Abortion refers to any termination, natural or unnatural, of a pregnancy which ends the life of a fetus. Intentional abortion refers to any intervention, by any person including the mother, that willfully terminates a pregnancy, thus ending the life of the baby. On demand refers to the situation where abortion may be obtained by request or consent of the mother for a broad range of social, economic or personal reasons that do not include immediate threat to the life or health of either mother or child. An abortion is "late-term" if it is performed after the twentieth week of pregnancy.

Intentional abortion has been a major moral, ethical, and social issue since the first centuries of the early church. However, the trend in the last century to legalize abortion on demand, particularly in the northern hemisphere, e.g., the USSR (1920), UK (1967), US (1973), and Canada (1988), has brought the debate to the forefront for many Christians. The Roman Catholic church has been, from the beginning, unwavering in its opposition to abortion, and the majority of North American Evangelical churches now stand with them against it.

Biblical background

Although the Bible never specifically states "thou shalt not have an abortion" or "a fetus is a person," the general tenor of Scripture is resoundingly pro-life. Based on the clear prohibition on the taking of innocent life, or the shedding of innocent blood (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 19:10,13; 21:8,9; 27:25; others below), the biblical case against abortion is made by demonstrating the continuity of personal identity between the fetus and the child. The primary question confronting the Christian is whether the Bible addresses the issue of when life begins, and specifically whether God consider an unborn child a person.

It is not sufficient to build an argument against abortion by proving that God is deeply involved in the creation of a fetus in the womb. While passages such as these (Job 31:15; Psalm 22:9-10; 139:13-16; Isaiah 44:2,24) clearly show that God cares deeply about the unborn, the same thing could be said regarding any of God's creatures. It is incumbent on the pro-life advocate to demonstrate that God attributes the same characteristics to the unborn in the womb as to a person out of the womb.

Both science and the Bible demonstrate that personal identity begins before a child is brought to full term and given birth. Some of the facts regarding the development of a fetus[1]:

  • at the moment of conception - a genetically distinct person possessing 46 chromosomes
  • by week 4 - the heart beats at a regular rhythm
  • by week 5 - the brain develops into five areas and some cranial nerves are visible
  • by week 6 - arms and legs have developed, hands and feet have digits
  • by week 7 - all essential organs have at least begun to form
  • by the end of the first trimester - external facial features begin to take their final shape
  • by 12 or 13 weeks - baby sucks thumb, recoils from pain, and has own unique fingerprints

There is no distinction in the language of the Bible (Hebrew or Greek) between an embryo, a fetus, and a child. Consequently, texts that refer to embryos or fetuses use the word "child" to describe both. In Genesis 25:21-22, Rebekah conceived twins, and "the children struggled together within her," consistent with the biblical pattern of referring to the unborn as children (cf. 2 Kings 19:3; Ruth 1:11). Babies that die before birth are referred to as infants, such as in Job 3:16 where he asks, "Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light?" (cf. Psalm 8:2 and Hosea 13:16).

The continuity between conception and birth is established in Genesis 4:1, which states that Eve "conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.'" The person who was conceived was considered the same person who was born. This continuity is perhaps clearest in Job 3:3, which states "Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man is conceived.'" This passage employs synonymous parallelism and uses the terms "born" and "conceived" interchangeably, suggesting that what was present at birth is considered equivelent to what was present at conception. This is strengthened by the use of the Hebrew term for "boy", geber, used elsewhere to refer to a man (cf. Exodus 10:11; Deuteronomy 22:5; Judges 5:30).

Other passages describe God's relationship to the unborn in the same way as to a child or an adult. People have potential to be both enemies of God (Psalm 51:5; 58:3) and chosen by God (Romans 9:10-13) from the womb. God called and set apart many of His servants from the womb:

  • Samson (Judges 13:6-7)
  • Jeremiah (1:5)
  • John the Baptist (Luke 1:15)
  • Paul (Galatians 1:15)

Some supporters of legalized abortion object to the use of these texts, suggesting that "in the womb" is merely a figure of speech for indicating God's foreknowledge and sovereignty.

