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Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy prior to labor and delivery, resulting in the death of the embryo or fœtus. Abortions can be divided into 'spontaneous' (also known as miscarriage or stillbirth) or 'induced' (by surgical or chemical means). In common speech, however, the term "abortion" almost always refers to induced abortion. Abortion during the first two trimesters was all-but-legalised nationwide in the United States by their Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In most Western European countries, abortion is also legal. Abortion is widely practiced in all Australian states, although in some it remains technically illegal; government policy is to only enforce the prohibition in cases where standard practices are not adhered to.

Many people (e.g., feminists and liberals) term themselves "pro-choice," meaning that they consider abortion to be a private decision that is the pregnant woman's right to make. Some go so far as to assert that it is a fundamental human right, and claim that those who oppose it are misogynistic.


Methods of abortion

  • Medical abortions are used only in the first trimester and are induced abortions performed through medical abortifacients.
  • Vacuum aspiration is performed within the first 12 weeks, and consists of using a vacuum to suck out the fetus and any other contents of the uterus.
  • Dilation and evacuation abortion consists of dismembering the fetus with forceps and then using vacuum aspiration to empty the uterus. It is used in the second trimester.
  • Intact dilation and extraction or "partial birth abortion" consists of delivering the baby backwards up to the neck, and then sucking out its brain. The dead baby is then delivered.

Dangers of abortion

Apart from the fatal consequences for the baby, abortions entail a risk of complications and even death to the mother. The most common complication is infection, which can occur once the womb is evacuated or from a wound within the womb infected by germs arriving from the vagina.[1] Other complications include excessive blood loss, perforation of the uterus, and rarely, infertility.[2] The death rate to the mother as a consequence legal induced abortion is less than 1 per 100,000 abortions.[3]

For comparison, the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion, and pregnancy-related complications are also more common with childbirth than with abortion.[4][5]

Genetics and embryology

Roughly speaking, a human being is made up of several million million cells, each of which carries an identical set of 46 chromosomes which are unique to that individual. There are, however, many important exceptions to this rule.

To begin with, while most of the cell lines in an adult will eventually perish with the death of the individual, germ cells give rise through meiosis to gametes (sperm and egg cells). A sperm from one individual and an egg from another may fuse to form a zygote (fertilized egg), which can develop into a new adult. There are 223 - over 8 million - ways that 23 pairs of chromosomes can be simply split during the formation of a gamete, and chromosomal crossover events increase this number dramatically. As a result, every gamete produced has a unique set of 23 chromosomes, which are derived from but not identical to the chromosomes of the individual from which they are formed. At puberty a woman has about 300,000 immature eggs, and about 400 mature eggs are released over a woman's reproductive life. A man will produce many more gametes (sperm), close to 1012 in his lifetime, but the number of possible combinations is still so great that no two will be genetically identical. The genetic information shared by identical twins is initially identical, although differences can arise due to mutations and epigenetic factors. In any case, as important as genetic factors are, most characteristics of adults are more strongly influenced by the environment.[Fact?]

Between meiosis and fertilization, cell lines have half as many chromosomes, that is, 23. Occasionally meiosis produces either more or less than 23 chromosomes in the gamete. In Down syndrome, for example, which affects 0.1% of the population, one gamete has two copies of chromosome 21. The resulting zygote has three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two, for a total of 47 chromosomes. While fertility is reduced, especially in men, people with Down syndrome can have children, about half of which will also have Down syndrome. A very few percent of embryos have three complete sets of chromosomes, for a total of 69, but most such "triploid" individuals don't survive to birth, and if they do, usually live no more than a few days or weeks.[6][note 1]

After fertilization, the zygote divides repeatedly to form a morula, but the cells remain undifferentiated and capable of producing any cells of the human body (totipotent). By about 5 days after fertilization the first differentiation takes place, between the cells that will form the body and those that will form the placenta. This stage of development is known as a blastocyst. Due to the lack of differentiation, the morula or blastocyst can be divided without loss of totipotency (the ability to become any cell type in the body) and each part will develop into a complete individual. When this happens, the two resulting individuals are identical twins (or triplets, quadruplets, etc.).

