The of the United Kingdom does not talk of the morality of abortion. It simply states that certain cases of abortion are not to be considered criminal acts, thereby legitimizing abortion for millions of women who need it. Nevertheless, morality remains at the crux of the discussion on abortion. Even in the UK, anti-abortion groups continue to find ways to attack and change this legislation. Religious groups and secular groups have been in a game of tug-of-war for centuries, and neither has won completely. Religious groups continue to argue that abortion is immoral because the fetus is considered human life, and according to the Bible, all human life must be protected. On the other hand, secular groups assert that the life of the adult woman should be given precedence over the fetus, which according to them may not immediately be considered human life. As the world has now become a hodge-podge of different cultures and views, the question arises: how do we as a society decide on whether abortion is moral? And more importantly, how must countries handle this legally?
Abortion has been common practice since the ancient times. Abortion was in a precarious status even then, because although it was not a crime, it was considered impure and women who had had an abortion were banned from entering sacred places. However, as in modern times, secular philosophers, in particular Plato and , consider abortion as a legitimate option for birth control, provided that it is performed before the fetus reached sentience. Overall, abortion was a private matter in ancient Greek society. It was a decision made between the husband and wife, but mostly by the husband.
Christianity has a more rigid stand on abortion. Christianity considers abortion a form of murder, and thus a sin. The Bible does not explicitly mention abortion, however it emphasizes that all life should be valued:
“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” ()
Jesus Christ, Himself is proof, too, of the Christian stand that life begins at the moment of conception. The reincarnation of Jesus as the Son of God began with his conception, as announced by the Archangel Gabriel:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." ()
Christian societies, predominantly Christian countries, thus have stern anti-abortion laws and movements. For them, abortion is without a question, a form of grave immorality that automatically merits one a position in Hell. Despite this, though, Christianity does not have firm control over governments, as is evident in the United Kingdom. Although Christianity has not managed to win over the opinion of the general public or even of the people in power, they also have not lost footing. Most Christian countries, even those where abortion is legalized, have some kind of restrictions as to the circumstances in which abortion can be performed.
Islam, a religion that rivals Christianity in terms of volume of followers, seems to have more flexible views on abortion. Similar to Christianity, Islam places high value on the sanctity of life. The Qur’an forbids taking the life of anyone. However, in cases where the life of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy, abortion is allowed by Sharia. The same stance is reflected in instances where the abortion will prevent the child from further sufferings once it is born. These are applicable only in cases of physical and mental deformity, but not in cases of poverty. Another instance of the flexibility of Islam when it comes to the subject of abortion is in cases of rape or incest. In Egypt, abortion was allowed for women who were victims of rape. This is legal as long as the pregnancy is within four months. Other Muslim countries have their own versions of such a law. In such cases, Islam reasons that it is more immoral to allow a woman to be in danger.
As the previous discussions demonstrate, different societies each have their take on the morality of abortion. All of them seem to agree, as modern society also agrees, that all life is sacred, and must be protected. Still, disagreements on where life begins needs to be settled. Notwithstanding, abortion cannot be legalized or banned based on just one standard of morality. As exhibited by Islam, there are certain situations that are more immoral than abortion.
In the end, the morality of abortion depends on the consensus of the society. Although there are still religions that are more dominant than others, the gap between the numbers is no longer that wide. In addition, the secular population continues to grow. So, there can be no one religion or sector that can decide on the morality of abortion. Therefore, the best choice for the legislation is still to accommodate these varying stands on, but more importantly the needs for, abortion. In the aspect of legality, it is then important to keep in mind, and to implement, the separation of church and state in order to keep an objective mind—objectivity that encompasses all of a government’s constituents.