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Christianity and abortion

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Christianity and abortion

Christians at the 2009 March for Life.
An abortion-rights campaigner in Spain voicing disagreement with the Catholic view on abortion during the Pope's visit.

Christianity and abortion has a long and complex history as there is no explicit prohibition of abortion in either the Old Testament or New Testament books of the Christian Bible, and additionally, as that Jewish law is most often interpreted as that an unborn child has the status of "potential human life" until the majority of the body has emerged from the mother and that life begins at birth with breath through the nostrils, based on Genesis 2:7.[1][2] While some writers say that early Christians held different beliefs at different times about abortion,[3][4][5] others say that, in spite of the silence of the New Testament on the issue, they condemned abortion at any point of pregnancy as a grave sin,[6] a condemnation that they maintained even when some of them did not qualify as homicide the elimination of a fetus not yet "formed" and animated by a human soul.[7]

Range of positions taken by Christian denominations

A great deal of variation exists in terms of how contemporary Christian denominations view abortion.[8][9] Nonetheless, some Christian denominations can be considered anti-abortion while others may be considered abortion rights supporters. Additionally, there are sizable minorities in all denominations that disagree with their denomination's stance on abortion.[9]

Daniel C. Maguire asserts that European-generated "mainline" Protestant denominations have clearly moved in the direction of accepting family planning and contraception as well as "support for legal access to abortion, although with qualifications regarding the moral justification for specific acts of abortion." This general trend among "mainline" Protestant denominations has been resisted by Christian Fundamentalists who are generally opposed to abortion.[10] Thus, religious leaders in more liberal Christian denominations became supporters of abortion rights while Evangelical and other conservative Protestants found themselves allied with the Catholic Church which remained staunchly anti-abortion.[11]

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church teaches that "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception."[12] Accordingly, it opposes procedures whose purpose is to destroy an embryo or fetus for whatever motive (even before implantation), but admits acts, such as chemotherapy or hysterectomy of a pregnant woman who has cervical cancer, which indirectly result in the death of the fetus.[13] The Church holds that "the first right of the human person is his life" and that life is assumed to begin at fertilization. As such, Canon 1398 provides that "a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication" from the Church, which can only be removed when that individual seeks penance and obtains absolution.[14] Since the first century, the Church has affirmed that every procured abortion is a moral evil, a teaching that the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares "has not changed and remains unchangeable". [15] With the papal bull Apostolicae Sedis moderationi of 1869, Pope Pius IX, without making any distinction about the stage of pregnancy, listed as subject to an excommunication from which only a bishop could grant absolution those who effectively procured an abortion.[16] The authors of one book have interpreted this as "Pius IX declared all direct abortions homicide",[17] but the document merely declared that those who procured an effective abortion incurred excommunication reserved to bishops or ordinaries.[18] In 1895, the Church specifically condemned therapeutic abortions.[19]

Apart from indicating in its Pope John Paul II wrote:

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.[21]

Many, and in some countries most, Catholics disagree with the position promulgated by the Church; the views of these people range from allowing exceptions in a generally anti-abortion position, to complete acceptance of abortion.[22][23][24]


Anti-legal abortion organizing

Connie Paige has been quoted as having said that, "the Roman Catholic Church created the right-to-life movement. Without the church, the movement would not exist as such today."[25]

National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1968-1973

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops selected [31] Conventions have been held in various cities around the country every summer since the Detroit convention.

Following incorporation in 1973, the Committee began publishing National Right to Life News. The newsletter has been in continuous publication since November 1973 and is now published daily online as the news and commentary feed, National Right To Life News Today.

Withholding communion

Many controversies have arisen over its treatment of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. In some cases, bishops have threatened to withhold communion to such politicians; in others, bishops have urged politicians in this situation to refrain from receiving communion. In a few cases, such as the case of Mario Cuomo, the possibility of excommunication has been considered.

