Digest of terms


deliberate termination of pregnancy. It is active intervention which distinguishes abortion from miscarriage, unless that too has been wilfully induced by any means. Views as to the moral acceptability of abortion vary according to the degree of worth attributed to the 'conceived entity'. They may be reflected in the language used - eg blister, cluster of cells, fertilised egg, embryo, foetus, potential human being, or baby. Variations are also the result of different judgements about the point at which any independent right is attributed to the 'conceived entity' and about the respective interests of the mother ('woman's right to choose') and the father (paternity claims may be acknowledged or avoided). At one extreme life begins even before conception, so that male masturbation is wrong because it wastes the seeds of life. At another, even in days after birth survivable worth has yet to be inspected with infanticide as an option.

The principle of reverence for life is strong in religious traditions. Absolute forbidding of abortion is therefore not unusual, as in official Roman Catholic teaching, and prominently also among fundamentalist 'pro-life' Protestants in the United States who campaign actively and at times violently against clinics and doctors providing abortion. Nevertheless, in Christianity, as in other faiths, including Islam and Hinduism, opposition may also be tempered by consideration of one or more factors deemed relevant. These include rape or incest, the stage of incremental development, the likely impact of the pregnancy on the mother's health or even the family's overall welfare and capacity to care. Amongst some Japanese Buddhists ritual recognition is given to the reincarnating life of an aborted foetus.

A major social issue in some countries, notably India and China, is the selective abortion of female fetuses (female feticide), leading to unbalanced population ratios (according to the 2011 census in India there were seven million more boys than girls aged under six). The ultrasound technology which identifies the sex of a foetus has been made illegal in India, but the practice continues. It cuts across different religious traditions, sons being preferred for a variety of social reasons, often connected with the dowry system, and supported by ancient patriarchal prejudices against women (which, though, have generally also been absorbed into the diverse religious traditions in practice even if not in theory).

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