USA Today, August 13, 2006
does God stand on abortion?
By Daniel C. Maguire
RELIGIONS SAY ...
The major world religions are pluralistic
on abortion, with some authorities permitting
abortion and some forbidding it. A sampling
of views within various faiths:
The popes have taught that abortion is always
forbidden, and the church hierarchy has
held to a doctrine that strongly opposes
it. Even so, grounds for permitting abortion
exist in the Catholic tradition, and many
Catholic theological authorities permit
abortion in a variety of situations. There
is even a pro-choice Catholic saint, the
15th century archbishop of Florence, St.
Antoninus. He approved of early abortions
when needed to save the life of the mother,
a huge category in his day. There is thus
no one Catholic view.
Conservative Protestants usually condemn
abortion, but Protestants are largely
open to a moral choice on abortion. The
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
reports that some abortion rights are
accepted within denominations, including
Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Quakers,
the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches,
Methodists, United Church of Christ and
Unitarian churches. The United Methodist
General Conference was typical of mainline
Protestant churches when it rejected "simplistic
answers to the problem of abortion which,
on the one hand, regard all abortions
as murders, or, on the other hand, regard
all abortions as procedures without moral
Because of the survival challenges Jews
have faced historically, Judaism places
great stress on children as a blessing.
Nonetheless, as Orthodox theologian Laurie
Zoloth says, "Abortion appears as
an option for Jewish women from the earliest
sources of the Bible and Mishnaic commentary."
According to most Jewish authorities,
the fetus does not have the status of
a nefesh, a person, until the head emerges
in the birthing process. This does not
mean, however, that late-term abortions
would be deemed acceptable in all circumstances.
In some cases, performing an abortion
is even considered a mitzvah, a sacred
duty, not a "lesser evil."
Like all religions, it highly prizes fertility.
Even so, Islam believes that we are obligated
by God not to overpopulate. As Islamic
scholar Azizah al-Hibri says, "The
majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion,
although they differ on the stage of fetal
development beyond which it becomes prohibited."
After 120 days, abortion is permissible
only to save the mother's life, where
the pregnancy is harming an already suckling
child, or when it is known that the fetus
is malformed. Though the various schools
of Islam differ on the time in which an
abortion is permitted, al-Hibri says all
"permit abortion for exigencies such
as saving the mother's life."
This religion teaches "The Middle Way"
between too much and too little and applies
this to children, too -- thus allowing
for family planning. Some Buddhists forbid
abortion because it is a precept of Buddhism
not "to willingly take the life of
a living thing." Others permit abortion
when it is not a product of greed, hate,
or delusion. Some Buddhists see abortion
not as killing but as delaying the arrival
of a "being about to be born,"
a being that may have had many previous
lives and is not harmed by this temporary
deferral of birth.
The literature of this religion calls abortion
one of the mahapatakas (atrocious acts).
But Hindu moral law is dynamic and changing,
and so abortion is allowed for a variety
of reasons. In fact, in India, abortion
has been legal since 1971 with almost
no objections from Hindu religious authorities.
North American native religions:
Native American cultures commonly believe
that one cannot respect Mother Earth without
family planning. Because of the strong
matriarchal traditions, issues of family
planning, such as contraception and abortion,
are considered women's business, not men's.
As one Lakota woman put it, "Anything
that has to do with our bodies ... is
really our business as women, and as Lakota
women, it is part of our cultures to make
our own decisions about abortion."
Taoism and Confucianism:
It is especially noteworthy in the Chinese
religions that sex and sexual pleasure
are esteemed and celebrated along with
the need for moderation. Moderation is
also considered a virtue in reproduction.
Thus, there is minimal resistance in these
religions to contraception, and abortion
is allowed as a backup if needed.
Daniel C. Maguire, is professor of
Moral Theology at Marquette University
and author of Sacred Choices: The Right
to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World
does God stand on abortion?
Each side of this divisiveissue claims
the divine knowledge of what is right
and wrong in the eyes of the Almighty.
