The Abortion Controversy: Examining Common Arguments from Opposing Worldviews

Only a biblical worldview gives a solid foundation for defending the unborn.

by Patricia Engler on January 31, 2023
Featured in Answers in Depth

With its implications for the concepts of freedom, family, and life itself, abortion divides Western society like few other issues. While pro-life and pro-abortion advocates do not always identify as Christian or secular respectively,1 these two worldviews traditionally represent opposite sides of the abortion controversy. To engage effectively in this controversy, Christians must accurately understand and logically respond to pro-abortion arguments. The following analysis introduces these topics by contrasting biblical and secular foundations for deliberation about abortion, outlining scientific observations that each side must consider, and presenting a dialogue of core arguments from both perspectives.

Foundations for Thinking About Abortion

Fundamentally, Christianity acknowledges that a knowable, rational, holy God exists.

To begin, how do biblical and secular worldviews supply foundations for addressing abortion? Fundamentally, Christianity acknowledges that a knowable, rational, holy God exists. Objective truth, logic, and morality rest in God’s unchanging character. These concepts provide a basis for scientific inquiry, rational argument, and ethical deliberation, enabling meaningful discourse on abortion.

The biblical view also affirms humans as embodied, relational beings fashioned in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). While theologians differ in interpreting God’s image (the imago Dei), the image clearly separates people from animals and establishes a strong prima facie right for an innocent human not to be intentionally killed by another human (Genesis 9:6). Correspondingly, a biblical view recognizes every human life as inestimably valuable, even before birth.2 This view also establishes responsibilities to care for family, love others, and protect the vulnerable.3

In contrast, secular worldviews deny any Creator, especially a Creator with moral expectations. Truth, logic, and ethics become human constructs ultimately arising from neural chemistry.4 In this worldview, humans can invent morality however it suits them but cannot foundationally explain why morals should value all human life,5 especially if humans are merely animal by-products of unguided evolution. No life—much less that of a voiceless embryo—has objective significance. Although this view establishes no ultimate purpose for happiness or survival, many people prefer to pursue these ends and have no consistent basis to refrain from doing so at others’ expense.6 A result is expressive individualism, a philosophy which deifies the lone human as his or her own authority, own truth source, and own end in life.7

The Facts of the Matter

Clearly, these two worldviews offer extremely different foundations on which to build cases for or against abortion. A biblical view brings its own philosophical tool set to the work site, having a basis for objective morality, logic, and scientific inquiry. The secular view, however, must borrow these tools. In this sense, no secular argument about abortion foundationally works without “cheating.” Another notable point is that Christians and secularists must build their arguments with the same set of bricks—the same scientific facts.

Medical advances have wheeled in cartloads of these bricks, establishing five premises about human reproduction from the moment of fertilization.8 First, the being conceived through human fertilization is human. Second, the being is alive. Third, the being is a complete individual. Fourth, this individual is distinct from the mother, having a different, complete genome and body—which is, in half the cases, male. The mother’s immunological response to pregnancy affirms the newly conceived individual is (literally) a foreign body and not part of the mother. Fifth, fertilization marks the beginning of a lifespan, a development journey that will proceed continuously until the individual dies. Ultimately, both Christians and secularists must acknowledge newly fertilized zygotes as distinct, complete, living human individuals who will remain such until death.

Common Arguments Pro and Contra Abortion

From these facts, Christians can build the following robust, consistent argument on the foundation of a biblical worldview:

  1. Preborn beings involved in human pregnancies are living, innocent human individuals from fertilization onward.
  2. It is prima facie wrong to kill an innocent human (much less a vulnerable human, and much less a family member).
  3. Therefore, abortion—the intentional destruction of preborn human life—is wrong.
  4. Therefore, citizens have a responsibility to be pro-life individuals cultivating pro-life families, churches, and communities.

Some secularists, acknowledging the truth of statement one, borrow moral content from theism to claim statements two through four.9 However, since secularism provides no overarching moral standards10—and secular individualism is consistent with pro-abortion advocacy11—secular stances traditionally favor abortion. Arguments from these stances often focus on at least one of two subjects: a preborn human’s personhood or a woman’s personal interests.12,13 An examination of both types of arguments follows.

