Christian Attitudes to Abortion Abortion, the termination of a conceived foetus by medical methods is not natural, and would not be wanted or necessary in an ideal world. However, our world is not ideal and each year the amount of abortions rises. In 1996 there were 177,275 abortions in the UK, that’s more than 600 a day carried out at NHS and private abortion clinics. The cases vary in reason, but one thing that must be made very clear is that in the UK, a woman does not have a right to an abortion. However, the current regulations protect and doctor from prosecution that performs one:- if they and a colleague honestly believe an abortion should be carried out. The first abortion law was the Offences Against the Person Act (1861) which made it a crime to “assist in attempting an unlawful abortion by any means whatsoever.” At this time abortions were mainly carried out on the backstreets, illegally. For many women, who had no access to effective contraception at the time, this!
was the only way to stop a pregnancy, which would usually be from a scandalous affair or relationship. Needless to say, these methods were very crude and must have caused intense pain for the mother. It was also very dangerous, because the clinical procedures were not advanced, and if some of the foetus was left in the womb then the woman would suffer from extreme poisoning which could be fatal. This law stood unchanged but in 1938 a gynaecologist was acquitted of an illegal abortion he had performed on a girl who had been raped. The court accepted that a woman’s mental and physical state should be considered when deciding to abort. This set a precedent and was accepted as a amendment to the previous law. The situation was clarified under the Abortion Act of 1967 that was recently further clarified in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990. The situation today regarding abortion is as follows: A doctor may abort a pregnancy if they and a colleague believe that it !
is necessary in one of the following is the cases: risk to the life of the mother to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the mother greater than if the pregnancy was terminated risk of injury to the physical or mental health of existing (i.e. born) children substantial risk of the child being born seriously handicapped in an emergency – to save the mothers life in an emergency – to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother Those are the current regulations concerning abortion in this country. However there is much contention about the moral and ethical aspects of the termination. There are organisations on both sides, fighting for the baby’s life as well as the mother’s choice. From a religious viewpoint the churches are steadfastly against the idea. In a recent sermon in France, Pope John Paul reiterated his absolute refusal to allow abortion, sayin!
g “Every human being who is conceived has the right to exist, because the life which is given no longer belongs” to those who conceived it, he said. Whilst the church’s condemnation is steadfast, the evidence that lies in the Bible in inconclusive. At the time when the Bible was written, abortion was widely practised in spite of heavy penalties. The Assyrian code prohibited abortion with this statement: “Any woman who causes to fall what her womb holds … shall be tried, convicted and impaled upon a stake and shall not be buried.” Assyrian law gave the foetus more value than the woman. However, in the Hebrew society of time there were no specific laws against abortion. This was chiefly because the Hebrews placed a higher value on women than did their neighbours. There are, however, some references to the termination of pregnancy. Exodus 21:22-25 says that if a pregnant woman has a miscarriage as a result of injuries she receives during a fight between two men, the penalty for!
the loss of the foetus is a fine; if the woman is killed, the penalty is “life for life.” It is obvious from this passage that men whose fighting had caused a woman to miscarry were not regarded as murderers because they had not killed the woman. Therefore the woman had greater moral and religious worth than did the foetus. Aside from these passages, the Bible does not deal with the subject of abortion. Although both Testaments generally criticise the practices of the Hebrews’ neighbours, such as idol worship and prostitution, as well as various immoral acts committed in their own land, there is no condemnation or prohibition of abortion anywhere in the Bible. This is in spite of the fact that techniques for inducing abortion had been developed and were widely used by the time of the New Testament. This could suggest that abortion was more accepted in biblical society than we think. In fact John T. Noonan, an antiabortion Roman Catholic scholar writing in 1970, admitted, “The!
Old Testament has nothing to say on abortion.” The Jesuit scholar John Connery, in his history of the abortion issue, writes: “If anyone expects to find an explicit condemnation of abortion in the New Testament, he will be disappointed- The silence of the New Testament regarding abortion surpasses even that of the Old testament.” When I went to Bible dictionaries and encyclopaedias, including those I used when I was a student at Abilene Christian College, I could find no entries under “abortion,” probably because Noonan and Connery were correct: The Bible does not deal with the subject of abortion.” Whilst this might be the case, a Christian reaction would probably be to revert back to the more general teachings, especially the ‘though shalt not kill’ commandment. Therefore the important question is- ‘when does human life begin?’. This can be answered from two viewpoints: scientific and religious. Scientifically, the development of a foetus in the mothers womb is a continual !
process. After only 16 days after conception the baby’s heart and eyes have started to form. By the 21st day this heart has started to beat. Around day 42 the skeleton starts to form and brain waves can be recorded. The baby is sensitive to touch after 7 weeks and by 8 weeks all of the organs are present. The child can grip objects in its hand by the 9th week and can squint, swallow and frown by the 10th week. By 4 months it can swim and turn somersaults in the womb, as the mother can feel her child move about. It is sensitive to pain and sound by the 5th month, which is also the time when it starts to form sleeping habits. Religiously, according to the Bible, a human life begins at birth, with the first breath. This is shown in Gen. 2:7, where God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being. This is also backed up by the fact that the Hebrew word for human being or living person is nephesh, which is also the word for “breathing.” However this !
seems to be completely different to the Vatican’s assumption on the subject – that life begins at conception. This is derived from Greek philosophy rather than the Bible, which seems to be a major flaw in the Catholic Church’s argument. I think it is the fact that the Catholic Church completely forbids abortion in any case is the reason why, in my opinion, its position is untenable. This rejection of any abortion is made without the concern for the mother. If having an abortion will save the mothers life, the Catholic Church would not allow it. However a US Catholic Conference ventured the considered view that: Operations, treatments and medications, which do not directly intend termination of pregnancy but which have as their purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of the mother, are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the foetus is viable, even though they may or will result in the death of the foetus. The Roman Catholic Church a!
grees in this situation, and argues that, although the death of the foetus is foreseen, it is not intended, because the intention is to preserve the health and the life of the woman. Therefore it is the actual action of physically killing the baby in the womb rather than killing it by some other way it that is wrong? This is the only slim argument that lets the Catholic Church keep to both its teachings against all abortion and maintains some respect as a humanitarian organisation. In my opinion, abortion needs to be more tightly regulated. Looking at the law presently governing abortions in Britain, I cannot believe that 171,175 mothers a year (figures taken from 1996 – the most recent available) have an abortion because the risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the mother is greater than if the pregnancy was terminated. The majority of these have to be excuses for an ‘abortion on demand’. Therefore I believe the government should introduce tougher definitions in!
to what counts as greater health risk than if the pregnancy went to the full term. We should not forget that abortion is essentially the destruction of a human life, and this should not be undertaken lightly. However, abortion must be an option if, as the present regulations state – injury to the physical or mental health of the mother is greater than if the pregnancy was terminated.
Some Abortion Quotes: “The countries that proclaim abortion, or allow it, are really the poorest of the poor” Mother Teresa of Calcutta “Everyone has the right to life….” UN declaration of Human Rights, 1948 “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception; even under threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity…” Hippocratic Oath, 4th Century BC