One of the most important decisions for any woman who has an unwanted pregnancy is whether to go through with it or have a termination. Much will depend on the woman’s own circumstances and there is doubtless a huge amount of emotional turmoil involved in making a decision of that kind, not least of which is the effect it might have on her body in future.
There are many arguments for and against whether a woman has an abortion, some of which may be bound-up with her own cultural and religious background or even her age and economic or domestic situation. Many women feel they have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies albeit, in the case of rape or incest, people often feel it would be lacking in compassion to deny a woman the right to terminate.
There is also the scenario where the pregnant woman’s health and welfare are considered more important than that of the foetus, particularly where she has other children depending upon her. Thankfully, gone are the days of the back-street abortionists who, mostly untrained and often working in very unhygienic conditions, could do untold harm to the woman and the baby. If legal abortions were stopped it could be a return to these bad old days and many people would consider that a very retrograde step.
The other side of the argument, of course, is the belief by many, especially Roman Catholics that life begins at conception or, with some other religions, within the first few days thereafter. Killing a foetus or premature baby would therefore be tantamount to murder in the eyes of some religious people. Many believe that every human being has the right to live. Some also believe that a baby is a gift from God. Anti-abortionists say that there are many contraceptive methods available these days so unwanted pregnancies could mostly be avoided or, if the mother would agree to have the baby, that there are plenty of people in our society who would be happy to adopt.
The bottom line seems to be that abortion denies the child a choice; it destroys human life and makes life appear cheap and disposable; and people born with disabilities – where a choice can be given to end the pregnancy – can still lead full and happy lives.
Graham, I’ve heard about the sanctity of life but what would the Christian view be of abortion, especially if the baby was conceived in tragic circumstances or if it would have no quality of life?
Rev Graham replies:
Thank you, Carol, for your question. It is a very sensitive one and quite contemporary in the light of the recent changes to the Roe v Wade case in America. The point of your question relates to what would be a Christian view of abortion if a baby was conceived in tragic circumstances or if it had been diagnosed with a severe illness?
In Matthew 7: 1 – 5 Jesus said “do not judge, or you too will be judged.” It is often easier to judge the actions of others rather than exercise wisdom, spiritual discernment, compassion and collective understanding. The practice of abortion has always existed wherever sexual activity has taken place within or outside marriage.
In debating the subject, on both sides of the coin, it can include a Christian perspective, those of other faiths and from a humanistic point of view. The great challenge is to try and find some common ground that allows equal values and differences to co-exist. A historical background to abortion, in a very general sense, would be one that dwelt in secret and was associated with immorality and shame particularly for women. However, for some worldwide societies and cultures, abortion has been considered acceptable.
Over the years, the role of women has changed within western societies and has enabled them to exercise more freedoms and greater rights to self-determination. In the Christian church, opinions and understandings have developed from the teachings of the Bible, the Apostles and the early church fathers. In recent times philosophers and theologians, in the context of situational ethics, have widened the debate that ranges from a position of absolute no abortion to those who believe women within society should have a right to choose to have an abortion.
To aid our thinking and ultimately to try and answer your question, Carol, I have found in my research that there are six equal values that represent an understanding of people’s different points of view. When an equal value clashes with another value, without any compromise taking place, then conflict will exist and determine any outcome and conclusions to your question.
- Equal Value – Procreation.
An important aspect when debating abortion is how people view sexual activity. Is it solely for the procreation of children? What is the place of contraception and how might that relate to the use of abortion? Today’s modern thinking embraces the idea that sexual activity is very much for personal enjoyment that, almost by default, can result in a planned or unplanned pregnancy.
Many people of faith or no faith take a position that sexual activity is essentially for the purpose of procreation and can be enjoyed within a loving relationship. However, it must be said that, for any couple to engage in sexual activity, there must be an understanding that it can result in a pregnancy and they should be willing to take full responsibility for any such outcomes and not easily abandon them.
- Equal Value – The Right of the Unborn Child
Modern medical knowledge has produced different insights as to when we think a baby’s life commences which has changed historical debate. However, an embryo forming into a child does have its own status, value and right to have a chance to live just like anyone else has and Jeremiah 1: 4 – 5 affirms that God knows us, even when we are in our mother’s womb.
For the Christian, and those of other faiths, it is argued that a baby’s life commences at conception while some feel that it is formed at ensoulment which is believed to be when a soul, from God, has been infused into the child. Others would argue that a foetus does not have any rights until it is considered a child in the mother’s womb from around 12 – 24 weeks (gestational age) and, until then, may be classified as not viable. There is a strong body of opinion that believe, if an abortion takes place at any time, it would be viewed as taking away the baby’s right to life.
- Equal Value – The Rights of the Mother
When a society is very patriarchal and does not fully respect the role of a woman as an individual person, prospective wife, mother and single person then there is a danger of denying full rights to a woman which can, and has, incurred serious reactions and protests. The history of the Suffragette Movement is one that has tried to redress such imbalances and introduced equal rights for all women and particularly any prospective mothers.
