Here is the text of Exodus 21:22-25 in the King James Version, a passage long cited in the abortion debate -- and the debate has been around from the very beginning of the Church. (Italics by the way in the KJV are original.)
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Do you see anywhere in that text anything about the baby or the mother dying? I don’t. But some people do. RH Allen, author of a book called A Christian Looks to the Bible for Guidance on Abortion (which is free on iBooks), does. Here’s Allen’s exegesis of this passage in that book – and I want to emphasize that his book uses the KJV exactly as I have given it. I am adding emphases so you don’t miss any of his tricks:
The scripture directs that if the fetus is aborted as a result of the injury, the offending man must pay retribution as determined by the woman’s husband.
However, if the woman herself dies, then the man must die (i.e., “give life for life”). Obviously, the Jewish Law treated the death of a fetus and the death of an actual living and breathing person differently. If the fetus had the same rights as the woman and was considered a separate life and entity of its own, the punishment for the fetus’ loss and the punishment for the loss of the woman’s life would have been the same. It wasn’t, so we see that - although a fetus was valued and important to the parents (i.e., its loss was required to be compensated by the harming party) - it was not given the same status as a person who was alive on his/her own, without the need for the mother’s body to provide it food, oxygen, and other important nutrients and growth-related products through the umbilical cord.
The lesson we get from this, is that as long as the fetus is in the womb, it is not considered a viable entity on its own, and treated by God’s law as a living person. No matter how man tries to define the beginning of life, if his definition gives a fetus “life” or individual “rights” (reserved for those entities who are alive) before it’s exit from the womb then he is trying to rescind the principle we see clearly stated in God’s Law, as given to Israel in Ex 21:21-25 [sic].
OK, so according to RH Allen, we violate God’s Law by defending the life of the unborn. But where is it in God’s Law exactly? Because I don't see in Ex 21:22-25.
What I see in this passage is a woman who is struck such that she gives birth prematurely. And, if “no mischief follow” – that is, if no further harm is done – the person responsible is to pay a fine. Note that the “mischief” is not defined. It could be to the woman, or it could be to the baby, but it is not defined.
And “if any mischief” does follow – to the baby or the mother – the guilty party has to endure a just punishment. If “any mischief” in verse 23 pertained only to the death of the mother, why on earth would God’s Law prescribe “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” when “life for life” is the only possible punishment?
No, God’s Law states that causing a premature birth is a punishable offense, and causing any further injury to that – to either baby or mother – is punishable more severely. There is nothing in this passage to justify Allen’s conclusions. There is nothing in this passage to justify abortion or to prohibit limitations on abortion. Quite the contrary in fact.
Now it’s not all Allen’s fault. This passage has been misinterpreted ever since it was translated from Hebrew into Greek in the second or third centuries BC. The Greek of the Septuagint could be rendered into English much like this:
22 Now if two men fight and strike a pregnant woman and her child comes forth not fully formed, he shall be punished with a fine. According as the husband of the woman might impose, he shall pay with judicial assessment.
23 But if it is fully formed, he shall pay life for life,
24 eye for eye, etc.
(You can find this rendering here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/02-exod-nets.pdf)
Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, the issue of “formed” versus “unformed” was often debated, in parallel with the debate about when ensoulment occurred. But in both cases, the Church only saw the issue as pertaining to the seriousness of killing an unborn baby, depending on when in the pregnancy it occurs. However, The Church always considered abortion as a serious moral evil, and the relative aspects of “formed” versus “unformed” (or ensouled versus unensouled) pertained only to the severity of ecclesiastical penalties.
The real question is, what does the Hebrew say? According to Stand to Reason, the English is best rendered thus:
22 And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that the child comes forth, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide.23 But if there is any injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life,24 eye for eye, etc.
So, let me ask: Is the nature of “injury” specified? Is the one who is injured? No, clearly not.
In other words, if the baby is born prematurely and everyone is alright otherwise, then there is a fine. But if there is any further injury – and it doesn't matter if it's to the baby or the mother or anyone else for that matter – then there is further and proportionate punishment.
Now this being an election year, you are surely going to hear pro-abortion politicians quoting St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas trying to justify the notion that the Church did not consider fetuses as complete people or something, just as Nancy Pelosi did, or as Joe Biden did (be sure to click Show More Text at the bottom of these msnbc.com transcripts to find the passages). (Man, Biden really rambled there, didn’t he? I mean, that paragraph is almost completely unintelligible.) But the Church has never taught what they claim, and the metaphysical debate that they refer to was settled centuries ago and not in a way that supports their views.
And so you are also likely to hear politicians quoting the Bible to say things much as RH Allen did. Now you know more than they do.
Speaking of RH Allen, the book I cited above has a little bio about him at the end, where he describes himself as having been "a youth leader, divorce recovery counselor, and Bible Study teacher for decades." Hmm.