I have a follow-up to last week’s post on abortion. A dear friend sent me info (below) after he read the post. (Thank you, John.) He pointed out that the rabbi I quoted wasn’t speaking in a one-off kind of way. He was speaking for the whole Jewish faith, which believes that life begins at birth. I stand corrected. I didn’t know about that.
This got me to thinking. What do each of the world’s five major religions think about abortion? If you’re up for a long read, check the info below, but I’ll summarize here.
Judaism—life begins at birth, which is when the soul enters the body.
Islam—it’s a mixed bag and up to individual Muslim countries, although the 120-day mark seems to be significant.
Hinduism—again, a mixed bag, but factor in the concept of karma.
Buddhism—abortion is generally regarded negatively.
Christianity—mainline Protestants are generally supportive of abortion rights; evangelicals and Catholics are generally anti-abortion.
Before I go on, I want to consider India and China for a minute. In India, especially in low-caste and poor areas, it’s traditionally been VERY hard to raise a girl child. In China, because of the now-overturned one child policy, having a second child of either gender was against the law. SO, abortion and even infanticide were likely widespread for many generations, just out of necessity. For more on this topic, see the documentary “It’s a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words in the World.”
Anyway, to me, a zygote contains all the DNA of the being who will eventually be born…so therefore, that person is that person from the get-go. But I honor the questions of others, such as when the soul enters the body, when the baby becomes viable outside the womb, etc. It’s part science, part religion, part politics, part grievous decision, and for some, part convenience.
My takeaway is this. WE MUST KEEP TALKING. Once we have more information, we’re just better humans, whether our core beliefs change or not.
Ezekiel 36:26 says this. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
I don’t want a hard, inflexible heart. I want to grow. I need to hear from people. The only people I want to avoid are those who already know everything about everything.
Judaism and Abortion ~ per the National Council of Jewish Women
NCJW works to ensure that every single person can make their own moral and faith-informed decisions about their body, health, and future. Our Jewish values compel us to support full access to safe and legal abortion care as basic health care. Below is a Q&A regarding some common misconceptions about Judaism and abortion.
Does Jewish law state that life begins at conception? No, life does not begin at conception under Jewish law. Sources in the Talmud note that the fetus is “mere water” before 40 days of gestation. Following this period, the fetus is considered a physical part of the pregnant individual’s body, not yet having life of its own or independent rights. The fetus is not viewed as separate from the parent’s body until birth begins and the first breath of oxygen into the lungs allows the soul to enter the body.
Does Jewish law assert that it is possible to murder a fetus? No, Jewish law does not consider a fetus to be alive. The Torah, Exodus 21:22-23, recounts a story of two men who are fighting and injure a pregnant woman, resulting in her subsequent miscarriage. The verse explains that if the only harm done is the miscarriage, then the perpetrator must pay a fine. However, if the pregnant person is gravely injured, the penalty shall be a life for a life as in other homicides. The common rabbinical interpretation of this verse is that the men did not commit murder and that the fetus is not a person. The primary concern is the well-being of the person who was injured.
According to Jewish law, is abortion health care? Yes, Jewish sources explicitly state that abortion is not only permitted but is required should the pregnancy endanger the life or health of the pregnant individual. Furthermore, “health” is commonly interpreted to encompass psychological health as well as physical health. NCJW advocates for abortion access as an essential component of comprehensive, affordable, confidential, and equitable family planning, reproductive, sexual health, and maternal health services.
What does Jewish law say about the rights of the person who is pregnant and the rights of the fetus? Judaism values life and affirms that protecting existing life is paramount at all stages of pregnancy. A fetus is not considered a person under Jewish law and therefore does not have the same rights as one who is already alive. As such, the interests of the pregnant individual always come before that of the fetus.
Do abortion bans unduly favor one religious viewpoint over another? Yes, different religions believe that human life begins at different stages of development. Science can explain developmental timelines, but philosophic and religious viewpoints largely determine what exactly defines “life” or “personhood” for each individual. NCJW believes, as the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees, that no one religion should be enshrined in law or dictate public policy on any issue — including abortion.”
Islam and Abortion ~ per good ‘ol Wikipedia
Muslim views on abortion are shaped by the Hadith as well as by the opinions of legal and religious scholars and commentators. The Quran does not directly address intentional abortion, leaving greater discretion to the laws of individual countries. Although opinions among Islamic scholars differ over when a pregnancy can be terminated, there are no explicit prohibitions on a woman’s right to abort under Islamic law.
There are four Sunni Islam schools of thought—Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Hanbali and Maliki—and they have their own reservations on if and when abortions can happen in Islam. The Maliki madhhab holds “that the fetus is ensouled at the moment of conception” and thus “most Malikis do not permit abortion at any point, seeing God’s hand as actively forming the fetus at every stage of development.” On the other hand, “some Hanafi scholars believe that abortion before the hundred twenty day period is over is permitted though some Hanafi scholars teach that an abortion within 120 days is makruh (disapproved). Abortion is recommended any time where the mother’s life is in danger. The mother life is paramount in this decision. Sahih al-Bukhari writes that the fetus is believed to become a living soul after 120 days’ gestation. American academic Azizah Y. al-Hibri claims that “the majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion, although they differ on the stage of fetal development beyond which it becomes prohibited.” According to Sherman Jackson, “while abortion, even during the first trimester, is forbidden according to a minority of jurists, it is not held to be an offense for which there are criminal or even civil sanctions.”
