On the question of abortion, the overarching answer for many religious communities is that there is no single answer.
In Islam, while schools of thought establish different thresholds for when and why a pregnancy can be terminated, the life of the pregnant person is generally prioritized.
The same is true in Judaism, which considers a fetus as always secondary, though there is contemporary debate about what health risks warrant abortion and the role bodily autonomy plays in that decision.
The Buddhist precept not to kill extends to a fetus — but there is room for individual circumstances, personal choice and making amends if the need for an abortion arises.
And similarly in Hinduism, there is no single directive for any practitioner beyond the tenets of valuing life, respecting logic and making the best decision for oneself and one’s community.
Many North Bay religious leaders watching the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade say the perspectives of their communities have not been taken into account in a political conversation they see as dominated by the interests of evangelical Christians and Catholics.
While predominantly Catholic and progressive, the North Bay contains significant contingents of both anti-abortion advocates and non-Christian communities.
Though there has not been an official tally of local religious populations in over a decade, practicing Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other religious minorities altogether number in the thousands.
And their leaders fear their religious freedoms might be threatened if abortion is restricted.
“You can’t say (banning abortions) is religious right when you’re thereby taking the religious right away from another religion,” said Donna Waldman, director of Santa Rosa’s Jewish Free Clinic, which does not provide reproductive health care like abortions but offers other services for the uninsured. “My religion absolutely says you have to honor the life of the woman before the life of the unborn baby.”
Karma an ‘individual’ path
“The questions itself, the premise — what is the faith perspective on this topic — I believe is more a Western take on this concept,” said Sidharth Kaw, a committee member of the North Bay Hindu Center.
“It basically doesn't dictate what an individual should or shouldn't do when it comes to their body or their personal decisions,” added Jayashree Ayyar, secretary of the center, in an email. “Hinduism doesn't even mandate that there is a specific way to worship God, it offers options even for atheists.”
While there are varying scholastic positions among Hindus on when life begins, center director Radhika Sitaraman said, “Religion does not influence personal decisions. Family beliefs, superstitions and societal influences may have an impact, but religion, per se, does not mandate anything.”
Hindus have a reverence for life, and actions are therefore guided by what causes the minimal amount of harm. But, Kaw added, Hindus simultaneously have a deep respect for logic, or the law of Karma, which takes into account all life circumstances.
For Sitaraman, these values lead her to support access to abortion, especially in cases of incest, rape, abuse and medical risk. Many in her community agree, she said.
“I actually believe it is a better choice rather than bringing that child into the world and making it suffer,” she said.
In Buddhism, the precept to preserve life is paramount, said Ven Sobhana Theri, Vice Abbess at Dhammadharini Monastery in Penngrove. Because abortion is considered killing, nuns are prohibited from advising anyone to terminate a pregnancy, based on 2,600-year-old directives in the Patimokkha, or Buddhist monastic code.
Still, their tradition acknowledges “there are many other circumstances where the moral choices are not that black and white,” Theri added.
“In one way, we are more absolute in protecting the entire spectrum of life, including the planet, the insects, being anti-war, anti-capital punishment,” Theri said. “At another level, we know that sometimes killing happens, and our attitude is more compassionate and forgiving toward someone that has done killing.”