Abortion is the artificial ending of the life of a foetus in the womb. It is usually carried out for one of the following reasons:
Abortion has been legal in Britain since 1967. The law allows a pregnancy to be terminated up until the 24th week if two doctors agree that there is a risk to the mother's physical or mental health, and without time limit if the danger to the mother's life is high or the child is likely to be born with a disability. In 1974 119,000 legal abortions were carried out in England and Wales. By 1995 this figure had risen to 154,000.
- To preserve the life or health of the mother.
- To prevent a pregnancy brought about by rape.
- To prevent a child being born mentally or physically disabled.
- To prevent a birth because, for example, the mother is very young.
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.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)
None of the Christian Churches believe that abortion should be encouraged and all agree that it should only be used in the most serious circumstances.
The Roman Catholic Church strongly opposes abortion in every instance except when it is the inevitable result of a necessary treatment given to the mother (double effect). The Roman Catholic teaching that the foetus is a human being from the moment of conception, and that its rights to life are equal to that of the mother's, is based on two theories:
Both the Anglican Church and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), however, 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 Church of England spoke out in 1993 against the rising number of abortions in Britain but left the final decision on the issue up to the people involved.
- Ensoulment: In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas argued that the male foetus becomes a human being at 40 days and the female at 90 days after conception.
- Quickening: This is the time that the baby first moves in the womb. It is supported by the experience of John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth, described in the Bible:
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)