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that life begins at conception, and that abortion (including the use of abortifacient drugs) is the taking of a human life. The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church states that, if it is because of a direct threat to her life that a woman interrupts her pregnancy, especially if she already has other children, she is not to be excommunicated from the church because of this sin, which however she must confess to a priest and fulfill the penance that he assigns:

In case of a direct threat to the life of a mother if her pregnancy continues, especially if she has other children, it is recommended to be lenient in the pastoral practice. The woman who interrupted pregnancy in this situation shall not be excluded from the Eucharistic communion with the Church provided that she has fulfilled the canon of Penance assigned by the priest who takes her confession.[32]

The document also acknowledges that abortions often are a result of poverty and helplessness and that the Church and society should "work out effective measures to protect motherhood."

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a position against abortion and holds that abortion is a form of killing. However, there are exceptions. According to a statement in the LDS library, "Some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth." The statement goes on to say, "Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer."[33]

Protestant denominations

In the twentieth century, the debate over the morality of abortion became one of several issues which divided and continue to divide Protestantism. Thus, Protestant views on abortion vary considerably with Protestants to be found in both the "anti-abortion" and "abortion-rights" camps.[34] Conservative Protestants tend to be anti-abortion whereas "mainline" Protestants lean towards an abortion-rights stance. African-American Protestants are much more strongly anti-abortion than white Protestants.[35]

Former Southern Baptist Convention President W.A. Criswell (1969-1970) welcomed Roe v. Wade, saying that “"I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person," the redoubtable fundamentalist declared, "and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed." This was a common attitude among evangelicals at the time. [36][37] Criswell would later reverse himself on his earlier position.

Even among Protestants who believe that abortion should be a legal option, there are those who believe that it should nonetheless be morally unacceptable in most instances. This stance was expressed by former President Bill Clinton when he asserted that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." Other Protestants, most notably the Evangelicals, have sought to sharply restrict the conditions under which abortion is legally available. At the other extreme, some Protestants support freedom of choice and assert that abortion should not only be legal but even morally acceptable in certain circumstances.[34]

Protestant supporters of abortion rights include the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopalian Church, and the United Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), The United Church of Christ, The United Methodist Church, and the Lutheran Women's Caucus.[11][38] The American Baptist Churches USA, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The United Church of Christ consider abortion permissible under certain restricted circumstances.[39]

Fundamentalist and evangelical movements

Despite their general opposition to abortion, fundamentalist churches that include the conservative evangelical, Non-denominational, Southern Baptist and Pentecostal movements, do not have a consensus doctrine regarding abortion. While these movements hold in common that abortion (when there is no threat to the life of the mother) is a form of infanticide, there is no consensus as to whether exceptions should be allowed when the mother's life is in mortal danger, or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Some argue that the lives of both the mother and fetus should be given equal consideration, in effect condemning all abortion including those performed to save the life of the mother. Others argue for exceptions which favor the life of the mother, perhaps including pregnancies resulting from cases of rape or incest.[40]

National (United States) Association of Evangelicals

The National Association of Evangelicals includes the Salvation Army, the Assemblies of God, and the Church of God, among others, and takes an anti-abortion stance. While there is no set doctrine among member churches on if or when abortion is appropriate in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother, the NAE's position on abortion states, "...abortion on demand for reasons of personal convenience, social adjustment or economic advantage is morally wrong, and [the NEA] expresses its firm opposition to any legislation designed to make abortion possible for these reasons."[41]

American Baptist Churches

The General Board of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. opposes abortion "as a means of avoiding responsibility for conception, as a primary means of birth control, and without regard for the far-reaching consequences of the act." There is no agreement on when personhood begins, whether there are situations that allow for abortion, whether there should be laws to protect the life of embryos and whether laws should allow women the right to choose an abortion.[42]

Southern Baptist Convention

During the 1971 Southern Baptist Convention, the delegates passed a resolution recognizing that "Christians in the American society today are faced with difficult decisions about abortion", stating that laws should recognize the "sanctity of human life, including fetal life", and calling upon Southern Baptists to work for laws allowing abortion in extreme cases such as rape, severe fetal deformity, and the health of the mother.[43] The stance was described in the media as "hedging" on abortion and a resolution opposing all abortions was defeated.[44] W. Barry Garrett wrote in the Baptist Press, "Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the [Roe v. Wade] Supreme Court Decision."[45]

Today, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, opposes elective abortion except to save the life of the mother.[46] The Southern Baptist Convention calls on Southern Baptists to work to change the laws in order to make abortion illegal in most cases.[47] Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission from 1988 to 2013, said that he believes abortion is more damaging than anything else, even poverty.[48]

Anglican Communion

Positions taken by Anglicans across the world are divergent and often nuanced.

