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 Spirit."

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.

Protestant denominations

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

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 Al'Quran. "Do not kill or take a human life which God has declared to be sacred." (Chapter 6,verse 151)

Judaism

The Torah 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.

Buddhism

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))

Hinduism

Hindu scriptures refer to abortion as garha-batta (womb killing) and the Atharva Veda describes 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.