Are there any Christian denominations that allow abortion? What (Biblical) argumentation do they use to justify this?


1 Answer 1


Protestant Denominations

Wikipedia states that Protestant denominations that support abortion rights include the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopalian Church, and the United Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), The United Church of Christ, The United Methodist Church, and the Lutheran Women's Caucus. It says the American Baptist Churches USA, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The United Church of Christ consider abortion permissible under certain restricted circumstances. The United Church of Canada has opposed legal sanctions against abortion since 1990, and the Uniting Church of Australia has accepted the right to abortion since 1992. The Church of Latter Day Saints states, "Some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth."

Catholic Church

Although the Catholic Church is firmly opposed to abortion from the time of conception, this was not always the case. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) stated that a monk who had persuaded his mistress to have an abortion was not guilty of murder as long as the foetus had not yet been animated, which took place 40 days after conception for a boy, 80 for a girl, a definition Roman Canon law maintained until 1869. Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) declared that it was not murder to abort an embryo of less than 40 days, although this was overturned by his successor, Sixtus V. A few years later, Gregory XIV modified the Apostolic Constitution Effraenatam (‘without restraint’) of Pope Sixtus V so that the penalty for abortion did not apply until ensoulment at 40 days. Pope Pius IX restored the penalty to the time of conception.

Religious Tolerance, while not a primary source, states, "Various church authorities and popes placed the time at:

  • At a specific time into pregnancy (40 days, 80 days, 116 days), or
  • Quickening (when the woman first feels the fetus move), or
  • At conception."

Readily accessible online Vatican references include:-

This link which is the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions (Book VII) - written as if by the apostles - published by the Catholic Church. Under the heading 'The Prohibition of Conjuring, Murder of Infants, Perjury, and False Witness', in the context of abortion, it states "everything that is shaped, and has received a soul from God, if it be slain, shall be avenged ..." This is a reference to ensoulment, which I mentioned above: the thinking was that ensoulment took place when the foetus developed human shape or quickened (began to move in the womb).

Under the heading Abortion, New Advent, denies that the rules have ever changed, states that the Church 'has made it [prohibition] more definite. As to the penalties she inflicts upon the guilty parties, her present legislation was fixed by the Bull of Pius IX "Apostolicae Sedis".' The second paragraph states, "It was long debated among the learned at what period of gestation the human embryo begins to be animated by the rational, spiritual soul, which elevates man above all other species of the animal creation and survives the body to live forever. The keenest mind among the ancient philosophers, Aristotle, had conjectured that the future child was endowed at conception with a principle of only vegetative life, which was exchanged after a few days for an animal soul, and was not succeeded by a rational soul till later; his followers said on the fortieth day for a male, and the eightieth for a female, child. The authority of his great name and the want of definite knowledge to the contrary caused this theory to be generally accepted up to recent times."

Johannah Haney says in The Abortion Debate, at page 24, 'In the fourth century A.D., Saint Augustine said, "Abortion could be viewd as murder only if the fetus was judged a 'fully formed' human. [Forty] days for males and 80 days for females. This meant that abortion was not murder but "a grave form of birth control."' Pope Innocent III said that abortion before quickening was still wrong, but a lesser sin. In the fifteenth century, St. Antonius, archbishop of Florence, said that abortion should be permitted in early pregnancy to save the life of the pregnant woman.

Wolfgang Müller says in The Criminalization of Abortion in the West that abortion was first defined as a 'crime' in the modern sense in the writings of twelfth-century teachers at the emerging schools of ecclesiastical (or canon) and Roman law. Gratian authored the oldest canonistic textbook, circa 1140, that the killing of a human foetus would constitute homicide and warrant identical punitive measures. Gratian said the humanity of unborn life was not the immediate result of conception but occurred when the embryo acquired limbs and human shape. At page 84, Muller says, "Gregory XIV fully restored Gratian's distinction between two phases of life in the maternal womb and varying penalties for each of them, ending a moment of apostolic rejection that lasted for two and a half years, from 1588 to 1591.

Merritt and Merritt say in When Does Human Life Begin?, at page 22, that "as late as 1261 CE, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter ruling on the case of a Carthusian monk who had arranged for his female lover to obtain an abortion. The pope decided, consistent with canon law, that the monk was not guilty of homicide if the fetus was not animated."

Biblical References

Norman L. Geisler gives biblical arguments in support of abortion in Christian Ethics at pages 136-7, but does not necessarily endorse them:

  • Genesis 2:7 declares that man “became a living being” only after God gave him life. Since breathing does not occur until birth, it is argued that the unborn are not human until they are born.

  • Job 34:14-15 says that if God “withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish.” Here again, since life is connected with breath, it is reasoned that there is no human life before breath.

  • Isaiah 57:16 refers to “the breath of man that I [God] have created.” This also seems to make the beginning of breath the point of the creation of a human being.

  • Ecclesiastes 6:3-5 declares that “a stillborn child” comes into the world “without meaning, it departs in darkness, . . . it never saw the sun nor knew anything.” This is taken to indicate that the unborn are no more than the dead, who also know nothing but lie in the darkness of the grave (9:10).

  • Matthew 26:24 records Jesus' statement about Judas that “it would have been better for him if he had not been born.” The implication drawn from this is that human life begins at birth. Otherwise, Jesus would have said it would have been better for him never to have been conceived.

  • Great answer. Some crazy stuff from Geisler there. I wonder how he handles "For the life of the flesh is in the blood". Lev 17:11
    – user3961
    Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 4:14
  • This answer challenges the unsupported Catholic section. In the absence of authoritative sources the said section ought to be amended or deleted.
    – user13992
    Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 22:34
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    As a proper scholar, Geisler provides views not necessarily his own, but covers both sides of various ethical arguments, including abortion. I cited him in giving biblical arguments used in support of abortion, which is what our question asked for. In doing so, I did not make a judgement on his position, and he does give some counter-arguments. If I read his book again more carefully, I would probably conclude that he is against abortion but, again, that is not relevant to the question. I have not attributed views to Geisler. Whether he is persuasive as an ethicist I leave to others. Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 0:44
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    Just curious: the foetus had not yet been animated, which took place 40 days after conception for a boy, 80 for a girl How was that ever a practical distinction? Even a good ultrasound tech can't figure it out until ~80 days! Pre-ultrasound.....? Unless the guidance b/t 40-80 days was to just abort it and make the decision about whether it was murder post-hoc? (!)
    – Susan
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 15:07

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