Goffs School Religious Studies

Topic 3 – Religion and Early Life

Key words and terms

  • The miracle of life: the idea that life is wonderful, amazing and/or special.
  • Children as a blessing: the idea that God has favoured a couple with a child. The same idea is sometimes referred to ‘children are a gift’ from God.
  • Sanctity of life: life is sacred because it is God-given.
  • Conception: when sperm meets the egg.
  • Viable: the point at which a foetus could survive if it were born.
  • Quality of life: a measure of fulfilment, which includes both physical and mental well-being.
  • Abortion: the deliberate termination (ending) of a pregnancy, usually before the foetus is 24 weeks and viable. The full phrase is procured abortion.
  • Miscarriage: when the women’s body aborts the foetus naturally.
  • Adoption: the legal process where a person (child) is taken (adopted) into a family as a son or daughter.
  • Fostering: the taking of a child from a different family in a family home and brining them up with the rest of the new family.

The Miracle of Life

  • Christians see all life as sacred (Sanctity of Life) so all new born babies are considered a blessing and a gift.
  • God chooses to create and destroy life and a baby is part of God’s creation and plan. Life is God-given and holy.
  • Buddhists see all sentient beings as important. This includes new life.
  • There is a teaching in Tibetan Buddhism that illustrates the importance of human life. A human life is the best type of life, but it only happens after millions of rebirths. It is like a blind turtle in an ocean that only comes to the surface every 100 years putting his head through a ring floating on the surface. The chances are so small.

When does life begin?

  • Christians believe life begins at conception. This is when the sperm fertilises the egg.
  • At conception the fertilised egg gains a soul. This is called ‘ensoulment’ and is a key Christian belief.
  • A child’s DNA is fixed a conception.
  • During the third week of pregnancy the nervous system and spinal column starts developing.
  • The heart starts beating in the fourth week of pregnancy.
  • At roughly 22 – 24 weeks the foetus becomes viable, which means it may survive outside the womb. It is very rare for a child to survive at less than 22 weeks after conception or under 500g.
  • To destroy the embryo or foetus at any stage goes against the Christian teaching of “Thou shall not kill” (Bible).
  • It is also against the First Buddhist Precept of abstain (avoid) causing harm to living things.
  • Some Buddhists may say, however, that the five skandas (or aggregates) are not complete before 22 weeks and the baby has no consciousness or mind.
  • Non-religious people may argue that the ‘child’ is not an individual until separate from the mother. Until then the embryo or foetus is part of the mother.

Quality of Life

  • The quality of life refers to the kind of life someone leads. In this case, a baby or child’s quality of life. It can mean both the mental and physical well-being of the child as well as the family and social circumstances into which it is born.
  • Some parents may worry about the quality of life of their child if:
  • It is born with a severe disability, mental or physical, that causes suffering and/or pain. Opponents of this view often refer to the Paralympics as an example of people living a good quality of life whilst being disabled.
  • It is an unwanted child. In some cases, not the majority, an unplanned pregnancy may lead to the baby being resented by the mother or unloved. The father may also be disinterested. Some argue that the child will suffer mentally. Also, a pregnancy my result from rape, which could lead to the child being unloved or cared for.
  • It will cause the family and existing children to live in poverty. If there are low incomes or it is a large family, all may suffer as a result of an extra mouth to feed.


  • Abortion became legal in the UK in 1967 (except for Northern Ireland). Before then many abortions were carried out illegally by unqualified people. These were called backstreet abortions.
  • Under the 1967 Abortion Act and 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, abortion is permitted if two doctors agree that the follow applies:
  1. The women might die.
  1. There is a risk that the baby will have a severe physical or mental disability.
  1. There is a risk to the women’s mental or physical health.
  1. There is a risk to the physical or mental health of her existing children.
  • Abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks. Some people, especially religious believers, are uneasy with this.
  • Most abortions are carried out early on the basis of protecting the mother’s mental health.
  • If there are multiple births (from IVF in particular) some embryos/foetuses may be aborted.
  • The rights of the father are not considered in British law.

Abortion Rights

  • The unborn child is protected by abortion laws, but this cannot prevent its termination if two doctors decide that one of the four criteria above are met.
  • Some argue that the child should have rights as it is a living thing, despite being dependent on the mother. Since it cannot speak for itself, it is in need of protection.
  • Some argue that the mother should have rights over the child in her womb. After all, it is still her body and her life. Her health and freedom are also important and will be affected by a child. She should have the final say.
  • Some people suggest that the women should have a right to safety. Childbirth can be dangerous for some women and abortion may be safer. Also, failure to provide a legal abortion may result in a backstreet abortion, which can be very dangerous.
  • Some argue that there should be equality of opportunity. This suggests women should (or must) have equal opportunities in education, employment and their careers. If they can continue working and not have children, abortion may have to be an option.
  • If abortion is not available, women should have more rights to work flexible hours or access to childcare.
  • Fathers may feel left out of these debates. Although fathers have a legal responsibility for the child once it is born, they have no rights on whether it is aborted or not.

