Table of contents
1 Religious views of abortion

Religious views of abortion


Judaism holds that the fetus is not yet a full human being, and thus killing a fetus is not murder. Abortion - in restricted circumstances - has always been legal under Jewish law. Judaism prefers that such abortions, when necessary, take place before the first 40 days. Christians who agree with these Jewish views may refer to this idea as abortion before the "quickening" of the soul by God in the fetus.

The following position on abortion is the ruling of the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee of Jewish Law and Standards, and represents how Conservative Judaism understands Jewish law on this issue. While others would phrase it differently, this is also more or less how most other religious Jews understand the issue.

Jewish tradition is sensitive to the sanctity of life, and does not permit abortion on demand. However, it sanctions abortion under some circumstances because it does not regard the fetus as an autonomous person. This is based partly on the Bible (Exodus 21:22-23), which prescribes monetary damages when a person injures a pregnant woman, causing a miscarriage. The Mishnah (Ohalot 7:6) explicitly indicates that one is to abort a fetus if the continuation of pregnancy might imperil the life of the mother. Later authorities have differed as to how far we might go in defining the peril to the mother in order to justify abortion. The Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards takes the view that an abortion is justifiable if a continuation of pregnancy might cause the mother severe physical or psychological harm, or when the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective. The fetus is a life in the process of development, and the decision to abort should never be taken lightly. Before reaching her final decision, the mother should consult with the father, other members of her family, her physician, her spiritual leader and any other person who can help her in assessing the many grave legal and moral issues involved.


Christians lived under Roman law which permitted both abortion and infanticide. Given the generally ineffective or dangerous methods of abortion available at the time, unwanted children were sometimes carried to term by Roman women, and abandoned to die of exposure. Unlike infanticide, to which the early Christians reacted with intervention and strongly opposed teaching, it is less certain how the earliest Christians regarded abortion. Some argue that writings against infanticide are sometimes mistaken for anti-abortion teaching. Others believe that these works provide evidence that early Christians saw no difference in principle, between abortion and infanticide. The four gospels offer no statements about abortion as such, and offer no new prohibitions. Many early Christian writers condemned abortion more explicitly. The Didache, which some scholars date between A.D 70 - 170, comments on the commandment, "you shall do nothing to any man that you would not wish to be done to yourself", by saying,
... Commit no murder, adultery, sodomy, fornication, or theft. Practise no magic, sorcery, abortion, or infanticide. ...
In the second century, Tertullian defended Christianity from accusations of practicing human sacrifice by writing,
"How can we kill a man when we are those who say that all who use abortifacients are homicides, and will account to God for their abortions as for the killing of men? For the fetus in the womb is not an animal."

By the third century, abortion is commonly listed among the crimes of men, but some wonder whether Christians may have allowed exceptions to their teachings against it. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa wrote that Christians believe that there is one principle of life from embryo to adulthood (as opposed to two, as assumed in Roman law). In the same century, John Chrysostom denounced married men who encouraged their prostitutes to get abortions, saying,
"You do not let a harlot remain only a harlot, but make her a murderess as well."

The view that life begins at conception is often, but not necessarily, based on religious belief. For example, the Roman Catholic Church—one of the most vocal opponents of abortion—holds that the soul enters the zygote at conception (or a soul is then created). A naïve interpretation of this view has led some opponents of it to ask what happens in borderline cases, such as when a zygote splits into two or more cells (as when identical twins are formed). According to Catholic belief, in such cases each zygote has already had a soul made for them. Catholics believe that God knows every person that will be created, so the problem of souls entering zygotes is moot.

Roman Catholic

The official Catholic view (articulated in Humanae Vitae), shared by some other Christians, is that interference with the human reproductive process is sinful and therefore forbidden—when souls are to enter and exit the world is a matter for God to determine, not man. Abortion should never be used as a method of birth control, they say. In the more traditional religious view, an acceptable limited means of practicing birth control would be to abstain from intercourse outside of marriage; commonly, "natural family planning" and sterilization are advocated for those for whom other forms of birth control are forbidden by religion, although the Catholic Church also frowns on sterilization if its purpose is solely as contraception and not for other health reasons.

Eastern Orthodox

While the Orthodox do not share Catholicism's objections to all contraception, they agree that life begins at conception, and that abortion is the taking of a human life. This view is reflected in their observance of the Feast of the Annunciation, when Jesus was conceived, and also of the feast of the conception of the Virgin Mary and the feast of the conception of John the Forerunner. Today, many Orthodox leaders have also spoken out against euthanasia and human cloning as related practices that reflect a devaluation of human life.


Protestant views on abortion vary considerably. In Evangelical churches, especially in the United States, the view is widely held that abortion is infanticide and therefore always wrong. However this is not a universal view, and few Evangelical churches hold it as a doctrine. The Bible contains no specific prohibition on abortion, although several passages are widely held to indicate that life begins at conception, in which case a ban on abortion follows logically.

Few Protestant churches agree with the principle of 'abortion on demand'. More liberal protestants usually agree that there should be restrictions on abortion, and disagree over exactly what those restrictions should be. Anglican churches usually fall into this category.


Islam discourages abortion, but allows it as permissible under certain circumstances.


Hinduism teaches that abortion thwarts a soul in its progress towards God, like any other act of violence. It teaches that a fetus is a living, conscious person deserving of protection. Hinduism has traditionally taught that a soul is reincarnated and enters the embryo at the time the embryo is conceived.


Buddha advised against the taking of conscious life, as he identified such activity as a cause of suffering. Buddhism generally asserts that conscious life begins before birth. Therefore, many buddhists consider abortion to be equivalent to infanticide.