"It is not just a Catholic and Protestant Debate"(13).
Some Catholic statements, like the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, condemn the practice on grounds of the created order, which is thought to be structured in such a way that all sexual expression must be open to procreation. Other statements, notably various declarations issued from 1969 to 1989 by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in the U.S. appeal instead to the nature of the human person and the idea that life begins at conception. Abortion must be rejected, such statements argue, because it terminates a human life. Yet a third subgroup can be identified. Statements like the NCCB's well-known 1983 pastoral on peace and the Catholic bishops of France's 1979 declaration do not emphasize the doctrines of creation and human persons but argue against abortion by granting priority to the gospel.
In addition, in the Protestant Church, several statements -- for example, declarations by the Mennonite General Conference in 1977, the Church of the Brethren's in 1984 declaration and the Lutheran Free Church in Norway in1979 declaration -- have condemned abortion. However, these statements do not unequivocally reject abortion in all circumstances (Ellingson 14).
The differences among and between the religious groups shows another inconsistency with the abortion issue -- That is, the reasons if and when abortions are acceptable. As noted above, many believe that abortions can only be considered when the life of the mother is at stake. However, shades of grey enter into the picture when other reasons are offered as well. That is, a number of individuals may be pro-choice only in certain situations. For example, as noted above, most of those who are considered pro-life believe that abortion can be acceptable in the case of the mother's health. Similarly, there are other people who are against abortion in some instances, such as for a means of birth control, but see its relevance in other circumstances such as rape.
The idea that some exceptions are necessary for abortion is not new. Long before this procedure was widely permitted, state legislatures permitted abortion in a few unusual cases. The American Law Institute's 1959 model statute allowed abortion in only three cases: 1) if continuation of pregnancy "would gravely impair the physical or mental health of the mother"; if the doctor believed that "the child would be born with grave physical or mental defects," or 3) if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest (Francome 102).
A number of states, such as Maryland, Kansas and New Mexico, adopted these guidelines, often with little or no debate. Although most of these legislatures were pro-life, individual legislators recognized that permitting abortion in these three situations was not at all the same a voting for abortion on demand (Currie 45).
These views have a significant background as well. The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, for instance, rarely allows abortion, but does make an exception to "prevent the birth of a severely crippled, deformed or abnormal infant" (Hilgers et. al 401). Similarly, the Southern Baptist Church is one of the many religious institutions that recognizes a justification for permitting abortion in cases of rape and incest, without giving women carte blanche to have abortions whenever and for whatever reason they wish (Currie 45).
However, individuals such as Dr. Sloan question how one can be against abortion in some cases and not in others. "One fascinating dilemma in the abortion debate is the right to abortion in cases of rape or incest. If an embryo is a person and abortion is murder, and no one has the constitutional right to kill another person, how can it be OK to kill only at certain times -- as in rape and incest?" (109)
He continues: "It seems that people who say they are against abortion except in cases of rape or incest are basing their judgment on something other than whether or not abortion is killing. Clearly their feelings about abortion do not have to do with the 'innocent life' of the embryo or fetus, but with the mother" (109). The idea of forcing a female to carry the result of rape to term is horrible to most people. When pushed, they will say they are against abortion for "birth control," but not in these other situations of rape and incest, since the women did not plan on becoming pregnant.
Another question that confuses the abortion issue is the conflict of religion and science. Some people believe that the two are completely compatible and others somewhat to totally incompatible. As Bertrand Russell once said: "When two men of science disagree, they do not invoke the secular arm; they wait for further evidence to decide the issue, because, as men of science, they know that neither is infallible. But when two theologians differ, since there is no criteria to which either can appeal, there is nothing for it but mutual hatred and an open or covert appeal to force.
One thing commonly promoted as a strong point of science is the idea of "falsifiability." A genuinely scientific theory is supposed to be "falsifiable," or meaning that there exists some theoretical state of affairs that would prove the theory wrong. As long as this situation does not exist then it is possible to have some confidence that the theory is probably true. If it is found, then the theory should be disregarded.
Based on this idea, then, it would appear that all scientists would be in favor of abortion, since it is impossible to recognize the soul in the fetus at conception. However, prior to the controversy about stem-cell research, and especially since then, a number of pro-life scientists have made themselves heard. According to their website, the "Do No Harm" group of scientists state, "Obtaining stem cells from people without seriously harming people in the process can be ethical. However, obtaining stem cells from human embryos cannot be ethical because it necessarily involves destroying those embryos." According to this group, human embryonic stem cell research is unethical because it alienates human rights; the good ends (for example, health) do not justify the use of unethical means (that is, killing human beings); and scientifically, the international consensus of embryologists is that human beings begin at fertilization or cloning -- that is, when their genetic code is complete and operative; even before implantation, they are far more than a "bunch of cells" or merely "potential human beings."
One would think that the term "pro-life feminist" was an oxymoron, but that is not the case. On their website, a group calling themselves Feminists for Life proudly state that women such as Susan B. Anthony were pro-life. They report that, using the term "feminist" in this day and age is tricky. Many women who are independent, support equal opportunity and fight against the injustices of rape and abuse would consider themselves feminists. The definitions of the word "feminism" as defined by groups such as National Organization of Women, they say, reject women who do not fit into their specific and radical idea of feminism. They cite individuals such as Sue Purrington, executive director of NOW's Chicago chapter, who said the following regarding Feminists for Life: "Either they misunderstand the whole issue of feminism, or they are using it for purposes I disagree with. Their philosophy is irrelevant."
According to Pat Goltz, of another group, Feminists Against Abortion, "Each time a woman resorts to abortion...she allows some part of the male power structure to force her into a destructive act" (U.S. Congress 108). Such anti-abortion feminists are not arguing against feminist ideals or practices, but against the claims they make to support their view of abortion.
The task of feminist ethics on the topic of abortion is "to begin with a look at the role of abortion in women's lives." (Soifer 261). Feminist ethics view society as patriarchal, or in other words, man centered or man dominant. The majority of feminists feel that the ethics presently used to evaluate issues such as abortion are based on principles generated out of male interests and are unable to recognize female needs and experiences (Kymlicka 238). The traditional feminist approach towards abortion can thus be summarized as a focus on the consequences of pregnancy for women in all areas of their lives. The pregnant woman is the subject of principal concern in abortion decisions. These feminist groups resent the fact that any individuals who call themselves by this term are lumped into a certain ideology or philosophy of life. They stress that feminists, just as any other group of people, can also have different points-of-view.
The pro-life feminists reject the claim that the social situation of women justifies the view that individual females must be the only persons to determine whether their pregnancies should end or continue. This claim, they state, pays no attention to the responsibility of men over fetuses. They also reject the claim that the personhood…