Abortion- the termination of the life of a foetus. In this section I will be looking at the general teachings of Bible references that refer to abortion and the Sanctity of life. I will be looking at eight references from all over the Bible and seeing how they can be interpreted, either saying that abortion is wrong, or that it should be allowed.
In Britain, since 1967 abortion of some kind has been allowed. In 1967 a law was passed enabling abortion, under certain conditions.
Two doctors had to agree about it and it must be carried out in registered premises. And these would only be relevant if the mother’s life, health or mental health would be at risk, her existing family would suffer or if the child will be handicapped. This allowed abortions up to 28 weeks. In 1990 the time deadline was changed to 24 weeks, because with modern technology a 28 week born baby may be able to survive out of the womb.
Abortion on demand, (no questions asked) is not available in Britain, but it is in Holland.
Genesis ch.1 v 27
“So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female.”
This reference is saying that life is God-given and holy. So if you destroy it then you are destroying God’s work. God created two sexes so that child could be produced, so God wants children to be had. The question to be asked though is when does life begin? If a Christian believes it starts at conception then they are very likely to be against abortion at any stage.
If they believe that life begins after 9 weeks, which it then medically a foetus, so up to nine weeks they might think it is alright up to 9 weeks. Some believe it begins at various other times, right up to birth. If you believe that life doesn’t begin until birth then you would probably believe that abortion should be allowed at any stage.
Exodus 20 v 13
“Do not commit murder.”
Some people see abortion as murder, because they believe that life begins in the womb, but others don’t see the foetus as a life to be murdered in the first place.
Psalm 139 v 13-16
You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because you are to be feared; all you do is strange and wonderful. I know it with all my heart. When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother’s womb, when I was growing in there secret, you knew that I was there- you saw me before I was born. The days allotted to me had all been recorded in your book, before any of them ever began.
This is saying that God has a plan for every life before it is even conceived, so abortion is interfering with God’s will and work and is therefore wrong. But some could argue that abortion might be in God’s plan. Further this reference strongly suggests that life begins at conception as God knew the foetus well before it was born.
1 Corinthians 3 v16-17
Surely you know that you are God’s Temple and that God’s spirit lives in you! So if anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him. For God’s Temple is holy, and you yourselves are his temple.
This teaches that all life is holy and sacred, so you must not destroy it. If you believe that a foetus is a life, then you will believe that abortion is wrong. This is saying that killing a foetus is killing god. But if in your opinion a foetus is not a life until it is born, then this text will not mean anything.
Jeremiah 1 v4-5
The Lord said to me “I chose you before I gave you life and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations.”
This says that God has a plan for every life before he gives it life and before it is born. And if Jeremiah had been aborted he would not have become one of God’s prophets. Similarly every foetus could be seen to have the potential to achieve something. Therefore abortion is interfering with God’s plan. But some argue that abortion could be in God’s plan.
Luke 12 v 6-7
“Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one sparrow is forgotten by God. Even the hairs on your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more many sparrows!”
The bible is saying that human life is precious, so abortion can be seen as a precious waste and should not be performed. But if you don’t think that the foetus is a human life at the time then you may not see it as precious and/or a waste. Also, all life is precious to God, so if the mother’s life is at risk, it could be argued that, as she is valuable to God, she should be allowed an abortion.
Psalms 127 v 3
“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing.”
Therefore aborting a child is rejecting a gift from God, and his blessing. This is disrespectful to God. But if you don’t believe that it is a child until it is born, or at some other time during pregnancy, then this statement may not affect you.
Mark 12 v30-31
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second most important commandment is this: ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’. There is no other commandment more important than these two.”
Every human being is equal in the eyes of God. So no one has the right to kill another. The foetus has as much right to live as the mother. But it could be argued that nothing has rights until it is born. Also ‘neighbour’ could refer to the mother as well as the foetus. Then the question arises as to whose life is more valuable to God.
There are arguments on both sides. It will very much depend on how you interpret the teachings. This I shall now examine in section B, by investigating the views of two major Christian denominations.
Within the Christian church there are differing views on abortion. In this section I will be looking at how these teachings are interpreted by the Roman Catholics and the Church of England, two major Christian denominations, and how they affect their views on abortion.
Roman Catholic denomination
Genesis ch1 v 27
Roman Catholics would agree that life is God given and holy, and therefore it must not be destroyed. They believe that God created the two sexes to reproduce, and they believe that all sexual intercourse should occur within a marriage for procreation, so there shouldn’t be any unwanted children. As they believe that life begins at conception, abortion at any stage is destroying Gods work and therefore wrong.
