Religious views on abortion
Early Christian Tradition
Judeo-Christian tradition going back thousands of years has always
valued human life, including unborn human life. The Bible repeatedly
refers to children before birth as simply very small/young children. In
Luke's Gospel, Jesus and John the Baptist 'greet' one another whilst
they are still in the wombs of their mothers. Verse 41 of the first
chapter says: "It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy
Psalm 139 describes the development of the unborn baby: "For you
created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother's womb. I
praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are
wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when
I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths
of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body." One of the earliest
Christian writings, the Didache
or the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles states: "You shall not kill the child in the womb or murder a new-born infant."
The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church opposes abortion because it believes that life is
sacred and inviolable. In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical
letter called Evangelium Vitae
(the Gospel of Life) in which he
spoke of "the sacred value of human life from its very beginning" and
of the struggle between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death.
The Orthodox Churches
Generally, the Orthodox Churches forbid abortion as going against the
commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'. The Russian Orthodox Church
condemned abortion in its The Church and the Nation
published in 2000.
Many Protestant and Evangelical Christians are against abortion. In
Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants have united against
abortion. However, some denominations are more pro-abortion. The Church
of England states that the unborn child is alive and created by God.
The 1993 General Synod stated that "the number of abortions carried out
since the passage of the Abortion Act 1967 is unacceptably high."
However, the Church of England also believes that abortion is sometimes
morally acceptable such as when a baby is suffering from a serious
disability. (Anglican website
Islam teaches that life begins at conception and is created by God. The
unborn child has certain rights such as the right to care, protection
and life. Abortion on any grounds is forbidden in the Islamic holy book
. "Do not kill or take a human life which God has declared to be sacred." (Chapter 6,verse 151)
or Jewish law forbids the taking of innocent life
and stresses that human beings are made in the image of God.
Maimonides, a twelfth century interpreter of Jewish law declared: "A
descendent of Noah who kills any human being, even a foetus in its
mother's womb, is to be put to death." The only exception was if the
mother's life was in danger. However, even though traditional Judaism
condemns abortion, there has been considerable argument within the
Jewish community since the 1960s about whether abortion is permissible.
In Buddhism there is no central authority on ethical matters but the
Dalai Lama has spoken in favour of abortion under certain
circumstances. In 1993 he said: "Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist
viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking.
But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child will be
retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent,
these are cases where there can be an exception." (Quoted by Clive
Erricker in Buddhism
, Hodder & Stoughton, 1995 (page 119))
Hindu scriptures refer to abortion as garha-batta
(womb killing) and the Atharva Veda
abortionists as the greatest of sinners. Gandhi, perhaps the most
respected Hindu of the twentieth century, said: "It seems to me clear
as daylight that abortion would be a crime."
Atheists and agnostics for life
Many atheists and agnostics view abortion as a violation of human
rights and hold pro-life opinions for this reason. As one pro-life
atheist who once had an abortion commented: "for the atheist who
believes that when you die, your life is over... there will be no
comforting of this being by a heavenly father, angels or relatives
after a torturous death; there will be no mere re-incarnational
transfer. Thousands of times each day unique, never-to-be again,
individual beings have their one and only chance at life terminated."
As Doris Gordon, founder of Libertarians for Life, expresses it: "the
purpose of abortion is not merely pregnancy termination; its purpose is
to kill, to take the life of prenatal human offspring. Under justice,
however, there is no such thing as a right to kill innocent people - no
exceptions." Atheists can be passionately against injustice, violence,
murder, the death penalty and war. They can therefore, just as
logically, oppose abortion.