Major religions have a range of views on the beginning of life: NPR

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Caroline McDonald, left, a student at Georgetown University, Lauren Morrissey, with Catholics for Choice, and Pamela Huber, of Washington, join an abortion rights rally outside the Supreme Court on Monday, November 1 2021.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP


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Jacquelyn Martin/AP


Caroline McDonald, left, a student at Georgetown University, Lauren Morrissey, with Catholics for Choice, and Pamela Huber, of Washington, join an abortion rights rally outside the Supreme Court on Monday, November 1 2021.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

In a bill introduced last week, a Louisiana lawmaker describes human life as “created in the image of God” and seeks to make abortion a murder of time of fertilization – raising concerns among reproductive rights advocates that such a law would also undermine access to contraception and fertility treatments.

Debates around abortion often revolve around the question of the beginning of life and adjacent religious and moral issues. It was raised during oral argument last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a major abortion case currently before the Supreme Court.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor asked the Mississippi Solicitor General to explain his view that the state should be allowed to ban abortions, calling it a religious issue that has been debated since the dawn of time.

“It’s still debated in religions,” she said. “So when you say it’s the only right that takes away the state’s ability to protect a life, that’s a religious view, isn’t it?”

A religious question

Kaitlyn didn’t want an abortion — she wanted a baby.

But last year, when she was around 16 weeks pregnant, doctors told her there was a fatal problem with the foetus. Her choices were to terminate or wait for a stillbirth.

Throughout the process, Kaitlyn was guided — and comforted — by her faith.

“In Judaism, life and breath are essentially the same thing,” she said. “So in Judaism, life begins when you take your first breath.”

Kaitlyn lives in Kentucky, one of about two dozen states where most abortions could soon become illegal, if the Supreme Court rules in line with a draft opinion leaked Monday that would overturn the 1973 ruling. Deer. against Wade precedent guaranteeing the right to abortion.

She asked that we only use her first name because she feared her job would be affected if it was widely known that she had an abortion. In her understanding of Judaism, she said, the decision was fundamentally hers.

“God offered me a solution to my suffering, which is that you have medical options available to you to end this pregnancy. I didn’t need to suffer more than I was. already,” Kaitlyn said.

Her husband supported her decision, but he struggled in his own way.

“My husband’s faith is different from mine,” she said. “He’s not anti-choice at all, but it was difficult for him – first because he wanted this child too, but also because his faith felt differently about it. It gave him a different set of struggles, a different set of issues with God.”

A variety of views

Polls suggest that while a majority of Americans support abortion rights and oppose annulment deerviews on abortion are often closely tied to religion.

Jewish, Buddhist, Unitarian and non-religious Americans express some of the strongest support for the right to abortion in surveys. Within Christianity there is a wide variety of views.

ryan anderson, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, opposes abortion. As a Catholic, Anderson believes that human life begins at conception.

“Every human being matters from the moment they first exist,” Anderson said. “No human being should be denied equal protection under the law; no human being should have his or her life destroyed.”

But a majority of American Catholics, along with black Protestants and white Protestants, all say abortion should be allowed in most or all cases. It is according to a survey that just came out from the Pew Research Center.

White evangelical Christians express the strongest opposition to abortion, with more than 70% saying it should always or mostly be illegal.

Margaret Kamitsuka, professor emeritus of religion at Oberlin College, argues that there is significant ambiguity about abortion in the Christian tradition. She notes that this is never mentioned in the Bible.

“Which is quite amazing,” she said, “because just about every other moral issue is covered – from divorce to gluttony and theft, etc.”

More than half of American Muslims support legal access to abortion, according to Pew.

Zahra Ayubiassociate professor of religion at Dartmouth, said that historically defining the beginning of life has been less important to many Muslim thinkers than questions about how to preserve it.

“And the preservation of life is often understood as the life of the mother, because it is life that exists,” she said.

Unanswered Questions

Amicus briefs in the Dobbs cases before the Supreme Court come from a wide variety of faith groups – with very different positions. A brief by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and other groups argues that religion is “at the heart” of anti-abortion laws and that “the government should not require citizens to conform to the religious beliefs of those who are in power”.

For Kaitlyn in Kentucky, her Jewish faith was essential in helping her navigate the difficult decision to terminate her pregnancy after learning that the baby she was expecting would never survive.

It was very clear to me in the role that faith played in my life and my decisions that even though I didn’t understand it, God didn’t want me to have this baby,” she said. “And it’s going to go on the long list of unanswered questions.”

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