Thursday, March 23, 2023

There is no single ‘religious view’ on abortion: a scholar of religion, gender and sexuality explained

The Catholic Church’s official rule on abortion, and even on any artificial birth control, is well known: Do not do it.

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

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

It is a clear reminder of the complex relationship between the teachings of any religious tradition and how people actually live out their beliefs. With the U.S. Supreme Court ready to dismiss Roe v. Wade, to reverse the 1973 ruling that protects abortion rights nationwide, is religious attitudes toward a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy in the spotlight. But even within one religion, there is no single religious position against reproductive rights – let alone between different religions.

Christianity and conscience

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

When it comes to official views on abortion, religions’ views are linked to different approaches to some key theological concepts. For example, for many religions, a key issue in abortion rights is “inspiration”, the moment the soul is believed to enter the body – that is, when a fetus becomes human.

The catch is that traditions place inspiration at different moments and give it different degrees of importance. Catholic theologians place inspiration at the moment of conception, and therefore the official position of the Catholic Church is that abortion is never allowed. From the moment the sperm meets the egg, in Catholic theology, a human being exists, and you can not kill a human being, no matter how it originated. You also can not choose between two human lives, therefore the church is aborting a fetus against it to save the life of the pregnant person.

As in any faith, not all Catholics feel obligated to follow the ecclesiastical doctrines in all cases. And whether or not someone thinks they will ever seek an abortion, they can believe 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% believe that abortion should never be legal.

People At A Rally Hold A Life-Size Illustration Of Pope Francis In Front Of An Outdoor Stage.
People opposed to abortion gather at the Washington Monument during the 2017 March for Life rally in Washington, DC
Tasos Katopodis / AFP via Getty Images

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

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

There are numerous Protestant views on abortion. The most conservatives equate it with murder, and are therefore against any exemptions. The most liberal Protestant voices advocate for a broad platform of reproductive justice, and call on believers to “trust women.”

Who is a ‘person’?

Muslim scholars and clergy also have a range of views on abortion. Some believe abortion is never allowed, and many allow it until stimulation, which is often placed at 120 days of pregnancy, is only embarrassing for 18 weeks. In general, many Muslim leaders allow abortion to save the life of the mother, as classical Islamic law sees legal personality as beginning at birth – although many Muslims may seek their religious leaders for guidance or assistance with abortion, many do not. .

Jewish tradition has a great deal of debate about when inspiration takes place: Several rabbinic texts place it at or even before conception, and many place it at birth, but inspiration is not as important as the legal status of the fetus under Jewish law. . Generally, it 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 miscarried, 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 have the same full personality as its mother. Jewish clergy generally agree that abortion is not only allowed, but obligated to save the life of the mother, because potential life must be sacrificed to save existing life – even during labor, as long as the head is not out of the birth canal did not come.

Where the Jewish law on abortion becomes complicated is when the mother’s life is not in danger. For example, contemporary Jewish leaders debate whether abortion is allowed if the mother’s mental health is harmed, if genetic tests show evidence of a non-fatal disability, or if there are other compelling concerns, such as the family’s resources being overtaxed. to care. for their existing children.

A Row Of Protesters Is Holding Signs Behind A Fence.
Protesters listen during the 2022 Jewish Abortion Justice Rally in Washington, DC
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

American Jews generally supported legal abortion with very few restrictions, as it was 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 may turn to their clergy for support in seeking an abortion, many will not see a need for it.

Another view of life

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

Most Hindus believe in reincarnation, which means that while one can enter bodies at birth and depart with death, life itself does not begin or end exactly. On the contrary, any given moment in a human body is seen as part of an endless life cycle – which makes the question of when life begins very different from that of Abrahamic religions.

Some bioethicists see Hinduism as essentially pro-life, allowing abortion only to save the life of the mother. However, if we look at what people do, rather than what a tradition’s sacred texts say, abortion is common in Hindu majority India, especially of female fetuses.

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

Compassionate choices

Buddhists also have different views on abortion. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice notes: “Buddhism, like the other religions of the world, faces the fact that abortion can sometimes be the best decision and a true moral choice. It does not mean that there is nothing disturbing about abortion, but it does mean that Buddhists may understand that reproductive decisions are part of the moral complexity of life. ”

A Row Of Small Mossy Statues Of Seated Figures Along A Path In The Forest.
Jizo statues sit along the Daiya River and Jiunji Temple in Nikko, Japan.
John S Lander / LightRocket via Getty Images

Japanese Buddhism in particular can be seen as a “middle ground” between pro-choice and pro-life positions. While many Buddhists see life as beginning at conception, abortion is common and is addressed through rituals involving Jizo, one of the enlightened figures that Buddhists call bodhisattvas, 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 a view to compassion.

We tend to think of the religious response to abortion as one of opposition, but the reality is much more complicated. Formal religious doctrines on abortion are complex and divided – and official views aside, data show that the majority of Americans, believing or not, support abortion over and over again.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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