guest column Miriam Tose Majome
Last week, we looked at abortion from the Zimbabwean legal and legislative context. We outlined the provisions of the Termination of Pregnancy Act and the only three circumstances in which abortion is legally permissible.
We examined the challenges and difficulties faced by women even when the law allows them to terminate their pregnancies. We highlighted that the issue of abortion is fraught with many opinions and emotions, with different sides vying to make their view the standard by which the abortion laws must devolve. There are opinions from across the social divide encompassing divergent religious, cultural, legal, medical, moral and personal opinions.
Everyone has an opinion about the rights and wrongs of abortion and interestingly, the most vocal and influential opinions come from people who do not have uteruses. Men are invariably the most influential members of society because they occupy the most powerful positions and are the principle decision makers.
They pass the religious, cultural and national laws by which societies live and abide. By virtue of their political power, men influence public opinion on almost all societal, religious and cultural issues more than women. In the regions of the world where abortion has been legalised, it had to be fought as a gender and women’s reproductive rights issue for it to gain traction. The argument by women was that they are the ones who get pregnant and, therefore, must be the only ones who have a say over their bodies.
Women argue that their bodies are not public property and, therefore, they should be the only ones to decide whether or not to get pregnant, and whether or not to remain pregnant .
All the major religions/philosophies are generally opposed to abortion. Buddhist philosophies view life as starting from conception.
They believe in reincarnation and rebirth, therefore, life is present and valid at every stage of its cycle. A conceived being is considered as having the same rights as a deceased person. Rebirth and reincarnation mean there is never an end to life. Unlike in Christianity and Islam, there is no top-down approach and a super deity that tells people what to do with their lives and their genitalia. There is no dictated wrong and right because Buddhist philosophy gives individuals personal responsibility over moral issues.
Adherents are encouraged to self-introspect through meditation and reflection, the effects of their thoughts and deeds to other people and the world at large. In Islam, abortion is wrong and forbidden, except in some circumstances. In this way, Islam is more liberal because Christianity does not give an allowance for special exceptions.
Christianity takes the most rigid, impractical, and denialist view on abortion.
Judeo Christianity views, championed by the Roman Catholic Church are very influential in this part of the world.
The traditional Catholic view is that abortion is wrong, sinful and, therefore, non-negotiable, no matter the circumstance.
If the pregnancy poses danger to the mother or the foetus, it is considered as God’s will. The mother must die or the baby be dangerously deformed if need be.
Abortion is regarded as gravely contrary to the moral and natural laws. The Anglican Church mirrors the Roman Catholic Church, although it has increasingly softened its stance over the years to allow for some exceptions.
In 1980, its board that deals with issues of social responsibilities issued a statement that closely mirrors the Catholic Church: “We see abortion….. as a great moral evil.’’ The softening of this stance, as with other issues like gay marriages the Anglican Church conceded that it was futile to try to control human beings.
The Catholic Church still maintains its rigid position.
The church would rather turn a blind eye like it does to most things it frowns upon, but which it cannot control such as contraception, homosexuality and co-habitation. The Catholic Church’s view is based on its interpretation of the word of God. For Catholics, life begins at conception. Pope Benedict XV talked about the necessity of making everyone aware of the “intrinsic evil of abortion’’ because it is akin to “attacking human life in its very first stages’’.
The Pope said politicians and legislators are duty-bound to defend the fundamental right to life because a human foetus has rights, including the right to life. This is contrary to some human and women rights views, which argue that a foetus has no rights of its own because it is not yet a human being. Abortion activists argue that the perceived rights of foetuses cannot supersede the rights of the women who host it in their bodies. The rights of foetuses and of women will be discussed in other instalments and, for now, we discuss the religious standpoint.
Generally, all Christian churches follow the same thinking that abortion is wrong and is a sin, because it is killing and killing is against Biblical and godly principles. Christians preach that sexual relations outside marriage are sinful and, therefore, abortion cannot even be a factor because all sexually active Christians should be married. There is no room for unwanted pregnancies because in the Christian world, life is neatly arranged and anything that interferes with that order is from the devil.
Christians justify their views by quoting Bible verses and teachings from influential Christian leaders that speak to the evils of murder. However, some Bible verses contradict this because what God says about abortion is different from these preachings. In some verses, God is portrayed as not caring about unborn children.
God’s attitude is that unborn babies have no rights and can be killed to punish and spite their mothers for doing him wrong. At different times, God expresses disparaging feelings about foetuses and suggests that they are mere property. God accords no special concessions or protection to unborn babies as is preached by anti-abortionists.
Those interested in further Biblical readings of abortion can look up Exodus 21:22-25, Numbers 5: 11-31, among many other verses in which pregnant women are threatened with losing their unborn children at God’s whim. In Hoseah 9: 10-16, God promises to punish Israel by destroying it. He seems to have a penchant for punishing women by killing their unborn children.
God talks liberally about ripping their stomachs with a sword and wantonly killing their unborn children. Even in the New Testament, Jesus shows no special concern or protection for unborn children.
Like in the Old Testament, he promises trials and tribulations for pregnant women and their unborn children in the promised end times (Matthew 24:19).
In these and other verses, the biblical God goes against the standard Christian stance that God is unequivocal about the protection of unborn children. When the various biblical verses about abortion are considered, there is no consensus in the Bible about abortion. There is thus no justification for the anti-abortion views based on biblical principles, unless one cherry picks verses that support their personal views.