Abortion and Women’s Reproductive Rights in Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity

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Abortion has always been one of the most controversial and talked about issues, surrounding moral, legal, and religious concerns (Groome, 2017). Until the late ninetieth century, abortion was legal in the United States before “quickening,” which was the point of pregnancy when a woman could feel the first movements of the fetus, generally around the fourth month (Anonymous, 2018). Then, a United States Supreme Court case called Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in all fifty states in 1973, thus eliminating the government’s restrictions and protecting women’s rights to choose to have an abortion (Groome, 2017). However, from that moment on, abortion became an ongoing battle between those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice. Unable to come to an understanding of abortion, there has been conflict between the two opposing sides as their views do not align. Religious beliefs generally view abortion as immoral and thus forbidden. However, some religions will agree to it only if it means protecting another life and this can be seen through religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. This paper will review religious perspectives on abortion and current issues related to abortion and women’s reproductive rights.

Religious Perspectives of Abortion

To start off, Buddhism, which is the fourth largest religion that originated from ancient India, shares the goal of overcoming suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth throughout most of its traditions (Powers, 2007). There is no single view on abortion when it comes to Buddhism, although multiple traditional sources such as the Buddhist monastic codes came to an agreement that life begins at conception (“Buddhism and abortion”, 2009). Since abortion is the deliberate act of ending one’s life, it should be rejected at all costs (Harvey, 2000). However, historical documents do not show awareness of the benefits of abortions when it comes to the health of the mother (Harvey, 2000). From traditions and abortion laws in many Buddhist countries, a threat to the mother’s life and physical health has become accepted as a justifiable reason for abortion by modern Buddhist teachers (Harvey, 2000). Regardless of the risks that pregnancy can pose on the mother, abortion is still seen as a deed with “negative moral or karmic consequences” (Harvey, 2000). As said by the current Dalai Lama, who’s title was given by Tibetan people for the most foremost spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddism, abortion is seen as negative (Schaik, 2011, pg. 129). However, there are exceptions since the current Dalai Lama also mentioned that abortion should be considered and thought through under each circumstance (Dreifus, 1993).

In Islamic teachings on abortion, it is viewed as wrong and haram (forbidden) (“Sanctity of life”, 2009). Muslim authorities believe abortion is the act of interfering with God’s role “as the [creator] of life and death” (Al Faruqui, 1982). Although, there are different opinions amongst Islamic scholars about when life truly begins, and when abortion is acceptable (Anonymous 2013). Most would agree that the termination of a pregnancy after four months is not permissible since in Islam they believe at that point, a fetus is considered a living soul (Anonymous, 2013). On the other hand, abortion should be considered only when it poses a threat to the mother’s safety and in cases of sexual assault, which is similar to how Buddhism views abortion (Anonymous, 2013). In general, Muslims agree that saving the mother’s life is seen as the lesser of the two evils; the mother is part of the family, has duties and responsibilities, and in most cases, allowing the mother to die will result in the fetus dying as well (“Sanctity of life”, 2009). The potential life of a fetus is not as crucial when in comparison to the mother’s (Aramesh, 2007). Schools of Muslim law authorize abortion in the first sixteen weeks of pregnancy, whereas others only allow the first seven weeks (“Sanctity of life”, 2009). Although the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sunna did not explicitly mention abortion, the Qur’an (609-632 CE) states: “And kill not your children for fear of poverty; it is We who provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin” (17:32). In other words, abortion should never be an option if the family was ever anxious about not being able to provide for the baby and that they should trust Allah to take care of things (“Sanctity of life”, 2009). The major dilemma regarding abortion in Islam lies between saving and protecting the potential human life, all to maintain a strong community of faithful Muslims and individuals (Bowen, 2003).

