Editor’s Note: This week, “The Wall of Separation” is highlighting the essays written by the winners of Americans United’s 2022 Student Essay Contest. We had two third-place winners, and today we’re featuring the first of those. It’s by Wassila Mehimda of Revere, Mass., a Muslim student who wrote about how the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade harms religious freedom.
By Wassila Mehimda
When one hears the phrase “Separation of Church and State,” it is hard for the United States to not come to mind. As a country built on the foundational concept of religious freedom, it is relatively well understood that our government was crafted with the intention of keeping religious institutions separate from lawmaking policies. Although our policymaking institutions are secular, our personal lives do not have to be. This is guaranteed to us in the first amendment, allowing us to freely practice – or not practice – any faith.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a landmark Supreme Court case finalized this summer that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling which legalized abortion throughout the United States. This decision set in motion by the Supreme Court has been a detrimental setback to almost half a century of reproductive activism, revoking American women’s constitutional right to abortion and blurring the once clear line drawn between religion and
After the court’s decision, several state lawmakers quickly sent anti-abortion bills into effect. These laws, dubbed “trigger laws” vary in severity, but all serve the common idea of “preserving life.” A staggering theme here is the presence of religious conservatism backing these bills, as the driving force of these lawmakers is an emphasis on the moral sanctity of unborn life. In short, America’s politicians and high-ranking judges are modeling our country after right-wing Christian fundamentalism. The question is, where do non-Christians and pro-choice Christians fit into this new world?
The most upfront issue pro-choice circles have with the overturn of Roe v. Wade is the very clear attack on women’s bodily autonomy. A lesser televised yet equally as terrifying impact the overturning of Roe v. Wade has had is the negative way in which abortion bans interact with different religious groups. Abortion may pose an issue to Christian conservatives, but it is vital to note that there are several faiths outside the sphere of Christianity that allow abortion.
It is important to preface this discussion by stating that the restriction of abortion is– by its very core – an attack on the first amendment rights of religious minorities. Several religious congregations and interest groups have challenged the overturn of Roe v. Wade on behalf of their spiritual and moral beliefs, the most notable being Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, a synagogue in southern Florida.
According to The New York Times, “Under Jewish law, abortion “is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being” of a pregnant woman.” Therefore, in most sects of Judaism, if a woman were to be put in a position where her pregnancy posed a threat to her mental and/or physical health, her faith would require her to recognize the importance of her well-being as opposed to carrying the fetus to term and potentially harming herself.
Because of this, the men and women of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor have filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a state law into effect that would effectively ban abortions after 15 weeks with absolutely no exception. As expected, the “no exception” part of this law would overrule any woman’s previously guaranteed right to terminate a pregnancy, which happens to be a religious right in some circles. This is especially jarring when applied to ectopic pregnancies (which often damage nearby organs and cause life-threatening loss of blood), as well as pregnancies stemming from rape or incest.
However, Jewish women are not the only religious minority affected by these laws. Islam, the third most practiced faith in the United States, does in fact allow abortions. This information may come as a shock to many, as the perception of Islam pushed by American media is usually one that frames the faith to be uniquely conservative and patriarchal. As a practicing Muslim myself, it was particularly hard seeing the onslaught of social media posts this summer in which people compared America’s statewide abortion bans to “sharia law,” especially knowing that this skewed and bigoted perception of my faith could not be further from the truth.
The stance on abortion in Islam differs greatly, as scriptures, modern scientific research, and the longstanding relationship between medicine and Islamic thought have all shaped the range of opinions within the sphere of the faith. Like Judaism, Islamic teaching puts a very strong emphasis on the preservation of its adherers’ overall well-being. Regardless, the general consensus among most Muslim scholars is that the health and well-being of the mother as well as potentially fatal birth defects are always valid reasons to discontinue a pregnancy. According to Zahra Ayubi, a female scholar on Islamic ethics, “Muslims who pursue abortion often do so based on their broad Islamic understanding of God’s compassion rather than in consultation with religious authorities who might act as gatekeepers.”
Many Islamic organizations have spoken out in protest against the Supreme Court’s ruling. Interest groups like Muslim Advocates, Heart to Grow, and Islamic feminist groups like AMBA have all published statements condemning the recent and substantial change in our country’s state of reproductive rights.
In short, the Supreme Court’s decision to revoke the constitutional right to abortion is an attack that serves to undermine the United States’ vital policy of separating religion from government. Abortion bans are a dangerous manifestation of evangelical conservatism, hindering women’s bodily autonomy, first amendment rights, and in some cases, religious freedom. As Americans, it is crucial we remind ourselves of the safety that separation of church and state suggests; for a nation dominated by the religious morals of a powerful few is no longer a democracy, but instead an encroaching theocracy.