You shall not steal (Exod 20:15).
The natural bent of the human heart is to possess that which is not ours. James said it well: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (Jas 4:2). One could say that the root of our sin is seeking to possess that which is not ours, rather than being thankful for what is ultimately God’s. Eve desired the forbidden fruit, and, along with her husband, took it (Gen 3). King Ahab desired the land of Naboth, and, with the aid of Jezebel, took it (1 Kgs 21). King David desired Bathsheba and took her (2 Sam 11). All took what was not theirs to possess. In a word, stealing.
Stealing was effectively the sin of slavery. In the US and the UK, slavery was rooted in stealing—the idea that the powerful could just take whatever or whomever they wanted. The Bible, of course, condemns this: “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (Exod 21:16). The U.S. Supreme Court effectively codified ownership of human beings when it ruled in Dred Scott v Sanford (1858) that slaves were property of their masters.
So it is with abortion. While the language of abortion rights doesn’t use the term “property,” the idea is the same—a woman has a right over her own body, a right which trumps any rights that the unborn body within her might have. The mother is legally entitled to dispose of her unborn child as she wishes, much as she would her property.
The parallels between slavery and abortion are vast. Many today look back on the brutal experience of slavery and are appalled at the silence of the Church. Will ensuing generations wonder the same thing, in a future day when they try to make sense of how abortion persisted so long in lands where the Church abided? In words attributed to Martin Luther King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”7
In the end, all things belong to God, including people. Yes, there are ways that we belong to one another—a husband belongs to a wife, a child belongs to a father. But such belonging entails the God-given responsibility for the well-being of the other, not a right to do to another as one pleases. For, in the end, we all belong to God, even before we may belong to one another.
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers (Ps 24:1-2).
7 Although attributed by many to King, it is unclear from whence the quote came.