• Created by: Jj
  • Created on: 13-04-13 11:42

Some definitions

ABORTION - can be natural (miscarriage) or by medical procedure (using drugs or killing or dismembering a foetus)

A FOETUS- exists from 8 weeks onwards, when the embryo assumes the basic shape of the newborn and all the organs are present 

EMBRYO- from contraception to 8 weeks 

PRE-EMBRYO - is now being used to denote the collection of cells up to 14 days old, before the premitive streak emerges

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Legal position (UK)

The 1967 ABORTION ACT legalised abortion up to 28 weeks with two doctors consent

1- for medical reasons

2- for psychological reasons 

3- family reasons 

4- in cases of disability 

The legal term was changed in 1990 to 24 weeks. The age of viability has now dropped to 22 weeks with medical advances 

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85% of abortions occur under 18 weeks

There are around 200,000 abortions a year in the uk, representing 25% of pregnancies

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Sanctity of life


 - Biblical view GENESIS 1:27, 'we are made in the image of God,

- PSALM 139:6  'he knit you together in your mothers womb'.

- human life has intrinsic value because God himself 'became flesh and lived among us' JOHN 1:14

- We are not on our own, but we belong to God and our life is 'on loan' from God.God appoints the day of our death "the lord gave and the lord takes away" JOB 1:21

- 'Do not murder' EXODUS 20:13 is a fundamental law, implying respect for all human life and to the catholic church this includes embryonic life. 

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Sanctity of life - the Natural law view'

EVANGELIUM VITAE argues society has undermined sanctity of life and produced a 'culture of death' in its attitude to foetal life, the elderly and the handicapped.

so 'every person open to truth can recognise the sacred value of human life from its beginning to its end' - as Paul notes 'even Gentiles have the law written on their hearts', ROMANS 2:14-15

Abortion breaks TWO PRIMARY PRECEPTS of reproduction and preservation of life - as human life begins at contraception. We know this through the SYNDERESIS PRINCIPLE , innately we 'do good and avoid evil' in line with our rational purposes given by human nature. 

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Sanctity of life -weak view

Some prefer the more universal, weaker idea of RESPECT for life. As medical science advances we know more examples about disabilities of foetuses or inherited diseases.

SITUATION  ETHICS sees agape as a universal good, so the persons situation needs to be paramount, and STANLEY HAUERWAS argues that the church has permitted the taking of life in the past, e.g when it is in the interests of others, or in cases of martyrdom. 

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Quality of life

PETER SINGER maintains we would always choose a healthy child over a handicapped one. so 'if aborting the abnormal foetus can be followed by having a normal one, it would be wrong not to do this." 

Note, the usual consequentialist problem: how do we know? There is also a question of resources: how much does the handicapped child cost over it life relative to the healthy one?' 

A UTILITARIAN may argue that resources are better spent elsewhere.Is it the most loving outcome (situation ethics) to bring a suffering child into the world? Singer employs the REPLACEMENT ARGUMENT - is it always better to replace a less happy child by a happier one? - but does this justify INFANTICIDE - the killing of less healthy children?

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Human Rights

Some argue that because the foetus shares the attibutes of a person it should have full human rights (including the right to life).

The logic of the argument from human rights: 

-P1 - The unborn child is a human life ( Is it? Even as a collection of cells?)

-P2- it is always wrong to take innocent human life

-P3- Abortion involves the taking of innocent life 

p4- Therefore abortion is wrong

Notice that the meaning of 'human life' has changed from 'biological life' to 'personhood'. The meaning has changed from P1 to P2 - addition of the moral word ' innocent' 

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Women's rights- analogy of a violinist

THOMPSON employs the analogy of the violinist- after his friends kidnap you, you wake up plugged into a sick violinist who needs your kidneys. To unplug the violinist will kill him. Its only for 9 months. DO YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO UNPLUG THE VIOLINIST? Does your right to choose what to do with your body outweigh the right to life? (note the problems with this anology, - for exmaple pregnant women are not immobile, they are not kidnapped but choose to have sex, the foetus is arguably not actually a person and after the 9 months you don't have to look after him/her). Thompson argues that to be forced to remain with a dependent being attached to you is OUTRAGEOUS.

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WARREN asks "what characteristics make a person?" she lists:

- consciousness

- reason

- self- motivated activity

- communication 

- self awareness

"GENETIC HUMANITY IS NOT ENOUGH" - we must have one of these criteria 

'A foetus is a human being which is not yet a person, so cannot have full moral rights" (note if you apply her criteria this would allow you to kill infants, coma victims and people asleep!)

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SINGER agrees with TOOLEY who declared a human being " possesses a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing SUBJECT OF EXPERIENCES and other mental states, and believes that if it itself such a continuing entity." Infants do not qualify. 

in 1979 SINGER WROTE 'human beings are not born self aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. they are not PERSONS.' therefore, 'the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.' 

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When does life begin?

CASTI CONNUBI - persons at conception, 'from the first moment of his existance as a human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person -among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life."

-The PRIMITIVE STREAK is the first recognisable feature at 15 days 

-QUICKENING (movement) occurs at 100 days (14 weeks) 

- some-time between 18- 24 weeks foetus feels PAIN

-VIABILITY (surving out of the womb) exists around 22 weeks - but probablity of survival is low.

WARREN sees birth as only morally relevant when 'the extension of equal moral status to foetuses threatens women;s most basic rights. unlike foetuses, women are already persons'

GLOVER argues that it is a matter of degree- a foetus is more of a person than an embryo, a baby is more than a foetus. ultimately this is METAPHYSICAL QUESTION  to do with beliefs rather than science. 

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Christians and abortion

There is not one Christian view. The conservative view held by many catholics and evangelicals holds that life is sacred from the point of conception because God the creator is behind and within this creation (psalm 139:6 'God knit you together in your mother's womb) Catholics follow a NATURAL LAW argument, pointing to the primary precept of perserving innocent life, and the DIVINE LAW 'do not murder', whereas evangelicals appeal only to the SCRIPTURES, a divine command theory e,g Psalm 139:6.

LIBERAL CHRISTIANS might take a situation ethics view of abortion, arguing that agape love is best maximised by considering the person (which person, the mother? child?) and outcomes (but how do we know). Questions of personhood are logically prior to any other judgement. 

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Utilitarianians seek to do an empirical calculation of good over evil (or pleasure/pain). HEDONIC utilitarians like Bentham balance pleasue/pain (e.g emotional, financial, personal pleasure/plain). 

RULE utilitarians (MILL) calculate from past experiences what social rules maximise happiness (e.g the misery/death caused by backstreet abortions v happiness/misery of mothers having abortions) They stress importance of RIGHTS AND JUSTICE. but again the question of whether the foetus is a person comes before we decide whether the mothers rights come before foetal rights. 

PREFERENCE utilitarians like SINGER might put more weight on a potential child's preferences, but in fact Singers view of personhood (rational self consciousness) allows for infanticide of disabled children. 

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Kant argues for rational, a priori UNIVERSALISABILITY of autonomous (free) human beings. Again question of personhood comes first, otherwise we might discount the foetus completely and only universalise the mother's autonomous choice. 

The FORMULA OF ENDS states we should never use human beings as just a means to an end, but as ends to themselves - with dignity, rights, and autonomy of their own. Abortion seems to break this formulation - but only if the foetus is a person. if the foetus is just an appendix, there is arguably no moral issue for a kantian. 

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