Does Faith Get a Voice in the Abortion Debate?

I’m going to do something I haven’t done since my very first days of blogging. I’m going to write about abortion. Back in the day, I thought I had expressed everything I needed to say about it. But in recent days, following the debate in Texas on late term abortion, new perspectives and misconceptions on it just keep cropping up.

For instance, here is a Rabbi  Aaron Alexander, whose Huff-post piece “Abortion, Does My Faith Get a Voice?” suggests that the debate about when life begins is a “religious” one:

“You first need to know that I seriously admire your advocacy on behalf of life. To battle for deeply held convictions in this age is no small thing and deserves praise. You possess a (not THE) definition of what constitutes life and you won’t back down from trying to defend it. There is much integrity to that consistency.

But, like all things religious, it is also potentially dangerous.

So this is the part I don’t understand. Your definition of when life begins is not based on scientific fact. It is your religiously held belief. But it isn’t mine.

My religious tradition — which prioritizes life above all else — generally assumes that potential life doesn’t become its own living entity until 40 days into the pregnancy. And, for the entire pregnancy, the mother’s life is always given priority. Right up until birth. (See Mishnah Ohalot, 7:6.) That includes both physical health, and even in certain cases (like rape), emotional health as well.”

What the Rabbi doesn’t understand is that the pro-life position is based on fact. It is also held by all types of people who do not all describe themselves as religious.

Deciding when life is worthy of protection (while for some it has a religious dimension) is not actually a religious decision-it’s an ethical one. Calling it a religious one is a cop-out that prevents reasoned argument based on facts, like the fact that a fetal heartbeat has been present and is detectable as early as 5 1/2 weeks gestation, like the fact that a fetus has its own DNA, it’s own fingerprints, it’s own fundamental “is-ness” or existence that was not present before conception.

There have always been–and still are– religions that have found permissible grounds for the extinguishing of human life. Typically, the state protects the dignity and rights of other individuals to life and liberty where someone else’s religious practice might rob them of the same. So while Jewish tradition might allow abortion until the quickening when some rabbinical authorities believe that the soul becomes present–a secular ethic might actually conclude the opposite, that the proof of a soul is not a requirement for the protection of human life.

Such an ethic would form the grounds for the protection of other “inchoate” human lives as well. In the past, societies have argued the absence of a soul in black people, the mentally and physically disabled, the senile, etc. I consider it a huge societal advance that in almost every life issue, save abortion, apparently, we no longer split that particular hair.

So the short answer to Rabbi Alexander is “No. Your faith does not get a voice.” And neither does mine. On the matter of when life begins, science provides plenty of evidence to inform the discussion.

A better question might be, “Does your religion (whether you practice Judaism, Catholicism, Paganism, Evangelicalism, or the Church of Women’s Health) cause you to ignore scientific fact?”

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About Elizabeth Duffy

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