Abortion demonstrates perhaps better than any other moral issue the impossibility of segregating ‘personal’ from ‘social’ ethics, morality from law, or religious from secular moral argument. In ethical discourse, abortion is understood as the deliberate choice to termin-

ate a pregnancy through an action that either directly destroys the foetus or causes its expulsion from the uterus before viability. Such a choice is obviously a highly personal moral action. In abortion a person or persons cause the death of another individual member of the species (although whether the foetus is likewise a ‘person’ is a hotly contested and crucial point in the abortion debate). At the same time, moral views of abortion are closely entwined with social concerns about sexuality, gender and family, and about the social institutionalization of various forms of homicide. The relative influence of these social factors in shaping evaluations of abortion has varied historically as well as culturally. Historical variation no less characterizes Christian approaches to abortion.

While until recent decades the Christian churches had always condemned abortion, they did so for different reasons and in different degrees, and theological opinion has been offered in support of different exceptions to the general prohibition. In contemporary Christianity, the social and political emancipation of women and their struggle for sexual equality have created strong challenges to the traditional presumption against using abortion as a means of avoiding motherhood. The conflict over gender, sexuality and abortion in the public sphere has also led to debates about the proper relation between law and morality, and about the legitimacy of the involvement of religious bodies in policy formation.