Plenty, actually. Whenever I hear a politician claiming he or she is a person of faith, I cringe. All too often it’s followed by the words: “I believe in the sanctity of all life, which is why I’m against abortions and will work to defund Planned Parenthood.”
In one sense, faith is a belief in a supreme being or in a particular religion. Not all religions are opposed to abortion, however. A 2013 Pew Research article reveals a wide range of opinions.
Traditional Judaism, for example, approves abortion as “a means of safeguarding the life and well-being of a mother.” Most of the branches openly support a woman’s right to safe and accessible abortions.
Let’s build bridges across our beliefs, instead of building ideological walls between one another.
Though Buddhism has no official position on abortion, many Buddhists hold the belief that human life begins at conception and that, therefore, abortion is morally wrong. However, in Japan, with a large Buddhist population, abortions are common.
Traditional Hinduism condemns abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. It follows the general value system “that the correct course of action in any given situation is the one that causes the least harm to those involved.”
Although Islamic scholars disagree over exactly when life begins or when abortion is acceptable, most view terminating a pregnancy after four months — “the point at which, in Islam, a fetus is thought to become a living soul” — as not permissible. Many also believe that, prior to four months, abortions should only be permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger.
The American Baptist Churches in the U.S. recognizes that its members may hold widely different views on this matter and encourages them “to seek spiritual counsel as they prayerfully and conscientiously consider their decision.” Note that it is their decision.
The Presbyterian Church in the U.S. maintains that abortion is strictly a personal decision, while both the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the United Church of Christ actively support full reproductive rights.
While the Episcopal Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forbid abortion for social or personal convenience, both agree there are cases that can justify abortion, including rape, incest, or pregnancies threatening the life of the mother. Similarly, the United Methodist Church, while opposing abortion, states it is “equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child” and therefore sanctions abortions in certain situations.
The Southern Baptist Convention opposes all abortions “except in those very rare cases where the life of the mother is clearly in danger.”
Then there’s Catholicism, in which abortion is unacceptable under any circumstances, and is considered “an absolute evil,” as Pope Francis recently described it. For many years, the Catholic Church has led the national debate on abortion.
During the past several elections, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has put out a voter guide for Catholics. They made it clear that “the Church’s leaders are to avoid endorsing or opposing candidates or telling people how to vote.” Unfortunately, this has not stopped some clergy from doing otherwise, especially in this most recent divisive election.
Though abortion debates usually focus on what religious people think, atheists can have differing opinions as well, especially since “there is no single atheist position on abortion and no authority to determine what atheists are supposed to think.” The number of Americans who identify as atheists has approximately doubled in the past several years. As with any large group of people, atheist viewpoints on abortion run the gamut from being pro-choice and pro-abortion to pro-choice but anti-abortion to pro-life and anti-choice. But even those atheists who are personally opposed to abortion do not generally consider it the moral equivalent of murder.
Another meaning of faith, however, is a belief not based on proof. For example, we can state that the union of two human sex cells — or a zygote — is a human being. There is no doubt it is, at least in one sense that it contains all the genetic elements of what makes us human. This statement is not subject to belief. It is an observable scientific fact. Now compare this with saying that the zygote is a person, in the fullest sense of what we mean by that word, or that the zygote possesses a soul. While we might cite various reasons to either support or reject these statements, there is no hard, observable evidence to prove or disprove them. They are questions for philosophical, legal, or theological debate and thus are beliefs, not facts.
Unfortunately, for many people, objective facts take a back seat to personal belief. Oxford Dictionaries recently chose post-truth as word of the year for 2016, which can be defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It is similar to the word truthiness, first coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005. Oxford Dictionaries’ president Casper Grathwohl cited “the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment” as primary factors behind the inclusion of Colbert’s neologism in its dictionary.
Considering the wide disparity in deeply held views on abortion held by both religious believers and nonbelievers, it should be clear that abortion is a complex issue that will only be resolved fairly when people are willing to engage in an open-minded discussion and really listen to the other side. There is no one truth to abortion. There are many truths. Each of us needs to honestly ask ourselves: What makes my belief truer than someone else’s?
It is imperative for us as a democracy that we find better ways to communicate with each other. We must get beyond the sound bites. Objective facts are the very building blocks of communication. Without such facts — independently verified and agreed upon — we have nothing to guide us but our own emotions and personal beliefs, which can be notoriously unreliable means of arriving at the truth. As the late great statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan reminded us, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
Surely there must be some objective facts — not what we feel or believe about abortion, but real facts — that all of us, whatever our beliefs, can at least agree upon. Let us start from there and build bridges across our beliefs, instead of building ideological walls between one another.