Abortion has long been the topic of many heated controversial debates all across the globe. Many countries have already legalized abortion but some remain rock solid in its decision to prohibit it despite the event of the mother’s life being put at risk. This paper will discuss the secular and religious views that affects the way people perceive and react to the topic of abortion.
Abortion has been common practice since ancient times. Abortion was in a precarious status even then, because although it was not a crime, it was considered impure and women who had an abortion were banned from entering sacred places. However, secular philosophers, in particular Plato and Aristotle, consider abortion as a legitimate option for birth control, provided that it is performed before the fetus reached sentience.
Today, there are only a handful of countries left who are still against abortion no matter the circumstance. There are 90 million women of reproductive age living in the 26 countries where abortion is still not legalized. Currently, 97 million women of reproductive age around the world live in countries where abortion is allowed. However, there are some countries that only allowed abortion in cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment, or to preserve a woman’s physical health. Some countries even require the authorization of the spouse or parents (Center of Reproductive Rights, 2020).
For instance, the Abortion Act of 1967 of the United Kingdom simply states that certain cases of abortion are not to be considered criminal acts, thereby legitimizing abortion for millions of women who need it. Nevertheless, morality remains at the crux of the discussion on abortion. Even now, anti-abortion groups, both religious and secular, still frown upon abortion. They work hard to continue to find ways to attack and re-illegalize abortion.
Some believe that abortion is a human right and therefore should not be denied from the women who needs it. The event of women seeking unsafe abortion practices is not uncommon in countries where abortion is prohibited. This results to a high death and injury rate which can be avoided by legalizing abortion and providing proper reproductive health services. But as said earlier, not all women has an access to safe abortion even in cases of rape or incest. That is why a mother should prioritize taking care of her mental health as well as her physical health.
Secular Groups’ Stand
Secular groups declare that the life of an adult woman should be given precedence over the fetus, which according to them may not immediately be considered human life specifically before it has reached sentience. A woman should be given the choice to abort the fetus especially in urban poor regions where not all pregnancies are greeted with warm smiles and congratulations.
It is possible that a woman and her family cannot support the baby financially, or sometimes even emotionally, after its birth. They think that aborting it will be more humane than letting the baby be born into a family unwanted. It is also possible that the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Some would not want the child to be born as they feel like they would not be able to give the love the child deserves or because the mother herself is also still a child.
Not allowing abortion heavily restricts the women who are marginalized or part of the urban poor. They do not have the means to travel to another country where abortion is legal or even pay for the service. They might resort to unsafe ways at the risk of their lives. According to studies, complications from unsafe abortion are a leading cause of the estimated 303,000 annual pregnancy-related deaths. Secular groups stick with their belief that safe abortion can save thousands of lives and is a human right.
Christian Religious Groups’ Stand
On the other hand, Christian religious groups continue to argue that abortion is immoral because the fetus is considered human life, and according to the Bible, all human life must be protected. They consider abortion as a form of murder, and thus a sin. The Bible does not explicitly mention abortion; however, it emphasizes that all life should be valued in Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward.”
Jesus Christ, Himself is proof, too, of the Christian stand that life begins at the moment of conception. The reincarnation of Jesus as the Son of God began with his conception, as announced by the Archangel Gabriel: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV)
Christian societies and predominantly Christian countries thus have stern anti-abortion laws and movements. For them, abortion is without a question, a form of grave immorality that automatically merits one a position in Hell. Although Christianity has not managed to win over the opinion of the general public or even of the people in power, they also have not lost footing. Most Christian countries, even those where abortion is legalized, have some kind of restrictions as to the circumstances in which abortion can be performed.
Islamic Religious Groups’ Stand
Another religious group, Islam, seems to have more flexible views on abortion. Similar to Christianity, Islam places high value on the sanctity of life. The Qur’an forbids taking the life of anyone. However, in cases where the life of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy, abortion is allowed by Sharia.
Like the stand of secular groups, the same stance is reflected in instances where the abortion will prevent the child from further sufferings once it is born. But in Islam, these are applicable only in cases of physical and mental deformity, but not in cases of poverty.
Another similarity to the secular group is the flexibility of Islam when it comes to the subject of abortion is in cases of rape or incest. In Sudan, abortion was allowed for women who were victims of rape. This is legal as long as the pregnancy is within four months. Other Muslim countries have their own versions of such a law. In such cases, Islam reasons that it is more immoral to allow a woman to be in danger.
As the previous discussions demonstrate, different societies each have their take on the morality of abortion. All of them seem to agree, as modern society also agrees, that all life is sacred, and must be protected. Still, disagreements on where life begins needs to be settled. Notwithstanding, abortion cannot be legalized or banned based on just one standard of morality. As exhibited by Islam, there are certain situations that are more immoral than abortion. The situation of the woman itself also needs to be considered.
In the end, the ethics of abortion depends on who you ask. As seen above specifically on the views of the Islam, there really is a gray area regarding the morality of abortion. Although some religion’s beliefs are more dominant than others, the gap between the numbers of each group is no longer that wide. In addition, the secular population continues to grow. There can be no one religion or sector that can decide on the morality of abortion.
Therefore, the best choice for the countries who is yet to legalize abortion is to accommodate these varying stands on, but more importantly the needs for, abortion. In the aspect of legality, it is then important to keep in mind, and to implement, the separation of church and state in order to keep an objective mind—objectivity that encompasses all of a government’s constituents.
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Center for Reproductive Rights. (2020). The World’s Abortion Laws. Center for Reproductive Rights. https://reproductiverights.org/worldabortionlaws?category=294
Cage, M. (n.d.). Trump’s Global Gag Rule Increases Maternal Mortality. Population Connection Action Fund. https://www.populationconnectionaction.org/2018/05/22/trumps-global-gag-rule-increases-maternal-mortality/