When considering abortion in Hindusim, most people choose the action that will do the least harm to all those who are involved; the mother, the father, the fetus itself and society (“Hinduism and abortion”, 2009). Although, they are generally opposed to the idea of abortion, unless necessary to save the mother’s life (“Hinduism and abortion”, 2009). Classical Hindu texts consider abortion to be a worse sin than killing one’s parent; a woman who aborts her child will lose her caste, and even goes as far as comparing abortion to the killing of a priest (“Hinduism and abortion”, 2009). According to the set of beliefs of reincarnation, a fetus is seen to be a reincarnation or reborn soul and is said to be a person from the early stages of pregnancy (“Hinduism and abortion”, 2009). The soul within the fetus supposedly remembers its past lives during the last months spent inside the mother’s womb, and those memories are then destroyed during the trauma of birth (“Hinduism and abortion”, 2009). Even though traditional Hinduism and modern Hindus view abortion as “a breach of the duty” to produce children in order to continue the family and produce new members of society, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India (“Hinduism and abortion”, 2009). The religious ban is sometimes overruled by the cultural preference for sons, and this can lead to abortion to prevent the birth of girls; this is called the female foeticide (“Hinduism and abortion”, 2009). Female foeticide is the selective abortion of female fetuses with the use of non-legal methods (Ahmad, 2010). Females are denied the right to be born, as they face inequality in Hinduism (Ahmad, 2010). This particular method is both practical and socially acceptable in India and is driven by many factors such as having to avoid paying a dowry to the future bridegroom of the daughter (Ahmad, 2010). Males are seen to offer security to their families and can perform the rites for the souls of deceased family members, while females are perceived as a social and economic burden (Ahmad, 2010). Although abortion is legal in India, to abort a pregnancy solely because the fetus is female is a crime, and there are strict laws and penalties placed for violators (Ahmad, 2010).

The orthodox Jewish teaching allows abortion if necessary to protect the life of the pregnant women, which is similar to how the other religions mentioned previously view abortion (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009; Bank, 2002, pg. 186). The right to safe and accessible abortion is defended by Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, whereas the Orthodox is divided on the issue (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009). In Judaism, perspectives on abortion are drawn primarily upon the legal and ethical teachings of the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and other rabbinic literature (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009). The permit of abortions in Judaism is based on the pain the mother will be experiencing if the pregnancy were to continue since the mother’s life is viewed as more important than the fetus’ (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009). However, concerns about abortion are mainly concerned with the wrongful termination of the life of a fetus who is either seen as a human being or is not. (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009). People that oppose abortion believed that terminating a fetus destroys “something made in God’s image” and would be an unjustifiable act of wounding as it is deemed wrong to injure oneself (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009). A fetus in Judaism is not considered a person until it is born, and during the first forty days after conception, it is considered “mere fluid” (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009). From an ethical point of view, a fetus is not a person but should be protected to some extent nonetheless because it is growing and becoming a full person in the near future (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009). Even though the fetus “has no personhood”, it must still be viewed and protected as a potential human being that can not be casually harmed and destroyed (“Judaism and abortion”, 2009).

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The Roman Catholic Church says that life begins the moment the woman’s egg is fertilized by a male’s sperm and that at this point, it is not a “potential human being but a human being with potential” (Anonymous, 2009). Early Christians considered abortion as a grave moral wrong at any point in the pregnancy (Anonymous, 2009; Nisbet, year, pg. 2). In the Code of Canon Law (1988), stated “[a] person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic excommunication” (Canon 1398). Causing or having an abortion led to the action of excluding someone from the participation in the services of the Christian Church. For Pope John Paul II, he described abortion as murder (Anonymous, 2009). He wrote “I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being” (Anonymous, 2009; Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995). For a long time, the Church had stated that a fetus becomes a person once the egg is fertilized, however, theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas said this did not happen until forty to eighty days after conception (Anonymous, 2009). Although, some Catholics may argue that the fixed position of the Church on this matter is on the side that protects the life of the fetus(Anonymous, 2009). Catholics who side with pro-choice do not propose that abortion is moral, but there are situations in which it can be deemed the least immoral choice (Anonymous, 2009).

