Religion and abortion
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|In the back alley|
Abortion is a compelling moral question regardless of the particular facts surrounding any abortion, and like all moral questions, religion has been one of the strongest voices in attempting to control, limit and even punish pregnant people and doctors for their roles in abortion.
The view of abortion varies across each religious body, and has changed throughout history, largely in accordance with the societal view of the abortion issue, and women's rights in a more general sense. This article largely deals with the modern views regarding abortion.
In Zoroastrian scripture, there is no direct mention of abortion; however, the prophet of the faith, Zoroaster, always stressed rationality, so Zoroastrians for the most part use individual reasoning in this regard. Zoroatrianism also teaches that all humans are created by Ahura Mazda.
The church of Satan has been in the headlines for being supportive of the right to choose. High Priest Peter H. Gilmore stated: "We generally consider the use of abortion to be the purview of the woman whose body is carrying the child... so religion should neither force upon nor deny an abortion for any woman, in our thinking. Freedom with responsibility is the hallmark of civilized behavior to the Satanist."
Because Unitarian Universalism is a religion without dogma, Unitarian Universalists tend to not to have strict rules and social issues. Nonetheless, Unitarian Universalists for the most part support abortion rights often based on the liberal policy of self-ownership and individual autonomy.
Wicca, similarly to Unitarian Universalism, does not have a set list of political rules, however Wiccan doctrines are supportive of self-determination and bodily integrity, hence this usually includes the right to choose to go through childbirth or not.
There is a compelling view among orthodox Jews that an abortion is mandatory when the woman's life is at risk. Beyond that, however, the general opinion is that abortions are against God's will, and should be strictly restricted. Specifically what makes an abortion Halakhic (acceptable under the terms of God's Law) varies greatly. In some cases, mental illness is an acceptable justification for abortion, but only if the mental illness will be fully debilitating.
Exceptions to the limits of abortion can include (again, depending on the particular Rabbi)
- There is no exception for deformity of a child. Judaism recognizes that all human persons hold the same basic rights. A child that is deformed is no more or less a human with the same rights as a child who is healthy. It is not allowed, therefore, to abort a child for deformity in the child - even in extreme cases where it is unlikely the child will survive to term or survive after it is born. It is not a human's right to determine what is a good "quality of life".
- There is no actual exception for "rape" as Orthodox Judaism does not distinguish between qualities of people in their rights. However, if the rape has left the mother suicidal, then abortion is generally permitted.
- Incest - incest is a unique (and hotly debated) issue, since the sexual act itself is a crime against god. Some Orthodox rabbis insist that the child is innocent and has the rights described above, others insist that it is God's view that an abortion is necessary if it can be done safely.
- Health of the mother - the "health" of the mother is not generally an issue if her life itself is not at risk, or if the health is not fully debilitating. If a woman has a realistic potential of a heart attack or stroke, where she could be left in quite a different position in life, a rabbi may decide that an abortion is warranted.
In extremely conservative communities, such as the ultra orthodox communities in Israel, there is a growing move to take away even these "rights" to abortion, despite a long Talmudic tradition that the woman's life must be preserved when possible. The ultra Orthodox communities there are noted for their high birth rates, a growing concern for secular or more moderate Jewish Israelis.
Conservative Jews hold to pretty much the above with one exception; children that are deformed in utero, especially if the child will suffer and not survive may be aborted without challenge. However, despite the moral stance, Conservative Judaism explicitly supports abortion remaining legal under civil law.
Most Reform Jews hold the opinions of the larger society. Reform Jews in the US by and large feel that abortion is a private choice that should not be limited by the government in the first trimester, and not strictly or unreasonably limited in the 2nd or 3rd trimester. As with any other group of women, of course, what they think the law should regulate has little bearing on their own personal view of what they would do as a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. Many strong feminists and leading pro-choice activists, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg come from a reform Jewish background.
Official positions of major world denominations
Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox
Officially, the Roman Catholic Church holds "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." The official position is that "Every abortion is a moral evil". It is a sin for any woman to knowingly take her fetus' life. For the majority of the 20th century, the Church did not involve itself in the State's side of the legalization of abortion, however, Christian Democrats during that period were mostly anti-abortion and did act according to the Catholic Church's ideas, and since 2000 is it quite common for the Church (illegally, in the US) to take a direct position on the issue, and support particular anti-abortion candidates.