Exodus 20 v 13
Roman Catholics believe that abortion is murder, and therefore wrong as it breaks the commandment ‘thou shall not kill,’ and obviously goes against this reference ‘do not commit murder’. In the Pope’s eleventh encyclical, he says that the “death penalty is rarely justified,” this can link to this reference because he doesn’t think that the baby deserves to have the death penalty.
Psalm 139 v 13-16
Roman Catholic belief that life begins at conception is supported by this reference. There is no discussion on when life begins and therefore abortion is always wrong. B.Harinng says in his book ‘Medical Ethics’ that “at the moment of conception unique genetic code is fixed.” And therefore a human life is formed.
1 Corinthians 3 v16-17
Roman Catholics believe that human beings are made in the image of God, and therefore you are killing God, and his temple, if you kill a foetus. And God will destroy anyone who alters his plans. In the Pope’s new encyclical he says “the penalty for abortion, or assisting one, is automatic excommunication”, (from the Roman Catholic Church). This is destroying the relationship with God.
Jeremiah 1 v4-5
This supports the Catholic belief the every birth is planned by God, and therefore life is sacred. The Catholic Truth Society state “no pregnancy is unplanned, because no baby can be conceived unless God intends that conception” therefore it is wrong to interfere with God’s plans.
Luke 12 v6-7
This is interpreted by the Roman Catholics to mean that all life is important, which leads them to believe that “The life of the unborn child is just as sacred as the life of the mother”, as outlined in the Papal Encyclical Casti Conubii 1930.
Psalms 127 v3
The Catholic teachings state that sexual intercourse should only take place inside a marriage and for the purpose of creating children. Therefore according to the Papal Encyclical 1968 abortion is forbidden, as it is a means of regulating birth, and changing Gods plans. This view is still supported by Pope Jean-Paul II.
Mark 12 v30-31
Catholic teachings from 1930 state that ‘human beings are made in the image of God’ therefore abortion is breaking the commandment ‘Love the Lord your God’. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person- among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” In the Pope’s new encyclical he says, “the killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act.” The Pope is emphasising that no that no commandment, other than ‘love your god’, is more important than this.
What is the Roman Catholic Church doing to convince people that abortion is wrong?
The Roman Catholic Church tries to educate all Catholics that sex should only happen inside marriage and for procreation, to create a stable family life. But also stresses that abortion is the murder of an innocent child, and breaks the rules of the Church and is punished by excommunication. Because of this they’ve got schemes which help to financially support mothers, supplying them with clothes an equipment for the baby. The first of these schemes was set up in March 1997 in Scotland, and was modelled on similar schemes run by SPUC. These financial incentives are offered to mothers to try and persuade them to keep their unborn child.
Church of England Denomination
Genesis ch1 v 27
C of E Christians would agree that life is God given and holy, but they understand the complexities involved in abortion, and allow it under certain circumstances.
Exodus 20 v 13
The General Synod of the C of E 1988 affirmed ” every human life, created in the divine image, is unique… we therefore believe that abortion is an evil.” But it is seen as the lesser of two evils in some cases, if the killing of the foetus saves the life of the mother.
Psalm 139 v 13-16
The Church of England accepts that God creates life in the womb, but in its statement ‘abortion- an ethical decision’ it permits abortion after rape, as abortion may be necessary for the recovery of the victim.
1 Corinthians 3 v16-17
This reference states how important every human being is. But the Church of England can interpret this to mean that the mother’s life is a real human life, and the foetus’ life is only a potential life, and therefore the mother should be given preference to, if there is a conflict of interests. This is confirmed in the C of E’s statement on abortion, which states, “abortion is permitted when there is a grave risk to the life of the mother”.
Jeremiah 1 v4-5
This is seen by the C of E as a good reason why abortion on demand should not be made legal. The ‘General Synod of the Church of England 1988’ state “we therefore believe that abortion is an evil, and that abortion on demand would be a very great evil.”
Luke 12 v6-7 & Psalms 127 v3
The C of E agrees that although children are a blessing, they believe that they should not be born into immense suffering due to being severely handicapped. Therefore abortion would be acceptable in this circumstance, as it is seen as the lesser of the two evils.
Mark 12 v30-31
This reference tells Christians that they should love their neighbour. The C of E interprets this to mean that they should show compassion, even to people who have had an abortion. The Church states “abortion should never be used as a method of birth control, but those women who have abortions should be offered care and compassion.
