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Abortion Essay, Research Paper

Abortion is a very controversial social issue that has existed for many decades. The controversy behind this issue is caused by the different views that people and societies have regarding abortion. The social science disciplines of political science and religion will be used in getting a better understanding of the opposing views of abortion. In discussing the religious aspects of abortion, this paper will focus on the Jewish and Catholic views of abortion and how the two faiths effect an individual s decision upon having an abortion. When discussing the political controversy regarding abortion, this paper will discuss the abortion laws in Canada and the United States as well as the pro-choice and anti-choice movements of abortion. Society is greatly affected both socially and politically by abortions due to the different moralistic views regarding abortions and the controversies surrounding abortions. What are the views of the Catholic and Jewish religions on having abortions and how do their different views effect society? How is society effected by the political controversies behind abortions?

Religion and Abortion

Abortion is an issue that causes extreme divisions among various religious groups due to the laws of the religions, in particular, those of the Jewish and Christian religions. The Jewish religion is based on the belief in one G-d as well as respecting the laws that G-d imposed on the Jews. The Jewish people are expected to do what is just and merciful in the eyes of G-d (World Book, 1990). The Talmud, written by scholars who greatly respect G-d s wishes, is a collection of legal and ethical writings which serves as a primary guide to the civil and religious laws of Judaism (World Book, 1990). It states that the fetus is a part of the mother rather than a person or an independent entity, abortion is not considered murder, since the fetus is not a person until it comes into the world (Butler et al., 1992). Therefore, when having abortions under the proper circumstances and not for reasons of convenience, the Jews are abiding by the religious and ethical laws that G-d imposed on his people, which are inscribed in the book of laws. Depending on one s religious beliefs, one may view abortion as acceptable. Judaism is divided into three religious groups: the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative. The Orthodox Jews accept all the traditional Jewish beliefs and ways of life and strictly observe all Jewish laws and greatly respect G-d (World Book, 1990). Orthodox Jews therefore, discourage abortions expect if a pregnancy will threaten a woman s life (Butler et al., 1992). Conservative Jews however, de- emphasize the rituals of Judaism but they follow more of the traditional practices than do Reform Jews (Kolatch, 1985). Reform Jews believe that moral and ethical teachings form the most important part of Judaism and feel that many rituals and traditions do not have significance over them (World Book, 1990). Therefore, they have eliminated many of the traditional customs and ceremonies of Judaism (Kolatch, 1985). The Reform and Conservative Jews believe that a fetus is not a person and there is no restriction against having an abortion (Butler et al., 1992).

The political issue of abortion in Judaism began before the case of Roe v. Wade in 1973 (Butler et al., 1992). In 1967, the Central Conference of American Rabbis said that legitimate abortions were valid and urged all states to permit abortions for the emotional and physical well being of the woman and in cases which involve sexual crimes (Butler et al., 1992). The Jewish religion strongly supported the case of Roe v. Wade, especially since this case allowed abortions to be legalized (Butler et al., 1992) as well as, since the Jewish religion accepts abortions as long as it can be justified (Kolatch, 1985). In 1985, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Jews implied that abortion is not only permitted but mandated by Jewish law when the woman s life or well being is threatened (Butler et al., 1992). These political issues as well as the laws of the Mishnah have a great impact on a woman s decision to have an abortion since following her religion gives her a sense of security, individual fulfillment and gives meaning to her life as well (World Book, 1990).

