There is no “religious point of view” on abortion

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The official line of the Catholic Church on abortion, and indeed on any artificial birth control, is well known: don’t do it.

Surveys of how American Catholics live their lives, however, tell a different story.

The vast majority of Catholic women used contraceptives, despite the church‘s ban. Fifty-six percent of American Catholics think abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, whether or not they believe they would ever seek it. One in four Americans who have had an abortion is Catholic, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for reproductive health.

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It is a clear reminder of the complex relationship between the teachings of any religious tradition and how people actually live out their beliefs. As the United States Supreme Court is set to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that protects the right to abortion nationwide, religious attitudes toward a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy are in the spotlight. But even within the same religion, there is no single religious position with regard to reproductive rights – let alone between different religions.

Christianity and Conscience

As a gender and religion scholar, I research how religious traditions shape people’s understanding of contraception and abortion.

With regard to official positions on abortion, the positions of religions are linked to different approaches to certain key theological concepts. For example, for several religions, a key issue in abortion rights is “the soul”, when the soul is thought to enter the body, that is, when a fetus becomes human.

The catch is that traditions place the soul at different times and give it varying degrees of importance. Catholic theologians place the soul at the time of conception, which is why the official position of the Catholic Church is that abortion is never permitted. From the moment the sperm meets the egg, in Catholic theology, a human exists, and you cannot kill a human, no matter how they came into existence. You also cannot choose between two human lives, which is why the church opposes the abortion of a fetus to save the life of the pregnant person.

As with any religion, not all Catholics feel obligated to follow the teachings of the church in all cases. And no matter if someone thinks they would ever seek an abortion, they may think it should be a legal right. Fifty-seven percent of American Catholics say abortion is morally wrong, but 68% still support Roe v. Wade, while only 14% think abortion should never be legal.

Protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on December 1, 2021. The justices are hearing arguments in a Mississippi case seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Jane Norman/States Newsroom)

Some Catholics advocate for access to abortion not in spite of but because of their devotion to Catholic teachings. The organization Catholics for Choice describes his work as being rooted in Catholicism’s emphasis on “social justice, human dignity and the rule of conscience” – people making their own decisions out of deep moral conviction.

Other Christians also say faith shapes their support for reproductive rights. Protestant clergy, along with their Jewish colleagues, were instrumental in helping women obtain abortions before Roe, through a network called the Clergy Counseling Service. These pro-choice clergy were motivated by a range of concerns, including the despair they saw in the women of their congregations and theological commitments to social justice. Today, the organization still exists as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

There are a myriad of Protestant views on abortion. The most conservative liken it to murder, and therefore oppose any derogation. The most liberal Protestant voices argue for a broad platform of reproductive justice, calling on believers to “trust women”.

What is a “person”?

Muslim scholars and clerics also have a range of positions on abortion. Some believe abortion is never allowed, and many allow it until sleep onset, which is often placed at 120 days of gestation, just before 18 weeks. In general, many Muslim rulers allow abortion to save the life of the mother, since classical Islamic law considers legal personality to begin at birth – although many Muslims may ask their religious leaders for guidance or advice. help for abortion, many do not.

Jewish tradition has much debate about when the soul occurs: various rabbinical texts place it at conception or even before, and many place it at birth, but soul is not as essential as status legal status of the fetus according to Jewish law. Generally, he is not considered a person. For example, the Talmud – the main source of Jewish law – refers to the fetus as part of the mother’s body. The biblical book of Exodus notes that if a pregnant woman is attacked and then miscarries, the attacker owes a fine but is not guilty of murder.

In other words, Jewish law protects a fetus as a “potential person”, but does not consider it to hold the same full personality as its mother. Jewish clergy generally agree that abortion is not only permitted, but compulsory, to save the life of the mother, since potential life must be sacrificed to save existing life – even during labor, as long as the head has not not emerged from the birth canal.

Where Jewish abortion law gets complicated is when the mother’s life is not in danger. For example, contemporary Jewish leaders debate whether abortion is permitted if the mother’s mental health is damaged, if genetic testing shows evidence of a non-fatal disability, or if there are other compelling concerns, such as the fact that the family’s resources would be stretched too thinly to take care of it. for their current children.

People gathered at the Colorado Capitol for the ‘Bans Our Bodies’ rally in support of abortion rights on May 14, 2022. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)

American Jews have generally supported legal abortion with very few restrictions, seeing it as a matter of religious freedom – and a matter of life versus potential life. Eighty-three percent support a woman’s right to an abortion, and while many might turn to their clergy for help in seeking an abortion, many would not see it. need.

Another view of life

As much diversity as exists in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, there is likely even more in Hinduism, which has a range of texts, deities, and worldviews. Many scholars argue that the fact that so many different traditions are all lumped together under the umbrella term “Hinduism” has more to do with British colonialism than anything else.

Most Hindus believe in reincarnation, which means that although one can enter a body with birth and leave with death, life itself does not precisely begin or end. Rather, any given moment in a human body is seen as part of an endless cycle of life – which makes the question of the beginning of life very different from that of the Abrahamic religions.

Some bioethicists view Hinduism as essentially “pro-life”, only allowing abortion to save the life of the mother. Looking at what people do, however, rather than what the scriptures of a tradition say, abortion is common in Hindu-majority India, especially for female fetuses.

In the United States, there are immigrant Hindu communities, Asian American Hindu communities, and people who have converted to Hinduism who bring this diversity to their approaches to abortion. Overall, however, 68% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Compassionate Choices

Buddhists also have varying views on abortion. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice notes, “Buddhism, like other world religions, grapples with the fact that abortion can sometimes be the best decision and a true moral choice. That’s not to say there’s nothing troubling about abortion, but it does mean that Buddhists can understand that reproductive decisions are part of the moral complexity of life.

Japanese Buddhism in particular can be seen as offering a “middle way” between pro-choice and pro-life positions. While many Buddhists view life as beginning at conception, abortion is common and addressed through rituals involving Jizo, one of the enlightened figures Buddhists call bodhisattvas, who are believed to care for aborted and miscarried fetuses. .

Ultimately, the Buddhist approach to abortion emphasizes that abortion is a complex moral decision that must be made with compassion in mind.

We tend to think of the religious response to abortion as opposition, but the reality is much more complicated. Formal religious teachings on abortion are complex and divided — and official positions aside, the data shows that time and time again, the majority of Americans, religious or not, support abortion.The conversation

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