for
Christian Development ( and executive director of
the Great Kings Discovery Project. Mr.Westby is also a director
emeritus of the BSA.

Printed in  "The Sabbath Sentinel" - November/December 2004  

Entered on this Website January 2005

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