The Church of England

The Church of England generally opposes abortion. In 1980 it stated that: "In the light of our conviction that the fetus has the right to live and develop as a member of the human family, we see abortion, the termination of that life by the act of man, as a great moral evil. We do not believe that the right to life, as a right pertaining to persons, admits of no exceptions whatever; but the right of the innocent to life admits surely of few exceptions indeed." The Church also recognizes that in some instances abortion is "morally preferable to any available alternative."[49]

The Episcopal Church

The [50] The Church does express opposition to "abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience."

pro-life issues.[51] In 2002, they claimed to have over 2 million members.[52]

The Anglican Church in North America

The newly created Anglican Church in North America, a faction that has split from the Episcopal Church in the United States and Anglican Church of Canada that aims to represent conservative Anglicanism in North America, is pro-life, proclaiming that "all members and clergy are called to promote and respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death".[53]

The Anglican Church of Australia

The Anglican Church of Australia does not take an official position on abortion.[54] However, in December 2007, an all-woman committee representing the Melbourne diocese recommended that abortion be "decriminalised", on the basis of the ethical view that "the moral significance [of the embryo] increases with the age and development of the foetus".[55] This is seen to be the first official approval of abortion by Australian Anglicans.[56]

Lutheran Churches

Lutheranism in the United States consists largely of three denominations: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (4.5 million members), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (2.3 million members), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (0.4 million members).


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America maintains a pro-choice position when fetuses are aborted before viability outside of the womb. The ELCA position statement says abortion should be an option of last resort, the ELCA community should work to reduce the need for elective abortions, and that as a community, "the number of induced abortions is a source of deep concern to this church. We mourn the loss of life that God has created."[57][58] The ELCA Social Statement on Abortion adds: "The church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion. These are the threat to a woman's physical life; when pregnancy has resulted from rape, incest or sexual violence; and fetal abnormalities incompatible with life.[59] The church opposes legal restrictions on abortion and provides health-care benefits to its employees that cover elective abortions. Some hospitals affiliated with the church perform elective abortions.[60]

Other Lutherans

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a mainline church that holds that willful abortion, except when the mother's life is at stake, is "contrary to the will of God".[61][62]

Methodist Churches

The Methodist Church of Great Britain takes a moderate anti-abortion position, admitting abortion only on extreme cases.[63] The Methodist Church of Great Britain believes its congregants should work toward the elimination of the need for abortion by advocating for social support for mothers. The MCGB states that "Abortion must not be regarded as an alternative to contraception, nor is it to be justified merely as a method of birth control./ The termination of any form of human life cannot be regarded superficially and abortion should not be available on demand, but should remain subject to a legal framework, to responsible counselling and to medical judgement."[64]

The United Methodist Church upholds the sanctity of unborn human life and is reluctant to affirm abortion as an acceptable practice.[65] Further, the church strongly condemns the use of late-term or partial birth abortion, except if the life of the mother is in jeopardy.[65] In addition, it is committed to "assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion;"[66] however, the Church recognizes that there may be extenuating circumstances, such as the threatening of the mother's life, and thus supports the legal right of the mother to choose after proper consideration of all options with medical, pastoral and other counsel.[65] The Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality (TUMAS) was formed in 1987 to further the pro-life ministry in The United Methodist Church.[67]

Church of Scotland

The Church of Scotland is anti-abortion, stating that abortion should be allowed "only on grounds that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve serious risk to the life or grave injury to the health, whether physical or mental, of the pregnant woman."[68]

American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) generally takes a pro-choice stance.[69] The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) believes that the choice to receive an elective abortion can be "morally acceptable;" however, the denomination does not condone late abortions where the fetus is viable and the mother's life is not in danger.[69] Other Presbyterian denominations such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church[70] and the Presbyterian Church in America[71] are pro-life. Most Reformed churches, including both the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America are pro-life.

Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends)

The Religious Society of Friends generally avoids taking a stance on controversial issues such as abortion;[72] however, in the 1970s the American Friends Service Committee advocated for abortion rights.[72]

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly has "repeatedly affirmed its support for the principles of a woman's right to reproductive freedom, of the freedom and responsibility of individual conscience, and of the sacredness of life of all persons. While advocating respect for differences of religious beliefs concerning abortion, Disciples have consistently opposed any attempts to legislate a specific religious opinion regarding abortion for all Americans." [73]

United Church of Christ (UCC)

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL).[74][75]

Community of Christ

Community of Christ's position seeks to be a pastoral one which falls within the abortion-rights position. Community of Christ states they recognize that there is inadequacy in any simplistic answer that defines all abortion as murder or as a simple medical procedure. They recognize a woman's right in deciding the continuation or termination of pregnancy, and recommend such decisions be made with the support of family, and consultation with medical, ministerial, and professional counseling service. They also state that jurisdictional leaders need to be aware of competent counseling resources and women's health services in their area to refer people to during and after the decision making process.[76]

Attitudes of Christians towards abortion


In a 1995 survey, 64% of U.S. Catholics said they disapproved of the statement that "abortion is morally wrong in every case".[49] On the other hand, a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that, whatever views they held on whether abortion should be legal, 53% of white Catholics in the United States considered abortion morally wrong, as did 64% of Hispanic Catholics. Among Hispanic Catholics, this percentage did not vary significantly between those who went to Mass at least once a week and those who did not, but there was a considerable difference in the case of white Catholics, with 74% of those who went to Mass at least once a week declaring having an abortion to be immoral, as compared with 40% of those whose religious practice was laxer.[77] A 2008 survey found that 65% of American Catholics identified themselves as "pro-choice", but also found that 76% of these "pro-choice" Catholics believed that abortion should be significantly restricted.[78] In the same year some 58% of American Catholic women felt that they did not have to follow the abortion teaching of their bishop.[79] Only 22% of U.S. Catholics held that abortion should be illegal in all cases.[80]

A 1996 survey found that 72% of Australian Catholics say that the decision to have an abortion "should be left to individual women and their doctors."[49]


According to a 2002 survey conducted by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, fundamentalist Christians are more likely to be pro-life than all other respondents, including mainline Protestants. Twenty-eight percent of fundamentalists thought abortion should be illegal even if there was a strong chance of birth defects whereas only nine percent of mainline Protestants held the same opinion. Seventy percent of fundamentalists felt that the desire not to have more children was not a sufficient justification for having an abortion while mainline Protestants were almost evenly divided on this question. However, an overwhelming majority of both fundamentalists and mainline Protestants indicated that they would support abortion in cases where the pregnancy endangered the mother's life.[81] A 2013 Pew Research survey found that, regardless of their views on the legality of abortion, 75% of white evangelical Protestants, 58% of black Protestants and 38% of mainline Protestants said it was morally wrong to have an abortion. Even the 38% figure for mainline Protestants was higher than the 25% figure for religiously unaffiliated adults. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 28% said that having an abortion was morally acceptable, a view held by only 15% of the population as a whole, while 23% said it was not a moral issue.[77]

Prevalence of abortion among Christians

In 2011, the [85]

In countries where the dominant religion is Catholicism, abortions are higher per capita than the worldwide average, says the Alan Guttmacher Institute.[49] The estimated number of abortions per year in Brazil is roughtly 1 million to 2 million.[49] Peru, another Catholic country, each year sees abortions initiated by 5% of women in their childbearing years, whereas 3% of such women have abortions in the U.S.[49] Catholics for Choice reports that Italy—97% Catholic—is 74% in favor of using Mifepristone, an abortifacient.[80] A majority of Catholics in Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico say that abortion should be allowed in at least some circumstances.[80]

In Nigeria, a 1999 study of 1,516 women having abortions determined that 69% were Protestant, 25% were Muslim, and the remainder were Catholic and other religions.[86]


