Freedom of religion, abortion and women’s rights


In New York, women have access to abortion clinics. When the Supreme Court finally decides to overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade decision, New York may be one of the very few remaining bastions of women’s reproductive rights in the country.

What does this mean to those residing in states that have banned abortion? New York will be one of those very few places where they can have the procedure done. But as to the legal fallout from them undergoing abortion outside of their states where it is banned, it all varies from state to state.

Be that as it may, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has already pledged $35 million in funds to boost the services in the state and security for the providers.

Many states, usually Republican states, have enacted laws banning or restricting abortions. And the recent leak of the highest court of the land contemplating on overturning the landmark Roe vs Wade law has women and supporters riled up over a potential curtailment of women’s rights. In these states that are significantly Christian or Catholic, abortion is not allowed as they consider life begins at conception.

So, where do we all go from here?

Some say, the United States is a democracy, not a theocracy. Here, religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. But some Republican and Republican-leaning states have been passing abortion bans citing their religious beliefs. Does this mean religion takes precedence over women’s rights? Or is there a compromise? What about the non-Christians who do not object to abortions? Let us look at the views of other religious groups.

Abortion in different cultures

A paper by Jing-Bao Nie titled, “Chinese Moral Perspectives on Abortion and Foetal Life: An Historical Account,” is a revisionist historical account of Chinese moral perspectives on abortion and fetal life. For Nie, the common perception that the Chinese are permissive of abortion is historically unfounded. (Source: Both Confucianists and Buddhists believe abortion is tantamount to destroying a human life.

In India where a majority of the population are Hindus, abortion is permitted only if it imperils the life of the mother. Hinduism is one of the major religions in India that regards the sanctity of the human life as espoused through their teaching of ahimsa or non-violence. The Hindus share this value of ahimsa with Buddhists and Jains.

How about Muslims?

Although the Quran does not directly address abortion, the Muslim view is shaped by Hadith as well as religious and legal scholars, according to a Wikipedia article.

According to a BBC article, the Muslim faith places a high priority on the sanctity of the human life, with many scholars recognizing a fetus in the womb as a human life. Abortion, however, is permitted if the life of the mother is at risk.

The article also cited a passage from the Quran as follows:

Whosoever has spared the life of a soul, it is as though he has spared the life of all people. Whosoever has killed a soul, it is as though he has murdered all of mankind.

Qur’an 5:32

The same article also said that in Islam, abortion is permitted to save the life of the mother, which in Sharia, is the lesser of two evils. Abortion is regarded as a lesser evil in this case because:

the mother is the ‘originator’ of the fetus

the mother’s life is well-established

the mother has with duties and responsibilities

the mother is part of a family

allowing the mother to die would also kill the fetus in most cases

Moreover, BBC reported that there is almost unanimous opinion that “after 120 days an abortion is not permissible unless the defect in the embryo puts the mother’s life in danger.” Also, a liberal take by some scholars believe that if the fetus has a physical or mental defect, abortion is allowed so long as it is under 120 days and that two competent experts would attest to it. However, the more conservative scholars argue that it isn’t so in these cases.

Jewish opinion

Meanwhile, based on the Jewish law, life begins at birth. The baby is considered a person at birth.

I was reading the other day an article from the latest issue of Hadassah Magazine on Israel’s take on the issue of abortion by Dina Kraft. She said that in Israel, abortion is easy to get but difficult to talk about.

The article is very comprehensive in its discussion of the issue.

It pointed out that in the Talmud, the fetus, until 40 days from conception, is merely water and is not yet considered a living being.

Kraft wrote that although 98 percent of those who sought the procedure got approved, she said it is not an automatic right. She cited the 1977 abortion law which set the criteria:

If the woman is under 18 or over 40; if the fetus is not viable or would have severe medical problems if brought to term; if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an ‘illicit union’ (including not being married or having a relationship outside of marriage); and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.

“Israel’s Take on Abortion,” By Dina Kraft. Hadassah Magazine. pp. 24-29.

Before a pregnant woman can get the procedure, she has to be approved by a termination committee composed of two doctors and a social worker, with one of them a woman. One has to set an appointment with the committee that sometimes takes two weeks or more to make.

Some women find appearance before a committee highly intrusive and that someone else makes the decision for them.

Despite this, women have better control over their bodies in Israel. The system which requires committee approval may not be perfect but at least they can access the procedure.

Religious freedom and women’s rights

Given the plurality of cultures and religions in the United States, and with the United States Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, can women whose religions approve of abortions based on certain criteria be allowed to invoke the First Amendment to secure access to the procedure of abortion?

Can women of other beliefs secure an exemption from an abortion ban that Evangelicals or Catholics wanted enforced?

My personal view

In my personal opinion, I think, rather than abolishing Roe vs Wade, how about providing accommodation for women whose religions allow them to take the procedure? or giving them exemptions based on their or their fetus’ health situation? or if their pregnancy is a result of rape, incest, or the birth of the child would lead to the mother being socially stigmatized; or forever burdened both physically and financially in raising a child with significant biological infirmities.

Or better yet, why not call a referendum on the issue and let the people decide? The voice of the people is the voice of God.

I have said this a number of times: it does not have to be a zero-sum game. Let’s ask ourselves these: what if I were in their shoes? What if that woman is my daughter, or sister, or cousin, who needs the procedure so she could live? Why force a rape victim to bring into this world a baby that is a product of violence and hate? Is the foster care system working?

Before I end this topic tonight, let me give you an example. The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic nation, and where abortion is illegal. What if, take for example, a woman discovers during her second trimester via a sonogram that her baby has anencephaly, with neither a developed brain nor skull. Given that abortion is illegal, and doctors are not allowed to perform the procedure, are we to allow a mother to carry a baby to full term knowing that it will not survive the moment it is delivered? Are we going to let her struggle with the pregnancy physically, and let her also agonize over eventual loss of the baby for several months? Without abortion, we subject her to a smorgasbord of grief, pain, and suffering. Without abortion, we subject her to a situation that also endangers her own life.

This circles back to this: I understand freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and so are women’s rights. Does the constitution state that of all the fundamental human rights, there is such a thing as the first among equals? Does one take precedence over the other?

I do not know the answer. But all I can say is can’t we let others decide what they want for themselves? If abortion is against our religious convictions, can’t we let others deal with this moral burden themselves? Can’t we let them practice free will in making the choice to whether or not do the procedure?

Since we are in a democracy, can we not put the issue on the ballot and let a referendum settle it?

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