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Ensoulment and the Morality of Abortion: A History and Critique

Steve Sverdlik, SMU Professor

Catholics and some other Christians often defend the position that abortion is morally wrong by claiming that ensoulment occurs as conception, so that abortion kills a being with a soul. I give a short history of Christian thinking about ensoulment. Contrary to popular opinion, over most of their history Christians did not believe that ensoulment occurs at conception. So their moral abjection to early abortion rested on another claim. It was only about 1620 that Catholics started to assert that ensoulment occurs close to the time of conception. I go on to criticize Christian thinking about ensoulment from a secular point of view.

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Professor Sverdlik, As I'm in Chicago, I'm unable to come meet up with you in person, but I'm very interested in the historical claims of ensoulment. I've heard 30 days after birth, and six weeks after birth, but the Wikipedia entry only talks about 120 days after conception.
    If you could point me to some other sources, I'd really appreciate it. I don't want to repeat 'factoids' unless I have pretty good reason to believe they're true. Thanks!

    April 11, 2013

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