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Monday, February 27, 2006

A Religious Argument For Being Pro-Choice

When the anti-abortion crowd states unequivocally that abortion is murder they are voicing a belief based on fundamentalist Christian interpretation of scripture. It certainly isn't based on science or medicine which would argue that you have a child at some point in the pregnancy when the fetus is viable and can live outside the mothers womb. Nobody would argue based on science that a newly fertilized egg is a distinct individual. To make that argument one must turn to religion.

Similarly, based on my Jewish religious tradition and a mainstream (Conservative or modern Orthodox) interpretation of scripture I could argue unequivocally that life begins at birth, not before, and abortion is never tantamount to taking a life.

Yes, I know conservative Christians use some of what they call Old Testament scripture to justify their position. The problem with this is that from a Jewish perspective Christians reorder the Tanakh (Bible), mixing up Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). They also weigh the whole Tanakh equally while Jews give greater weight to the Torah (Law), or the five books of Moses. So, then... what does the Torah have to say about abortion? Quite a lot, actually.

Let me quote Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, from his excellent book The Ten Commandments of Character, which I highly recommend:My view is shaped by Jewish tradition, which, while strongly limiting instances in which it regards abortion as permissible (e,g., when the mother's physical or mental well-being are imperiled), categorically rejects the notion of abortion as murder. The classic case in Jewish law is one discussed in the Torah. Exodus 21:22-23 rules that if two men are fighting and one murders the pregnant wife of the other, the killer is executed. But if instead of killing the wife, he wounds her and causes her pregnancy to be aborted, "the assailant shall be fined." As this passage makes clear, whatever value the fetus has, the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the Old Testament) doesn't grant the status of human life. If it did the punishment for killing the fetus wouldn't be a monetary fine, but the same as that for killing the woman, i.e., death. Therefore, according to the Hebrew Bible, abortion is definitely not murder.It should not be surprising that Israel, a Jewish nation in which Orthodox religious leaders have considerable sway, permits abortion on demand. Israel, unlike the United States, does not have separation of religion and state.

Abortion is a necessary evil. The choice must belong to the woman. One would hope she would consult with her doctor, her spiritual advisor (in a Jewish setting this would be a rabbi), and, if appropriate, the father. The state, though, has no right to interfere.

In a nation where one of it's chief founders, Thomas Jefferson, called for "a wall of separation between church and state" imposing a ban on abortion based on one religious belief, no matter how prevalent, is simply wrong. If polls are right a majority of Americans are pro-choice in any case, not that numbers should matter. I, as a member of a religious minority, do not want to see any one religion or set of beliefs given supremacy over all others. That issue goes far beyond abortion. Once that happens, once the United States starts moving towards theocracy, it would no longer be a country I could be comfortable living in. Banning abortion based on Christian religious belief is, indeed, theocratic.

I certainly don't want the state or someone else's religion making medical decisions which could have severe consequences for the woman involved for the rest of her life.

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estoy perdido said...

I think that you are mistaken here. It is incorrect to characterize an anti-abortion position as a strictly fundamentalist Christian position. It is, instead, the most common Christian position, held by a large number of people who are not otherwise fundamentalist.



9:47 PM  
Summer said...

If you are brining something into the debate, you need to cite where you are pulling it from.

Fundamentalist is associated with those who refer to the Bible for their views. This highlights a belief that runs in the fundamentalist crowd: the inerrancy of the Bible.

As Cait has pointed out there are some issues with this.

Furthermore, the public supports Roe v Wade by a great margin. In July of 2005 a Pew survey shows that American overwhelmingly support RvW: 65% support, 29% do not.

This survey shows that it is just the fringes that are anti abortion and that leads to another point in favour of the word fundamentalist in her posting: extremism.

9:44 AM  
estoy perdido said...

Sorry, I think that you are mistaken in your views. A lot of non-fundamentalist Christians also refer to the bible for their faith, but do not interpret it literally.

On the surface of it there is an attempt here to discredit the views of those with opposing views by characterizing them as extremist (or conflating that with fundamentalism). This is not right.

Your citation of the poll statistics about RvW is quite off the mark. First, I was referring to the views of Christians, not of the entire U.S. population. Secondly, it is quite possible to be anti-abortion in your personal beliefs but not in favor of imposing your views on others, and it wouldn't surprise me if the RvW polls partially reflect this. Third, the numbers are meaningless without showing the questions that were actually asked. It is quite easy to get the poll results that you want on an issue like this by careful choices in the wording of the 'questions' (or to get random results by carelessness in this choice).

Lighten up - there is no real need to paint this issue in pure black and white unless you are actually a fundamentalist. There is a lot of grey space in between, in my opinion, and plenty of room for well meaning people to be able to see different aspects of the issue and take either side without being extremist.



5:30 PM  
Caitlyn said...

Phil, I strongly agree with Summer and strongly disagree with you. What is happening in South Dakota, for example, is an attempt by the radical Christian right (not most Christians or mainstream denominations) to impose their beliefs and their religion on everyone else. Their goals are theocratic and go way beyond abortion. My characterization of them as fundamentalists is correct. Indeed, it's a rather mild word for what they are.

Let me make this clear again if it wasn't in my post: numbers do NOT matter. It wouldn't matter if 90% of Americans felt that abortion was wrong because the Bible says so. First, I've shown that the Bible, at best, contradicts itself on this issue. Second, and this is the point you seem to be missing, is that this is an attempt to give one religion supremacy over all others in a nation where we have always had a separation of church and state. It violates not only a woman's human rights to control her own body and her own reproduction, but it also violates the establishment clause of the constitution.

Finally, to the anti-choice crowd this *IS* black and white. To them abortion is murder, period, and the seek to outlaw it based on their religious beliefs. I don't know how you could possibly see room for compromise with that sort of view.

7:07 PM  
Summer said...

So sad, I was hoping for an actual debate. It is obvious you did not even search for the poll as it would have led you to the questions this time around and how they were asked back in the 90s.

I merely used traits of fundamentalism and showed how the Christian anti-abortionists do fit the bill.


3:02 PM  

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