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Religious denominations in America have a vast diversity of views on abortion, ranging from the very narrow to the very loose. Women who call themselves feminists have crafted their own narrow view. The term “feminism” has gone through many alterations since its origins in the nineteenth century. What was once used in reference to women’s rights and efforts toward equality has become an ideological label with increasingly narrow parameters. Like all narrow ideologies, it has come to define and promote a limited view of what one MUST believe, while condemning all those who differ. It has become a form of secular fundamentalism.
In the dominant feminist rhetoric today, women should have the sole determination of what she does with her body anyone who favors restrictions on her is called a bigot and a sexist. Disagreement is often met with antagonism and denunciation. At the same time, many who call themselves feminist do not oppose laws that restrict public nudity, prostitution, pornography, and drug use, all of which restrict a woman’s use of her body. This hypocrisy is but one of the reasons why such a significant percentage of intelligent women in America reject the term as one of self-identity.
At the other end of the spectrum in the abortion debate is another narrow ideology, this one promoting the belief that conception is the beginning of a new life, which in a sense is true. However, the belief therefore labels all abortions for any reason as equal to murder. Here, too, the adherents condemn all those who disagree with them. One would then think that those who hold this point of view would be strong proponents of sex education in schools, but most are adamantly against it. They tend to believe that any discussion about sex with school age youth will lead them to start having sex and that keeping silence will somehow prevent this. Are they not aware of the effects of hormones?
The reality is that no one knows for sure when an individual’s life begins, or, using religious terminology, when the soul enters the fetus. Some say this occurs at the moment of conception; others see the beginning of brain activity or a heartbeat (both around 6 weeks) as the marker; still others use viability (approximately 24 weeks) as the determinant. Because of this wide range of views, women and men should both be free to follow their own beliefs in this regards. To claim there is only one right way of understanding the situation and that everyone should conform to a particular belief reveals a narrow fundamentalist attitude. Clearly, this is the view at both ends of the spectrum.
For those who are anti-abortion in all circumstances, the physical health of the mother, the state of fetal development, and the cause of the pregnancy (such as rape or incest) are largely irrelevant. For those at the other end of the ideological spectrum who reject all limitations on abortion, the possibility of a life prior to birth, fetal viability, and any responsibility on the part of the female for her consensual actions that led to her pregnancy are all totally ignored. Moreover, they believe a pregnant female should be able to opt out of her responsibility almost up to the time of delivery. At the same time, however, many of those who support this approach also believe quite adamantly that any male responsible for a pregnancy must take full responsibility for his actions and cannot opt out. They often declare, “He should have known beforehand what could happen.” Should not the female have known as well? More hypocrisy?
Studies have shown that the beliefs of most Americans regarding abortion and when life begins are actually somewhere between these two extremes. They disagree with calling all abortions murder and think that abortion can be justifiable in certain situations. However, they also disagree with using abortion simply as a tool to end an unwanted or “inconvenient” pregnancy, which is currently the case in nine out of 10 abortions. Most Americans are searching for a middle ground.
Therefore, in creating policy on the issue of abortion, we need to reject as a society the influences of the ideologies at both extremes. Currently, feminist fundamentalism and anti-abortion fundamentalism are the dominant voices and forces in our government affecting abortion laws. Instead, we should attempt to craft rules that allow for individual beliefs, individual situations, and individual circumstances to play a role in whatever decision is made. At the same time, we should also consider ways in which both males and females are equally held responsible for their actions. Without this, there is no fairness. Moreover, fundamentalism, on whatever level and for whatever reason, is an antithesis to freedom and runs counter to a fair, responsible, and ethical society.