The two parts can also rejoin and continue developing as a single individual. More interesting is when two separate embryos in the same pregnancy, which would normally develop into fraternal twins, fuse into a single embryo. The resulting individual is known as a chimera.[8][9] The fusing of fertilized eggs to form a human chimera is known to have happened in vitro in the process of in vitro fertilization.[10]

The relevance for abortion is, as reported in New Scientist[11] about the conclusions of the South Dakota Task Force on Abortion:

The task force finds that the new recombinant DNA technologies indisputably prove that the unborn child is a whole human being from the moment of fertilization, that all abortions terminate the life of a human being, and that the unborn child is a separate human patient under the care of modern medicine.[12]

Biblical view on abortion

Although abortion was known in various ancient cultures,[13] the Bible does not directly refer to the practice. There are, however, two passages that are often cited as relevant. One is Numbers 5:18, which describes the procedure to be followed if a man—without proof—suspects his wife of being unfaithful. It involves giving the woman "bitter water that brings a curse", one effect of which may be a miscarriage. The other is Exodus 21:22–23, which describes compensation for miscarriage as the unintentional result of violence. The death of the foetus is not treated as homicide carrying the death penalty, as the death of the mother would be, but only requires monetary compensation.

Whatever the significance of these passages, the Bible teaches that the unborn child is a person. "...Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her..."[14] When Mary went to visit Elizabeth in the hill country, the "fetal tissue" who would become John the Baptist lept for joy within her womb.[15] From these passages it is evident that an unborn child is a person at least by the time it is able to move within the womb. (See Quickening, below.)

The Bible is less clear on the question of exactly when an embryo becomes a person, although the belief is widely and strongly held among Christians that this occurs at the moment of fertilization or, in the case of twins, from the moment they are separated.[note 2] One of the few passages that refers to conception (The Hebrew word used is yacham, literally "to be hot".) is Psalm 51:5. It is usually translated as, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me." One interpretation of this passage is that reflected in the translation of the New International Version: "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." which would suggest King David saw himself as being himself from when he was conceived. Other interpretations suggest that the sin referred to is that of the mother or of the world into which David came.

Another set of passages that could throw light on the question are those employing the Hebrew term nephesh, which refers to a ‘living being’ or ‘soul’.[16] nephesh is distinguished biologically by having breath and blood, and cognitively by having emotions, feelings, and consciousness. The heart begins to beat in the fourth week after fertilization, and a rudimentary form of blood begins to flow in the following week. The lungs begin to form in the sixth week, but a developing human fetus does not breath until it is born. The cognitive development of the fetus is much more difficult to determine, but the point at which brain waves can be measured on an EEG is well into the second half of pregnancy.

In light of the ambiguity of the Biblical passages, some Christians argue that the safe option is to assume the earliest plausible time, namely at conception. Saying that it is okay to kill the unborn child because we do not know whether it is already human or not has been likened to "an explosives engineer [who] is criminally liable if he blows up a building, not knowing whether there are any people inside".[17][note 3]


Quickening, the moment in pregnancy when the pregnant woman starts to feel fetal movements in the uterus, typically occurs between 15 and 20 weeks. Historically, quickening has often been used to define the beginning of life, or the point at which abortion becomes manslaughter. British legal scholar William Blackstone explained the subject of quickening in the eighteenth century, relative to feticide and abortion thus:[18]

Life… begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother's womb. For if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion, or otherwise, killeth it in her womb; or if any one beat her, whereby the child dieth in her body, and she is delivered of a dead child; this, though not murder, was by the ancient law homicide or manslaughter. But at present it is not looked upon in quite so atrocious a light, though it remains a very heinous misdemeanor.

