Abortion and the soul of the embryo

by • September 25, 2013 • Religion and Personal LifeComments (0)3

‘Stem cell research, abortion and the ‘soul of the embryo’?’

In 2011 there were 189,931 abortions among residents of England and Wales. That is 17.5 per 1,000 women, compared with 12 per 1,000 in Scotland. The vast majority, 91% of abortions, are carried out under 13 weeks, and most under 10 weeks. Just 1% are carried out on the grounds of the risk that the child will be born with a disability.

When do people think that human life begins (or, as some religious people understand it, that the embryo is ‘ensouled’)? Our YouGov poll revealed that 44% per cent of people believe that human life begins at conception, 30% that it begins at some time during pregnancy, 17% when the baby is born, and 8% ‘don’t know’.

The survey also found that the majority of religious people, like the majority of non-religious people, are in favour of retaining or even raising the current 24-week limit on legal abortion (43% of religious people, 46% of the general population). A slightly higher number of religious people (9%) would like to see an outright ban on abortion than in the general population (7%)

Although a lot of people believe that life begins at conception, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are anti-abortion.


“We evolve over time from the moment of our conception. From the very beginning, therefore, it seems to me we are human beings and potentially human persons.”

Revd Dr Gerard Hughes

“God starts life. God will end your life. This is why suicide, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion are all prohibited in our religion.”

Dr Majid Katme

“If we wish to recommend legislation policy in a multi faith, multi-cultural or no faith society like ours we have to use arguments and evidence that are in principle available and acceptable by all citizens.”

Professor John Harris

Some media reaction

The success of adult stem cell research is being underplayed in favour of more controversial work using embryonic cells, according to religious figures who blame ‘aggressive secularism’ and the ‘personal investment’ of researchers in their projects for the alleged bias.

Elizabeth Gibney, Times Higher Education, 21 February 2013

Anti-abortion sentiment in Britain is declining, according to a YouGov poll which also found that support for keeping or even relaxing the current 24-week limit on terminations is on the rise.

Ben Quinn, Guardian, 12 February 2013


Read about the ethical arguments concerning abortion in the BBC Ethics Guide

For resources and arguments against abortion, see www.prolife.org.uk

For resources and arguments in favour of the availability of abortion, see the website of Abortion Rights, a national ‘pro-choice’ campaign

This event was held at QEIICC, Westminster, Wednesday 13 February 2013

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