Mary, Elizabeth, and the Ultrasound That Wasn’t Needed

Columnist Charles Krauthammer made a connection between a shift in public perception on abortion in recent years with the widespread application of ultrasound machines on pregnant mothers. On Fox News Channel’s “Special Report with Bret Baier” last Tuesday Krauthammer said,

“The first change in public opinion on abortion, when it began to go less pro-choice, was with the advent of ultrasound, where you could see what the living human—thriving human fetus—looks like as it grows inside the mother. And now what we’re seeing [in the Center for Medical Progress’ undercover videos] is what happens when you destroy that entity. And I think people don’t want to look, have never wanted to look, but now they’re seeing it. I think the long-range effect is going to be profound, as profound as the advent of ultrasound.”

Krauthammer is right: the advent of fetal ultrasonography has rendered ineffective the euphemisms by pro-abortion supporters, who for decades have been arguing that what is in the uterus of an expectant woman is merely a “clump of cells” or “products of conception”.

But as wonderful a medical blessing ultrasound machines have been, they are not really needed to confirm for us that what resides within a pregnant woman is fully human. For centuries, indeed millennia, people have known that within the womb of a pregnant woman is in fact a baby.

The Bible in several places assumes the full humanity of a pre-born children. One such passage is in the Gospel of Luke, a passage most often associated with Christmas. Early in Luke’s account he describes the coming of Jesus Christ. An angel, Gabriel, visits sheep-herders who are watching their flock at night. Gabriel greets the shepherds and then says,

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11–12 ESV). … 

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:15–16 ESV).

The Greek term that Luke twice uses for “baby” is βρέφος, brephos. It occurs eight times in the New Testament and refers to an infant or newborn baby (cf. Luke 18:15; Acts 7:19; 2 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet 2:2). It is a “baby” (brephos) who has been born in Bethlehem, the “City of David”, and it is a “baby” (brephos) who the shepherds find in a manger.

What is interesting is how that same word is used a chapter earlier in Luke’s gospel. The same angel, Gabriel, visits Zechariah and announces that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son (Luke 1:8–25). As the narrative progresses we discover that this son is John the Baptizer (cf. Luke 1:13). Afterward, Gabriel visits Mary and announces that she and her husband, Joseph, would likewise have a son (Luke 1:26–38), who is to be named Jesus (cf. Luke 1:31).

Mary, who is now pregnant, then goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who is likewise pregnant (Luke 1:39–45). When Mary enters the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke records what Mary’s cousin says:

41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joys (Luke 1:41–44 ESV).

According to Luke, Elizabeth twice refers to what is in her own womb as a “baby” (brephos)—the same word to describe an infant or newborn a chapter later. In other words, in Luke chapter 2 the baby outside of the womb is a baby, and in chapter 1 a baby inside the womb is still a baby. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary needed an ultrasound to know that what they had in their respective wombs were human babies. And in Mary’s case, this was not merely a human baby but the Messiah (Christ), the Lord, Jesus.

This is but one of many passages in scripture which reinforce the biblical understanding that pre-born children are human persons and should be treated as a person from the moment of conception.

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