The Orthodox Church and Abortion

Abortion is the deliberate killing of a baby whilst in the womb. All forms of abortion are forbidden by the Orthodox Church. This prohibition encompasses medical abortions (however they are carried out). Spontaneous abortions can happen to a mother quite naturally and this sad event is commonly called a miscarriage rather than using the medical term ‘spontaneous abortion.’ 

The Orthodox Church has always believed that life begins at conception (fertilization) and therefore has always considered abortion to be a serious sin. The Orthodox Church does not accept the modern secular idea that a baby only becomes 'real' when a woman wants to continue her pregnancy. Supporters of abortion tend to refer to a baby as a ‘foetus’ when they don’t want to continue with a pregnancy, and a ‘baby’ when they want to have the child. This trickery with words is an attempt to make abortion psychologically acceptable to the mother. It is certainly not scientific because we can’t change the very nature of something by changing the terms we use to refer to it!
 
The opposition of the Orthodox Church to abortion is born out by several recent studies. A 2004 study of almost 80,000 women carried out at Oxford University found that women who had an abortion were significantly more likely to suffer from breast cancer than those who had not. A meta-analysis published in 2011 in the British Journal of Psychiatry studied data from more than 870,000 women and found that those who had an abortion were at an increased risk of anxiety disorders, depression, drug abuse and suicidal behaviour. According to the same study, nearly 10% of all mental health problems in women can be attributed directly to abortion.  
 
Is having an abortion always wrong or are there exceptions? 
Sometimes a woman, not knowing that she is pregnant, may undergo a medical procedure or take prescription medication that causes her to have a miscarriage. This would not be termed an abortion but a sad unforeseen event. In rare cases, a baby may start to develop outside the womb or may be otherwise putting the mother in danger of death. In this case, to save the mother’s life the embryo must be removed and will unfortunately die as a result. Even if we class this as an abortion, the mother has not committed a sin. More commonly, abortion drugs are used to remove a baby that has died in the womb. This again, is a sad event and is not an abortion even though the same drugs are used.

What about cases of rape?

Fortunately, these are very rare occurrences, but even then the Orthodox Church could not advise that the baby be aborted. This may seem at first to be very cruel. However, consider the physical effects of abortion on the mother and the psychological damage that abortions cause. Would it be right to add more traumas to a woman who has already suffered enough?  Of course, the woman would be under no obligation to raise the child which could then be adopted to bring joy to a childless couple.

A lot of media attention was focused on the decision, in 2009, of a Roman Catholic bishop to excommunicate the parents of a child who had been raped because they had given their permission for the child to have an abortion. He also proclaimed that the medical staff should be excommunicated. This form of public excommunication is foreign to Orthodoxy. If we are told not to take Holy Communion for some reason, this is for our spiritual benefit and to bring us to repentance. The priest does not do it to 'send out a message' to others! On the whole, however, the Roman Catholic Church does a lot of good work in encouraging and  supporting women not to have abortions, and provides them with practical help.

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