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Religion & Choice

By Ritha K. Mera

My name is Ritha K. Mera, I am a first-generation immigrant. I am a medical student with the intention of becoming a family doctor who provides abortion care. Navigating and experiencing life in my community has shaped and fueled my passion for women’s reproductive health. My interests led me to ponder how religion understands abortion. When I did the research and studied religious texts, I was pleasantly surprised to find support for the right to choose. This research helped me to be at peace in my determination to become an abortion provider.  I  hope my research helps to guide you in your understanding of how faith and the right to choose can live in harmony.

The Abrahamic religions are encompassed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each religion guides its followers through holy texts, outlining what is deemed right and what is sinful. “Hattat”, “sin” and “haram”; are emotionally charged terms often used to describe a womens’ right to terminate a pregnancy, misconstruing and justifying moral judgement through The Torah, The Bible and The Quran and religious laws. 

The Torah, revealed to Prophet Moses on Mount Sinai, serves as a  Halakha or path for the Jewish people. In Judaism, akeret habayit’s are the backbone of the Jewish home serving as homemakers and educators. The Jewish wife and mother is an essential part of  Judaism and possesses power within the home and overall community. Hence, it is not surprising that Halakha allows for the right to choose termination of a pregnancy. According to Halakha, during the first 40 days of gestation the embryo is described as mere fluid, not a fully formed fetus. As well as establishing that the fetus does not possess full personhood until it has taken its first breath. Furthermore, Judaism places the utmost importance in the psychological and physiological well being of the woman. Therefore, it is understood that an unwanted pregnancy that causes distress (psychological and/or physiological) goes against Halkha and can be avoided. Halakha, values the akeret habayit’s life and choices. 

The Christian Bible is regarded by the Christian world as “the Word of God” on Earth. It consists of the old and new testament guiding Christians through parables, hymns and prayers. There is no direct mention of the termination of pregnancy or abortion in either testament therefore, it can be extrapolated that the Bible is neither antiabortion nor pro life. However, the Bible places the life of a woman above that of a fetus. In the case of a pregnant woman being killed, the Bible orders for the death penalty for the culprit but if a pregnant woman is attacked and the fetus is aborted; the culprit is ordered to pay a fine stipulated by the husband or courts. Hence, the Bible states that the life of a woman is more valuable than that of a fetus. 

Additionally, saints and scholars of the bible do not believe that the fetus has full personhood status, at conception but rather gains it much later. Similar to the Halakha, full personhood status is obtained once the fetus takes its first breath. Thus, the commandment of “thou shalt not kill” is not applicable to abortion because it would only apply to a person who has achieved full personhood (not a fetus). Collectively, the Bible does not condemn abortion nor does it take a pro-life stance. Instead, it preaches compassion and love for thy neighbor. 

In 609 CE, in a cave on Mount Hira, The Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). The Quran as well as Fiqh, composed of Hadith and Sunna, guide Muslims. Hadith states that in the first 120 days of gestation the embryo does not possess a soul and is instead described as nutfah (first 40 days), alaqah (day 41-80) and mudghah (day 81-120) in the Quran. Hence, this hadith states that the right to terminate a pregnancy is mekruh (in the grey area, but still allowed) and not haram as it is often stated. 

Furthermore, since there is no direct passage in the Quran that explicitly states that it is haram to terminate a pregnancy, the five goals of Sharia are applied and these shape the five Fiqhi principles to defend the right to choose. For example, the principle of harm states that harm should be relieved whenever possible. Therefore, it can be interpreted that if the pregnancy is causing psychological or physiological harm it should be terminated. Similarly, the principle of hardship states that you should strive to choose ease over difficulty therefore, if the pregnancy will cause irreparable damage that it can be terminated to grant you ease. Islam is a religion of ease and mercy; hence, the life of the woman is always valued over that of the embryo. 

All the Abrahamic religions seek to guide their followers on the righteous path to everlasting life. Subsequently, the right to choose is supported by all the holy text and laws in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to the Abrahamic religions, the right to choose and terminate a pregnancy is free of moral judgement and free of “hattat”, “sin” and “haram”.