Religious attitudes towards Abortion and the use of Contraceptives

Abortion and Contraceptives are some of the most contentious issues in America today. This is mostly a debate between religions and our secular government.

The law of the land, defined by Roe Vs. Wade states that a person has a right to abortion until viability. The Roe decision defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid”, adding that viability “is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”

Some religions, like the Catholic faith, believes that life begins at conception, and that aborting that fertilized egg is the equivalent to the murder of a baby. Other religions, believe that life doesn’t really begin until the fetus has developed to a certain stage. For the Hebrew religion that is 40 days. For Muslims that stage is either 40 days or 120 days.
Medically and Scientifically the embryo becomes a fetus at the end of 8 weeks. At this point the fetus has developed all of the human structures in rudimentary form.

Somewhere between 8 weeks and 13 weeks, the fetus begins to develop a brain, exhibits brainwaves, and can feel pain. After 22 weeks the fetus has a chance of surviving outside the womb and is considered viable.

The Christian Old Testament is taken from the Jewish Torah, and neither says anything about abortion. Based on Genesis 2:7 The fetus is “potential human life” until the majority of the body has emerged from the mother and that life begins at birth with breath through the nostrils.

In Exodus 21:22–25 it does mention miscarriage after an altercation. “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely, but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” In other words a man who inadvertently strikes a pregnant woman, causing her to lose the unborn baby can be fined, but otherwise the attacker is not liable for homicide for the death of the fetus, but if the woman dies, the man is liable for her homicide.

In the Talmud, a fetus is considered to be alive with regard to the prohibition against murder and all are warned not to kill him. The fetus however, although being considered “alive” to the extent that his or her life is protected, is not considered to be fully alive to the extent that if it endangered the mother’s life, the mother takes precedence. Thus the Rabbis rule that the mother’s life takes precedence and that the child may be aborted so as to save the mother’s life. Sanhedrin 57b

“A core text in rabbinic law crystallizes the status of the fetus. The Mishna explicitly indicates that one must abort a fetus if the continuation of pregnancy might imperil the life of the woman. “If a woman is in hard travail, one cuts up the offspring in her womb and brings it forth member by member, because her life comes before the life of her fetus. But if the greater part has proceeded forth, one may not set aside one person for the sake of saving another.”

Clearly the status of the fetus is relative to it’s development. During the first 40 days the fetus is not even considered human. The Talmud: in Yevamot 69, 2 the fetus in the first forty days of pregnancy is likened to water. After that the fetus is valued as a part of the woman, like a limb, but the life of the woman is always greater in value than the fetus until it is born, then they are equal in value.

The Catholic Church holds that “the first right of the human person is his life” and that life is assumed to begin at fertilization. As such, Canon 1398 provides that “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae)excommunication” from the Church, However Catholic doctrine does not prohibit lifesaving medical procedures that result in the death of fetuses.

In Islam, abortion is similarly unclear. Some theologians believe the Divine Ruh (Life-energy) enters the fetus at 40 days and others at 120 days. Most think abortion is allowable before this for good reason, and forbidden after. Even the most conservative Shari’ah law allows abortion if it threatens the life of the mother, based on the principle of the lesser of the two evils, known in Islamic legal terminology as the principle of al-ahamm wa ‘l-muhimm (the more important and the less important). The scholars all agree that abortion is forbidden after the first four months of pregnancy, since by that time the soul has entered the embryo but it would allow the use of the “morning-after pill”, as long as it could be reasonably assumed that the fertilized egg has not become implanted on the wall of the uterus.

Hindu medical ethics stem from the principle of ahimsa – of non-violence. When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the foetus and society. Hinduism is therefore generally opposed to abortion except where it is necessary to save the mother’s life.

Traditional Hinduism and many modern Hindus also see abortion as a breach of the duty to produce children in order to continue the family and produce new members of society. Many Hindus regard the production of offspring as a ‘public duty’, not simply an ‘individual expression of personal choice’

The soul and the matter which form the foetus are considered by many Hindus to be joined together from conception. According to the doctrine of reincarnation a foetus is not developing into a person, but is a person from a very early stage. It contains a reborn soul and should be treated appropriately. By the ninth month the foetus has achieved very substantial awareness. According to the Garbha Upanishad, the soul remembers its past lives during the last month the foetus spends in the womb (these memories are destroyed during the trauma of birth). The Mahabharata refers to a child learning from its father while in the womb.

A great deal of variation exists in terms of how contemporary Christian denominations view abortion. Nonetheless, some Christian denominations can be considered anti-abortion while others may be considered abortion rights supporters. Daniel C. Maguire asserts that European-generated “mainline” Protestant denominations have clearly moved in the direction of accepting family planning and contraception as well as “support for legal access to abortion, although with qualifications regarding the moral justification for specific acts of abortion.” This general trend among “mainline” Protestant denominations has been resisted by Christian Fundamentalists who are generally opposed to abortion.

Additionally, there are sizable minorities in all denominations that disagree with their denomination’s stance on abortion. What the people believe and do are sometimes quite different than what their religion tells them to do.

