While the Texas Legislature continues to debate abortion legislation, non-Christian religious communities watch on with different perspectives on the controversial issue.
There are many different religious views on abortion that often go unheard. Austin, with its strong presence of religious minorities including Muslim, Jewish and Hindu communities, has a variety of perspectives on the abortion debate, which has implications that are likely to affect families, specifically women, across all religions.
Dr. Hina Azam, an Islamic studies professor, said most Muslim scholars have held abortion permissible until the 120th day of pregnancy, roughly 17 weeks. She said some of the reasons for an abortion prior to the 120th day are rape, fetal abnormality/deformity or even being underage or too young to safely carry a pregnancy.
Azam said even though Islamic law as a whole is far more restrictive on abortion after the 120th day of pregnancy, it is generally allowed if there is a threat to the mother’s life. She said the Muslim community in the U.S. has not taken a very vocal position in the abortion debate due to a lack of scriptural mandate to either support or oppose abortion.
“Most Muslims largely regard their position on abortion a matter of conscience and a private concern of the family, and not something that should be uniformly enforced by the state,” Azam said.
However, Azam said Muslims have two important reasons to watch and participate in the national abortion debate.
First, while most traditionally minded or observant Muslims might favor limits on abortions after 120 days, current anti-abortion efforts could make abortions difficult to obtain throughout the state with regulations that could reduce the number of legal facilities from 42 to five, infringing their religious right to seek abortion within 120 days of pregnancy.
Secondly, Azam said Islamic ethics do not weigh the mother’s life and the fetus equally, while current legislation does.
“The life - and some would say, the well-being - of the mother always receives priority and precedence over the life of the fetus under Islamic law,” Azam said. “This is so even if the threat to the mother’s life only becomes apparent in the late stages of pregnancy.”
Azam said if Muslims, particularly Muslim women, fail to insist that the life of the mother must always be taken into consideration in abortion decisions, then they are defying a central principle of Islamic reproductive ethics and allowing anti-abortion discourse that is, in many ways, detrimental to women.
Rabbi Rick Brody of Congregation Kol Halev of the Jewish community said according to the Jewish law code, abortion is mandated if it is the only recourse for saving the life of the mother.
Brody said the religion places priority of the mother’s life over fetal life and opens the door to the possibility that other situations may warrant the permissibility of an abortion. This includes the threat to a mother’s general physical or mental well-being.
Brody said abortion is not considered the death or murder of a human being because of a major distinction between potential human life of a fetus and life after the moment of birth. He said there are greater concerns about recognizing such potential life as more fully human because the fetus is not independent of the mother’s body, not breathing on its own and still being, essentially, an appendage of the mother.
“Even if many Jews may not support abortion in all situations in which others may choose it, the Jewish view, as a minority in a democracy, is that it is not the state’s place to dictate and mandate morality, controlling or hindering a woman’s choice in the manner it is trying to do,” Brody said.
According to Brody, the overwhelming majority of American Jews consider abortion a deeply personal and complex issue that’s dependent upon various religious and moral views.
Brody said perhaps even more important than the freedom of choice issue for most American Jews is the issue of ensuring the safety of pregnant women. Lack of access to proper healthcare and the possibility that desperate women would take life-threatening measures without access to safe, legal and affordable options would go against the commitment to human health, Brody said.
“Jewish Texans seem to be particularly sensitive to the ongoing attempt of lawmakers to further ‘Christianize’ public life and secular law and the opposition to living in a theocracy is a huge motivator for Jews who oppose current legislative efforts,” Brody said.
Madhu Godsay, a member of the advisory board for Austin Hindu Temple, said Hindu scholars generally refrain from expressing opinion on abortion.
He said this is because Hinduism is based on a principle of dharma, a notion that individuals have moral responsibilities and that they are responsible for dealing with problems in accordance with their own moral conscience and understanding of consequences.
However, Godsay said abiding by dharmic or moral principles means to honor and respect any life-form, born or unborn. This is because of the Hindu principle that the soul never dies, and instead takes on different forms. Godsay said based on this belief, a fetus is always a person, even before conception, because the soul never ceases to exist.
“Abortion is considered as violence as far as Hinduism is concerned.” Godsay said. “This form of violence is not acceptable and is generally condemned except in cases of rape, incest or threat to mother’s life.”
Despite this, Godsay said abortion is generally an individual’s choice depending on the situation rather than a religious decision. He said the decision is more democratic between a woman and her family rather than being limited or defined by a religious ruling or opinion.