Many proponents of preserving access to intentional abortion on demand cite the following passage in Exodus 21:22-25

"When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
While at first glance the penalty for terminating the pregnancy seems considerably less than the penalty for murder, opponents of abortion argue that this passage does not directly address the ethics of intentional abortion because:

  • it is concerned with accidental miscarriage, with no consent from the mother
  • it does not assume the death of the fetus as a result of the miscarriage

What this text does address is the standard of lex talionis or law of retribution in the "life for life" phrase, positioned to imply that the lost child had life that in retribution demands life from the offender. The Hebrew word used here (and elsewhere in the OT) to refer to the unborn is yeled, a word that "generally indicates young children, but may refer to teens or even young adults"[2].

One Jewish interpretation of this text that some ethicists have drawn from is that it does allow for a reproductive ethic which includes the option of abortion[3].

Issues to consider

  • Human life is unique and made in God's own image (Genesis 1:26)
  • Shedding innocent blood is always condemned (cited above, plus 1 Samuel 19:5; 2Kings 21:16; 24:4; Psalm 106:38; Proverbs 6:17; Isaiah 59:7; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3,17; 26:15; Joel 3:19; Jonah 1:14; Matthew 23:35; 27:4)
  • Jesus warned against viewing children as an inconvenience (Luke 18:15-17)
  • God has a purpose for everything, including our own suffering (Romans 8:28)
    • Sometimes we suffer for our own sin (Hebrews 12:3-11)
    • Sometimes we suffer for someone else's sin (Genesis 50:20)
    • Sometimes we suffer to display God's grace and power (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Historical background

Early Christian

Abortion was an issue for the very earliest Christians. The Romans taught abortion at their medical schools and practiced it, together with contraception and infanticide, as a method of family planning.

The early Christians, at that time persecuted by the Romans, rejected these practices.

  • The Didache, a guide to living a faithful lifestyle written around 100 AD, states "thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born" (Did. 2:2).
  • Athenagoras, a second-century Christian brought before the Roman Emperor to answer charges of murderous behaviour among Christians, answered: "How can we kill a man when we are those who say that all who use abortifacients are homicides and will account to God for their abortions as for the killing of men? For the fetus in the womb is not an animal, and it is God's providence that he exists."[4]

The Church Fathers

Church fathers such as Tertullian, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine took clear stands against abortion. For example:

  • Augustine described how appalled he was at the pagan use of abortion for birth control as follows: "sometimes this lustful cruelty or cruel lust comes to this that they even procure poisons of sterility, and if these do not work, they extinguish and destroy the fetus in some way in the womb." [5]
  • Basil of Cappadocia described abortion as equivalent to murder irrespective of any distinction between the "formed" and the "unformed" fetus [6]

The Reformers

John Calvin, in 1563, called abortion "atrocious" because "the foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light." [7]

Legal background (US)

According to figures reported by the government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), Planned Parenthood’s special research affiliate, it is estimated that nearly 50 million abortions have been performed in the US since the landmark case that initially legalized abortion in the US.[3] Although there have been numerous legal battles over the years, several specific cases that have reached the Supreme Court have been particularly important, both in establishing the right of a woman to have an abortion, and in limiting that right.

Roe v. Wade (1973)

In perhaps its most controversial case ever, a US Supreme Court decision established that most laws against abortion violate an unstated constitutional right to privacy[8], effectively legalizing abortion on demand throughout the full nine months of pregnancy.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Byron White wrote, "I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court's judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes." He continued, "The Court apparently values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries." [9]
The plaintiff in the case, Norma McCorvey (pseudonymously referred to as Jane Roe), challenged an 1857 Texas law prohibiting abortions and the Court ruled in her favor. Norma later converted to Christianity and renounced her pro-choice position. She currently ministers to women through Crossing Over Ministry, formerly Roe No More, and has recently sought to have the Roe v. Wade decision overturned.

Doe v. Bolton (1973)

This companion case was decided on the same day as Roe v. Wade, expanding what was meant by the life and health of the mother, interpretting the exception clause to include her psychological and emotional health, and thus making abortion on demand available throughout a woman's pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood v. Danforth (1977)

This case paved the way for wives to obtain abortions without consulting their husbands and for teenagers to obtain abortions without their parents' knowledge. The court ruled that a woman's right to an abortion cannot be limited by the requirement that a spouse or parent of a minor child must grant prior consent, and that the decision to abort must be left to the pregnant woman and the best medical judgment of her attending physician.

Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989)

This case marked one of the first significant limits abortion rights, upholding a Missouri law that prohibited the use of public funds or medical facilities for abortions not necessary to safeguard the life of the mother. The court ruled that the right to be free from interference in pursuing an abortion does not obligate the state to provide a way for a woman to obtain the abortion.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)

In what was considered by many abortion opponents to be the best opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade, this case considered the provisions of a Pennsylvania law that required a 24-hour waiting period (during which a woman must be informed of the procedure, the risks, and the probable gestational age of the fetus), parental consent for a minor (with a judicial bypass provision), and notification of the husband. A "medical emergency" exempted a woman from all of these requirements. The court upheld two of the three provisions, but declared the spousal notification provision invalid, citing potential risk and the significant obstacle it could pose for some women in obtaining an abortion.

Current perspectives

Mainline churches

The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ have, in recent years, been increasingly active in advocating for the legality of abortion, and clergy from all of these denominations are active in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.[10]

The Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) is comprised of three recently united (1988) denominations that held a variety of views on abortion at the time of the merger. Although the ELCA is ostensibly opposed to abortion except in cases of grave necessity, the denomination's clergy and theologians continue to hold a variety of perspectives. ELCA medical coverage continues to cover elective abortion for pastors and church staff.

The United Church of Canada promotes unrestricted access to abortion, urging that "the Government of Canada not to use provisions in the criminal code to regulate abortion."[11]

The official policy of the Anglican Church of Canada is that "abortion is always the taking of a human life and, in our view, should never be done except for serious therapeutic reasons."[12] It is common for "serious therapeutic reasons" to be interpreted very liberally, on the grounds that "both the rights and needs of women, and the rights and needs of the unborn, require protection."

Other mainline denominations such as the American Baptist Churches are more varied in their perspectives, and have chosen not to address the issue of abortion directly because of the diversity of views within their constituent churches and prefer to leave the decision to the individual's conscience.

The Church of England (Anglican) summarizes its position as follows: "The Church of England combines strong opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be strictly limited conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative." More strongly, they assert:

"In the light of our conviction that the foetus 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."[13]

In a 2001 poll, 66% of non-evangelical protestants in the USA said "abortion should be generally legal"

Evangelical churches

Evangelical denominations are almost uniformly opposed to legalized abortion.

The National Association of Evangelicals, representing a very broad group of American Evangelical churches, takes the following stand on Abortion:

"The core of the issue relates to the life of unborn children and if a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy. We believe the moral issue of abortion is more than a question of the freedom of a woman to control the reproductive functions of her body. It is rather a question of those circumstances under which a human being may be permitted to take the life of another. We believe that all life is a gift of God, so that neither the life of the unborn child nor the mother may be lightly taken. We believe that God, Himself, in Scripture, has conferred divine blessing upon unborn infants and has provided penalties for actions which result in the death of the unborn." [14]

The Evangelical Association of Canada, which represents a similarly broad group of Canadian Evangelical churches, takes a similar stand:

"The Bible teaches that God gives life as a gift. Human life has inherent worth and must be respected and protected through all of its stages, beginning at conception... Today, abortion access in Canada is among the freest in the world, offering no real protection for the unborn. It is time for a culture of life in Canada in which the rights of the unborn are protected, and the inherent worth of each human life recognized, regardless of their age, ability or condition, or the circumstances surrounding their conception." [15]

Individuals within these traditions, though less unanimous, have reached the same general consensus. In a 2001 poll, 63% of protestant evangelicals in the USA said "abortion should be illegal in all or most cases."


  1. Adam Ratner, MD, 2002, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA[1]
  2. Richards, L.O., Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985, 156-157
  4. Athenagoras: Embassy for the Christians, The Resurrection of the Dead (Ancient Christian Writers) transl (1956) SJ Joseph Hugh Crehan, Paulist Press (ISBN: 0809100363)
  5. Augustine, Morals of the Manichees 18:65, AD 388.
  6. Basil of Cappadocia, Letters 188, page 32, AD 672.
  7. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses, trans. Charles William Bingham, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1950, 3:41,42.
  8. In his dissenting opinion, Justice William Rehnquist wrote, "To reach its result, the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment."[2]
  9. Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973) (opinion added to Roe v. Wade)
  11. United Church of Canada Social Policy Positions Abortion and the Criminal Code 1989
  12. The Anglican Church of Canada Official Position on the Subject of Abortion
  13. Church of England, Abortion - a Briefing Paper
  14. National Association of Evangelicals "Abortion"
  15. Evangelical Association of Canada, "Abortion/Fetal Rights"


See also

External links

Favorable / Sympathetic


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