Religious conservatives and their faith groups in North America
favor restrictions or outright criminalization of abortion. A few would
make no exceptions, even if an abortion is needed to preserve the life
of the woman. Most would allow exemptions in cases where the woman's
life is threatened by the continued pregnancy. Some would permit an abortion
if the pregnancy was caused by an incident of rape
or incest. Many conservative groups actively advocate legislation
restricting or eliminating abortion access, particularly for teens.
Feminist organizations, liberal religious groups, etc. favor
abortion access, so that any woman can choose to have an
abortion after consultation with her medical, spiritual, and other advisors.
Some would limit abortions to less than a certain number of weeks
gestation. Most liberal groups actively oppose laws that restrict access to abortion, at least up to a certain point in pregnancy.
Religious mainliners take an intermediate view. Some support the
beliefs and actions of religious conservatives; other support religious
liberals; others take no active role in promoting or denying abortion
access. Their congregations are seriously divided over the issue.
The vast majority of abortions are done for convenience, by women who
simply want to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. But there are other
situations in which there are extenuating circumstances. For example,
Terminating pregnancies in very young women.
Ending pregnancies caused by incest.
Ending pregnancies caused by rape.
Abortions that are needed to save the life of the woman.
Abortions needed to prevent the woman from suffering serious health
problems or becoming seriously
Abortions on genetically deformed fetuses that lack a brain or have
some other major defect that would prevent them from living more than a few
hours if they were born.
The key question:
As discussed elsewhere on this site, the key
factor that determines a group's or individual's stand on abortion access is
their belief about when human personhood begins.
There is general agreement that
spermatozoa and ova are forms of human life.
There is agreement that a newborn
is a human person.
But there is no consensus on the time when human life -- i.e. a living
entity with human DNA -- becomes a human person whose life should be strongly
defended. Some maintain that this happens at conception; others maintain
that this happens at birth; still others believe that it happens at some
stage of gestation -- e.g. when the zygote becomes implanted in the wall of
the uterus; when the heart starts beating; when the fetus looks human; when
the fetus becomes sentient and conscious; when the fetus is partly
delivered; when the fetus is fully delivered; when the fetus is breathing on
its own independent of its mother.
From the timing of the start of personhood, conclusions about abortion naturally follow.
If one believes that human personhood is attained at the instant of
conception, then abortion at any subsequent time is murder.
If one believes that personhood is attained later in pregnancy, then
most would argue that a woman should be free to choose to have an abortion.
Some religious and other groups do specify exactly when they believe this
transition from life to personhood happens:
The Roman Catholic Church often refers to human personhood as existing "...
from the moment of conception until natural death..." 1
A. L. Barry, president of The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod wrote: "The living but unborn are persons
in the sight of God from the time of conception." 2
Victor A. Gunasekara, in his article "The Core Principles of Secular
"All human beings are entitled to inalienable human rights such
as those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ...
These rights inhere to humans from the time the human fetus becomes
a viable biological entity capable of independent existence without
physical or organic dependence on another human being." 3
At 2007, this requirement for personhood is attained at about 26 weeks. However, future
development of an artificial womb might move this transition as far back as the
pre-embryo state shortly after conception.
What should a denomination's policy on abortion
We feel that a group's policy on abortion
should be comprehensive. It should offer complete guidance for a pregnant woman. This
would include the group's position on:
The morality of Emergency Contraception (EC). Most
medical and religious groups regard EC as a valid method of preventing
pregnancy. Some religious conservatives oppose EC
because, according to their definition of when pregnancy starts, they view the medication to be a
D&E procedures, also called
"Partial Birth Abortions." There is a general agreement among the
public that such procedures are:
Acceptable if needed to prevent the death of the
woman, and are
Not acceptable if the woman simply does not want
to be pregnant for reasons of convenience.
There is no consensus over whether a woman should have
access to a D&E procedure if it is needed to prevent very severe adverse
health consequences that would arise from an attempted delivery.
Restrictions to abortion access by women under the age of 18. Some states
have passed laws requiring underage teens to either inform a parent or get
permission from a parent before having an abortion.
Few, if any, organizations go into this depth in their statements
References used in the above essay:
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