Women’s Reproductive Rights

John Rogers, an American Politician from the state of Alabama and a member of the Democratic party, voiced his support for women’s rights to choose as they have the right to make that decision themselves (Mettler, 2019). Human rights also mean reproductive rights, and this allows women to have access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and freedom in sexual and reproductive decision making (Amnesty International USA, 2007). Reproductive rights for women include the right to legal and safe abortion, access to birth control, and the right to an education on this matter to help make educated decisions on reproductive issues. (Amnesty International USA, 2007). Another right that is also recognized within this act is the basic right for couples and individuals to choose on the number and timing of their children (Amnesty International USA, 2007). At the United Nation’s 1968 International Conference on Human Rights, these rights were included with human rights and the Proclamation of Tehran was the first international document to acknowledge this, stating “parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children” (Freedman, 1993; Proclamation of Teheran, 1968).

Current Issues Regarding Abortion

In Canada, prior to 1969, all abortion was illegal (Bromely, 2012, pg. 26-32). Canada is one of the few nations where there are no specific legal restrictions on abortion and it is legal at all stages in the pregnancy and is funded by the Canada Health Act (Jenkins, Poloni-Staudinger, Strachan, & Ortbals, 2019, pg. 115). In the 1960s, physicians and the Canadian women’s movement fought successfully against the prohibition of abortion in the Criminal Code (Rogers & Downie, 2006). The Supreme Court recognized that a woman’s right to continue or terminate a pregnancy is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and struck down the law in 1988 (Rogers & Downie, 2006). This resulted in restrictions being lifted off of abortion and it becoming treated and regulated like other medical procedures (Rogers & Downie, 2006). However, there has not been much improvement. Many teenage girls and women still have limited access to abortion, and those particularly who are immigrants, young, poor, and/or disabled are the most vulnerable (Rogers & Downie, 2006). Abortions are unavailable in some provinces in Canada, and if available, can be very cost limited for vulnerable women (Rogers & Downie, 2006). Some physicians even refuse to provide the services of abortion or the information and referrals needed to seek help elsewhere (Rogers & Downie, 2006). Throughout this, women have continued to persevere through these institutionalized discriminations and struggles, much like the incidents which are happening in Alabama.

Recently the Human Life Protection Act, also known as the Alabama Abortion Law, has been enacted in the middle of May 2019. It was set to impose a near-total ban on abortion in the state, starting in November. However, a legal challenge against the law has delayed implementation. Will Ainsworth, who is the states’ Lieutenant Governer, urged the state lawmakers to pass the stringent bill as he believed “abortion is murder” (Danielle, 2019). The law will only permit abortions if the mother’s life is at risk and to prevent serious health risks or if the fetus cannot survive and will result in death soon after birth or stillbirth (Law, 2019). The law, if it were to be enacted, is very strict when it comes to cases, as abortion is not permitted in situations such as rape or incest (Law, 2019). The legislation also specifies that abortion is not permitted even if the mother is mentally ill or has an “emotional condition” (Law, 2019). Another doctor’s confirmation would be needed in order to deem that the mother has a ‘serious mental illness’ that could cause severe harm or death upon the mother or the fetus (Law, 2019). However, if any Alabama doctors were found guilty of going through with the procedure of abortion, they could face up to ninety-nine years behind bars, which is the same amount as rapists and murderers (Lou, 2019). Physicians will be classified as Class A felon, which is the highest level in Alabama and the minimum sentence is ten years (Lou, 2019). It is equivalent to rape and murder. However, Alabama is not the only state who wants to ban abortion. A ‘heartbeat’ bill has been pursued over the past few months in states such as Mississipi and Louisiana, which deems abortion is illegal as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected (Law, 2019). This resulted in uproars and public protests around the country.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper reviewed various religious perspectives on the idea of abortion and the start of life. The religions mentioned throughout the paper seem to have similar views in the mother’s life as more valuable than the potential life of the fetus, and that abortion shall only be permitted if it means protecting the wellbeing and saving another life. In today’s current society, many countries allowed legal abortions to occur thus protecting a women’s reproductive rights. However, a shift recently occurred in several states in the United States of America and this has challenged abortion and reproductive rights in a harsh manner. In general, there will always be opposing sides in this everlasting debate of abortion and reproductive rights which makes it difficult. Hopefully, whatever decisions are made in the near future regarding abortion or pro-life, will be in the best interest of all parties involved.

References

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