Pro-Choice Vs. Pro-Life

Pro-choice means women should have choice to choose an abortion. Key arguments include:

  • The woman carries and gives birth to the child so she should decide whether to keep it.
  • Life does not really start until to foetus is born or at least viable.
  • The risk to the mother outweighs that of the baby.
  • The circumstances are important. If the woman was raped, or she is young with the rest of her life ahead of her, then abortion should be considered.
  • Adoption is not easy as the mother becomes attached to the child.
  • Illegal (backstreet) abortions will return if abortions are made illegal.
  • It is cruel to bring severely disabled children into the world.
  • There are already too many people on earth!

A Pro-Choice pressure group is Abortion Rights. They put pressure on government to keep the 24 week limit and abortion legal. They believe it should be easier to get an abortion.

  • Proc-life arguments believe abortion is wrong.  Their points include:
  • Life begins at conception. Abortion is murder.
  • Depression and guilt may follow an abortion.
  • Disabled people can enjoy happy and fulfilled lives.
  • Unwanted children could be adopted.
  • The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child suggests children should have rights before and after birth.
  • Abortion is just a way of avoiding responsibility for getting pregnant.
  • Each person is unique and we should not end that.

A Pro-Life pressure group is Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC). They campaign against abortion and for more help for mothers so that they decide to keep their unborn children.

Christian views of abortion

Most Christians disagree with abortion, but some say it should be allowed in some situations.

The Roman Catholic Church is against abortion. It is a sin and seen as murder.

The protestant Church of England is uneasy with abortion, but says that abortion is the lesser of two evils in cases such as rape, incest or a serious threat to the mother’s health or life.  Therefore, it is OK.

Bible quotes used to argue AGAINST abortion include:

·    “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5). This suggests God planned your birth.

Once Christians establish that the foetus is a human being, the sanctity of life teachings all apply. Bible quotes that support this include:

  • “In the image of God” (Genesis 1:26)
  • “Do not kill” (Exodus 20:13)
  • ”You yourselves are God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

There are a few arguments Christians could use in favour of abortion.

  • For example, “Love your neighbour as yourself” suggests you should show love towards those wanting an abortion.
  • The Golden Rule of ‘treat others as you would want to be treated’ suggests you should put yourself in the shoes of the person having the abortion.
  • The Bible says God made Adam, and then “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Genesis 2:7). Perhaps this suggests life starts at birth.

Buddhist view of abortion

  • The First Buddhist Precept is to abstain (avoid) harming living things. Therefore, most Buddhists are against abortion.
  • You could also get bad karma from the depression and guilt of having an abortion. This may result in a bad rebirth.
  • Many Buddhists believe that life (or rebirth) starts at conception, so abortion is the deliberate harming of life.
  • Human rebirth is important. Perhaps abortion wastes this rebirth. However, other Buddhist may argue that foetus’ karma is unaffected so there will be a similar rebirth.
  • Some Buddhists may argue that abortion is OK if the intention is right (Right Intention). For example, if a foetus was aborted to help other children live good lives or to prevent a birth resulting from rape or incest.
  • Some Buddhists may even suggest that abortion is OK before the child feels pain or has developed a mind. The formation of the mind is the fifth skanda (or aggregate).
  • Most Buddhist countries, such as Thailand, keep abortion as illegal. Japan, on the other hand, allows it.

Alternatives to abortion

Keeping the babyIn the past, women would be looked down on for having a child if they were unmarried. That view is considered out of date by most people in society. Today, it is more socially acceptable to have a child if you are unmarried. There is also more support available, such as child benefit and single-parent benefit.

Adoption – if the child is really unwanted, it could be adopted by loving adoptive parents/family that will raise it as their own son or daughter. Adoption also means the child will legally be the child of the adoptive parents and not the biological parents.

Fostering this is when a child is placed in the temporary care of another family. Some foster parents are paid by the government to look after children in care. Sometimes, the foster parents may adopt the child.

Religious views of adoptionChristians see adoption as better then abortion as the 6th Commandment is not broken. If the child is in a loving family, that is a good thing. Buddhist will feel the same as the First Precept is not broken. Moreover, the adoptive family will gain good karma!

However, some religious groups would restrict adoptions to families of a particular religion. There are, for example, Roman Catholic and Muslim adoption agencies that only allow Catholics or Muslims to adopt respectively.