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Abortion


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Christian attitudes to abortion (Part 2): Methodist and Quaker teaching, pro-life and pro-choice arguments

Information: Part 2 of an article setting out some of the main Christian beliefs about abortion. A version of this article was originally published on the website www.faithnet.org.uk. You Tube icon - Copyright Fasticon (Freeware)

The United Methodist Church (UMC)

Smiley resigned

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church says that life is God-given and sacred, and as such it should be treated with reverence and respect. However, it also acknowledges that we now have 'an awesome power' to decide when and whether individuals will be born. Although the UMC does not approve of abortion, it accepts that there are times when having an abortion may be necessary:

'Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy.' (Book of Discipline, The Social Principles (2004))

The UMC does not condemn abortion as long as it is done legally, with the correct medical supervision, and is not used as a form of contraception. If an abortion is considered necessary, then the church believes this should be done at the earliest possible stage:

'We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.' (Abortion, UMC archives)

For Methodists, having an abortion is a serious matter, and should only be undertaken after much careful and prayerful thought, and if no other alternative course of action is deemed viable:

'We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption.' (Abortion, UMC archives)

The church believes that people who have faced such a difficult decision should be offered counseling to help them through the emotional and physical difficulties, which usually accompany a termination.

Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends)

Smiley with a question markQuakers (Friends) do not have any official statement regarding abortion. They acknowledge that the matter is complex, and even more so for them because they have no official creed or rules. However, this is not to say they have no way of discerning God's will on the matter. Prayer, listening for the Holy Spirit's guidance, and not acting selfishly are all means to understanding what to do:

'Yield yourselves and all your outward concerns to God's guidance.' (Quaker Views - Life & Death - Questions of Medical Ethics, www.quaker.org.uk)

Dove of peace

Quakers are pacifists, which means they try and avoid all forms of violence. In particular, they do not believe taking anyone's life will solve problems in the world. In fact, they generally try to live peaceful lives. In terms of whether a Quaker should have an abortion or not, they would naturally evaluate this in light of their 'peace testimony'. Taken literally, the desire to avoid violence and take life might suggest that Quakers should be against abortion. However, the matter of living a peaceful life can equally involve having a peace-of-mind too.

'A question to consider here is whether it is right or wrong to value the life of the unborn child over and above the life of the mother. Personal conscience in this issue is of the greatest importance.' (Quaker Views - Life & Death - Questions of Medical Ethics, www.quaker.org.uk)

Quakers are very aware that the issue of abortion is a complex and emotional one, and this is one reason why they avoid prescribing what should be done. They are also aware that whilst it is very easy for people to subscribe to prescribed modes of behaviour when life is 'easy', that their attitude might change if their circumstances were different:

'We may, in theory, feel that abortion has serious implications for the acceptance of disabled people in society but if we ourselves receive the news that an unborn child will be disabled, will we react in the way we thought we would... if we ourselves were the victims of rape how would we then act?' (Quaker Views - Life & Death - Questions of Medical Ethics, www.quaker.org.uk)

In the end, Quakers are all about community - supporting those who might have to face the difficult decision about whether to terminate a pregnancy or not, whilst showing love and respect to those who have.

'Whatever difficult decisions someone may have to make, the support of the meeting would be there for them.' (Quaker Views - Life & Death - Questions of Medical Ethics, www.quaker.org.uk)

Something to think about: What are your thoughts on the four Christian attitudes to abortion considered so far (Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Quaker)? What do you feel are the pros and cons of each denomination's (group's) approach to the matter?


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Biblical arguments against abortion (pro-life)

There is no direct teaching in the Bible about abortion, and certainly nothing which says 'You shall/shall not allow a woman to have an abortion'. This is largely because in (early) biblical times, having children was hard and seen as a sign of blessing:

'If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands... The fruit of your womb will be blessed.' (Deuteronomy 28:1-4)

It would be rather odd if someone wanted to abort a child under these circumstances (or literally get rid of their blessing). Thus the case for/and against abortion based on what the Bible says, is generally seen to be a cumulative one.