The Church of England supports the idea of fostering and adoption, when a child can not be born into a stable, loving family unit. So they support organisations that deal with adoption and fostering, also they support organisations such as SPUC and LIFE, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, but only up to a point, because they disagree with abortions for purely social and economical reasons.
These teaching have been interpreted by these two denominations similarly, but with some differences. They both agree that abortion is an evil according to the bible, but whereas Roman Catholics can never see it as the best option in any circumstance, the C of E recognises that it can be the lesser of two evils in some circumstances. However the biggest difference in the two interpretations is that while the C of E encourages compassion and support to a mother who has had an abortion, the Roman Catholics have one simple answer- excommunication!
In this essay I will be looking at whether a Christian could ever justify abortion. I will consider the different denominational viewpoints of the Roman Catholics, the Church of England and other denominations, especially Methodists, who are more pro-choice than the other two that I’m looking at.
If a Christian concerned is a Roman Catholic then in my opinion they could never justify an abortion. This is because of the way that they interpret the teachings in the bible that I have looked at in sections ‘A’ and ‘B’. They see it as the murder of an innocent child and it is unacceptable for all cases in all circumstances. They even want the law to be changed so it reduces the number of abortions, and abortion to be recognised as murder. They also campaign for all sexual intercourse to happen inside marriage, and that sex should be for the procreation of children.
However under the ‘doctrine of double effect’ a Roman Catholic may allow something that would kill the foetus, if the intention of it was to do something else. This is the idea of doing an action for one effect, knowing that it will produce another effect, but not being responsible for the second effect. An example of this is removing cancerous tumour from the womb of a pregnant woman, knowing that this will kill the foetus, but it would not be an abortion, because the intention was to remove the tumour. This is probably one of the only times that a Catholic may justify an abortion, although they may not see it as an abortion.
In my opinion if the Christian concerned was a Church of England Christian then there would certainly be times when they could justify an abortion. Although they would never see it as good, it could be justified in some occasions. It is seen as a sad and tragic fact of life, which should be minimised as much as possible. In the C of E’s view abortion could be justified after rape, to enable the victim to recover, when the foetus is severely damaged, because its prospects are immense suffering and usually an early death, or if the mother’s life is in danger. Here abortion is justified under ‘the lesser of two evils’. Meaning that it’s not a good thing to kill the foetus, which may not even be alive, but it is better than killing the mother, who is definitely alive.
However, they’d definitely think that abortion was unacceptable late on in the pregnancy, or when the child could be born and adopted. There are also many other circumstances that are allowed by British law today, especially abortions for social reasons. They would like to see a change to society and the law to prevent late abortions and ‘social’ abortions. They would also like to see better sex education that emphasises responsibility and includes information about contraception. Therefore the overall number of abortions would be reduced, and less (potential) lives would be wasted.
Other Christian denominations are more liberal in their justification of abortions, for example Methodists. They still don’t see abortion as a good thing, but in my opinion they could justify more cases of abortion. They see abortion as undesirable, but necessary in many cases as it can prevent unnecessary suffering. This suffering could be prevented in many cases when there would be hardship or stress to the mother or family. This takes into account if the child will be able to be supported and provided for or not, and if the mother already has lots of children, whether she would be able to physically and mentally cope with another child, or if the other children would be able to handle another child. Abortions could be justified taking into account “offensive social conditions of bad housing and family poverty”. Also they would justify abortions for all the reasons that the C of E would justify abortions, e.g. after rape or when the mother’s life is at risk etc. They believe firmly that the mother is more important than the foetus. In their opinion the foetus is a potential human, but the mother is the real human, so her rights must be given priority if there is a conflict between the mother and foetus. It is seen here also as the lesser of two evils.
However, a Methodist, or someone of a similar denomination, would not justify an abortion if it was ‘just a matter of the mother’s convenience’.
Never the less, Methodists strongly emphasise the need to support women in their choices about reproduction and pregnancy. They emphasise God’s forgiveness. Some Methodists have abortions themselves. They would like to see good contraceptive advice, more chances for women to decide what to do about unplanned pregnancies and more support for women who choose to have an abortion. As far as the current British law is concerned, they are pretty happy with it at the moment. They feel that if abortion was made illegal again, there would be one law for the rich and another one for the poor. While the rich would be able to afford to go abroad to have an abortion, there would be the return of back-street abortions, with increased risk of ill health and death, which would be the biggest waste of life, one or potentially two human lives would be wasted.
From all of this, I have decided that there are certainly circumstances where Christians could justify abortions. Roman Catholics, only when the operation has another intention, but the other denominations have certain circumstances under which they could justify an abortion, as it is often seen as the lesser of the two evils.