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The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health & Ethics

Frequently Asked Questions
about Sacred Choices

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Q. Does Sacred Choices advocate abortion?

A. Sacred Choices advocates contraception, including emergency contraception, with abortion as an option when necessary. The project demonstrates the open-mindedness on the issue of abortion and contraception in the world's religions. Sacred Choices opens the door to a more objective examination of the issues and precedents in religious cultures. It encourages the individual to seek the answers to family planning that best suits her situation and inner needs.

Q. Does Sacred Choices oppose conservative religious thinking?

A. The scholars in the Sacred Choices Initiative concede that there is a conservative view on contraception and on abortion in many religions. Their point is that this restrictive view is not the only legitimate and orthodox view on the subject. Due to various things throughout history, freedom of choice was suppressed. However, it remains an integral part of these religious traditions. The scholars of Sacred Choices object to calling the most conservative views on these issues the only acceptable ones.

They also vigorously object to governments imposing the most conservative and restrictive view on a whole population. When governments do this, they are taking sides in a religious debate and they are violating religious and human rights. It is not "conservative" to ban abortions. It is an invasion of the consciences of religious people, since both the conservative and the liberals views on abortion are religiously grounded.

Q. Wouldn't the positions of Sacred Choices still be more appealing to "liberals"?

A. Actually, the scholars of Sacred Choices are showing that these religious traditions are richer, wiser, and more respectful of conscience than many people think. The scholars do not water down faith teachings but explore them at deeper levels. Islamic leaders who favor the more open-minded view of abortion, for example, exalt Islam's enlightened origins just as the prophets of Israel did-and, indeed, as all true religious reformers do.

Q. Isn't abortion anti-Christian?

A. Many Christians throughout history have supported abortion. Even a Catholic saint, St. Antoninus, was pro-choice on early abortions when necessary to save the life of a woman. This was a huge category at that time and thus the saintly bishop was justifying a great number of abortions. One early church writer Tertullian approved of what we would call a late term emergency abortion, calling it a "necessary cruelty." A dominant tradition in Christianity is the theory of delayed animation or ensoulment, which teaches that the spiritual human soul does not arrive until three months or later in the pregnancy. Prior to that time, whatever life was there was not yet personal. Neither the pro-choice or the no-choice position can claim to be more Catholic or more authentic than the other since both co-existed, with equal standing, in the tradition.

Q. By positing religious sanction for contraception and abortion, does Sacred Choices risk destroying pillars of religious culture?

A. Sacred Choices scholars have studied the issues and placed their findings before the public for each person's personal consideration. If the project's advisors have any position, it is that religions that endure demonstrate realistic flexibility, room for vigorous debate, and a willingness to consider and honor contradictory opinions.

Q. Doesn't the Bible condemn abortion?

A. The Bible does not condemn abortion. The closest it gets is Exodus 21-22, which imposes a financial penalty on a man who "in the course of a brawl" causes a woman to miscarry; the text does not impose the "life for a life" rule which it would do if the fetus were thought to be a person. This is a clue that a fetus was not seen, from the Biblical point of view, as on equal standing with a born human being. In the ancient writings, abortion is permitted as a health procedure.

Q. If there is room for contraception and abortion in world religions, why are the injunctions against it so strong?

A. Many traditional religions developed at periods in history when illiteracy was the norm. Teachers often taught the way parents teach toddlers: with absolutes rather than nuances. Many of these religious cultures continue today to use absolute commands, treating adults as through they were unthinking children: "Don’t you dare!" All religions affirm life but come to see abortion as a necessary backup to contraception

Q. Even if abortion is legal, doesn't it have bad "karmic" consequences?

A. "Bad" karma can be changed by righteous action. According to some Hindu and Buddhist perspectives, when noble karma is bearing fruit, negative karma does not have a chance to ripen. In other words, performing good deeds can build up so much good karma that it overwhelms whatever negative karma may result from an abortion. Furthermore, intention factors strongly. Abortion by a good woman may, by this doctrine, become what Catholics call a "venial" or forgivable deed.

Q. Isn't abortion—religiously sanctioned or not—a cheapening of life?

A. One of the weaknesses in Christian history was the belief that sex is bad and that only reproduction validates it. More recent Christian thinking, like many Eastern traditions such as Taoism, sees sex as a singular way life's value is honored. Reproduction, from this perspective, is only one purpose of sex; on an equal plane are pleasure and health. In these traditions, abortion is seen as an unfortunate necessity rather than a cheapening of life. The Chinese religious attitude toward abortion, for example, has historically been one of tolerance and compassion, considered wrong only if done without thought and due consideration.

Q. Doesn't family planning contradict God's instruction to "be fruitful and multiply"?

A. This text actually supports, rather than rejects, family planning. The command to "increase and multiply" was given to people gifted with reason—mindful communities who would not just make human beings but humane human beings who could bring the message of Torah to the world. The text does not sanction creating ever-larger families that would overwhelm a community's ability to care for them.


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