Protestant Christians and Abortion

Abortion has pitted religious conservatives against religious liberals within the mainline Protestant denominations
  • Most Christians acknowledge that the foetus is human.
  • The conflict is whether or not this human has a 'right-to-life', that takes precedence over the 'right' of the mother to abortion.
  • Most Protestant denominations have taken a formal position supporting a woman's right to have an abortion, under a variety of conditions.
  • Many pastors can be reluctant to make definitive statements and risk upsetting members of their church.
  • Most major denominations have their own unofficial pro-life organisations.
Protestant Christians can basically be divided into two groups, Conservative and Liberal, who share certain beliefs.

They disagree on the centrality of the Bible as the literal word of God and various social issues, mainly abortion and the appointment of actively homosexual pastors.

Conservative Protestants (both fundamentalists and evangelical) regard the Bible as the unchanging word of God, the guidance for how one should live and worship. Since the 1970s, there has been a growing consensus that abortion has to be actively opposed.

Liberal Christianity largely regards life as a spiritual journey of discovery. The Bible is the chronicle of early Christianity, speaking to the people of that era, but is increasingly irrelevant to the 21st century. God is to be found in the world around us. Abortion is generally viewed as a woman's right.

The conflict is over whether or not this human has a 'right-to-life', that takes precedence over the 'right' of the mother to abortion.
Conflict and Divisions
Abortion has pitted religious conservatives against religious liberals within the mainline Protestant denominations: Anglican, Uniting, Methodist and Presbyterian. Most Christians, whether or not they support the 'right' to abortion, acknowledge that the foetus is human. The area of conflict is whether or not this human has a 'right-to-life', that takes precedence over the 'right' of the mother to abortion.

Christian groups on both sides of the controversy have looked to the Bible to support their position, or alternatively, to discredit their opposition. According to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, there are several problems with use of scripture to oppose abortion. The quote from Psalm 139, for example, is out of context.

"To use a poetic reference such as that in the Psalm as if it were a literal description of the beginning of personhood is to confuse poetry with a factual explanation of stages of gestation."

Pioneering abortion rights activists stigmatised their opponents as being the Catholic clergy. As conservative Christians joined the Catholics in publically condemning abortion, they were labelled "the religious right."

Others have had an abortion themselves, or are close to someone who has had one, and feel they must justify or affirm the decision.
Christians who favour access to abortion usually do so because they are concerned with such issues as the 'life of the mother', or the 'hard cases' of rape and incest. Others have had an abortion themselves, or are close to someone who has had one, and feel they must justify or affirm the decision.

Most mainline Protestant denominations have taken a formal position supporting a woman's right to have an abortion, under a variety of conditions.

Many pastors are aware of women and men in their congregations who have been involved with abortion. Because of the emotional intensity and divisiveness of the issue, pastors can be reluctant to make definitive statements and risk upsetting members of their church.

In the USA, from 1979 to 2003, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and United Church of Christ -- generally followed their church's teaching, increasing their abortion-rights votes by 13 percentage points, from 62 percent to 75 percent.

The Protestant religious bodies which support the right to abortion, at least in some circumstances, include: Quakers (American Friends Service Committee); Lutheran Church in America; Presbyterian Church; Reorganized LDS; Unitarian Universalist; United Church of Christ; United Methodist Church; the Episcopal Church; the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Moravian Church in America.

Most oppose legislation to restrict abortions on the grounds that laws do not address the causes of the problem of unwanted pregnancy.
Although Protestant churches have some differences of opinion about circumstances under which abortion is an allowable option, most agree on one point: they oppose legislation to restrict abortions on the grounds that laws do not address the causes of the problem of unwanted pregnancy.

The Religious Conservative Position
In 1985, the National Pro-Life Religious Council (NPRC) was formed in the USA, of pro-life leaders representing several major Christian denominations. Their original goal was to counter the activities of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR).

Although most major denominations have their own unofficial pro-life organisations, NPRC enables leaders of the different denominations to present a united front in the fight against abortion.

Evangelical Christians comprise the most active pro-life Protestants.
Evangelical Christians comprise the most active pro-life Protestants. They were mobilised across the U.S. under the banner of Rev Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" in the early 1980s.

Randall Terry, organiser of Operation Rescue, and an evangelical Christian, played a major role in rallying Protestants to actively support the anti-abortion movement.