'You shall not murder' (Exodus 20:13 The Holy Bible New International Version)

Within the Christian Church there is generally a keen desire to follow and apply the teachings of the Bible. However this in not easy and a number of alternative readings of Scripture have lead to a variety of viewpoints concerning the moral implications of abortion. Generally the Church is united in its condemnation of abortion. Most Christians believe abortion violates the sixth command which prohibits murderous acts. However there is a keen debate concerning the moment a human embryo/foetus becomes fully human (i.e. when, according to Christian teaching, it has both body and soul). 

The Roman Catholic Church

The Catholic Church teaches that ensoulment takes place at the moment of conception and this has been a key reason for their refusal to condone abortion (although Thomas Aquinas taught that the soul of girls was implanted by God at 90 days and the soul of boys at 40 days). Another key factor is Natural Law which Catholics believe shows that the natural consequence of the woman becoming pregnant is to give birth.

'By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors, and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.' (Papal Encyclical 1995)

Although Catholics refuse to accept abortion as an acceptable solution to 'unwanted' pregnancies they do accept that there might be time when an abortion occurs as a result of trying to deal with another medical issue. For example, if the mother needed a life-saving operation which could potentially terminate the pregnancy the Catholic Church would allow this under the doctrine of double effect. This is because your first intention is the save the life of the mother rather than terminate the pregnancy.

  • The Doctrine of Double Effect: The idea that if I take an action to achieve one effect knowing that it will produce another that I cannot be blamed for the second effect occurring.
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Many Protestant denominations such as Anglicans, Methodists and Quakers have been reluctant to take such a hard line as Catholics do in the abortion debate. Often they accept that there are certain situations when abortion is an unavoidable consequence of deciding between the 'lesser of two evils' (E.g. Accepting that a women who becomes pregnant after being raped might want an abortion). Thus they generally advocate a form of Situation Ethics.

The Church of England

'In the light of our conviction that the foetus has the right to live and develop as a member of the human ...

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