In any planned or unplanned pregnancy there is always the question as to how that new addition will be cared and provided for. There is the subsequent pressure, mainly on the woman, of how to cope with all the responsibilities of childcare, the home, work and wider family and community commitments. Many women consider the option of abortion as an alternative to the above, especially if shame and a lack of financial help are not available which mainly affects the poor and disenfranchised more than those who have a certain level of financial means.
- Equal Value – The Interest of the Father
In all the discussions around abortion, often the rights of the father are either ignored or dismissed. Its takes two to tango and a father has to face up to any equal share of the responsibility of a new- born child and support the mother in making any decisions about the life and equal rights of the unborn child. The father has a right and responsibility to support the mother in and outside marriage and provide adequate care as required by the mother for the child and any other children.
- Equal Value – Religious Moral and Standards
The Christian faith and other world faiths have codes of ethics that stem from their Holy Scriptures. Such ethics will act as guidelines concerning abortion. Most religions are pro-life but do accept that there is a place for some exceptions that uphold the equal right of the unborn child and the mother in tragic situations and severe illness.
It is very difficult when, ethically and culturally, there is no allowance for any abortion to take place. That in itself raises many other issues around shame, disapproval and a lack of adequate holistic support to a mother and father in trying to make the best choice for their own situation. It is important that if a government, church or religious group imposes a law that totally prohibits abortion, then it should also be accompanied by actions that are loving and gracious to help sustain any laws that are imposed.
- Equal Value – Humanistic Moral and Standards
Alongside a religious point of view there is a strong body of opinion, and various societies from ancient times, that have accepted abortion and enshrined it in law and allowed it to exist as an alternative form of contraception. A humanist seeks reason, empathy and a respect and dignity for each person in determining the morality of abortion.
There is a feeling that laws from ‘a God’, as found in Holy Scriptures, are not helpful in addressing modern ethical problems. There is a desire to follow the kindest course of action or one that would do the least harm. It has also tried to offset any fall-out that mothers and families have encountered from religious communities where a total ban on abortion exists without adequate support to the mother and families where needed.
Each of the six points have an equal value and deserve equal respect but, as we are aware, the difficulty is to be found when each value is not given a respect it deserves. When the rights, values and responsibilities of one person or group are imposed or not appreciated by another person or group then conflict will always exist.
There has to be a case that an unborn child has a right to live. A mother in deep distress has a right to consider an abortion. A father has a right to support and be alongside the mother and child or decide to negate any right and responsibilities. Theologians and philosophers have to be true to their beliefs but also look to accommodate the communities they live in which, in this modern world, are very diverse, different and complex.
It’s important for national and local leaders to construct a better holistic form of support that allows for the birth of children, without prejudice or shame, to be adopted by agreement and not forced. To offer financial and emotional support so that children may grow to be equally valued citizens, esteemed by parents and all in the community. I have tried, Carol, in a very limited manner, to put your question into the wider context of abortion which may be answered in two parts:
If a baby was conceived in tragic circumstances, what options may a mother and father take which may be supported from a Christian view point?
1) After a period of consultation with medics and other support agencies in respect to the tragic circumstances experienced by the mother it will be her decision to abort or not the unborn baby as she is the one who will have to live with any decision. Hopefully that will be with further support from local churches and community centres that offer counselling and pastoral support.
2) After weighing everything up, ultimately the mother will decide if she is to give birth to the child and accept support from the immediate family and local support groups that offer financial, spiritual and emotional assistance. There could be the case that the baby is put forward for an agreed, not forced, adoption or placed in adequate social care.
If a baby has been diagnosed with a severe illness, then two choices could be made by the mother and father:
1) To terminate the child’s life and for the parents to receive appropriate pastoral support that includes spiritual and practical help.
2) For the child to be born and then the parents to receive adequate financial and medical help alongside spiritual and emotional support from the local authority and local churches.
Pastorally, if we lived in a perfect world, then there would be no need for abortion but, in reality, we live in a broken world. Alongside any laws to be adhered to, there has to be scope for compassion and unmerited love which should be seen and experienced in the Christian community.
We may ask what would Jesus do and say. In 1 Peter 5; 7 we are told that the Lord is interested in all our anxious situations that seem impossible to work out, for he lovingly cares for us.
As a church we have a right and responsibility to listen, protest and obey various laws. We also need to offer practical compassion to enable people to uphold the value of life and understand the distress of any death.
Selah (Carefully think about what you have read, with discernment and compassion)
Your own GP, Minister, Counsellor, family and friends
Image Tel: 0161 273 8090
British Pregnancy Advisory Service – Tel: 03457 304030
MSI Reproductive Choices – Tel: 0345 300 8090
National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service – Tel: 0333 0046666
Sexual Health Clinic (sometimes called Family Planning or GUM – genitourinary medicine clinics) See your local NHS hospital for details.
Brook (for people under 25) email@example.com Medical Advice – NHS 111 (England/Wales)
Emotional Support and Mental Health:
Childline – 0800 1111
Samaritans – 116123
CALM – 0800 585858
Switchboard – 0300 330 0630
Shout – Text 85258
The Mix – 0808 808 4994
Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence
Rape Crisis – 0808 802 9999
Victim Support – 0800 123 6600
GALOP – 0800 999 5428
The Survivors’ Trust – 08088 010 818