This Baby Got Soul

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Comparing Christian and Islamic Views on Abortion

The practice of abortion and its controversy has a long history, predating the advent of Islam and Christianity. In ancient Greece, the herb silphium was employed as an abortive drug (Yarmohammadi et al, 2013). Before this, during the pre-modern era, women would induce abortion or intentional miscarriage through strenuous exercise and other physical activities deemed dangerous for the developing foetus (Devereux, 1967). Questions regarding the moral justification of abortion have always been divisive. Aristotle reasoned: "when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun" (1905). On the other hand, Hippocrates took a firm stance against the practice, claiming in his famous Oath that he refused to provide abortive drugs in cases of pregnancy.

The deliberate act of terminating a pregnancy naturally evokes a vast range of responses, depending on the cultural and religious context in which the subject arises. Therefore, one will find both sides of the debate present throughout history. For those of a "pro-choice" stance (the term is modern, but the principle ancient), the act of abortion is and always has been a justified practice in life management and "family planning". Meanwhile, those opposed ("pro-life") – taking the Hippocratic Oath* - consider induced abortion no less barbaric and debauched than the mass infanticides seen in ancient Greece and Rome (Wilkinson, 2013).


[*] The Hippocratic Oath, followed rigidly from the fifth century B.C. until modern times, originally states: "I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary (a small soluble block inserted into the vagina for contraceptive purposes) to cause an abortion". The Oath emphasises high ethical standards and the patient's best interests. Pro-choice advocates, in a decidedly Orwellian move, have censored Hippocrates' clear disavowal of abortion and euthanasia, retaining only the parts they do still approve of. 


Both sides of the argument are tethered to the philosophical question of the soul – whether it exists and, if so, when it becomes connected to the foetus. Aristotle also states, directly after his conditional endorsement of abortion: "what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation" (1905).

In 2007 the Lancet (a reputable medical journal) reported that in 1995, the global number of registered abortions was 45.6 million. In 2003, the number decreased slightly but still revealed a startling number of terminated pregnancies at 41.6 million (Demirel, 2011). Corresponding with the exponential growth in human populations – and exacerbated further by a growing disregard for religious traditions and a rising awareness of climate change - cases of abortion, legal or otherwise, naturally mirror this upward trend as a general rule (Demirel, 2011).

Today as well as historically, abortion and the question of the foetus's rights revolve around three distinction made regarding what exactly "life" entails. These three distinctions are vegetative (life dependent on nourishment, respiration and temperature), animal (life endowed with sense and physical movement, along with the vegetative needs), and human (life endowed with intuition, denoting the presence of an abstract soul). While modern science generally accepts these classifications, it often ignores the additional proposition that man's true essence is soul (Mohsenni, 2005).

On the empirical level, this makes sense. However, the scope of scientific investigation is not compatible with the non-physical nature of the soul. Therefore, any attempt to disprove it is no more falsifiable than attempts in the opposite direction. Here lies the greatest challenge in the abortion debate; it presents an area where mutual discourse appears irreconcilable as the foundational principle of each side relies on a complete rejection of the other. This is the reason why a peaceful resolution is far from realization.

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