In practice, access to abortion varies greatly between Muslim-majority countries.
Hinduism and Abortion ~ again, Wikipedia
Abortion in Hinduism is governed by Garbha Upanishad. The verses in this Upanishad declared abortion of a jivan as a crime, which is intelligence or soul that as per the verses does not come alive until the 7th month. The Mahanarayana Upanishad lists the abortionist with actions such as breaking one’s vow of chastity. Brahma Kumaris and individual Hindus, hold varying stances about abortion.
In the Garbha Upanishad, it states “In the seventh month, fetus comes to life.” Jivan or intelligence or soul as referenced in the text does not come alive until the 7th month. The preceding verses provide an anatomically correct version of growth post conception. The other texts cited above are also suggest abortion of a jivan is a crime. Though the soul is present from the beginning of conception, it becomes aware of oneself at the seventh month.
According to the Hinduism Today website, “Several Hindu institutions have shared their positions on abortion recently. The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University does not take a formal unchanging political or religious stance on the issue of abortion. According to Vedic literature an eternal individual soul inhabits the body of every living creature…The soul enters the womb at the time of conception, and this makes the fetus a living, individual person.” Some Hindu theologians believe personhood begins at 3 months and develops through to 5 months of gestation, possibly implying permitting abortion up to the third month and considering any abortion past the third month to be destruction of the soul’s current incarnate body. The Hindu teaching of the word Karma, the result of good and bad actions, makes abortions improper. In this teaching, the opposite of life is thought to be rebirth. Abortion causes termination not only to the unborn, but also to the unborn child’s karma. It is believed that negative karma goes to those who interrupt karma’s continuing cycle.
The Mahanarayana Upanishad lists the abortionist with actions such as breaking one’s vow of chastity. Individual Hindus hold varying stances on abortion. For this reason it has become common to not state the Hindu view on abortion but rather one Hindu view on abortion. Even with a high rate of abortion in India statistics showed 80 per cent of Indian women disapproved and 56 per cent consider it a heinous crime. Hindus go as far as to make clear distinctions in their sacred texts between abortions and miscarriages. The text goes as far as stating that killing a male embryo who could have been a Brahmin the same as killing an adult Brahmin which is considered one of the worst sins one can commit.
The British Broadcasting Corporation writes, “When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the fetus and society… Classical Hindu texts are strongly opposed to abortion.” The BBC goes on to state, “In practice, however, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India, because the religious ban on abortion is sometimes overruled by the cultural preference for sons. This can lead to abortion to prevent the birth of girl babies, which is called ‘female feticide‘.” Hindus generally tend to support abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk or when the fetus has a severe developmental abnormality. Sex-selective abortion is banned in India and Hindu scholars and women’s rights advocates have supported these bans.
If the mother’s life is at risk, Hinduism permits abortion.
Buddhism and Abortion ~ Wikipedia
There is no single Buddhist view concerning abortion, although it is generally regarded negatively.Inducing or otherwise causing an abortion is regarded as a serious matter in the monastic rules followed by both Theravada and Vajrayana monks; monks can be expelled for assisting a woman in procuring an abortion. Traditional sources do not recognize a distinction between early- and late-term abortion, but in Sri Lanka and Thailand the “moral stigma” associated with an abortion grows with the development of the fetus. While traditional sources do not seem to be aware of the possibility of abortion as relevant to the health of the mother, modern Buddhist teachers from many traditions- and abortion laws in many Buddhist countries- recognize a threat to the life or physical health of the mother as an acceptable justification for abortion as a practical matter, though it may still be seen as a deed with negative moral or karmic consequences.
Christianity and Abortion ~ Wikipedia
Christianity and abortion have a long and complex history, and there are a variety of positions taken by contemporary Christian denominations on the topic. Although the Bible does not contain any explicit judgment on abortion, there are several biblical passages that have been interpreted as indicating either moral approval or disapproval of abortion. While some writers say that early Christians held different beliefs at different times about abortion, others say that they condemned abortion at any point of pregnancy as a grave sin, a condemnation that they maintained even when some early Christians did not view as homicide the elimination of a fetus not yet “formed” and animated by a human soul. Some authors, such as ethicist Benjamin Wiker, have contrasted the prohibition of abortion in later Christian societies with the availability of abortion that was present in earlier Roman society, arguing that this reflects a wider condemnation of pagan practices.
Today, Christian denominations hold a variety of stances on the issue of abortion.
A great deal of variation exists in terms of how contemporary Christian denominations view abortion. Nonetheless, some Christian denominations can be considered anti-abortion while others may be considered abortion rights supporters. Additionally, there are sizable minorities in all denominations that disagree with their denomination’s stance on abortion.
Daniel C. Maguire asserts that European-generated “mainline” Protestant denominations have clearly moved in the direction of accepting family planning and contraception as well as “support for legal access to abortion, although with qualifications regarding the moral justification for specific acts of abortion.” This general trend among “mainline” Protestant denominations has been resisted by Christian Fundamentalists who are generally opposed to abortion. Thus, religious leaders in more liberal Christian denominations became supporters of abortion rights while Evangelical and other conservative Protestants found themselves allied with the Catholic Church which remained staunchly anti-abortion.