Roe vs Wade is one of a few historic court decisions most Americans are familiar with by name. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 precedent has spurred public discourse that has further underscored intense divisions within the country. Among the conversations is one about the role of God, Christianity and religion in American politics.
God is everywhere in our culture—the American dollar proclaims “In God We Trust.” We pledge allegiance to “one nation under God.” Popular pop, rock and country music still honor God. We shouldn’t be surprised if God’s decree is invoked by some in the public square in this conversation.
I decided to ask the diverse faith leaders I know on the Treasure Coast about their core beliefs on the matter. As someone who is involved in inter-religious dialogue, I was looking for common ground. I learned, for the majority, the differences aren’t that far apart. A recent national poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding https://www.ispu.org/2022-abortion-data/ also noted the majority of Muslims, alongside Jews, Christians, and the unaffiliated believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Beyond the question around the role of government, religious conversation goes deeper into the topic – such as when life is conceived in a pregnancy, the “ensoulment moment” when the soul enters the fetus, and the moral aspect of the act.
For most conservative Christians, grounded in Catholic or evangelical principles, the topic of abortion issue is central. They are elated that decades of advocacy finally paid off in this milestone verdict, although some Catholic and Baptist church members I spoke to believe that women should be able to make their own moral choices as mothers.
Many of the other Christians I talked to said abortion is a sad and a terrible thing, but they contend it shouldn’t be against the law for anyone having to make that hard choice. I learned most of them believe life begins at the time of conception when ensoulment occurs, but that belief did not affect their view. For them, pro-life doesn’t equal anti-abortion.
The United Methodist Church affirms that it is, “equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child”. The Lutherans and the Evangelicals generally view abortion as an immoral act unless it is to prevent the death of the mother, and in some cases of rape and incest. This is also the general position of the Church of England and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who oppose abortion except under certain conditions in which it may be morally preferable.
The Women’s Rabbinic Network, quoting sacred texts, view a fetus as a soul only once it’s born. My interfaith colleagues in the Jewish community expressed that a woman’s right to control her own body is a fundamental Jewish value of free will. Jewish interpretations also vary—some considered the ruling a win for religious freedom, other religious Jews say a prohibition on abortion violate their religious beliefs.
As a Muslim, I questioned: What does Islam say about abortion? A brief answer I received from my Imam was that “abortion is allowed under certain circumstances, but not in normal circumstances.” The Islamic understanding of ensoulment varies under the five branches of jurisprudence, ranging from between 40 and 120 days after conception. The most conservative sect forbids abortion entirely except when the fetus is a threat to the life of the mother.
For Hindus, there are Karmic consequences for women in her soul’s transmigration and rebirth cycle—making the concept different than in Abrahamic faiths.
There are also multiple views in Buddhism, although abortion is generally regarded negatively.
What’s clear is even with religious circles, there are multifaceted shadings and opinions on the factors surrounding these debates. A third of US adults are non-religious or nones, says a Pew Research Center Report. I’ve come to recognize in a secular pluralistic democracy there should be no role for religious precepts, whether they be based on Jewish Halacha law, the Catholic Canon law, Baptist beliefs, or Islamic shariah.
Victor Begg is author of the 2019 memoir “Our Muslim Neighbors—Achieving the American Dream; An Immigrant’s Memoir.”
- Catholic: https://www.usccb.org/prolife/abortion
- Islamic, 40-120 days: https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/islam-and-the-abortion-debate
- Jewish: https://www.npr.org/2022/06/26/1107722531/some-jewish-groups-blast-the-end-of-roe-as-a-violation-of-their-religious-belief
- Buddhist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_abortion