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Saturday, April 21, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Abortion ruling, seen through filter of faith

Editor's note:

This week the Supreme Court upheld the ban on a controversial method of mid- to late-term abortion medically known as dilation and extraction, and termed by critics "partial-birth abortion." In only one instance does the law permit such an abortion: to save the life of the mother. The decision is widely regarded as a milestone — the first time the court has upheld a ban on a specific method of abortion, opening doctors who perform the procedure to criminal prosecution, fines and up to two years in prison.

The topic of abortion has held the attention of ethicists and people of faith for years, so we asked our Faith & Values columnists and one guest to comment on the court ruling.

The Rev. Patrick Howell: Respect for life

The Catholic Church has constantly espoused a respect for life and condemned abortion, capital punishment and assisted suicide. It has sought to foster a compassionate climate that supports all people, especially the vulnerable.

Partial-birth abortion involves partially delivering a live fetus and then puncturing the brain stem or crushing the skull to kill the baby before completing the delivery. It comes about as close to infanticide as one could imagine.

The norms for a just law, articulated by the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, may be helpful for further debates about enacting laws against abortion.

Aquinas said a just law has three essential elements: 1. It is moral. 2. It is promulgated by proper authority (secret laws are not just). 3. It carries sanctions that are enforceable. An example of bad law might be the prohibition of alcohol (1920-1933). Ultimately, the law was not enforceable and resulted in widespread bootlegging and a disrespect for the law.

When enacting laws, the question of whether there's a moral consensus and whether the law is enforceable leave room for a great deal of vigorous debate in a pluralistic society.

-- The Rev. Patrick Howell, S.J.

Vice president for mission and ministry at Seattle University

Rabbi Mark S. Glickman: Ruling was wrong

The fundamental question in the abortion debate is one of timing: When does the "ensoulment" of a fetus occur — when does that magical "something" happen that transforms it from a mass of cells into a human being? Judaism's answer is clear: A fetus becomes a person at birth, not before. And since a fetus is not a person, Jewish law permits abortion.

During pregnancy, the fetus is "a limb of its mother." Removing it is permissible when there is a compelling reason to do so.

This week's Supreme Court ruling will unduly restrict the options for many women facing difficult decisions and was wrong.

-- Rabbi Mark S. Glickman

Head of Congregation Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island and Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville

Pastor Richard Dahlstrom: Let dialogue start

Troy Newman of Operation Rescue said this in response to the Supreme Court's Ruling: "... We can do more than just put hurdles in front of women seeking abortions; we can put roadblocks in front of them." Such language misses the spirit of Jesus and runs the risk of building walls rather than bridges. After all, both mother and infant are precious in God's eyes and worthy of love and compassion.

I applaud this week's ruling, which will allow young lives to see the light of day. But a dialogue must begin about our deep cultural pathologies, of which abortion is just a symptom. As Christians address the consumerism, fear, isolation and poverty which plague our world, perhaps rhetoric will diminish and constructive conversations emerge.

-- Richard Dahlstrom

Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church, an interdenominational church, located near Green Lake in Seattle

Aziz Junejo: Sanctifying all life

Honoring and respecting a prospective mother with kindness is paramount to Muslims. In our religion, which stresses strong family relationships, the Quran refers to the sanctity of ALL life as being a gift from God Almighty.

Islam believes our bodies and what's in them are a trust from God Almighty and that we are accountable to God for what we do with or to them. It is very clear in Islam that after the fetus is completely formed and has been given a soul, abortion is forbidden unless its presence endangers the life of the mother and only in that case. This particular ruling seems to fit that belief well.

-- Aziz Junejo

Host of "Focus on Islam," a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam

The Rev. Patricia Hunter: Not court's affair

Having the Supreme Court tell a woman what type of medical care she can have is outrageous. Whatever medical care I need is between me and my physician. I certainly would hope the D&X procedure is performed only in the most extreme situations. If a woman's physician determines it to be the best procedure, then it needs to be available. Physicians should not be imprisoned for caring for their patients.

The desire to control women's bodies is so thinly veiled by anti-abortionists as they talk about the rights of the unborn child. If anti-abortionists were so concerned about children, every child in American would have health care and a roof over his head. If men, who head so much of the anti-abortion movement, want to champion the cause of children, then have them stop child pornography and pedophilia.

-- The Rev. Patricia Hunter

Associate in ministry at Mount Zion Baptist Church and an employee-benefits specialist for American Baptist Churches in the USA

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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