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Policy statements about abortion access


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Generally speaking:

bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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, those involving:

bullet Terminating pregnancies in very young women.
bullet Ending pregnancies caused by incest.
bullet Ending pregnancies caused by rape.
bullet Abortions that are needed to save the life of the woman.
bullet Abortions needed to prevent the woman from suffering serious health problems or becoming seriously disabled.
bullet 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.

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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.

bullet There is general agreement that spermatozoa and ova are forms of human life.
bullet There is agreement that a newborn is a human person.
bullet 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.

bullet If one believes that human personhood is attained at the instant of conception, then abortion at any subsequent time is murder.
bullet 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:

bullet The Roman Catholic Church often refers to human personhood as existing "... from the moment of conception until natural death..." 1
bullet A. L. Barry, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod wrote: "The living but unborn are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception." 2
bullet Victor A. Gunasekara, in his article "The Core Principles of Secular Humanism" wrote:

"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.

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What should a denomination's policy on abortion include?

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:

bullet Whether an abortion is moral in each of the situations described above.
bullet 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 potential abortifacient.
bullet D&E procedures, also called "Partial Birth Abortions." There is a general agreement among the public that such procedures are:
bullet Acceptable if needed to prevent the death of the woman, and are
bullet 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.

bullet 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 on abortion.

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References used in the above essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "On Thirty Years Of Roe V. Wade," Southern Baptist Convention, 2003-JUN, at:
  2. A. L. Barry , "What About Abortion?," The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, at:
  3. Victor A. Gunasekara, "The Core Principles of Secular Humanism. Twelve Fundamental Principles
    Stated and Examined," Manussa, at: 

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 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Religious aspects > Statements > here

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Copyright 2001 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-NOV-16-
Latest update: 2007-MAY-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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