On Monday, Rabbi Aaron Alexander took to the Huffington Post to put the latest face on a tired argument. Happily, he kept it short, so I’m going to break it down piece by piece.
Though I’ve hesitated from doing so until this point, I’m going to reflect briefly on abortion. I am not going to engage in the conversation — as a man — of what women ought be permitted to, or prohibited from, doing with their bodies. The policy makers in Texas and North Carolina seem to have that well covered, tragically.
Really? You think it’s “tragic” that abortion centers will be held to the standards of other surgical facilities and women will be unable to have abortions after five months? Because, beneath all the hype, that’s what the legislation actually says.
Rather, I’m going to speak as a person of faith to my fellow brothers and sisters of faith. Please know this comes from a place of respect, love, and shared service to God.
Well, clearly I’m not the audience, so moving on…
You first need to know that I seriously admire your advocacy on behalf of life. To battle for deeply held convictions in this age is no small thing and deserves praise.
Why thank you.
You possess a (not THE) definition of what constitutes life
The Princess Bride was wrong; there is no such thing as mostly dead and slightly alive. You are one or the other. It is a scientific question with a right or wrong answer. The “many truths” approach does not work when the issue is one of objective fact.
and you won’t back down from trying to defend it. There is much integrity to that consistency.
But, like all things religious, it is also potentially dangerous.
How is it “religious” when there are millions of pro-lifers in the United States with no religion? It can’t just be because there are religious folks who agree with us; most religious people also agree that human trafficking is immoral, but we don’t call human trafficking a religious issue.
So this is the part I don’t understand. Your definition of when life begins is not based on scientific fact. It is your religiously held belief. But it isn’t mine.
This misunderstanding goes way back to the beginning, when in Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun briefly mentioned the view of modern physicians that life begins at conception alongside the various views of ancient Stoics, Aristotle, Jews, Protestants, and the Catholic Church. Actual medicine was discarded as just another truth among many.
My religious tradition — which prioritizes life above all else — generally assumes that potential life doesn’t become its own living entity until 40 days into the pregnancy. And, for the entire pregnancy, the mother’s life is always given priority. Right up until birth. (See Mishnah Ohalot, 7:6.) That includes both physical health, and even in certain cases (like rape), emotional health as well.
I don’t have much to say about this, except to mention that there are pro-life Jews who, shockingly, think that prioritizing life above all else is pretty freaking incompatible with support for abortion on demand.
You may disagree with my religion’s definition. That I understand and respect. But here’s the rub: when you attempt to legislate what my community (or any community) can and can’t do based on your faith’s definition, you don’t just simply disagree with me. You are saying, to be blunt, that your religion is correct and mine is incorrect — coercively.
Public policy should not be based upon anyone’s religion, but upon objective reality alone. Sometimes religious adherents may not like the way that turns out. Modern science has been kind to Christians, and others, who want life to be protected from conception; it’s been considerably less kind to those Christians who want Genesis to be taught in public schools. So it goes. This isn’t about bashing anybody’s religion; it’s about protecting human lives from violence.
That takes a considerable amount of hubris that isn’t worthy of either of our faiths, or our great country’s principles, for that matter. And that doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t relevant and shouldn’t be part of our country’s dialogue. Of course it should.
So, what, we’re allowed to talk about abortion, so long as we don’t actually save any babies?
But when we both base our imperatives on religious values — we need to recognize that that gives us no right to impose them on anyone else. I know you wouldn’t want me to enforce my definition of life on you and your family. You’d fight that, even. If we truly value one another, as people of faith dedicated to the service of God, then we owe each other nothing less. Can we please agree to disagree and let faith communities dictate only to their own?
In a word: no. Rabbi, if the Aztec religion resurfaced and started performing human sacrifices to the gods, I am certain that you would not just sit back and let them dictate their own faith to their own people. I think that you would intervene, because I think that you are a well-meaning person. But it’s not enough to mean well, if you don’t acknowledge the facts. As a wise religious person once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.