Personhood Arguments

Personhood arguments claim abortion is ethical because preborn humans do not qualify as “persons.” Before medical advances confirmed statement one above, pro-abortionists could more easily deny preborn humans’ personhood by denying their humanity. A more advanced argument claims that the preborn, despite being humans, do not qualify as persons with full human rights; therefore, abortion is not immoral.14

Some of these arguments propose that existing humans become “persons” after passing a distinct physiological cutoff point, such as the development of a heartbeat, brain activity, detectable movement, sensation of pain, viability outside the womb, or birth.15 Alternatively, personhood arguments may state that one or more psychological or moral criteria establish personhood by degrees.16,17 These criteria may include, among other factors, capacities for self-awareness, desire, motivation, reasoning, communication, and relationships.

Responding to Personhood Arguments

Often, pro-life responses to these arguments essentially ask, “Is it true that a human is a person because they meet X (proposed personhood standards), are in Y (circumstances), or could experience Z (events)?”18 An intuitive way to discern the answer is to use a reductio ad absurdum19 technique which could be called, for the purposes of this discussion, the “right to kill” (RTK) test. This test asks if citizens would have a right to kill a postnatal human who fails X standard(s), is not in Y circumstances, or could not experience Z event(s). For instance, would citizens have a right to kill postnatal humans who may be unconscious, immature, immobile, dependent, insensitive to pain, inviable outside hospitable conditions (as all humans are),20 experiencing cardiac arrest, or lacking capacity for reason, desire, self-motivation, communication, or relationships? Many people will recognize the answer is no, even if they cannot explain why.21,22

Notably, the RTK test only “works” when responding to people who already believe such killing is immoral.

Notably, the RTK test only “works” when responding to people who already believe such killing is immoral. But ethicists such as Michael Tooley and Peter Singer, who champion a more consistent secular worldview, conclude that killing postnatal humans—typically infants and individuals with various disabilities—who lack certain criteria is ethical.23,24 But, apart from such views’ chilling consequences in terms of immediate and potential cost to human life, who has the right to decide which criteria endow personhood? Attempts to determine immaterial personhood by measuring material traits already presuppose that those traits grant personhood, begging the question.25 Ethicists who position themselves as authoritative for evaluating personhood implicitly claim a degree of omniscience that would qualify as divine—which does not compute with secularism. Worse, the logistics of individuals presuming moral authoritativeness result, as the late Yale law professor Arthur Leff observed, in either totalitarianism or moral polytheism,26 neither of which engender functional, free societies.27

Arguments from Personal Interests

Other pro-abortionists, conceding that preborn humans are (at least at some point) persons, argue that a woman’s rights to determine her own future and to avoid bodily processes that she would rather forgo supersedes a preborn person’s right to life. Of these arguments, Judith Jarvis Thomson’s may be most famous.28 Thomson suggested that, like a woman would not necessarily be obligated to share her kidney function to save a dying violinist against her will, mothers are not necessarily obligated to “lend” their bodies to fetuses. Other arguments compare fetuses to parasites which need not be tolerated. An additional line of women’s interests-based arguments suggests that the burden of unwanted parenthood robs a woman of the chance to control her destiny.29,30

While these arguments do not necessarily view abortion as immoral, still other pro-abortionists recognize that killing preborn persons is prima facie wrong but maintain that abortion should still be legal, especially for cases involving rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life. Naomi Wolf adopts this approach, calling abortion a “necessary evil” for feminine freedom and equality.31 Wolf argues that women should be “man enough” to face this evil and try to atone for it through a secular sort of penance—for instance, by giving girls contraception. Wolf also applies analogies to argue that abortion, like certain forms of warfare or the withdrawal of palliative life support, can entail an ethical form of ending lives.

