Abortion (Pro Life)
Not many people disagree when a law is passed that is objective and does not impact religious beliefs and value systems. For example, some individuals protested the speed limit of 55 mph on many federal highways. However, the situation changes significantly when people view the law, or intended law, as acceptable or unacceptable due to different ethical considerations. The abortion issue falls into this second category. Abortion has most likely been the most heated issue in American society for the past half of a century. Relating to all aspects of social, political, philosophical and religious areas of life, the issue has divided the country when it needs most to be united. America was founded on the principals of democracy, or middle ground and compromise. Democratic government succeeds when elected officials recognize that complex issues rarely have solutions that are black-and-white, "right" or "wrong," and that different interpretations of democratic principles and social priorities exist. The question, then, is whether or not there can be a middle ground with the issue of abortion.
More than any other modern-day issue, the debate over abortion demonstrates the reality of ongoing, long-term conflict in American society. Actually, the debate goes back to the times of Susan B. Anthony, an early feminist who -- surprising to many people -- wrote against abortion. People such as Anthony opposed abortion because the medical procedure at that time was unsafe and endangered women's health and life. They felt that only the gains for women's equality and freedom would end the need for abortion. For example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in the women's rights newspaper, the Revolution, "But where shall it be found, at least begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of woman?"
These women wrote that prevention was more important than punishment, and blamed the times, laws and men they believed drove women to abortions. As Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote in 1868, "I hesitate not to assert that most of this crime of child murder, abortion, infanticide, lies at the door of the male sex..."
Feminists in the 20th century defended the development of safe and effective birth control as another means to prevent abortion. By 1965, all fifty states banned the procedure with some exceptions that varied by state: to save the life of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, or with a deformed fetus. Meanwhile, groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion worked to liberalize anti-abortion laws. In 1973, the Supreme Court reversed the situation in the case of Roe v. Wade, declared most existing state abortion laws unconstitutional. This decision ruled out any legislative interference in the first trimester of pregnancy and placed limits on the type of restrictions that could be passed on abortions in later stages of pregnancy (Graber 23). Although numerous groups applauded the Court's decision, many others, especially in the Roman Catholic Church and the theologically conservative Christian groups, opposed the change. The conflict continues.
The fierce public dialogues about this issue have divided many in this country, with others trying to find a way to appease everyone and reduce the ill feeling and misunderstandings. At a time when the country, more than ever needs to be strong and united, the issue of abortion remains significantly prominent. Studies find that almost everyone has a firm belief about abortion. Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that effectively guaranteed the right of women to have abortions, was rendered back in 1973, but the years since have done little to decrease the divergence between those who favor and those who oppose the procedure.
Pro-choice" and "pro-life" evolved, especially by the media, as the most common self-chosen names of the two movements. Despite the numerous points-of-view on this subject, it appears to be much easier to label people as part one of these two camps. According to this dichotomy, pro-choicers believe that to abort a pregnancy is to be made only by the woman; the state, through legislation, has no right to interfere. Pro-lifers, instead, hold that since the embryo is alive from the moment of conception, there is a moral obligation for preservation and abortion is murder. Labeling people into one of these two categories may be easier, but it distorts the picture. Agreement or disagreement with abortion is not an "either/or," black-and-white issue. Rather, it is a spectrum of beliefs.
Further, over the years, it has become the norm to peg people into different categories on the issue, depending upon their religion, political affiliation or even occupation. Human beings, however, cannot be pegged in this fashion. For example, not all Catholics support the Church's stance on abortion; not all feminists are pro-choice.
Among religions there exist considerable demarcations along the spectrum of "pro-choice" and "pro-life" as defined above. Judaism offers an example. In a Jewish joke, a rabbi is asked to settle a dispute. After listening to one side of the argument, he declares, "You're right!" After listening to the other side, the rabbi also nods and says, "You're right, too." His wife declares, exasperated, "Rabbi, this is absurd! They can't both be right!" The rabbi sighs and replies sadly, "You're also right!"
As with most issues in Judaism, there is not just a single rabbinic position on abortion. The Old Testament does not specifically mention this topic. Exodus 21:22-25, seems to address the topic of a miscarriage that accidentally occurs during a fight. This passage prescribes monetary damages when someone harms a pregnant woman and causes a miscarriage. Some have interpreted this passage as condoning a fine if the fight leads to a premature live birth and a more stringent punishment if either the child or mother dies (Beckwith 142). However, most translators have instead seen this passage as permitting a fine if a miscarriage occurs and a more serious punishment if the woman is harmed or killed.
By the time of the New Testament, most Jewish rabbis interpreted in this secondary fashion (Gorman 41). This does not necessarily mean Jews accepted abortion, since Exodus 21 concerns accidental miscarriage, not premeditated abortion. As a result of this, Orthodox Judaism generally discourages abortion except to save the life of the mother. Later authorities differ on the extent one goes to define the harm to the mother to justify abortion.
The Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for Conservative Judaism believes that abortion is justifiable if a continuation of pregnancy may cause the mother serious physical or psychological injury or when medical opinions deem the fetus very defective. The fetus is a life in the process of development, and the mother should consult with the father, other family members, rabbi, and other specialists to assess the legal and ethical issues. The Jewish Reform movement goes beyond this closely delineated period and gives sanction to choose to end a pregnancy when confronting other circumstances: as a result of rape or incest; when through genetic testing, it is determined that the child to be born will have a disease that will cause death or severe disability, and the parents believe that the impending birth will be an impossible situation for them; and other personal circumstances. "Judaism...does not equate abortion with murder. To the contrary, in Judaism, a fetus is not considered a full human being," notes Rabbi Balfour Brickner of the Federation of Reformed Synagogues (Rubin 194).
Likewise, disagreement occurs between Catholicism and Protestants, as well as among the different Christian sects. Within the Christian Church there is normally a strong wish to follow and relate the teachings of the Bible. However this is easier said than done, and a number of different interpretations of Scripture have lead to a variety of viewpoints about the moral implications of abortion. Generally, the Catholic Church is united in its condemnation of abortion. The Catholic Church teaches that ensoulment takes place at the moment of conception. This has thus been a key reason for its refusal to condone the practice: "By the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors, and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral" (Papal Encyclical 1995).
Although those of the Catholic faith do not believe that abortion is an acceptable solution to undesired pregnancies, they do accept that there may be situations when an abortion takes place as the outcome of trying to deal with another medical issue. For example, the Church would allow "the doctrine of double effect" if the mother requires a life-saving operation that may possibly end the pregnancy, since it is the first priority to save the woman's life rather than end the pregnancy.
Many Protestant denominations including the Anglicans, Methodists and Quakers have been disinclined to be as strict as the Catholic Church. Frequently, they accept that there are certain occasions when abortion is an unavoidable result of deciding between the "lesser of two evils" (Ellingson 13).
To further complicate…