According to the Jewish religion, the proper circumstances for having an abortion are in order to save the woman s life, if the pregnancy will harm a woman s health and in cases of incest or rape (Kolatch, 1985). The Mishnah, one of the books of the Talmud, indicates that a mother s life must be saved even at the cost of the life of the fetus at any stage of the pregnancy, as long as the child is in the womb (Klein, 1979). The Jewish religion feels that the life of the mother is more important than that of the unborn child and that the mother s life has priority

over the life of an unborn child. Maimonides states that the child is sacrificed because it has the status of a pursuer, one who threatens the life of another, and its life may be taken as long as it is still in the womb (Maimonides, 1963). Therapeutic abortions are permissible in the early stages of abortion in the case of incest or rape where shame and embarrassment to the mother from the continuance of the pregnancy are considered threats to her health (Klein, 1979). In the case of adultery, a woman impregnated while engaging in adulterous action is not allowed to have an abortion (Kolatch, 1985) since the Ten Commandments state thou shalt not commit adultery (Exodus 20.1-17). When a Jewish couple gets married, it is their responsibility to have children in order to pass on the religion to the next generation. If a woman wants to have an abortion for reasons of convenience, it is forbidden (Klein, 1979) since G-d states that one must be fruitful and multiply . In the Jewish religion, children are considered a blessing and a marriage was deemed a failure if it did not result in the birth of an offspring (Klein, 1979). The Jewish religion does not see abortion as murder, yet aborting a fetus is a serious issue but when an abortion can be justified it is accepted yet, the matter is left to the decision of the woman based on her religious beliefs (Butler et al., 1992).

Abortion, in the Christian religion is viewed as a moral and social evil; therefore, it is banned in the religion (Butler et al., 1992). The Catholic Church has always condemned the destruction of innocent human life (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967). The Church follows in the words of Pius XII who stated that: Innocent human life, in whatever condition it is found, is to be secure from the very first moment of its existence. This is a fundamental right of the Christian person even if the child is still within the womb (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967). Even though abortion is forbidden in the religion, since Christianity stresses the moral qualities of love, mercy and self sacrifice as being closely connected with religious values (World Book, 1990), the church does not allow a woman to put the life of a child over her own (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967).

The politics regarding the Catholic religion and abortion are important factors that need to be addressed in order to understand the Catholic position of abortion. In the United States, the National Council of Catholic Bishops has adopted the church s position as the law; therefore, the council urges Catholics to oppose abortion (Butler et al., 1992). The bishops and priests have used forcible measures against Catholic politicians and theologians, as well as, legislators have been threatened with excommunication and teachers have been fired if they attempted to reject the law that bans abortion within Catholicism (Butler et al., 1992). The religious leaders have used these measures in order to enforce the law banning abortion within the religion (Butler et al., 1992).

Politics and Abortion

Abortion causes a considerable amount of political controversy in both Canada and the United States, due to the on going debate as to whether abortion should be legal. Although there have been many laws passed permitting abortions under certain circumstances, many people have opposing views regarding this issue. In Canada and the United States, people have formed anti- abortion and pro-choice movements, which have had a great impact on the debate over abortion.

The pro-choice and pro-life groups create a lot of controversy surrounding the legalization of abortion. The pro-choice group believes that each woman has the right to choose for herself whether to carry a pregnancy to term and to control their own bodies (Costa, 1996). If a woman is forced to carry a pregnancy to term, the pro-choice group believes that she is not a free individual. She can not hope to control her own existence if she can not decide for herself, the most personal and intimate aspect of her sexuality and life in society (Butler et al., 1992). This group views the anti-abortion movement as being more interested in the social control of women than in supporting women and their babies (MacGuigan, 1994). Unlike the pro- choice group, the pro-life group believe that the sanctity of life take precedence over the right of a woman to control her body (Costa, 1996). This group believes that both the mother and the baby deserve life and respect and therefore, consider abortion to be the killing of an unborn human being (Butler et al., 1992).

In Canada, there is no law prohibiting a woman s right to have an abortion (Butler et al., 1992). However, the criminal code states that abortions would be allowed when the pregnancy was likely to endanger the life or health of the mother (Githens et al, 1996). The government as part of a unanimous philosophical effort to remove morality from the criminal code formulated this amendment (Githens et al., 1996). Canada has a parliamentary government where the cabinet determines the priorities and policies, ensures their implementation, and presents government legislation for Parliament approval (Guy, 2001). This form of government is better able to control the policy formation on abortion as opposed to that of the United States (Guy, 2001). The modifications made in the new criminal code stated that hospitals that provide abortion services must create a three doctor Therapeutic Abortion Committee (Tatalovich, 1997). The ruling of the 1988 Morgentaler case, stated that abortion was a medical issue between the woman and her doctor and this remained the law of Canada (MacGuigan, 1994) since it is difficult to form a new abortion legislation. In order to form a new law, it must guarantee impartiality and fairness to all citizens (Guy, 2001). The law must be passed in a court where it is free from the political arena, and the decisions made by the court are not the result of pressure or interference by any individual of society (Guy, 2001).

