As Americans, we value the separation of Church and State and indeed this separation is crucial to accommodate the many varied religious beliefs of the American people. We strive to serve as an example of democracy and women's rights but when analyzing the recent dialogue on abortion and contraception by Republicans one has to wonder if the intention is indeed to wage a war on women's rights and whether the Republicans are trying to convert America into a country governed by moral code and religious law.
When we think about countries governed by moral code or religious law, we naturally think of the Muslim countries. In most Muslim countries, Sharia law (Islamic canonical law) is often the basis for government or is used heavily in conjunction with State law. In the countries that adhere to one of four common schools of jurisprudential thought, abortion is outlawed after the soul enters the fetus -- at 120 days. The earliest discussions on the issue date back to the eleventh/twelfth century, when the eminent jurist Al-Ghazali gave his consent for withdrawal as a way to prevent pregnancy in order to save a woman's health and life, avoid financial hardship, or other domestic problems. While many Muslim countries outlaw abortions altogether today, reforms are underway to address the need to supply solutions to women who for different reasons wish to abort and at the same time enact laws that would not contradict Islamic principles. The Grand Mufti of Egypt Jad Al Haq used Al-Ghazali's teachings and by analogy, argued that modern methods of contraception were permissible.
Concerning abortion, the Grand Mufti explained that while juristic consensus says that abortion after the first 4 months of pregnancy amounts to the taking of a life, the mother's life generally takes precedence over the child's life. In addition, several women's rights activists, modern scholars, and policy makers in Muslim countries argue that women's reproductive rights have been manipulated using a religious context and in light of recent democratization efforts, are being reexamined.
While many Muslim countries are moving toward a re-interpretation of Sharia laws to conform to a more progressive view on abortion that considers a woman's right to choose, it seems ironic that the Republican dialogue in America regarding abortion and contraception is being framed more in religious terms and is less about women's rights. Recently Representative Terri Proud in Arizona wrote an email to a constituent saying that women should witness an abortion before having one. The State of Oklahoma has had some of the most archaic laws for women wanting abortions and the Republican State is trying to outlaw abortions altogether, even in cases of rape and incest. An Arizona contraception bill is being considered which will allow employers to demand that a woman provide reasons for why she is using contraception and the bill allows the employer to fire her if it is a non-medical reason. Republicans in the State of Mississippi are trying to close its only abortion clinic. Generally speaking, the anti-abortion strategy is to pass bills that would ban abortions earlier, and to change the legal definition of personhood -- an effort that would completely outlaw abortions.
The issues surrounding the debate on abortion and reproductive rights seem to be the same across the globe, whether in Muslim countries or in America. In both cases, men who have the power to legislate are the ones who design the framework for women's choices and rights. Religious views are appropriated and interpreted in the strictest possible sense in order to limit a woman's role in her reproduction.
It is not surprising that women's reproductive rights have a long way to go in the Muslim world, and it is comforting to know that the directional move is leaning toward giving women more rights to make more choices. After all, many of these countries are still developing and progress, democracy, and women's rights are still nascent ideals. What is surprising, however, is that the proposed acts by the Republican candidates mentioned above seem to be regressing away from women's rights and toward strict religious tradition. Furthermore, the Republican approach to incorporating religious ideals and morality into policy opens the door to an important question: Which religion do we choose to represent American values?
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