Abortion and Contraception
Christians believe that human beings are created in God's
image. All human life should therefore be reverenced.
Ian Leck, Professor Emeritus and former Professor of
Epidemiology at Manchester University, gave a presentation to a
meeting of the Methodist Parliamentary Fellowship on the subject of
the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967.
Download a copy of
the presentation 'Abortion - 40 years on'.
A briefing from the Methodist-Baptist-URC Joint Public Issues
Team on abortion and information about the current political
debate. Read the Abortion Briefing
What is the position of the Methodist Church on
The Methodist Conference
Statement of 1976 states that the human fetus has
an inviolable right to life and that abortion should never be seen
as an alternative to contraception. Yet it also recognises that the
fetus is totally dependent on the mother for at least the first
twenty weeks of its life and that the mother has a total right to
decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy.
The 1976 gives examples of circumstances in which termination of
the pregnancy may be seen as necessary. These include situations
where the embryo is severely disabled or is the result of rape,
where the mental or physical health of the mother is at risk, and
where the right of the unborn child to be healthy and wanted may
not be met. The Church and others must help provide counselling
opportunities to mothers so that they fully understand the
decision, and the alternatives to abortion. The statement also
calls for new effort to encourage expressions of human sexuality
that are sensitive, responsible and do not lead to the exploitation
At what stage does an unborn fetus become a
According to the Statement, "There is never any moment from
conception onwards when the fetus totally lacks human significance
...However the degree of this significance manifestly increases".
This is related to the view that "the fetus possesses a degree of
individual identity", but is not considered as apersonin the
theological sense as "it lacks independence and the ability to
respond to relationships", although it has a full right to life and
The result of the coming together of human sperm and ovum is
obviously human. The appearance of the 'primitive streak' (the
beginning of the neurological system) after some fourteen days is
an important stage. However for many weeks after this event,
natural abortion will continue to bring about the termination of
over 50% of embryos.
Fertilisation, implantation and subsequent development are parts
of a continuous process. It is simply not possible to identify the
single moment when a new human person begins. The right of the
embryo to full respect clearly increases throughout a
Should there be a time-limit for abortion?
Where decision has been taken to terminate the pregnancy - which
should never be done lightly or under duress - it should be done as
early as possible. The 1976 Statement noted that the fetus is fully
after 28 weeks and possibly after 24 weeks. Medical progress since
then means that the fetus may now be considered viable after 20
weeks. The Abortion Briefing [link above] noted that 89% of
abortions were carried out before 13 weeks gestation - 68% of these
before 10 weeks. But the reasons which may lead to the decision to
terminate the pregnancy, including severe risk to the physical or
mental health of the mother, mean that there will be situations
where it is not possible to place an absolute time-limit on the
What about contraception?
The Methodist Church believes that responsible contraception is
a welcome means towards fulfilment in marriage, the spacing of
children, and the need to avoid pregnancy altogether, for example
for medical reasons.
in God's Image, adopted by the Methodist Conference of
on the Status of the Unborn Human, received by the Methodist
Conference of 1990;
A Statement on
Abortion adopted by the Methodist Conference of 1976;
'Pastoral Issues on which Guidance is Sought', United Methodist
For further informationThe first point of contact is your local
church where the minister can discuss your questions with