An unwanted pregnancy can put a woman
in a heart-breaking position
The deliberate termination of a pregnancy can never be a good thing; perhaps the best that can ever be said is that it may sometimes be the lesser of two evils.
Few topics can have been the subject of greater Christian debate over the past 50 years.
This is especially true of the USA, and Christians are by no means in agreement—there is little scriptural support other than an obscure verse in the book of Exodus (OT), leaving Christians with a wide spectrum of sincerely held views. However, we should all respect one another’s views and decisions in the spirit of love, even if we cannot always agree with them.
In the UK, there are around 180,000 abortions each year; in 2005, 89% were under 13 weeks’ gestation and 24% on an outpatient basis (using a pill). In Russia, abortions are the most significant form of birth control.
Although clinics are careful to comply with the law, current practice in the UK is often tantamount to abortion on demand. The reason given for the vast majority is that continuing with the pregnancy involves a greater risk to the mental health of the woman than a termination.
There are two ethical stances. The first, unqualified absolutism, says that termination is always wrong; it does not permit exceptions. Largely speaking, it is the position adopted by the Roman Catholic Church.
Graded absolutism is the position of the Church of England, which has laid its views down in a series of publications over the years, summarised in 2005: “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.” The basis for this comes from another formal statement: “All human life, including life developing in the womb, is created by God in his own image and is therefore to be nurtured, supported and protected.”
Because the Church of England recognises that there are some very exceptional circumstances in which it may be permissible to terminate a pregnancy (rape with physical injury, terminal illness in the mother, or very severe mental illness, for example) it follows that the termination should be performed as soon as possible.
This follows an ethical concept called gradualism: that it is ethically more acceptable to terminate a pregnancy at 6 weeks than at 16 weeks (medically, it is also much less risky). Gradualism holds that a formless embryo a few millimetres long has less stature and moral worth than a foetus with the form and appearance of a baby, fully developed and simply growing.
Women who find themselves in the awful position of an unwanted pregnancy should be shown Christian love, as defined by Paul in his letter to the Colossians (with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience). Self-righteous judgment has no place here, whatever our personal views may be.
Visit the BBC website, religion section: the ethics of abortion
Visit the abortion webpage of the Christian Medical Fellowship (with reading list)
Read the Church of England briefing paper
Read the book I'll Hold You in Heaven: Healing and Hope for the Parent Who Has Lost a Child Through Miscarriage, Still Birth, Abortion or Early Infant Death by Jack W Hayford
Read the book You're Not Alone: Healing Through God's Grace After Abortion by Jennifer O'Neill
Read the book Three Approaches to Abortion: A Thoughtful and Compassionate Guide to the Most Controversial Issue Today by Peter Kreeft
Read the book Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics by Scott B Rae
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