Responding to Personal Interests Arguments

From a biblical view, no self-interest-based argument justifies taking a life made in God’s image, except perhaps as an inescapable final resort to save a life made in God’s image. But pro-life advocates can often refute self-interest arguments simply by showing that these arguments involve faulty analogies or fail the RTK test. For instance, Francis Beckwith notes that Thomson’s violin analogy (among other issues) fails to differentiate between treatment withdrawal and active killing, misrepresents pregnancy, and neglects the fact that interactions between strangers entail different moral obligations than parent-child relationships.32 The differences between human pregnancy and intraspecies parasitism are even more overt.33 Similarly, Wolf’s warfare analogy neglects to recognize that exceedingly few abortions remotely meet “just war” criteria34 except in genuine conflicts between maternal and fetal rights to life.35 Regarding Wolf’s other analogy, withdrawing futile palliative treatment clearly differs from actively killing humans who would not otherwise die.

For other arguments, the RTK test often works wonders.36 For instance, would a woman have a right to kill a postnatal human who was conceived through rape or incest or who reminded her of a traumatic experience?37 No. If a woman did not want the strain of a difficult supervisor, could she have her boss assassinated so long as she followed Wolf’s advice to acknowledge the moral gravity of this decision and to perform penance, perhaps by giving coworkers donuts? No. If the burden of caring for an ailing mother could jeopardize a woman’s future, does being a free woman give the daughter a right to control her own destiny38 by paying someone to dismember her mother? Never. So, why should a mother have a right to do so with her daughter?

A Solid Foundation for Life

The biblical view offers the ultimate foundation for valuing freedom, family, and life.

Ultimately, secularists who acknowledge the medical facts of prenatal life and who prima facie oppose intentionally killing persons cannot support abortion while remaining philosophically consistent. As the RTK test shows, such a stance is internally contradictory and requires borrowing moral content from outside of secularism. The views of more consistent secularists, like Peter Singer, entail grave practical, philosophical, and social consequences, while still borrowing concepts such as morality, logic, and justice from outside of secularism. But the biblical worldview—with its philosophical robustness, consistency with medical knowledge, and emphasis on valuing all humans—provides the stance on abortion that is the most logical, scientifically valid, and practically conducive to human flourishing. Thus, the biblical view offers the ultimate foundation for valuing freedom, family, and life.


