Guest Speakers Discuss Religious Support for Abortion Rights

Danielle Dentrement ’25

News Editor

On September 21st, Holy Cross’ Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Department hosted an event called “Religious Support for Abortion Rights: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Perspectives” in the Hogan Ballroom. The panelists included Reverend Elizabeth Kaeton, Professor Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, and Professor Zahra Ayubi, each of whom offered textual or researched support on abortion rights within different religions. 

Reverend Kaeton began the discussion with a Christian perspective and background in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark as vice-chair of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive choice. She also served as a volunteer with Crisis Counseling at Planned Parenthood and as a hospice chaplain.

Rooted in her affiliation with the Episcopal Church, Kaeton referenced the long-standing resolution of the Episcopal Church that “all human life is sacred from its inception until death” but clarified that this sacredness extends to the life of the woman and the life of the family. As an Episcopalian, Kaeton has been involved with clergy consultation services concerning abortion and the Relgious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an interfaith organization enlisting religion to help people make informed reproductive health decisions without shame. 

After sharing an anecdote about a hospice patient who asked Kaeton whether the soul that she aborted at the age of 18 would hate her if she reached heaven, Kaeton underlined that “abortion is a complicated choice.” 

Regardless of the choice a woman makes, Kaeton said, “Abortion is part of the moral autonomy and bodily sovereignty of a woman. If we want to stop or limit abortion, we have to listen to women. We have to work on the reasons that women have abortions, we have to work on poverty, we have to end domestic violence and abuse.” 

As the Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, director of the Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law at Brandeis University and a lecturer at Brandeis, Professor Fishbayn Joffe represented the Jewish perspective. 

Fishbayn Joffe cited Jewish law and the Torah to depict the Jewish stance on abortion rights. Jewish law acknowledges that abortion is sometimes necessary to protect the physical or mental health of a woman, and the Torah declares a fetus to be of significance but not a life. Fishbayn Joffe explained that Jewish women engage with and rely on these texts when making reproductive health decisions, and that this engagement should be differentiated from “submitting to” religious texts. 

According to Fishbayn Joffe, Jewish women find comfort in sharing their decision-making with their rabbis who also engage with the aforementioned texts. In fact, Fishbayn Joffe quoted a rabbi who said, “My faith honors my right to choose,” when her 12-week scan showed an unviable fetus. Other cases in which a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, abortion is not only permissible by Jewish law but is required. 

From the Muslim perspective, the final speaker was Professor Ayubi, a religion professor at Dartmouth College and president of the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics. Like Joffe, Ayubi cited religious texts with the concept that “the soul” is not “breathed into” a fetus until 120 days after conception being central to her argument. Therefore, from a religious reading and legal perspective, Muslim juries consider a fetus to become a legal entity—or human—at 120 days. 

With this in mind, Ayubi explained that most Muslim bioethicists say abortion before 120 days is permissible on certain grounds and after only after 120 days if the mother is in mortal danger.  A grounds for abortion that would be frowned upon, for instance, is financial affordability as God or Allah is seen as the ultimate provider in Islam. In conclusion, Ayubi explained that a commonality in most Islamic interpretations of abortion rights is that a woman’s choice to abort has roots in her belief in God’s mercy and compassion. These themes of mercy and compassion permeated each woman’s discussion on varying religious parameters surrounding the right to choose.

Photo Courtesy of the College of the Holy Cross website

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