Blog Tour Book Review

Copyright information: © 2010 by R.C. Sproul, Published by Reformation Trust Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
This title may be published online from Ligonier Ministries.

Blog Tour Book Review

Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul was originally published in 1990 but has now been revised in a “twentieth anniversary edition.”  The publisher asked me to review the book on this blog and sent me a free promotional copy.  My review is as follows.

As far as Christian discussions of abortion, I found this to be better than most.  Since I grew up in the church and have heard many pro-life arguments, I found some parts to be boring repeats of what I had already heard, but this book is an excellent resource for those new to or rusty on the debate.  Not all was old, though, and I commented on some of Sproul’s arguments I found particularly new or convincing.  My critique of the book is that I would have a hard time imagining a pro-choice secularist reading this book and suddenly changing his or her mind.  Sproul’s Christian arguments are significantly stronger than his secular ones.  I also would have liked to see more discussion of a number of issues, particularly early-term abortion (on which Sproul skimmed over) and abortion as a way to escape or avoid abuse (on which Sproul was silent.)  However, all in all, I felt that Sproul did a decent job of tackling a very difficult topic.


First, Sproul insists to remove the word “murder” from the discussion.  “…We must be careful to insist that pro-abortion and pro-choice activists are  not  necessarily  advocating  murder.   They are not endorsing the premeditated, willful destruction of human beings with malice aforethought” (8).  He asserts that those who are pro-choice and pro-abortion assume such beliefs because they do not see the unborn as a living human person and not because they endorse killing living human people.  I appreciated this move because Christians have been repeatedly guilty of demonizing the opposition in the past, which not only is poor debating but is a poor representation of Christ.

The Sanctity of Life

Next, Sproul addresses the “sanctity of life,” a phrase guaranteed to pop up in any Christian discussion of abortion.  Not only does he assert that humanity gains its worth from God, but he also applies Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5 to the topic of abortion.  If anger is murder in the heart, and lust is adultery in the heart, Sproul argues, then “the law not only prohibits certain negative behaviors and attitudes, but by implication it requires certain positive behaviors and attitudes.  That is, if adultery is prohibited, chastity and purity are encouraged” (27).  Applying this logic to that of abortion, Sproul continues, “We are to refrain from all things contained in the broad definition of murder, but on the other hand, we are positively commanded to work to save, improve, and care for life.  We are to avoid murder in all of its ramifications and, at the same time, do all that we can to promote life” (28).  (Note that, in fact, Sproul does end up using the word “murder,” but I believe that this is in response to Jesus’ discussion of murder in Matthew 5 and not an equivocation of abortion and murder.)

Having grown up in the church, I have heard many attempts at biblical explanations of why abortion is wrong including the infamous “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (later included in Sproul’s arguments), but I found this application of Jesus’ teaching to be the most convincing biblical argument so far.  It side-steps the elusive “when does life begin” question (which Sproul still addresses) and does not require everyone to commit to the same answer.  In the extreme case that the unborn is not a human being, abortion still goes against the biblical mandate to promote life.

Sproul’s next set of appeals address subscribers of other belief systems and asserts that “in the natural law…we find a persistent devotion to the sanctity of life” in the “laws of nations,” “first principles,” and “the universal biological law of self-preservation.” (33-34).  His arguments that “abortion…is an act against nature” meandered and were mildly convincing to various degrees until he discussed the pro-abortion outrage to the film The Silent Scream, which showed “what looked like a formed human being going through obvious pain and distress in trying to escape the destructive instruments of the abortionist” (35, 39-40).  Sproul then addresses his readers: “Why do pro-abortion activists speak of ‘undifferentiated blobs of protoplasm’ or ‘biological parasites’?  Why were they outraged by the movie The Silent Scream?” (44).

As someone who has seen the film for myself, I can affirm that Sproul’s description, while horrific, is not overly sensational.  I honestly know no other way to describe what I saw.  Here, Sproul makes a good point with regards to later-term abortions when the fetus is more fully-formed and has recognizably “human” characteristics.  However, it should be noted that when pro-choicers speak of “undifferentiated blobs of protoplasm,” they are referring to earlier stages of development.  Sproul fails to address this, and the reader runs into the “when does life begin” wall yet again.

When Does Life Begin

Sproul’s next chapter “When Does Life Begin” attempts to address this issue but runs into the same problems as his discussion of The Silent Scream.  Sproul follows a drawn-out documentation of the stages of biological development (basically what you can find in any AP Biology textbook) with a poignant and memorable anecdote about holding his daughter’s stillborn in his arms.  His knowledge and experience have taught him that “the fetus looks like a living human person.  It acts like a human person…has the genetic structure of a human person…vital signs…sexuality and movement” (56).  While these are good arguments that life probably begins sometime before birth, they do little to solve the question of when life actually does begin.  He concedes this point, though I would have liked to see him address it further.

For those who are unsure

For fence-sitters, Sproul tackles “the unspoken assumption that if [something] is legal, it is therefore moral” (65).  Cue Godwin’s Law.  While bringing up everything that “legally” occurred under Hitler’s regime proves his point that legality does not establish morality, I felt that the unspoken but unfortunate implication that abortionists can be likened to Nazis went a bit too far.  (Remember what we said about not demonizing them and calling them murderers?)  To be fair, Sproul gave other examples from history as well, such as American slavery, but the Nazi example stood out for comment.

While his secular argument was lacking (at least in delivery), Sproul makes excellent use of Romans 14:14-23 to approach fence-sitting from a biblical angle (67).  The original passage talked about the cleanliness and uncleanliness of food, saying, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.  For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  The parallels are clear.  One’s dietary choices are “a matter of ethical indifference” that becomes a sin if one still eats something that he doubts he should eat (67).  How much more weighty is the issue of abortion?  It is hardly “a matter of ethical indifference.”  In applying the Romans passage, Sproul reasons that if a woman is sure or has doubts that abortion is evil, yet she still chooses to engage in it, she sins whether or not abortion is evil or not. 

It is understandable why many people are on the fence when it comes to abortion.  It is a difficult issue with a lot of propaganda coming from both sides.  No matter how much research goes into fetal development or how much money is spent on pro-life advocacy, it will be unlikely for either side to “win.”  I appreciate the fact that Sproul acknowledges this and urges women to think for themselves and err on the side of caution.

Other Issues Addressed

This concludes Sproul’s general discussion of abortion but does not cover even half the book.  Other topics discussed are the role of the government, a woman’s right to her body, back-alley abortions, capital punishment, the role of men in the debate, the history of the pro-choice campaign, unwanted pregnancies, therapeutic abortions (when the mother’s life is in danger), how to show compassion for those who have had abortions or are considering abortions, and what Sproul calls “a pro-life strategy.”