Church positions on Abortion

  • American Baptist Church Opposes abortion "as a means of avoiding responsibility for conception, as a primary means of birth control, [and/or] without regard for the far-reaching consequences of the act." However, also recognizes that its congregation is split on the issue of legalized abortion.[19]
  • Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America: "The strong Christian presumption is to preserve and protect life," the statement says. "Abortion ought to be an option only of last resort. Therefore, as a church we seek to reduce the need to turn to abortion. ...We also deplore the circumstances that lead a woman to consider abortion as the best option available to her." A compassionate community, praying and standing with those in struggle, is called neither to judge nor justify but to support people making difficult moral decisions.[20]
  • Presbyterian Church, USA: Abortion should be reserved for conditions of last resort. Emphasis should be placed on programs (like adoption, and funding medical care, and post birth support for new families) that reduce the need for abortions. Ministerial counseling should never be removed from a mother who is frightened by an unwanted pregnancy, or has made a choice the individual congregation disagrees with.[21]
  • Roman Catholic Church: Abortion is considered a mortal sin, and any Catholics who procure or participate in the procuring of a non-life-saving abortion are automatically excommunicated. [22]
  • Southern Baptist Convention: No official statement yet found, but they are clearly against abortion in all situations other than those that endanger the life (not health) of the mother. Religious ethics of Abortion.
  • United Methodist Church: "In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection."[23]
  • Church of England: Strongly opposes abortion, because "[a]ll human life, including life developing in the womb, is created by God in his own image and is, therefore, to be nurtured, supported and protected." However, it also recognizes that there can be "strictly limited" conditions "under which [abortion] may be morally preferable to any available alternative" and that "[e]very possible support" needs to be given to women who are pregnant in difficult circumstances. Generally believes that the number of abortions performed in the United Kingdom is "unacceptably high." [24]

Further reading


  1. Reardon, Dr. David C, Aftereffects of Abortion. Elliot Institute, After Abortion. 1990.
  2. Reardon, Dr. David C, List of Major Physical Sequelae Related to Abortion. Elliot Institute, After Abortion. 1997.
  3. Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2009
  4. Raymond EG, Grimes DA. The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United States. Obstet Gynecol. 2012 Feb;119(2 Pt 1):215-9.
  5. Van Lerberghe, Safe Motherhood Strategies: A Review of the Evidence
  6. Kimberly Holland, Triploidy, Healthline, Tue. 18th June, 2013Tue. June 18th, 2013.
  7. Triploidy, Unique: Rare Chromosome Disorder Support Group, Wed. 20th April, 2005Wed. April 20th, 2005.
  8. The Stranger Within. New Scientist vol 180 issue 2421 - 15 November 2003, page 34.
  9. Yu, et al. Disputed Maternity Leading to Identification of Tetragametic Chimerism. N Engl J Med 2002; 346:1545-1552
  10. University of Edinburgh, UK. 1998. The New England Journal of Medicine, vol 338, p 166. Cited in The Stranger Within. New Scientist vol 180 issue 2421 - 15 November 2003, page 34.
  11. Abortion: Science, politics and morality collide
  12. New Scientist 189(2543):8–9, 18 March 2006, quoted in Cosner, 2007
  13. Pat Fox in Abortion in the Ancient and Premodern World: A History of Traditional Methods writes, "Abortion was recorded in 1550 B.C.E. in Egypt, recorded in what is called the Ebers Papyrus and in ancient China about 500 B.C.E. as well." and cites references for each.
  14. Genesis 25:21,22
  15. Luke 1:44
  16. David Pitman, Nephesh Chayyāh: A matter of life … and non-life, Tue. 8th April, 2014Tue. April 8th, 2014.
  17. Sarfati, Jonathan and Cosner, Lita, Refuting contrived pro-abortion arguments: the ‘famous violinist’ of Judith Jarvis Thomson, Sat. 28th June, 2008Sat. June 28th, 2008.
  18. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Amendment IX, Document 1


  1. The record is 10½ months.[7]
  2. The question of what happens when twin embryos are reunited or fraternal embryos form a chimera has seldom been discussed, perhaps because it is of little practical interest, despite the philosophical implications.
  3. The question of what happens when twin embryos are reunited or fraternal embryos form a chimera has seldom been discussed, perhaps because it is of little practical interest, despite the philosophical implications.
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