Historic Adventist Voices on Abortion

It is sometimes imagined that abortion was a non-issue in earlier times. I was reading tonight in an old copy of John Harvey Kellogg’s book, Man the Masterpiece, recently purchased on eBay, and came a cross a very strong denunciation of abortion. This prompted me to do some quick research, and I came across references to some articles in the 1860s in the Review and Herald. The language is strong–but reminds me of the first antiabortion sermon I heard from an Adventist pulpit about 1980 during a week of prayer at Atlantic Union College. It was a black pastor, I don’t remember his name, and his passion offended some of my fellow students. But it resonated with what I had been taught growing up. I haven’t wavered from that conviction.

A Few Words Concerning A Great Sin,” Review and Herald (Nov. 30, 1869), p. 184.

One of the most shocking, and yet one of the most prevalent sins of this generation, is the murder of unborn infants. Let those who think this a small sin, read Ps. cxxxix, 16. They will see that even the unborn child is written in God’s book. And they may be well assured that God will not pass unnoticed the murder of such children.

John Harvey Kellogg, Man the Masterpiece: or Plain Truths Plainly Told, about Boyhood, Youth and Manhood. New Edition (London: Henry Camp & Co., 1903), pp. 264-267.

Among the moral evils resulting from marital excesses, must be reckoned the heinous crime of criminal abortion. A woman finds herself the unwilling mother of an unborn child, the very thought of which fills hre with repugnance and disgust. She argues, Why should I be made to suffer the pains of pregnancy and childbirth merely to gratify the animal propensities of another? She transfers the sense of injustice which she rightfully feels against the author of the wrong to the helpless creature which is the natural consequence of it, and allows her feelings to grow into actual vindictiveness, when she is ready for almost any measure which will free her from the incumbrance, and willingly resorts to the use of drugs or instruments by which the purpose may be accomplished.

Fearful indeed are the consequences of this terrible crime. Often enough the mother’s life is sacrificed or her health forever shattered. No one could be more wretched than the woman who has brought upon herself the physical woes resulting from this unnatural crime. The violence done the delicate tissues of the womb often sets up most terrible inflammations, the results of which can never be wholly effaced, if the sufferer does not pay the penalty for the crime with her life. Sometimes the most persistent efforts to compel the womb to give up its treasure do not succeed, although the fetus may be so mutilated that at birth the human form is scarcely recognizable. …

The idea held by many that the destruction of fetal life is not a crime until after “quickening” has occurred, is a gross and mischievous error. No change occurs in the developing human being at this period. The so-called period of “quickening” is simply the period at which the movements of the little one become sufficiently active and vigorous to attract the attention of the mother. Long before this, slight movements have been taking place, and from the very moment of conception, those processes have been in operation which result in the production of a fully developed human being from a mere jelly drop, a minute cell. As soon as this development begins, a new human being has come into existence–in embryo, it is true, but possessed of its own individuality, with its own future, its possibilities of joy, grief, success, failure, fame, and ignominy. From this moment, it acquires the right to life, a right so sacred that in every land to violate it is to incur the penalty of death. How many murderers and murderesses have gone unpunished! None but God knows the full extent of this most heinous crime; but the Searcher of all hearts knows and remembers every one who has thus transgressed; and in the day of final reckoning, what will the verdict be? Murder?–MURDER, child-murder, the slaughter of the innocents, more cruel than Herod, more cold-blooded than the midnight assassin, more criminal than the man who slays his enemy,–the most unnatural, the most inhuman, the most revolting of all crimes against human life.

But let us not condemn alone the weak, half-crazed woman who has been compelled to become a mother against her will, simply to gratify a sensual husband. Who will lay upon her more censure than upon the man who is responsible for the first sin? He deserves at least an equal share of condemnation. Let husbands weigh well this fact, and act accordingly.

John Todd, D.D., “Fashionable Murder,” Review and Herald (June 25, 1867), pp. 29-30. Todd wasn’t an Adventist author–he was a well known New England Congregationalist minister–but the editor of the Review clearly thought Todd’s thoughts worthy of reflection upon by Adventists.

NOTHING but an imperative sense of duty could induce me to pen what I am about to write. Letters from different sections of the country, and from physicians too, are so urgent that I should write on this subject, that I may not choose. I have no fear but what I am about to write will be read; but I wish it might be solemnly pondered. I am about to speak, and plainly too, of the practice of producing abortions. If any of my lady readers shall complain of a want of delicacy, I beg them to remember three facts; first, that the practice is fearfully common; second, that probably they are every week associating with those who are guilty of the practice; and third, that seventy-five per cent. of all the abortions produced are caused and effected by females. What then of delicacy?…

I am sorry to learn from undoubted, testimony, that the practice is far more common among Protestants than among Catholics—Dr. Storer says, “infinitely more frequent,” and this accounts, in part at least, for much larger families of the Irish Catholics. There is nothing in Protestantism that encourages or connives at it, but there is vast ignorance as to the guilt of
the thing. But in the Catholic church, human life is guarded, at all stages, by the confessional, by a stern denouncement and by fearful excommunications. The rule in the Catholic church is unbending. …