As with any hot-button issue, it's not
By Tom Ehrich
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take
up one aspect of the abortion issue in
its next term specifically the
constitutionality of a rare procedure
opponents call "partial-birth"
abortion and as a result will find
itself embroiled in a marathon religious
duel marked by vitriol, apocalyptic visions
and relentless maneuvering. Religious
leaders will speak passionately on both
sides of the issue, quote Scripture against
each other and claim to express God's
A third religious constituency, however,
has lost interest in the abortion debate
some because homosexuality seems
more pertinent; some because other issues
such as war, justice, economic distress
and terrorism seem more pressing.
In the abortion battle, each religious camp
thinks it has gained ground since Roe
v. Wade in 1973, in which the Supreme
Court legalized abortion nationwide. One
side, calling itself "pro-life,"
believes that new high court Justice Samuel
Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts will
tilt toward its anti-abortion position.
The other side, calling itself "pro-choice,"
believes that public opinion has moved
toward greater acceptance of legal abortion
and that the court will follow the trend.
Shades of gray
So where do religions and for that
matter, people of faith stand when
it comes to whether abortion should be
legal or not? Much like the secular debate
over abortion, the religious debate is
one best captured in shades of gray rather
than how it's usually depicted by both
"pro" sides in black
In fact, the religious arguments themselves
haven't changed much over the past three
decades. They've simply grown in volume
The basic religious position against abortion
is that human life begins at conception,
not at birth, and therefore aborting a
pregnancy violates the commandment against
murder. The Supreme Court said in Roe
that "we need not resolve the difficult
question of when life begins. When those
trained in the respective disciplines
of medicine, philosophy, and theology
are unable to arrive at any consensus,
the judiciary, at this point in the development
of man's knowledge, is not in a position
to speculate as to the answer."
To counteract that argument, those who oppose
abortion have devoted much of their recent
work to developing a scientific and medical
basis for defining life as they see it.
Supporters of abortion rights disagree
with this definition of life calling
it bad science and a misreading of Scripture
and argue that women, not the state,
should make their own reproductive choices.
In the point-counterpoint of the abortion
debate, biblical arguments seem to have
lost their zing, as partisans talk past
each other and dispute the meaning of
the few biblical passages that come even
close to being relevant. When Psalm 139,
for example, says, "You (God) knit
me together in my mother's womb,"
is that biblical proof life begins at
conception or simply symbolic language
showing God's providence, based perhaps
on an ancient Phoenician myth? Depends
on whom you ask.
When Jeremiah 1:5 has God saying, "Before
I formed you in the womb, I knew you,"
is that God's definition of conception
or the author's literary description of
his call as a prophet? Again, it depends
on one's interpretation.
The more active weapons have become labeling
and trying to convey the impression of
a religious juggernaut, when in fact neither
side can make an absolute case for or
The decision ultimately comes down to individual
religions and, ultimately, individuals.
Each side wants to present itself as the
one true religious viewpoint on abortion.
In truth, there is no single religious
position on abortion. Mainline churches
tilt toward allowing legal abortion, conservative
churches tilt toward ending legal abortion,
but each denomination even those
most publicly aligned with opposition
to abortion, such as Roman Catholic and
Southern Baptist has a sizable
minority that takes a differing position.
So what lies ahead? The issue of abortion
had been in a lull, as gay marriage became
this year's political lightning rod. But
expect that to change in the fall when
the Supreme Court takes it up once again.
The protest signs will appear on the steps
of the court, the battle lines will again
be drawn and the nation will again see
religion used as a wedge.
America's religious communities show deep
divisions and hardening positions on abortion.
As happens when a political or cultural
issue becomes a religious cause couched
in absolutist language and claims of divine
sanction, compromise seems unthinkable.
At the pew level, however, the situation
is more fluid. Whether one attends a Southern
Baptist service, a Catholic Mass, Jewish
synagogue or Muslim mosque, there's a
good chance that fellow congregants view
the abortion debate as individuals rather
than with one religious voice.
You wouldn't know that from the rhetoric
political and religious
on the national stage.
Yes, in this day and age, extreme positions
command the microphones and drown out
the others. Perhaps it's time for the
common-sense middle to assert itself against
both extremes in abortion and in
the next hot-button issue.
Tom Ehrich is an Episcopal pastor, author,
teacher and writer in Durham, N.C.