  1. As we’ll see, however, a secular worldview is consistent with abortion, while a Christian worldview is decidedly inconsistent with abortion. In other words, professing Christians cannot support abortion while remaining consistent with the full scope of biblical teachings.
  2. The biblical affirmation of preborn humans as continuous persons made in God’s image is evidenced in passages including Psalm 139 and Luke 1 (see Matt Dawson, “Abortion: A Biblical, Biological, and Philosophical Refutation,” Answers Research Journal 12 [January 2019]: 13–40).
  3. See 1 Timothy 5:8; Matthew 22:34–40; Proverbs 31:8–9; Psalm 82:3–4.
  4. Secular arguments to this extent include George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1999), and Jorge Moll et al., “The Neural Basis of Human Moral Cognition,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6, no. 10 (October 2005): 799–809.
  5. This is because secular worldviews lack an external foundation for meaningful moral value systems, as demonstrated in H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr., The Foundations of Bioethics, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 37–67.
  6. Engelhardt (Foundations of Bioethics) essentially argues that only threats of retaliation can enforce secular moral conventions; however, such threats may not always be present, significant, feared, or otherwise effective.
  7. O. Carter Snead, What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (London: Harvard University Press, 2020), 137.
  8. C. Ward Kischer, “When Does Human Life Begin? The Final Answer,” The Linacre Quarterly 70, no. 4 (November 2003): 326–339.
  9. An example of an organization which adopts this perspective is Secular Pro-Life,
  10. Engelhardt, The Foundations of Bioethics, 37–67.
  11. Snead, What It Means to Be Human, 168–170.
  12. Snead, What It Means to Be Human, 125–126. (Note that Snead refers to arguments from women’s interest as “bodily dependence” arguments.)
  13. Some pro-abortion arguments also cite the interests of the child involved; however, see note #35.
  14. E.g., Michael Tooley “Abortion and Infanticide,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 2, no. 1 (October 1972): 37–65.
  15. Even Tooley, a pro-abortionist who also supports infanticide, notes that, regarding such cut-off points, “it is easy to overlook the fact that none of these events involves any morally significant change in the developing human” (Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide,” 38).
  16. E.g., Mary Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” The Monist 57, no. 1 (February 1973): 43–61.
  17. Notably, all such arguments turn personhood (and therefore, human rights) into properties that some individuals possess more than others, or that all individuals possess only during certain life stages—both of which premises are clearly consistent with chilling consequences. See Scott B. Rae and Paul M. Cox, Bioethics: A Christian Approach in a Pluralistic Age (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999), 168–169.
  18. The biblical answer will maintain that all humans are persons simply because they bear the imago Dei; no other standard, position, or potential experience is morally relevant.
  19. This phrase, which means “reduction to absurdity,” refers to the process of showing that an argument, when carried to its logical conclusion, leads to absurd consequences.
  20. Nigel Cameron, The New Medicine: Life and Death After Hippocrates (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1992), 105.
  21. This test can even respond to claims that zygotes are not persons because they can be twinned, by asking, “Is it right to kill a person who could potentially be cloned?” (Granted, postnatal humans require technological intervention to self-clone, but it is not clear why this difference would be morally significant.) The RTK test could also overcome objections regarding chimerism (the fusing of two zygotes), regardless of what such events may entail on a metaphysical level, by asking, “If an adult human could hypothetically fuse with another adult, would it be right to kill either adult before such a fusion occurred?” Again, the answer is clearly no.
  22. Some may recognize the RTK test as operating on a truism: “It is prima facie wrong to kill a postnatal person lacking X quality because it is prima facie wrong to kill a postnatal person.” The point is to show that X quality cannot exclusively isolate prenatal humans as “nonpersons.” To propose a set of personhood qualifications so narrow that only prenatal humans failed to meet them would be to beg the question that prenatal humans are nonpersons.
  23. Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide.”
  24. Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, Should the Baby Live? The Problem of Handicapped Infants (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).
  25. Rae and Cox, Bioethics, 170–171.
  26. Polytheism refers to “many gods” (from poly, “many” and theos, “God”). So, in moral polytheism, everyone is equally entitled to the godlike status of being their own authority for determining moral truth, resulting in a society of “many gods.” Endless dilemmas would arise in a society where everyone lived consistently by this belief, as Leff expounds (see reference below).
  27. Arthur Allen Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal (December 1979): 1246.
  28. Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 1, no. 1 (1971): 47–66.
  29. E.g., Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 US 833, (1992) at 869.
  30. Snead (What It Means to Be Human, 168–170) notes that such personal interest-based arguments—which were a staple of US federal abortion law at his time of writing—vividly reflect secular Western culture’s philosophy of expressive individualism.
  31. Naomi Wolf, “Our Bodies, Our Souls,” The New Republic 213, no. 16 (October 1995): 26–29.
  32. Francis Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1993), 123–135.
  33. See Kaia Kloster, “Is a Mother’s Role in Pregnancy as Host or Hostess? Refuting the Parasite Argument for Abortion,” Answers in Genesis, May 13, 2022,
  34. Marvin Lim, “Just War and the Roman Catholic Life Ethic,” Florida Journal of International Law 26, no. 1 (April 2014), 5–7.
  35. Pro-life ethicists have argued that these rare and tragic instances should be handled like other cases of conflicting rights to life in just societies (e.g., John Finnis, “Abortion and Health Care Ethics,” in Bioethics: An Anthology, 3rd ed., eds. Helga Kuhse, Udo Schüklenk, and Peter Singer [Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley, 2016], 19).
  36. This test also answers pro-abortion arguments which cite the “child’s interests,” e.g., by asking, “Is it right to kill a postnatal person who may experience future poverty, sickness, or disability?”
  37. Matt Dawson, “Abortion: A Biblical, Biological, and Philosophical Refutation,” Answers Research Journal 12 (January 2019): 13–40,
  38. While the following points do not affect the morality of abortion from a biblical standpoint, it is worth noting that (1) pregnancy need not take away a woman’s future, especially given adoption options, and (2) a genuine ethic of concern for a woman’s destiny should recognize that abortion may easily negatively impact her future, for instance through elevating her risk for psychological illnesses (e.g., David C. Reardon, “The Abortion and Mental Health Controversy: A Comprehensive Literature Review of Common Ground Agreements, Disagreements, Actionable Recommendations, and Research Opportunities,” SAGE Open Medicine 6 [October 29, 2018]:


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