'Religious Freedom' Won't Save Abortion

Thursday, June 16, 2022

A synagogue in Florida has legally challenged that state's ban on abortions after 15 weeks on the bases of that state's constitutional right to privacy, and religious freedom.

The attorney filing the suit sounds like he's on the right track in this quote:

In an interview Tuesday, [Barry] Silver said when separation of religion and government crumbles, religious minorities such as Jews often suffer.

"Every time that wall starts to crack, bad things start to happen," he said, noting that DeSantis signed the law at an evangelical Christian church.
But the piece continues, noting that the suit claims "the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion" and goes on to cite a religious scholar on the matter:
"This ruling would be outlawing abortion in cases when our religion would permit us," said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, scholar in residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, "and it is basing its concepts of when life begins on someone else's philosophy or theology." [bold added]
This may be true, but the United States is a secular republic with a constitutional ban on the establishment of religion. If an embryo were an individual human life (it isn't), an abortion would be a murder, and sanctioning a religious exemption for it might as well excuse any act, so long as religion were cited as a motive.

The Supreme Court has ruled that religious beliefs are not a defense against a criminal indictment. The charge was bigamy, and a proper defense would have invoked the right to contract. (Image by Unknown (modified by Ubcule), via Wikimedia Commons, public domain -- copyright expired.)
Any cursory review of history or even of current events should give one pause about this rationale, considering the kinds of barbarity religions have routinely excused or even urged their followers to commit across history up to and including the present day.

It is bad enough to have a theocratic abortion ban on the books; replacing said ban with a legal precedent that subordinates rule of law to the whims of religious leaders is even worse.

I can understand suing on the basis of privacy as a stop-gap legal tactic: It is far from ideal, but it can preserve some protection for reproductive rights until efforts to fully legalize abortion can succeed. But opening the door for the even further subordination of individual rights to religion is to play around with gasoline in a room already on fire.

In a secular state, one may practice one's religion in any respect -- so long as doing so does not violate the individual rights of others. This principle protects us from, say, being imprisoned, tortured, or murdered for "heresy," by subordinating adherents to every religion to rule of law. For the same reason, "religious freedom" cannot provide the justification for performing any act -- even if it is or should be perfectly legal on the grounds of individual rights.

Abortion should be legal because (a) an embryo is not an individual human life and (b) the woman carrying that embryo has the right to decide what to do with that part of her own body. Full stop.

If abortion is against a woman's religion, nobody will stop her from remaining pregnant. And that is the full extent -- for an individual -- to which religion should have a role on the question of abortion.

-- CAV


Greg said...

The abortion prohibitionists claim that God implants a soul at conception. This is the only basis for their belief that life begins at conception. Making abortion a crime amounts to forcing the general population to follow a precept of the Christian faith. This is a first amendment violation. The Jews don't believe God implants a soul at conception. Neither do many other religions not to mention atheist's.

So even though I agree that religion cannot justify criminal conduct, the "crime" here is terminating a pregnancy. Such a crime violates first amendment rights because it amounts to forcing Christianity on others.

All of their secular arguments are smokescreens: Fetal heart beat, fetal pain, viability. They don't believe their own arguments because none of them establishes life at conception. A better argument than right to privacy is that
anti-abortion laws violate the individual's right to freedom of belief including religious belief.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hi Greg,

To be clear, I am not saying that laws banning abortion should be on the books; They shouldn't.

What I am saying is that legal maneuvering to keep these bans at bay should avoid setting the precedent of using "religious freedom" as the motive for many reasons, especially including that it can subordinate the law to religion. (The caption to the photo indicates, established precedent shows that that tactic to be unlikely to succeed, on top of being risky.)


Greg said...

I think my point has been missed here.

Yes, we are a secular country. Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. They cannot exempt themselves from the law based on their religious beliefs.

I have not read the briefs in the case you cite. But if they argue that abortion laws are themselves laws respecting the establishment of religion and that such laws amount to enforcing Christian faith on the infidel, then they are right. The abortion laws themselves constitute a first amendment violation and should be ruled unconstitutional for that reason.

Gus Van Horn said...

If that is how they are arguing, you are correct, but I am inclined to pessimism on that score.

There remains a huge difference between saying that the state should not establish a religion and effectively placing religion above the law.