Roe v. Wade and religious beliefs
The right to life is a human principle. Being against abortion is a religious principle
As an ex-monk, I may have a different perspective on abortion than people who oppose it.
First, I can’t imagine anyone thinking abortion is a good method of birth control, especially women who have had an abortion. However, I believe that the claim that all abortions are wrong is a religious belief, not a human belief.
My religious history led me to this conclusion. I was brought up in a strict Catholic family. I was taught and believed it was a sin to:
1. Have sex within marriage if you were just doing it for pleasure and not for procreation.
2. Use birth control.
3. Have sex outside of marriage or alone.
4. Even wishing you had sex with someone, but didn’t actually do it! This is probably what President Jimmy Carter was referring to when he said he had sinned because he “coveted” in his heart.
I suspect this list may seem like a fantasy to some readers, to those who live outside of this belief system. However, others may actually hold all of these beliefs. The underlying question is: where do you draw the line? Are all four wrong, or just the last twp, etc. ?
I was fortunate to become a monk because it helped me examine fundamental questions that many ordinary Christians never think about or choose to examine. As one digs deeper, in church or in society, the question gradually shifts from “Where do you draw the line?” to “Who can draw the lines – you or your church leader?”
Regarding abortion, where do you draw the line? Those not bound by religious belief would likely draw a line at “viability.” In other words, if a fetus/baby could survive outside the womb, it should not be aborted. I agree because it makes human sense to me, regardless of what the pope or any other religious teacher says.
On the other hand, the legislatures of Texas, Oklahoma, and Idaho have decided that you can abort a fetus up to six weeks after conception, but after that it’s a crime. The Florida and Kentucky legislatures have decreed that the sacred line is 15 weeks after conception. Many states now have “trigger laws” that would ban all abortions.
Roe v. Wade says the cutoff period is viability, which was around 28 weeks at the time of this decision. The judges did not simply remove this clipping from the air or from scripture. They chose it out of human common sense. This is when a fetus has a 50% or greater chance of living outside of its mother’s body. Advances in technology now make it earlier than 28 weeks.
That’s why I say the backlash against Roe v. Wade comes from a religious belief, not a human belief. If this were a human belief, we wouldn’t have the various arbitrary numbers indicating when abortion should or shouldn’t be legal. If we come from a human belief, Roe v. Wade has already decided that. Sustainability is a fact, not a belief.
Punishing a woman who has made a mistake or who has been raped, by making her life much more difficult, is a religious belief, not a human belief.
Why is it so difficult to question and change a religious belief? The answer that my life has allowed me to find is that if you challenge a religious belief, everything else can be challenged as well. Intuitively, you fear that your entire belief structure is in danger of collapsing. It is better not to dispute any religious belief!
Theologian Paul Tillich wrote a book called “The Shaking of the Foundations”. This title seems to capture the fear I’m talking about, the fear of asking fundamental questions that can lead to questioning the whole structure of your religious belief.
Mr. Tillich has also written a book called “The Courage to Be”. The second track seems to capture the journey I’ve been on in my life.
I have had the chance to question the beliefs others have given me and choose to live by what I feel are good human principles applicable to everyone. I haven’t read any of Mr. Tillich’s books, so I’m sharing my thoughts, not his. I think he would say, though, that I understood the purpose of both titles.
Finally, I said that the right to life is a human principle. To say that life begins at conception, however, is not rational. It’s not like an egg and a sperm aren’t alive when they meet. Even if this premise were true, why is it acceptable to abort a fetus up to six weeks in Texas, but up to 15 weeks in Florida? Who can draw the line – and why?
I am sure that the Supreme Court justices, six of whom are Catholic, tell themselves that they reason from human principles, not from religious principles. They should reconsider. If they don’t confirm Roe v. Wade, they will shake a foundation of the Supreme Court itself, which is that it is based on human rather than religious principles.
Frank Sanitate is a former monk and writer who lives in Santa Barbara.