The latest episode in a series of surreptitious videos aimed at Planned Parenthood has simply added fuel to the fire in a whirlwind debate about the morality and legalities of wholesale abortion.
To say the videos created plenty of backlash would be a grand understatement—Planned Parenthood is up against the ropes, big time. Five states have stripped funding from the organization and the House Judiciary Committee has begun hearings on the nation’s largest abortion provider.
These admonishments are almost entirely due to the outcry from the Christian right. While that demographic does carry great political weight, there is plenty of room for outside allies in the battle to uphold the sanctity of life. So just where are the other “great religions” in this fundamental debate?
The secular left is a serious foe, and despite the fact that more than 70 percent of Americans identify as “Christian,” a large portion of that number is pro-choice (after all, those that believe in abortion are now the majority).
Even with its considerable political power, the Christian right needs all the help it can get. Yet the response from our Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist brethren has either been muted by the media or completely absent.
Of course, the reasons for the deafening silence are likely more political than spiritual. But before we delve into the willful blindness of America’s various religious institutions, let’s examine some (admittedly) elementary theological precepts.
While the subject of abortion, like most issues framed in religious terms, is open to wide interpretation, there does seem to be a general pro-life stance shared among the world’s great faiths.
According to the popular Jewish website aish.com:
“As a general rule, abortion in Judaism is permitted only if there is a direct threat to the life of the mother by carrying the fetus to term or through the act of childbirth.”
The Islamic view is somewhat different, with more weight given to the development of the unborn child. As the BBC notes:
“Some schools of Muslim law permit abortion in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, while others only permit it in the first 7 weeks.
However, even those scholars who would permit early abortion in certain cases still regard abortion as wrong, but do not regard it as a punishable wrong. The more advanced the pregnancy, the greater the wrong.”
That being said, even Islam permits an exception if the mother’s life is in jeopardy.
Buddhism, expectedly, is perhaps the most vocal when it comes to the sanctity of life. According to Buddhist teacher Lodro Rinzler in the Huffington Post:
“Generally speaking in Buddhism it is traditionally believed that life starts at the time of conception . . . As such, the Buddha taught that abortion is indeed taking a being’s life which is a grave misdeed.”
He goes onto qualify that Buddhism shies away from moral absolutes and that the Dalai Lama himself teaches that “abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.”
Subtleties aside, clearly American Christians can expect some support in this national debate.
But like most things in the abortion debate, the situation isn’t that cut and dry. Judaism, for instance, is basically out of the question—89% of American Jews support legalized abortion in some fashion, according to Pew.
Not surprising, considering the fact that 62 percent of the same demographic identify with Judaism “mainly as a matter of ancestry/culture.”
So where are the other two? There are nearly 3 million Muslims and between 2 and 6 million Buddhists in the United States. While Christians are a clear majority, those numbers aren’t irrelevant, particularly given the lobbying power of religion.
Freedom of expression and religion are fundamental American rights. What better way to practice both than to stand in solidarity with Christians in their fight to defend the rights of the unborn?
For Muslims, it would not only be a powerful expression of faith but also an olive branch to the religious right with which they so often clash. If Muslims truly want to be accepted as American, they should practice their most fundamental liberties side by side with their perceived enemies for the common good. As the old saying, widely attributed to the Arabs but likely much older, goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” What better issue to find common ground than the idea that life is God’s, and God’s alone?
The same can easily be said for Buddhists. While that particular religion is less strict in terms of laws and its overall definition of life in the Judeo-Christian sense, there is clear precedent.
The idea that life begins at conception is essentially accepted Buddhist dogma. How can one justify sparing a fly while turning a blind eye to the tearing apart of a fetus for profit? Buddhists also have a right to express their morals in an open democracy, and yet, like their Muslim counterparts, have remained largely silent.
Of course, we all know the reason Christians have thus far stood alone: pure politics. Both Islam and Buddhism are too tied to the left to violate their political allegiances, even for the loftiest of causes. Muslims, of course, look to their liberal saviors for protection from what they view as a hostile Christian majority — 85 percent voted for Obama in 2012.
And Buddhism, by its very nature, leans left. The faith itself rejects moral absolutes, even when the founder’s teachings are absolutely clear. Expecting baby boomers to suddenly side with the faith that likely alienated them in their youth and pushed them towards a more elastic morality is likely little more than naiveté, but should it be?
Shouldn’t piety always trump politics?
If Muslims wish to be accepted as Americans, and if secular Buddhists want to be taken seriously as a religious voice, they should step up, politics aside. After all, nothing is more American than defending your right to practice your religion and freedom of speech side by side.