(Iviews.com and AFP wire reports) Two major U.S. advocacy groups, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Jewish Congress differed greatly in their reaction to yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a state law banning so-called "partial-birth" abortions is unconstitutional.
A sharply divided US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that states cannot ban a controversial late-term abortion procedure described by its critics as "partial birth" abortion. The justices ruled 5-4 that a Nebraska state law banning the procedure was unconstitutional because it violates the rights of women. Abortion foes immediately denounced the decision while abortion rights advocates welcomed the court's refusal to erode rights enshrined in a 1973 ruling by the high court.
In a statement released immediately following the decision, CAIR sharply condemned the ruling as allowing infanticide, an act specifically prohibited by Islam.
"A procedure in which a child is intentionally killed in the birth canal can only be described as infanticide. It is astounding that the court would allow a doctor to pull a defenseless child from its mother's womb, pierce its skull and suck out its brain," the statement said.
CAIR supported its stance with reference to the Quran, Islam's holy Book. "More than 1400 years ago, the Quran, Islam's revealed text, prohibited the practice of female infanticide. The Quran describes Resurrection Day, when a murdered child will be able to testify to its innocence and 'is asked for what crime she was killed.' (Quran, 81:8-9) "It is sad that the Supreme Court would have us return to that pre-Islamic period of ignorance."
Meanwhile, the AJ Congress released its own statement, welcoming the decision. They declared that the Supreme Court "properly struck down the anti-choice movement's deceptive attack on the abortion regimen set forth in Roe v. Wade and gave notice that a majority of the Court, at least, will not tolerate stealth onslaughts on the right to choose."
But the Jewish group's stance on abortion apparently contradicts that of some Jewish scholars. Rabbi David Novak, who chairs the University of Toronto's Jewish studies department, recently wrote an article on the topic of abortion as it relates to the American Jewish tradition.
"In the case of abortion, there is little doubt that the inclinations and opinions of many Jews have been strongly influenced by the secular culture in which they live," Rabbi Novak wrote in the article titled, "Be Fruitful and Multiply: Issues Related to Birth in Judaism." 1
On the issue of abortion itself he wrote, "...the 'pro-choice' stance is clearly inconsistent with the whole thrust of Jewish tradition, for it is based on a notion of human ownership of the human body, an idea that directly contradicts the Jewish dogma that everything belongs to God--men's bodies, women's bodies, anyone's body (Ezekiel 18:4). Rights over any being, including ourselves, are but limited privileges, Divinely decreed duties must always take precedence in the Jewish tradition."
Stephen Steiner, communications director for the AJ Congress, did not answer questions regarding the issue, but referred iviews.com to another staff member. Calls were not returned by this story's deadline.
"We understand the controversial nature of the problem," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. "Millions of Americans believe that life begins at conception and consequently that an abortion is akin to causing the death of an innocent child ... (but) the constitution offers basic protection to the woman's right to choose."
Other critics say the "partial birth" abortion, performed after the 20th week of pregnancy, is especially heinous because the skull of the fetus must be crushed in order to extract it. But the court ruled that the Nebraska law failed to provide an exception allowing an abortion in cases where the mother's life is in peril, and is thus unconstitutional. The case could affect similar laws in other states and become an issue in the 2000 presidential campaign.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote one of four dissenting opinions, wrote, "The method of killing a human child -- one cannot even accurately say an entirely unborn human child -- proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion." Scalia said that requiring a health exception, would "give live-birth abortion free rein." The case illustrated the divisive nature of the debate over abortion in the United States, and the close margin of the decision ensured the political debate would continue.
U.S. President Bill Clinton predicted that the court's interpretation of the right to abortion might change in the coming years based on new appointments to the court, which are made by the president. "I think that in the next four years, there'll be somewhere between two and four appointments to the Supreme Court," the president said to reporters on Wednesday.
"And depending on who those appointees are, I think the rule will either be maintained or overturned." But he said the court's ruling was "clearly the only decision it could reach consistent with (its 1973 decision in) Roe v Wade."
1. "Be Fruitful and Multiply: Issues Related to Birth in Judaism" published in Celebration and Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism, ed. Rela M. Geffen (Philadelphia and Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1993).