In practice, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India, because the religious ban on abortion is sometimes overruled by the cultural preference for sons. This can lead to abortion to prevent the birth of girl babies, which is called ‘female foeticide’.
Only 14 percent of Catholics in the US agree with the bishops that abortion should be completely illegal, and Catholic women in the US have abortions at the same rate as women in the population as a whole. Majorities of Catholics in Bolivia (66 percent), Colombia (54 percent) and Mexico (69 percent) feel abortion should be permitted under some or all circumstances. In Italy, which is 97 percent Catholic, 74 percent favor the use of RU-486 (a drug used instead of surgical methods in some early abortions).

Pope Francis said the Catholic Church shouldn’t be “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage, and contraception and should instead try to reach out to a broader congregation. A remarkable 93% of American Jews support the right of a woman to have an abortion. This includes 77% of Jewish Republicans.

Most people believe that the unformed embryo is to be valued as a potential human, but not as valuable as a fetus, and that value increases as the fetus develops, but that the life of the mother takes precedence. The fetus should be valued and protected and abortion should not be used as a form of contraception, but early abortions should certainly be available in cases of rape, incest, in cases of congenital defects of the fetus, or when it threatened the health of the mother.

Of the 1.6 million abortions performed in the U.S. each year, 91 percent are performed during the first trimester (12 or fewer weeks’ gestation); 9 percent are performed in the second trimester (24 or fewer weeks’ gestation); and only about 100 are performed in the third trimester (more than 24 weeks’ gestation), approximately .01 percent of all abortions performed.

There are two types of abortion that are available to women: medical abortion (also called non-surgical abortion), and surgical abortion.

A medical abortion involves taking the drug Mifepristone; often called ‘the abortion pill,’ its generic name is RU-486 and its brand name is Mifeprex. Mifepristone is not available over the counter and must be provided by a health care professional. A woman seeking a medical abortion can obtain one through a doctor’s office or clinic and should expect two or more visits to complete the process, as another drug, Misoprostol, must be taken to terminate the pregnancy.

The vast majority of abortions generally use these two pills. If the pills don’t work, or if it is later in the pregnancy, then a surgical method must be used. All surgical abortions are medical procedures that must be done in a health care provider’s office or clinic. There are several different surgical abortion options. How far along a woman is in her pregnancy often determines what method will be used.

Aspiration is an abortion procedure that can be performed on a woman up to 16 weeks after her last period. Gentle suction removes fetal tissue and empties the uterus.
In some circumstances, a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette is used to scrape the uterine lining to remove any remaining tissue. This procedure is called a D&C (dilation and curettage.)

Dilation and evacuation (D&E) is typically performed during the second trimester (between the 13th and 24th week of pregnancy.) Similar to a D&C, a D&E involves other instruments (such as forceps) along with suction to empty the uterus. In later second-trimester abortions, a shot administered through the abdomen may be necessary to ensure fetal demise before the D&E begins.

Religion is important when considering abortion and contraceptives. 46 states have some restrictions on abortion.
The Supreme court has allowed Hobby Lobby to refrain from paying for contraceptives of employees for religious reasons. They object to four contraceptives because they prevent the fertilized egg from growing in the womb and are therefore considered abortificants. These drugs include Plan B and Ella, the so-called morning-after pill and the week-after pill.

There are many other forms of contraception. The most commonly used is the two types of pill which includes combined and progesterone only hormones. Other Hormonal methods include Contraceptive patch, Injectable birth control, Vaginal rings, Implantable rods, and Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs),

Intrauterine Methods or IUD’s are the most effective. They use a small, T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types, copper IUD’s and Hormonal IUD’s. Sterilization blocks the fallopian tubes. There are also many types of barriers (like condoms, and diaphragms) and most of these are used in combination with different types of spermicidal methods.

Most contraceptives except for condoms, and vasectomies are made for women, but there is promising research on male pills that might prevent men from ejecting sperm.

Hillary Clinton said, “I think abortion should remain legal, but it needs to be safe and rare.” Clinton said that pro-choice and pro-life people could find common ground by trying to reduce the number of abortions through increased access to birth control.
The best way to reduce or eliminate abortions is to provide safe alternatives. Sex education, and better access to contraceptives, would reduce unplanned pregnancies and thus abortions. Better adoption services, support for surrogate mothers, and forcing fathers to support the resultant children economically would just about eliminate abortions.

Laws against abortion and contraceptives have generally been made by men. Those issues would no doubt look different if the women made the laws. There is an old saying that, if men were the ones that got pregnant, then abortion would be a sacrament.

Very good website discusses Pro and Con arguments about abortion

Pro life video of development of life. 4 min

Not in her shoes Planned Parenthood 1:30 min.

Unintended pregnancies, contraceptives and abortions. 4:16 min.

Guttmacher Video 3:30min.


About altruist1

I am a raging progressive and a writer. I received Bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Arts with a Secondary teaching certificate and a minor in Physics. I taught for about ten years, then did various jobs including welding,fabrication and traffic engineering, and am now retired. I am interested in science, energy, the environment, and architecture.
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