There have been many attempts to reform the abortion law. Firstly, The Law Reform Commission of Canada has recommended amendments to the criminal code in 1989, in order to balance the interests of the mother and the fetus (Guy, 2001). In 1991, bill C-43 created a lot of controversy between the pro-choice groups and pro life groups since they viewed the law very differently. The pro choice groups argued that many women would be designated at least nominal criminals to whom an exception had to apply (Guy, 2001), and the pro-life group pointed out that the bill would be unlikely to reduce abortions and lacked legal recognition for the fetus (Guy, 2001). Bill C-43 was, however, defeated which returned abortion to the criminal code (Githens et al, 1996). By doing so, this law must apply equally and predictably to everyone and anyone accused of breaking this ruling must be treated equally under the law (Guy, 2001).

In the United States, abortion was proscribed in the criminal codes of all fifty states and it was viewed as a medical problem and not a personal right (Costa, 1996). The American Law Institute formulated a model penal code that included a provision legalizing abortions for therapeutic reasons other than to save a mother s life (Githens et al., 1996). Since the United States has a congressional- presidential separation of power system, the initiation of new laws originates in the executive branch and the bill is introduced to the congress (Guy, 2001). These laws are then taken before the Supreme Court where the judge will determine whether to pass the bill (Guy, 2001).

Before the case of Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion was completely prohibited in the United States, unless a valid reason, which needed to include the health of the mother, was presented (MacGuigan, 1994). The case of Roe v. Wade created choices: a constitutional right for women to choose abortion during the first trimester and a choice for doctors and hospitals to offer these services (Githens et al., 1996). This case changed the abortion laws in the United States. The state passed a law which stated that the State does not have any interest in regulating abortions during the first trimester (Costa, 1996). The only limitation that was set was that a licensed medical physician in a medical setting must perform the abortion (Costa, 1996). Yet, during the second and third trimesters, an abortion was only permitted to protect the woman s health and if it is considered life threatening (Costa, 1996). After this law was passed, the states followed the regulations stated very closely since American citizens regard the law as valid because it is the divine, moral or natural justice which influences their life greatly (Guy, 2001).

Since the Case of Roe vs. Wade, the number of abortions performed each year total at least one million. In Canada there has been one fifteenth of the amount of abortions performed in the United States each year (Tatalovich, 1997). Since Canadian law originally ordered abortions to take place in hospitals, after the Morgentaler case, there was a substantial increase in the abortion rate in Canada (Statistics Canada, 1995). In the United States, the abortion rate was 27.3 per 1,000 women which was double the Canadian rate of 12.6 (Tatalovich, 1997). As of 1992, there are, at least, 100,497 abortions performed each year and in the United States, there are at least 1,528 abortions performed each year in hospitals (Tatalovich, 1997). The number of abortions performed each year in both the United States and Canada has increased since the cases of Roe vs. Wade in 1973 and Morgentaler in 1988.


The debate over abortion is a very complicated one that is still ongoing. The political controversy surrounding abortion is unlikely to be solved despite the attempts of the political leaders in both Canada and the United States with the influence of the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups. The pro-life movement will continue to have the federal Parliament decriminalize abortion, and at the provincial level, will continue to influence to have abortions de-insured under provincial health plans (Butler et al., 1992). The pro-choice movement will however, continue to fight for the equality of Canadian and American women (Butler et al., 1992). The religious aspect of abortion will not be modified since these religious beliefs are fixed.

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