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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 10. 1971

Religion and Abortion

Religion and Abortion.

Among Western religious bodies, opinions and rulings on abortion vary widely not only among the various sects of Judaism and Christianity but inside many of the sects also. It is important consider Judaism first because it is from this religion that Christianity sprang.

Orthodox Judaism provides that abortion may be performed only in order to save the life of the woman, up to and including the birth process itself Conservative and Reform Judaism are more flexible on the matter, as on most issues, with an example of a particularly liberal view being that of Rabbi Israel Margolies of New York who, speaking on abortion, insists that "It is a man and woman who must decide whether or not they wish their union to lead to the birth of a child, not the church or synagogue and certainly not the state".

Judaism has never been concerned with the concept of the soul and the moment of its inception in the fetus; nor does it treat the fetus as a human entity apart from its mother. If the infant dies before thirty days, no funeral service is held, no memorial prayer for the dead need be recited, for the infant is not considered to have lived at all Yet this theology has not corrupted the sense of the value of life. Few religions place more importance upon the value of the individual and his or her responsibilities; few religions have such a record of enduring family life.

The Roman Catholic position on abortion is important far beyond that church's representation in a population as Protestant attitudes—sometimes examined and sometimes taken for granted—are of course rooted in it The Catholic stand has varied through that churcn's history. Although early Christian dogma opposed abortion, the Roman abortion laws remained unchanged even after Christianity became officially accepted in 313 AD. A few theologians condemned all abortion on the grounds that the soul was infused at conception: but most held Aristotle's view that there were three stages of development, the vegetable soul, the animal soul, and the rational soul An abortion became murder only after the soul had become "rational" or "animated". This point; was set at 40 days after conception for a male and 80 to 90 days tor a female, presumably on the principle of female inferiority It was never explained by these dwellers in ivory towers; however, how the fetal sex was to be determined in advance.

In 1588 Pope [unclear: Sixtus] V ruled that the old 40 and 80 day law was abolished and all abortions were murder, to be punished by excommunication. But three years later in 1591, Pope Gregory XIV revoked all the penalties except those for an abortion after forty days, partly because the law had been so widely ignored. Abortions before forty days were therefore not considered grave sins up until 1869 when Plus IX decided that all abortion would be punished as murder. Spokesmen who claim that the Roman Catholic, or Christian, position, has been consistent, must therefore be grossly misinformed.

There are Roman Catholic theologians however, who consider that morals cannot and should not be legislated; in some countries (though notable not those which are predominantly Catholic) this has been evident in Roman Catholic abstentions in government, in matters such as divorce and birth control legislation Some Roman Catholic spokesmen in the United States. Canada and Europe specifically include abortion legislation in this argument.

Catholics still maintain that as the time of "infusion of a soul" cannot be determined it should be presumed to take place at the "moment of conception", to be on the sale side. (What happens in the case of identical twins, when a fertilized ovum splits in half, has not to my knowledge, been theologically examined Perhaps it would turn out that identical twins, poor things, are only half souled.)

Anglican churches throughout the world vary in opinion on abortion, in 1967, in a dramatic reversal of his previous position, the Archbishop of Canterbury voted for the present U. K. law The church in that country remains somewhat divided upon the question of abortion but Dr. W. R. Matthews. Dean of St Paul's, has said "l distrust the method of deducing moral laws from theological premises We should never forget that one of the duties which has been deduced from theology by most of the churches is that of intolerance and the persecution of heretics. I do not find that Jesus deduced his ethical teaching from a theological system. He based it on his belief in God as Father. The Christian ethic springs from the one central conviction that God is love ". A fine clear statement, but the more usual attitudes of churchmen have given rise to such comments as that of Sir L. E. Jones: 'There seems to be something about the human reproductive system which throws the ecclesiastical mind off its balance". I would add, also, legal and political minds.

Before the change in the Canadian abortion laws, representatives of the Anglican Church of Canada, and of the United Church (a union of Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Canada) not only insisted that health should be included as a ground for termination of pregnancy but required that "health" should be interpreted in the broadest sense, that of the World Health Organization; "A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Their recommendations were not however specifically followed. Some Anglican and Presbyterian spokesmen in New Zealand have been as rigid and harsh in their anti-abortion stance as any Roman Catholic. In general, Protestant clergymen who favour reforming or repealing the present abortion laws seem disturbingly unwilling to stand up and be counted. Overly cautious and defensive, they seem to be unresponsive to the great need for the open debate and controversy that a changing theology of abortion requires.

Drawing of a uterus