- Rape and incest are not an exception.
- Life of mother is an exception in some Catholic churches, but it is unclear what the official position is, since the wording of the Catechism states *every abortion* without exception or equivocation. Many priests have suggested that a woman should leave it to God's will.
Despite the Church's official position, roughly 40% of lay Catholics in the US feel that abortion should be a legal choice for women through the first trimester.
Some church-associated "charities", however, do not believe that fetuses are people when said belief might cost them money.
Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends)
Quakers believe that religion and politics should not cross, that issues about things like abortion are personal between god and the individual, and therefore, they have made no formal statements of position on abortion. They have stated, however, that for all women's safety, abortion should be a legal option in any country.
United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church finds that "the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion" however, "devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy". Therefore, counsel should be given to encourage the woman to keep the child, aid should be offered to help her with that decision, but no judgement should be passed based on the personal decision she makes. The UMC does not believe in any attempt to make abortions illegal, especially since that increases the risk for women who may feel this is their only way out.
Presbyterian Church USA
The Presbyterian Church USA holds first and foremost that “the artificial or induced termination of a pregnancy is a matter of careful ethical decision of the patient … and therefore should not be restricted by law …" and " Humans are empowered by the spirit prayerfully to make significant moral choices, including the choice to continue or end a pregnancy." The Church should attempt to guide a women "prayerfully", and offer aid and assistance, especially where such aid and assistance will prevent the abortion. But at no time should anyone in the church judge a woman for her choices, though "We look to our churches to provide pastoral and tangible support to women in problem pregnancies and to surround these families with a community of care. We affirm adoption as a provision for women who deliver children they are not able to care for, and ask our churches to assist in seeking loving, Christian, adoptive families."
Church Of England
Their official position summary is The Church of England combines strong opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be - strictly limited - conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative.
They go on to say In the light of our conviction that the foetus has the right to live and develop as a member of the human family, we see abortion, the termination of that life by the act of man, as a great moral evil. We do not believe that the right to life, as a right pertaining to persons, admits of no exceptions whatever; but the right of the innocent to life admits surely of few exceptions indeed.
They clarify this with That in situations where the continuance of a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother a termination of pregnancy may be justified and that there must be adequate and safe provision in our society for such situations.
As with so many things, when it gets to the nitty-gritty, the C of E goes all wishy-washy. From their position statement referenced above The Synod has not attempted to resolve all the dilemmas which arise in this area, such as when the unborn child has been conceived as a result of rape or the foetus may be known to be at risk of serious handicap. In such cases Anglicans will be agreed on the need to have regard to 'compassion for the mother and a proper responsibility for the life of the unborn child'.
“”We call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.
|—W.A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas|
Most Jehovah's Witnesses strongly condemn abortion. According to TJ-Encyclopedie (a French Jehovah's Witnesses wiki), abortion is forbidden in almost all cases and Jehovah's Witnesses having an abortion are passible of disfellowshipping.
The Bible itself
Interestingly The Bible itself comes off as very pro-abortion. In fact, Exodus 21:22-25 KJV expressly states that the punishment for an abortion will be determined by the woman's husband and the Judges of the land degree and that if further mischief then the life for a life, hand for hand, etc clauses would be invoked.
Islamic views on abortion come from the very high priority the faith gives to the sanctity of life. In general, Muslim scholars recognize the fetus as human life and, as such, protected.
Having said that:
- Differing schools of Muslim law have diverging opinions as to when human life starts.
- Many schools of Muslim law that permit early abortion still consider it wrong, just not punishably wrong.
- All schools accept abortion when the mother's life is in danger. This is in line with the Sharia principle of choosing the lesser of two evils.
One area where the Qur'an is very specific is Kill not your offspring for fear of poverty; it is We who provide for them and for you. Surely, killing them is a great sin.- Qur'an 17:31. However, this can be interpreted as referring to infanticide (which was common in pre-Islamic Arabia) rather than abortion.
- It should be noted that the extreme view of totally restricting all abortions has generally not been in place in societies where women had no or limited power within society, even about their own bodies. Ironically, when men were telling them how to live, abortion simply was not the issue it became when women began to demand some measure of equal rights in the 1800's forward.
- Eisenberg, Daniel, M.D. "Stem Cell Research in Jewish Law" 2001.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2271
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