The strongest biblical evidence used against abortion, is the prohibition to to take life:

'Do not kill.' (Exodus 20:13).

This seems to explicitly show that abortion is wrong (for it is the taking of life). Christians also refer to passages which suggest that life is sacred, and special. They would argue on the basis of these that there is evidence that God knows and plans the life of a person, even before they are born:

'Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness"... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.' (Genesis 1:26-27)

'For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.' (Psalm 139:13-16)

'The Word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.' (Jeremiah 1:5)

Mary was told by the angel Gabriel, that God had a plan for the baby (Jesus) she was going to have:

'He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.' (Luke 1:32)

We also read that John 'leapt in the womb' when Mary came to visit Elizabeth (John's mother - Luke 1:41).

Verses such as these are used to suggest that the human personality is present at, or soon after conception. This is also usually what people mean, when they say 'life begins at conception'.

Christians who argue that abortion is wrong, believe the embryo has full human rights from the moment of conception. Anyone destroying this life is said to be literally committing murder, and a grievous act of disobedience against God. They are also putting themselves on a level with God, who alone is said to be the giver and taker of life:

'[God] himself gives all [people] life and breath and everything else.' (Acts 17:25 [Brackets mine])

Biblical arguments for the right to choice (pro-choice)

Christians who argue a pro-choice stance, begin by showing that the Bible does not specifically teach anything about abortion. They also claim that some of the verses used to support a pro-life position, are actually specific references to individual people and situations (for example, Jeremiah 1:5 refers to the calling of the prophet Jeremiah, Luke 1:32 refers to Jesus Christ etc.). As such, they are specific exhortations about an individual life, rather than general statements applicable to all unborn children. Furthermore, pro-lifers are accused of taking biblical poems (or songs) too literally. Did God really 'knit David together in the womb' (Psalm 139:13-16), for if so this would imply that conception is not a natural thing, but something God is directly involved with all the time.

Christians who say that having a child is a miracle, would mean by this that it is a special and amazing thing. They would mean it is a miracle in the sense that God acts in the world, contrary to the laws of nature, although they might believe that God protected the unborn child if there were difficulties during the pregnancy.

The prohibition against taking life ('Do not kill'), is often used to support an anti-abortion stance. However, difficulties arise with using this verse in for this reason when we see that God actually commanded the Israelites to kill their enemies, and take possession of their land (e.g. the Canaanites). Thus 'Do not kill' seems to be a command relative to the situation. The fact that God commanded the Israelites to kill people, yet also told them not to kill, might imply that there are times when the taking of life is acceptable, and so abortion is not always a morally wrong thing to do.

There is one passage in the Bible, which might be said to relate to the matter of abortion:

'If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.' (Exodus 21:22-25)

At first glance this might be taken to prohibit abortion, but what it interesting about these verses is that it is only if the woman dies from her injuries, that murder is deemed to have taken place. The premature birth (abortion) of the baby, is not condemned. There is also no mention of the prohibition to take life, spoken of earlier (Exodus 20:13). This seems to imply that only the woman's life has any moral significance, because the fetus is not considered to be a person at this stage (for more on this see - Exodus 21:22-25 - Does the Bible really say nothing about abortion?).

'It is time to stop the one-sided view of abortion being proclaimed by Christian leaders. These leaders do not -- despite their claims -- have a biblical mandate for their theologies. It is time to stop preaching that the Bible contains an undeniable doctrine against abortion. It is time to stop the anger and hatred being heaped on abortion doctors and upon women who have abortions, especially when it's done in the name of a God who has not written such condemnations in his Bible.' (Why Abortion is Biblical - How anti-abortion activists misrepresent the biblical record, www.elroy.com)

It should also be noted that Christians who argue in favour of a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy, do so with a heavy heart. No Christian believes abortion is a good thing, even those who are pro-choice.

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