Early Christian thought on abortion

Scholars generally agree that abortion was performed in the classical world, but there is disagreement about the frequency with which abortion was performed and which cultures influenced early Christian thought on abortion.[17] Some writers point to the Hippocratic Oath as evidence that condemnation of abortion was not a novelty introduced by the early Christians.[17] Some writers state that there is evidence that some early Christians believed, as the Greeks did, in delayed ensoulment, or that a fetus does not have a soul until quickening, and therefore early abortion was not murder;[87] Luker says there was disagreement on whether early abortion was wrong.[5] Other writers say that early Christians considered abortion a sin even before ensoulment.[88] According to some, the magnitude of the sin was, for the early Christians, on a level with general sexual immorality or other lapses;[89] according to others, they saw it as "an evil no less severe and social than oppression of the poor and needy".[90]

The society in which Christianity expanded was one in which abortion, infanticide and exposition were commonly used to limit the number of children (especially girls) that a family had to support.[91][92] These methods were often used also when a pregnancy or birth resulted from sexual licentiousness, including marital infidelity, prostitution and incest, and Bakke holds that these contexts cannot be separated from abortion in early Christianity.[87]

Between the first and fourth centuries AD, the Didache, Barnabas and theApocalypse of Peter strongly condemned and outlawed abortion.[93][94] However, early synods did not term abortion "murder", and imposed specified penalties only on abortions that were combined with some form of sexual crime[5] and on the making of abortion drugs: the early 4th-century Synod of Elvira imposed denial of communion even at the point of death on those who committed the "double crime" of adultery and subsequent abortion,[95] and the Synod of Ancyra imposed ten years of exclusion from communion on manufacturers of abortion drugs and on women aborting what they conceived by fornication (previously, such women and the makers of drugs for abortion were excluded until on the point of death).[96][97] Basil the Great(330-379) imposed the same ten-year exclusion on any woman who purposely destroyed her unborn child, even if unformed.[98][99]

Quotations related to Abortion (pre-Reformation) at Wikiquote

Later Christian thought on abortion

From the 4th to 16th Century AD, Christian philosophers, while maintaining the condemnation of abortion as wrong, had varying stances on whether abortion was murder. Under the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine, there was a relaxation of attitudes toward abortion and exposure of children.[87] Bakke writes, "Since an increasing number of Christian parents were poor and found it difficult to look after their children, the theologians were forced to take into account this situation and reflect anew on the question. This made it possible to take a more tolerant attitude toward poor people who exposed their children."[3]Saint Augustine believed that an early abortion is not murder because, according to the Aristotelian concept of delayed ensoulment, the soul of a fetus at an early stage is not present, a belief that passed into canon law.[17][93] Nonetheless, he harshly condemned the procedure: "Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born."(De Nube et Concupiscentia 1.17 (15)) St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III, and Pope Gregory XIV also believed that a fetus does not have a soul until "quickening," or when the fetus begins to kick and move, and therefore early abortion was not murder, though later abortion was.[17][100] Aquinas held that abortion was still wrong, even when not murder, regardless of when the soul entered the body.[101] Pope Stephen V and Pope Sixtus V opposed abortion at any stage of pregnancy.[17][93]

See also


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  95. ^ Canon 63. If a woman conceives by adultery while her husband is away and after that transgression has an abortion, she should not be given communion even at the last, because she has doubled her crime.
  96. ^ Canon 21. Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfil ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees.
  97. ^ An exclusion from communion for ten years was considerably greater than the two or three years that was normal in the 4th to 6th century for grave sins, but it was less than the twenty or thirty years that in that period was the maximum (see (Pauline Publications 2007ISBN 9966-08-234-4), p. 66Conversion and Reconciliation: The Rite of PenanceRonzani, ).
  98. ^ , p. 225 - Letter 188, to AmphilochiusBasil: Letters and Select WorksSchaff and Henry Wallace (editors),
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External links

  • Abortion & the Early Church.Michael Gorman, Intervarsity Press, 1982
  • A Love for Life: Christianity's Consistent Protection of the Unborn.Dennis R. Di Mauro, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008
  • Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance a scholarly work by John M. Riddle. Published by Harvard University Press.
  • Eve's Herbs, a scholarly work by John M. Riddle. Published by Harvard University Press.
  • Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World a scholarly work by Merry E. Wiesner. Published by Routledge.
  • Abortion--my choice, God's grace: Christian women tell their stories by Anne Marie Eggebroten
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