Over a third of all pregnancies, across the world, are unplanned. The discovery of an unplanned pregnancy affects all women differently. Each woman’s circumstances are unique and there are sometimes reasons why she may not feel able to continue with a pregnancy. Although some religions oppose abortion under all circumstances, many religions recognise the different factors that influence a woman’s decision on how to proceed with a pregnancy and teach that there are some instances in which abortion is acceptable.
Most religions agree that abortion is a last resort; they teach that the decision to have an abortion is a serious one and must not be taken lightly. Not all religions define a particular moment when life begins but some, like Buddhism, Sikhism and Catholicism, teach that life begins at fertilisation – the moment that sperm meets egg. The Roman Catholic Church says that the fertilised egg is a sacred life, with as many rights as a baby, child or adult, and forbids abortion. Amongst Buddhists and Sikhs there is a variety of opinions on the morality of abortion.
Medical science tells us that a proportion of fertilised eggs do not become implanted in the woman’s womb and that a large proportion of those that do (up to 25%) are lost naturally to miscarriage. This loss of ‘life’ is often not acknowledged in any formalised religious ritual – such as a funeral – and in many cases the woman might not even know that she was pregnant or that she has miscarried. There is not always a connection between a country’s main religion and its abortion laws.
Most Latin American countries prohibit or severely restrict abortion, which is in keeping with Roman Catholic teaching. India, which has a majority Hindu population, has very liberal abortion laws that do not reflect mainstream Hindu teaching on abortion. Egypt and Iran completely prohibit abortion despite the exception that Islam makes to preserve women’s life or health. The official teaching of a religion is not always reflected in the way its members actually live their lives.
Many people feel that they must make decisions based on their own conscience and circumstances, even when they do not fit in with the official teachings of their religion or their own faith. Abortion is a good example of this as it takes place in every culture and every country in the world, often in opposition to the community’s culture, religion or law. Statistics show that people of all religions have abortions and that the number of abortions that take place do not relate to the law or religion of the country. Four million abortions a ear take place in Latin America and 6,000 Irish women travel to Britain each year for abortions because it is prohibited in those countries by law and religion. 26% of the world’s population live in countries where abortion is prohibited, but many of those countries have a high abortion rate. An estimated 70,000 women die each year through illegal abortions, demonstrating that prohibiting abortion does not prevent it from happening, but makes it unsafe by removing access to doctors and sanitary medical facilities