Abortions Among the Protestants and Roman Catholics
Differing opinions and beliefs among religious orders are not a new trend. Since the beginning of time and the birth of religion, different Churches and beliefs have disagreed and debated on issues regarding morality, property, humanity and society. Many of these issues have resulted in war and even new sects or religions emerging and prospering. None of these issues, however, have had as much attention, confusion and arguments as the topic of abortion, and whether or not it should be allowed. This moral, theological and philosophical debate began centuries ago and remains a huge contention among religions today. The Roman Catholics and Protestants have similar views concerning abortions, yet they differ in the rights and circumstances of such a procedure. While the religious leaders struggle to maintain the order and beliefs, many of their members are torn with disagreement and confusion, risking excommunication and reprisal.
“Among the large number of official church statements on abortion issued since the early 1960s, there are three main alternatives: (1) total opposition to abortion, (2) an openness to abortion’s legitimacy because the fetus is not a human being, and (3) a mediating position which regards abortion as legitimate in certain exceptional circumstances, but largely rejects the practice because it involves taking a human life” (The Church and Abortion).
Earliest Thoughts on Abortion
“Greeks held the belief that early in gestation a fetus has the soul of a vegetable and only later in gestation does the soul become “animated” as the result of “ensoulment” (Christianity and Abortion). The Greeks also had a time frame for this gestation period, as Christianity and Abortion explains, “For the Greeks, ensoulment occurred 40 days after conception for male fetuses and 90 days after conception for female fetuses. Consequently, abortion was not condemned if performed early.” Even saints and popes believed that there could not be an abortion if the fetus was not developed to the degree they determined would confirm the fetus as being a live being. “St. Augustine wrote that an early abortion is not murder because the soul of a fetus at an early stage is not present” and, “St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III, and Pope Gregory XIV believed that a fetus does not have a soul until “quickening,” or when a woman begins to feel her fetus kick and move” (Christianity and Abortion).
Roman Catholic vs. Protestant
“Informed observers of the church’s abortion debate discard the popular notion that abortion is largely a Protestant — Roman Catholic debate. The Protestant Religious Right, they argue, has become a coalition partner with Catholicism in the struggle against abortion. However, the Catholic Church’s position on abortion is distinct from that of the rest of the Christian church. Its position is one of total and unequivocal opposition to abortion” (The Church and Abortion).
The Roman Catholic Church views abortion as a sin. To the Roman Catholics, abortion, in any way or in any circumstance, is murder, while the Protestants suggest that there may be some extenuating circumstances that would allow a woman to have an abortion without suffering religious consequences. “Christian fundamentalist movements unanimously condemn abortion, while mainstream Protestant traditions take more nuanced positions, but are generally pro-choice with some exceptions” (Christianity and Abortion). For example, according to Christianity and Abortion:
“The Episcopal Church in the United States of America has taken a pro-choice stand and has passed resolutions at its triannual General Convention that supports woman’s right to choose. The church opposes any government action that limits a woman’s right to choose this includes parental notification”
“The United Methodist Church upholds the idea that church doctrine should not interfere with secular abortion laws. In light of grave or socio-economic circumstances, the Methodist church believes in the right of the mother to choose whether to have an abortion, and is thus often regarded as pro-choice”
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church firmly holds on to its belief that there is no such circumstance, no accepted reason for an abortion to be performed.
“The Roman Catholic Church today firmly holds that “the first right of the human person is his life” and that life is assumed to begin at fertilization. The equality of all human life is fundamental and complete, any discrimination is evil. Therefore, even when a woman’s life appears jeopardized, choosing her life over her child’s is no less discrimination between two lives – and therefore morally unacceptable” (Christianity and Abortion).
The Roman Catholic’s strong belief in the immorality of abortion is so adamant that, “Catholic politicians who campaign and vote for permissive abortion laws should be warned by their priest to refrain from taking communion or risk being denied the Eucharist until they change their political views” (Christianity and Abortion). Many pro-choice Christians, whether they are of nondenominational, Protestant or Catholic faiths, argue that there is no mention of abortions in the Bible nor is there a commandment forbidding an abortion to a woman for any reason.
“The bible does not condemn abortion. The closest it gets to it is in Exodus 21-22 which speaks of accidental abortion. This imposes a financial penalty on a man who “in the course of a brawl” caused a woman to miscarry. The issue here is the father’s right to progeny; he could fine you for the misdeed, but he could not claim “an eye for an eye” as if a person had been killed. Thus, as conservative theologian John Connery, S.J. said, “the fetus did not have the same status as the mother in Hebrew Law” (Moderate Roman Catholic Position).
Although the Catholic Church views abortion as an immoral sin and will even excommunicate a member for having the procedure, many of the members still seek this action for their own reasons. The following statistics taken from The Roman Catholic View on Abortion are interesting to discover:
“About forty percent of Americans believe that abortion should remain legal and forty percent believe that it should be banned except when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or is the result of rape or incest. In addition, fifteen percent believe that it should be illegal in all cases.
However, abortion is considered murder by half of all Americans”
BBC – Religion & Ethics reports that “Catholic women in the United States are as likely as women in the general population to have an abortion, and 29% more likely than Protestant women.”
When one delves deeply into the same, yet differing, views on abortion between Christians, Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church, it seems that the debate is not necessarily a theological one since all appear to agree on the theological and moral issues surrounding abortion, but that this dispute may lie more in the philosophical question of when life actually begins. Murder, all of Christianity agrees, is a sin. The difficulty, then, becomes discovering and agreeing upon exactly when a life begins. Does it begin at the moment of conception? Or does it begin at a later stage in pregnancy? If, and until, this issue is resolved and agreed upon by all parties, this debate will continue to haunt society and religions while they struggle to remain ‘good Christians’ and weigh their actions with their moral and spiritual responsibilities and understandings.
“BBC – Religion & Ethics – Christian view of abortion: Catholic – opposing views”
“Christianity and Abortion, Christian views on abortion, religion and abortion, the
Church and abortion” December 5, 2008. http://www.womensrightsworld.com/christianity/html/christian-views-on-abortion.html
Ellingsen, Mark. “The Church and Abortion: Signs of Consensus” December 5, 2008.
Maguire, Daniel C. Professor. “Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and
Abortion” December 5, 2008.
“The Roman Catholic View on Abortion.” 123HelpMe.com. 05 Dec 2008