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Religious Studies

Christianity: contraception and abortion


Abortion is the artificial ending of the life of a foetus in the womb (uterus). A natural abortion is called a miscarriage. Abortion has been legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 1967 when The Abortion Act was passed. A new upper time limit of 24 weeks was introduced in 1990 under The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

An abortion may be carried out if one of the following conditions applies:

  • the life or physical health of the mother is at risk
  • the mental health of the mother is at risk
  • the mother’s existing family will suffer
  • there is a reasonable chance that the child will be born seriously disabled

Where the mental health of the mother is at risk, or her family will suffer if the pregnancy continues, the latest termination date is 24 weeks. There is no upper limit if the life or physical health of the mother is at risk, or if there is a reasonable chance of a seriously disabled child being born.

In 1974 119,000 legal abortions were carried out in England and Wales, by 2006 this figure had risen to 193,700.

Christian teaching on abortion

The Christian Church teaches that life is a sacred gift from God:

Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

Christian teaching on abortion is complex. An early Christian document, the Didache, condemns it:

You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb.

The Bible appears to say that life begins when the baby is in the mother’s womb:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.

Psalm 139:13

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.

Jeremiah 1:5

The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion in every instance. However, if life saving treatment given to a pregnant woman results in the unavoidable loss of a foetus, but saves the mother, then this is accepted and known as 'double effect'.

Roman Catholic teaching is that the foetus is a human being. This is clearly expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which states:

From the first moment of his (her) existence, a human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life

CCC 2270

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Luke 1:41

Both the Anglican Church (Church of England) and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) believe that although abortion should not be encouraged, the life of the unborn child cannot be seen as more important than that of the mother.

The pro-life movement generally argues that life becomes human life at the point of conception. It says that abortion should not be allowed, but some would allow an abortion if the mother's life was at risk or if pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

The pro-choice movement generally argues that human life begins much later in pregnancy, or at birth. There are many points of view among pro-choicers, but fundamentally they think that the woman should have full control over what happens to her body.

Back to Sanctity of life index

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