What Is the Christian Consensus on Abortion?

Brian Clowes
July 22, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
Human Life International

Until about 1950, every major Protestant denomination vigorously opposed abortion, and church leaders condemned it in the strongest possible terms. Ministers were unfazed by pro-abortion criticism because their teachings were solidly based upon the theology of their original founders.

John Calvin said:

If it seems more disgraceful that a man be killed in his own home than in his field - since for every man his home is his sanctuary - how much more abominable is it to be considered to kill a fetus in the womb who has not yet been brought into the light? … The unborn, though enclosed in the womb of his mother, is already a human being, and it is an almost monstrous crime to rob it of life which it has not yet begun to enjoy.1

Benjamin Wadsworth said that the Fifth Commandment refers to "poisoners and so to those who purposely endeavor to destroy the life of a child in the womb, whether the woman herself, or another does it."2 Martin Luther wrote, "Even if all the world were to combine forces, they could not bring about conception of a single child in any woman's womb nor cause it to be born; that is wholly the work of God alone."3

The Views of Christians on Abortion Today

Every country in the world that has legalized contraception has eventually done the same for abortion. This inexorable process applies to Christian churches as well. After the Anglican's 1930 Lambeth Conference gave the go-ahead to contraception used only in accordance with "Christian principles," it was only a matter of time before the Protestant churches slid from hard-line opposition to active pro‑abortion advocacy.

Pro-abortion activists seized this unique opportunity to sideline a powerful potential enemy. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and other church-based pro-abortion splinter groups were founded for the sole purpose of making it appear that all of the mainline Protestant churches were ardent supporters of abortion. Activists within each denomination packed their church's social issues committees, showed up at all the pro-abortion marches with colorful banners prominently featuring their church names and logos, and signed all of the many pro-abortion resolutions circulated to give the false impression that the overwhelming majority of Protestants are "pro-choice."

It appears on the surface that most Protestant denominations eagerly accepted abortion as part of their activist social agenda. But pro‑abortion activists employed the very effective strategy of "infiltration and subversion," and by 1975 they had taken over important church committees and corrupted them to the point that every mainline Protestant denomination had pronounced abortion acceptable. It is vital to note that the rank‑and‑file members of these churches were mainly pro‑life. But the media endlessly repeated the mantra cooked up by NARAL, which said that "even among religious organizations only the Roman Catholic Church and small fundamentalist Jewish and Protestant groups oppose the right to abortion."4

Pro-Life Churches Are Growing

When nations and churches embrace contraception, abortion and divorce, they immediately begin to die, so it is really no surprise that the "mainline" Protestant churches are declining in membership. They tend to be very active in various liberal social efforts but have confused worship with action. If they are not quite dead yet, their bodies certainly have an advanced case of gangrene. What, after all, is the point in belonging to a church that provides no moral standards to live by? Many are merely social clubs, and provide, at best, an opportunity to have a pleasant get‑together with friends every week or so.5

But people seek the truth, not the bland pabulum dished up by liberal churches. This is why the pro‑life Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon churches have exploding memberships, while the pro‑abortion churches are obviously in deep trouble. Most of the change is due to more than 44 million people changing denominations because, as researcher Rodney Stark put it, "Americans mostly change churches in search of a deeper, more compelling faith."6

Thus, pro‑life churches in the United States have gained 38% in membership over the time period 1970 to 2013, growing from 96.7 million to 133.9 million, while the pro‑abortion churches have lost 35% of their membership during the same time span, collapsing from 24.3 million to 15.9 million members.7

Many large pro-life churches have multiplied their memberships spectacularly during the past 43 years, including the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (841%), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (769%) and the Evangelical Free Church in America (758%). Meanwhile, the pro-abortion mainline Protestant churches are experiencing disastrous slumps in membership. The Episcopal Church has lost 44% of its membership, the United Church of Christ 50%, the United Methodist Church 30%, and the Presbyterian Church USA 11%.8

Pro-abortion groups endlessly insist that there is no religious consensus on abortion. Superficially this may appear to be true, but adherents of pro-life churches now outnumber members of pro-abortion churches by a ratio of 8.4 to one. By any standard, this is a strong consensus against abortion .

Fortunately, this disastrous collapse in membership has begun to force the leadership of pro-abortion churches to face reality. The official bodies of the mainline Protestant denominations have written detailed statements on their beliefs regarding abortion. Some of these statements are logical and address the main issues, but others are virtually useless for the purpose of instructing and informing the people who sit in the pews.

Some statements ramble on for several pages about how human life is an "awesome," "incomprehensible" and "precious" gift of God, and then degenerate into a spiel about valuing diversity before concluding with a green light to dispose of these same gifts of God - subject to very carefully drawn exceptions, of course. Interestingly, these statements are critical of abortion after viability and for the purposes of birth control and sex selection, but approve it for rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or to preserve the life of the mother, which comprise only about 3% of all abortions . The statements also say that everyone must make up their own minds on the issue, that everyone's circumstances are different, and for these reasons laws should not be passed to limit abortion in any way.

In other words, these churches claim that they oppose 97% of all abortions, but then do absolutely nothing to put their beliefs into action. The Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church fall into this category.9

Several other denominations allow the same abortion exceptions but are much more stringent in their application. Their statements unambiguously condemn abortions for birth control, social reasons and sex selection. They also say that "hard case" abortions should only be permitted after intensive counseling by Church clergy, and even then abortion might not be appropriate. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, for example, specifically condemns abortion for rape and incest and only allows it in the case of a confirmed threat to the life of the mother. Others following this formula include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.10

It is obvious from reading their statements that, in general, the mainline Protestant churches are much more anti-abortion than the media or their loud "pro-choice" member groups would have us believe. But they have found through bitter experience that it is so easy to loosen moral standards, and so dreadfully difficult to tighten them again. Due to our fallen human nature, people become accustomed to their new "rights" and "freedoms," even if they are illicit, and then become addicted to them, becoming unable to imagine life without them. Many Protestant clergy are concerned that the pendulum has swung much too far in the direction espoused by Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, former president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), who said, "We must give up the idea that we can cling to some moral certainty."11


In summary, there is a very strong religious consensus against the vast majority of abortions in the United States. Opposition to abortion is not just a "Catholic issue," and it is not even just a Christian issue. Buddhists, Hindus, Jainists, Muslims, Jews , Krishnas, and many other non‑Christians oppose abortion on both religious and secular grounds.

Pro-life Catholics may very well find that reaching out to our Protestant brothers and sisters for the cause of life will bear abundant fruit. If enough of us do this, some day the pro-abortion movement will be confronted with its worst nightmare - Christians truly united against abortion.