“Whoever kills a soul it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.“
All three Abrahamic faiths share the idea that life is sacred and that a person’s life should not be taken. However, the question arises; does terminating a pregnancy constitute murder? Furthermore, with the recent advancement in technology and women’s rights, to have an abortion has become more feasible. Yet, therein lies the conflict between the preservation of life and the choice and autonomy of a woman – when does one precede the other?
Broadly speaking, Catholics take the opinion that the fertilised egg is a human individual right from the moment of fertilisation, and that it should be treated with the same respect and dignity as any other human. Any intervention which may potentially cause harm to the embryo is seen as a violation of the embryo’s rights. Many Pastors have established that this is apparent from verses within the Bible, in particular when King David spoke of his sinful nature existing from conception: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me“.
Christians believe that God has a concern for those who are weak or vulnerable. For instance, Christians are told to “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute…“ It is widely understood that this care extends to the unborn child. The proposition that the unborn child is valuable and living is described further. The punishment for harming a pregnant woman “so that her children come out” is “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand…“ Robert Jeffery, Pastor of Walthamstow Baptist Church, explained that the expression ‘life for life’ is a clear indication that the unborn child is alive. However, he clarified that the Old Testament law applied directly to Old Testament Israel and applies in very different ways to Christians today.
Pastor Jeffery further argues that, whilst the life of the unborn child has value and dignity, so too does the life of the mother. Therefore, if a pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, she may be justified in having an abortion. However, he explains that this is very rare and often not clear-cut. If a mother finds that she has cancer after she finds out she is pregnant, chemotherapy would not be an option if the mother does not want an abortion. The life of the unborn child is precious, and the mother “belongs to God and will be with Jesus in heaven forever if she dies.“ It is important to note that some Christians believe abortion is acceptable in the case of rape, but many believe that the crime of one human (the rapist) should not be allowed to bring about another tragedy (the death of the unborn child).
In essence, mothers and fathers do have a responsibility to care for their children, and terminating a pregnancy can only be justified if there is concrete evidence to suggest that the unborn child poses detriment to the health of the mother. In cases other than this, abortion is not permitted as it is considered murder of an innocent human being. However, the Bible teaches that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of those who sincerely place their faith and trust in him. Thus abortion is a sin, but every sin is forgiven for those who wholeheartedly become Christians.
Every judgement made in a Jewish individual’s life must be centred on the Jewish law, Halacha. Therefore, in order to appreciate when abortion is required, permitted or forbidden in Judaism, one must first study the Halacha which governs the foetus.
Dr. Daniel Eisenberg, director of cardiology at Providence St. Joseph Medical Centre in Los Angeles, explained that every woman’s case with regards to abortion is unique, and the parameters determining the permissibility of abortion within Halacha are subtle and complex. Nonetheless, while it is crucial that a competent Halachic authority be sought with each case, the baseline for when an abortion is permitted in Judaism lies when the mother’s life is directly threatened due to the developing foetus.
This is further explained by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a renowned Jewish philosopher in Israel. In Judaism, it is forbidden to intentionally injure oneself, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord“. Steinsaltz argues that as the foetus is an element of the mother’s body, by aborting it the mother will be destroying her own body, therefore going against the Halacha. He believes that a situation which would permit her to “cut” her foetus is akin to a situation which would permit her to cut a finger; solely if there are compelling reasons as to how dangerous it would be for her life if she did not do so. Additionally, Jewish law states that God made man in his own image, which further explicates that the human body does not belong to man for him to do with as he pleases.
However, Judaism appreciates that occasions may arise when the pregnancy places the mother’s life in severe danger. In cases such as these, abortion is permitted. In fact, Judaism insists that the foetus must be aborted in such circumstances, since preserving the life of the mother is much more important than preserving the life of an unborn child.
In conclusion, as long as there are suitable reasons as approved by a Rabbi experienced in this field, abortion is not considered a severe form of murder. Extensive studies have been undertaken by many Jewish scholars on passages in the Old Testament which discuss murder and the penalties for it. The monetary sanctions which are placed upon those who strike a pregnant woman causing a miscarriage, that is, the murder of a foetus, are specified. Some Rabbis explain that the fact that the Torah requires a monetary recompense for causing a miscarriage only signifies that abortion, although a type of murder, is not a capital crime, demonstrating that one should not be executed for performing an abortion. However, it is sinful for one to undergo an abortion merely due to irresponsible acts as, breaking God’s command to populate the world, intentionally wounding oneself or destroying a potential being is stringently forbidden. Judaism has supreme concern for the sanctity and preservation of human life, and terminating a pregnancy cannot occur without due consideration.