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Boston says, eloquently and powerfully, ” The very instant, conception has taken place, there lies the vital germ of a man. True, it is hidden in the darkness of the womb, and it is helpless; but has sacred rights, founded on God’s law, and so much the more to be respected because it is helpless. It may be already a living man, for neither mothers nor physicians can tell when life is infused; they can only tell when its presence is manifested, and there is a wide difference between the two things. At any rate, it is from the first moment potentially and in radia a man, with a body and soul destined most surely, by the will of the Creator and by his law, to be developed into the fullness of human existence. No one can prevent that development without resisting and annulling one of the most sacred and important laws established by the Divine Author of the universe; and he is
a criminal, a murderer, who deals an exterminating blow to the incipient man, and drives back into nothingness a being to whom God designed to give a living body and an immortal soul. From this it follows that the young woman, whose virtue has proved an insufficient guardian to her honor, when she seeks by abortion to save in the eyes of man the honor she has forfeited, incurs the additional and deeper guilt of murder in the eyes of God, the Judge of the living and the dead. Who can express what follows with regard to those women, who, finding themselves lawfully mothers, prefer to devastate with poison or with steel their wombs rather than bear the discomforts attached to the privilege of maternity, rather than forego the gaieties of a winter’s balls, parties and plays, or the pleasure of a summers trip and amusement.” To all this I say do manus.

It is the testimony, too, of those who know, that in proportion as people become indolent, or fashionable, the temptation to produce abortion is increased; that in many circles it is absolutely a matter of boasting and vanity, to tell the number of times they and their friends have been guilty of the deed.

The causes of this child-murder are to be found often, in the ignorance of its guilt,—the ease with which it is done and concealed,—the unwillingness to criminate one’s self,—the loss of character,—the reign of extravagance and fashion, and the fear of child-bed.

As to guilt, I want all to know that, in the sight of God, it is willful murder. “The willful killing of a human being at any stage of its existence, is murder.” It is quenching immortal existence,—it is destroying what, in a few months or weeks, would bear God’s image: and if any one thinks she can do it without the guilt, of murder, she is greatly mistaken. The very remembrance of this guilt has often upset the reason, and, by remorse, turned the doer into madness.

Very false notions prevail on this subject. It is thought and said to be safe to the mother. Anything but that. The shattered constitutions, the pale faces, the feebleness of future life, not unfrequently tumors and internal diseases, prostration of the vital powers, tell the fearful results. ” God requireth that which is past,” and never more surely than in this case.

It is pleaded that the health of the mother requires this. Nonsense. If she is to feeble to be a mother, let her not marry; but let her not dishonor and profane the holy name of wife by shrinking her responsibilities.—But as a matter of fact, the fairest, healthiest, happiest, most respected and most useful women that have ever lived, have been the mothers of large families. It is the law of nature. Let my reader look around on the families of his acquaintances and see if it be not so. The Bible everywhere holds up the thought that a great, family is a special blessing. And if there be a beautiful sight in the world, it is the true mother surrounded by a large family of children.

It is thought that the parents who have a small family, have healthier children. I more than doubt it. I have no belief in it. And if it were not so, it is from these delicate organizations that the writers, the poets, the inventors, the geniuses of the generation often come. We cannot afford to lose them.

The woman who, at this day, feels that to be the mother of living children “is the first, highest, and in earlier times, almost universal lot,” is worthy of all admiration and praise; and the woman who, to save herself from inconvenience or pain, or to be able to keep along with the giddy fashionable ones, will deliberately destroy the child, which in a few months would be dearer than her own life, deserves execration. How can it be that, she will murder unborn, what if born, and taken from her by death, she would mourn with the sorrow of Rachel?

As to danger—Tandieu reports that “in thirty-four cases of criminal abortion, where their history was known, twenty-two were followed, as a consequence, by death, and twelve were not. In fifteen cases necessarily induced by physicians, not one was fatal.”

Is it not a shame to womanhood that physicians have to testify that, they are appealed to almost constantly by married women, to aid them to abortionate;and that in proportion to numbers who thus appeal, and whose circumstances are alike, married women vastly predominate over the unmarried!

The practice is a direct war against human society, the best good of the country, against the family order, against the health, the peace, the conscience, and the moral well-being of the mother, and against a child which could otherwise have an immortal existence.

Since Anesthesia is able to carry through childbirth, divesting it of most of its horrors, and every way safe, and which I would earnestly recommend to be used, there is hardly an excuse left.

I appeal to our New England women,—the daughters of an ancestry who never were spotted by the blood of innocents, who never stifled the natural longings of a mother’s heart, and never quenched life immortal for the sake of ease or fashion, and ask them if it is so that they are so degenerated that they cannot meet the holiest position and duties ever imposed on women?

If it be said that I have in any measure exaggerated the evil and the fashion of the day, I reply, I would not advise any one to challenge further disclosures—else we could show that France, with all her atheism;that Paris, with all her license; is not so guilty in this respect, as is staid New England at the present hour. Facts can be adduced that will make the ears tingle. But we do net want to divulge them; but we do want the womanhood of our day to understand that the thing can be no longer concealed, that commonness or fashion cannot do away with its awful guilt. It is deliberate, cold murder, and if anything short of the murderers doom shall fall upon the perpetrators of it at the judgment, the reason will be that there has been great ignorance of its guilt.

I have now done a painful duty, and have done it fearlessly. To the attention of the gentle, tender heart and conscience of woman I commend this subject, with earnest, prayer.—John Todd, D. D.

2 thoughts on “Historic Adventist Voices on Abortion

  1. How could words be more eloquent or more unambiguous! Of course, not all pregnancies are caused by selfish men and women who run from the deepest of responsibility. Some are caused by male predation and the mother must be supported by any means possible. Adoption is a first choice. However, I can not try to speak for a mother who detests that growing womb! The baby would surely be immeasurably harmed if born into a world of horrid prenatal influences as well as the lustful father’s genes.

Comments are closed.