The Islamic ruling on abortion stems predominantly from the Islamic law, the Sharīʿah. Within the Sharīʿah, rulings on abortion, as with all Islamic rulings, are always implemented on a case by case basis. This is done according to a rigorous, highly-regulated system of analysing the benefits and harms resulting from the implementation of such a ruling. This was, in fact, one of the unique characteristics of Islamic jurisprudence when it began 1,400 years ago.
With regards to abortion, the understanding held by the majority of scholars revolve around the saying of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) regarding the period of time when the soul is breathed into the foetus, at 120 days after conception. Islamic rulings concerning the termination of a pregnancy maintain that it is not permissible regardless of whether the soul has been breathed into the foetus or not. But after the soul has been breathed into it the prohibition is more emphatic. If a woman is pregnant, the pregnancy must be protected, and it is unlawful for the mother to harm this pregnancy or to put any kind of pressure on it, because it is a trust that God has placed in her womb with rights. It is, thus, impermissible to mistreat, harm or destroy it. However, as mentioned earlier, these general rulings on abortion are altered in accordance to the situation of the mother. As a result, if there is a realistic physical or psychological danger to the mother, a Muslim jurist will take these factors into account when advising upon the particular ruling to be implemented in a case. It may be that a pregnancy is terminated early on to avoid a greater harm which is certain to occur.
If the mother fears for the financial repercussions and the distress which may befall her by keeping the child, she is told not to terminate her pregnancy and have faith that God will take care of her child and herself. As God says in The Holy Qur’ān; “Kill not your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin.“
The one who is forced to do something is not guilty of sin, as God says in the Holy Qur’an: “…except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is at rest with Faith“. Thus the Islamic ruling for the woman who was raped is that she is not guilty of any sin, because she was forced into it. This standpoint is further clarified by the saying of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam): “God has forgiven for my people for their mistakes, what they forget and what they are forced to do“.
Abortion is generally prohibited in Islām, however the Sharīʿah recognises the distress a woman wishing to terminate her pregnancy will go through if she is forced to keep the child. She will therefore be rewarded for bearing this calamity with patience. God says in the Holy Qur’an: “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, God is with the patient“. The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) further explains this, “No stress or exhaustion befalls the Muslim, nor worry or distress, even a thorn which pricks him, but God will expiate for his sins because of that“.
Hence, it is a grave sin in Islām to choose to terminate a pregnancy for any reason other than for fear of great harm to the life of the mother. However, Islām looks to alleviating distress and hardship from every individual, and God encourages the mother to keep her child as He will provide for her and her children, and expiate her sins if she endures her difficulty with patience. As indeed “with [her] hardship will be ease“.
To conclude, terminating a pregnancy does not constitute murder if the mother’s life is threatened due to the developing foetus. The life of the mother always precedes that of the unborn child’s. However, this does not mean to say that a child who is not yet born is not living. In Islām and Christianity, the child is very much alive from the early stages of pregnancy. To have an abortion for any reason other than for the protection of the mother’s life is unacceptable, as one is irrationally and unjustly taking the life of another. In Judaism, the mother will be self-harming if she chooses to terminate the pregnancy other than for the fact that her life will be harmed. With regards to the preservation of life and the choice and autonomy of a woman, it is unanimously agreed that the life of an individual (in this case the life of the foetus) at all times precedes the mere ‘right’ of another. This is not only emphasised within religion, but also within society. The life of a human being always weighs heavier than the right of a human being.
“We have indeed created man in the best of shape. Then we revert him to the lowest of the low. Except for those who believe and do good deeds. Then they will have a reward without cessation“.
 Al-Qur’ān, 5:32 and Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
 Psalm 51:5
 Leviticus 19:14
 Exodus 21:22-25
 Luke 23:43
 1 Timothy 5:8, The New Testament
 Leviticus 19:28
 Genesis 1:27
 Exodus 21:22-25
 Al-Qur’ān, 6:151
 Al-Qur’ān, 16:106
 Sunan Ibn Mājah 2043
 Al-Qur’ān, 2:153
 Bukhārī 545
 Al-Qur’ān, 94:5
 Al-Qur’ān, 95:4-6
Khadeejah completed her A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths, and is embarking on an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences. She is an avid charity volunteer, and enjoys various sports during her spare time. Currently she is completing her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.