Are Anti-Abortion Laws Analogous to Sharia Law?

The recent spate of anti-abortion laws (AKA “Heartbeat bills”) has triggered a new objection against pro-life legislation. Abortion-choice advocates are claiming that these new restrictions on abortion impose religion, thereby violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Since Christians might be biblically motivated against abortion, it’s argued that it’s wrong for believers to impose their religious beliefs on the culture. In fact, some abortion-choice advocates claim it’s hypocritical for Christians to impose their religion while they simultaneously complain that Muslims shouldn’t implement Sharia law in the United States.

This argument misunderstands both Islam and Christianity.

First, no Christian I know is trying to impose the entirety of Christian ethics into law, nor are they attempting to create a theocracy. During the last 15 years that I’ve spoken across the United States and in many countries around the world, I’ve never met a Christian, attended a church, visited a school, or heard of a seminary that is attempting to implement a theocracy or legislate every moral found in Scripture. That’s because it’s a false fear that some non-Christians hold and/or propagate. Not only is such an enterprise pragmatically unfeasible, but it’s also theologically invalid as a New Testament principle. Though a theocracy did operate during Old Testament times, there is no theological mandate to create one today or to legislate every biblical ethic. To be sure, Christians do want a country that upholds justice, but that is a far cry from legislating all of Christian morality. Christians do want a free country where people are able to live out their faith without fear of government restriction or intrusion, but that is not the same thing as a theocracy.

By contrast, Islam is not merely a private religious belief system; it is a total way of life that specifies duties and requirements for every aspect of the individual, community, and society. There is no separation of “church” and state in Islam. It is one and the same. Christians concerned with Sharia law are appropriately afraid of the camel getting his nose under the tent. Sharia courts do not intend to be halfway compromises between Islamic practices and Western laws. They are precursors to a grander plan to implement Islamic principles that penetrate the entire fabric of society. Islam has rules (that practicing Muslims would want to legislate) for government, health, and the economy as well as for minor things such as eating, clothing, and travel. This is no parallel whatsoever to Christian concerns with laws that permit the killing of unborn children.

Second, despite increasing differences between Christians and non-Christians in American culture, I suspect secular people would agree with Christians who oppose many aspects of Sharia law. They would most likely deem many civil and criminal laws that are born out of Sharia to be unethical and violate human rights. That’s because Sharia laws are drawn from hadith literature, written traditions about what Mohammed said, did, or approved of during his 22 years of preaching Islam. Mohammed’s seventh-century opinions, beliefs, and ethics are enshrined in the authoritative traditions of hadith and can be expressed in Sharia laws today. Though hadith literature is not on par with the Quran (which Muslims believe is the literal words of Allah and also constitutes a legitimate source for Sharia laws), it is nonetheless extremely authoritative. That’s because it gives practical applications to the broad principles found in the Quran. Therefore, if you want a taste of what Sharia laws might look like, you can read hadith literature.

As I’ve said, even non-Christians would find many Sharia laws to be inconsistent with their own values and with established American principles today. For example, hadith literature teaches that apostates—those who change their religion away from Islam—are guilty of a capital crime and deserve death: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Bukhari, no. 6922, Abud Dawud, no. 4352). That’s not consistent with American law, and both Christians and non-Christians would oppose legislation that mandated such a barbaric practice. It’s also in hadith literature that we find that homosexuals should be killed: “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done" (Abu Dawud no. 4462). Not only would Christians oppose implementing such a law, but I’m guessing non-Christians would as well. Hadith literature (and even the Quran) also commands thieves to have their hands cut off (surah 5:38, Bukhari, no. 6789), allows for adulterers to be stoned to death (Muslim no. 4206), and permits husbands to beat their wives in some circumstances (surah 4:34, Muslim no. 2127). These are just a few examples. Most Muslims don’t implement these practices, but this is in spite of what the hadith (and Quran) teach and not because of it. This, however, is why Christians are justified in their opposition to Sharia laws and why even secular groups would likely oppose them too.

Third, claiming abortion is wrong is no more religious than saying killing a five-year-old is wrong. That, in effect, is what the pro-life view states—that an unborn human being is equally human and equally valuable as a five-year old. And pro-lifers don’t need to use the Bible to make the argument that the unborn are human beings. The argument can be made from the science of embryology, which states that, from the moment of conception, the unborn is a living being (it’s alive), a unique individual being (not merely a part of the mother’s body), and a human type of being (not a potential human or some other species). Therefore, the unborn is a human being just like you and me. Standard embryology textbooks even make this clear. Therefore, legislating a ban on killing unborn children is no more religious than legislating a ban on killing five-year-old children. There is no shortage of moral and legal arguments against abortion that are entirely secular in nature (that’s why, for example, there is a secular pro-life group). In virtually every defense I’ve made of the pro-life view in my 15 years advocating against abortion, I’ve made my case solely on scientific and philosophical grounds. My experience, by the way, is not an anomaly.

Christians, then, are not trying to impose their religious views on society. These heartbeat bills are common sense laws that protect unborn human beings for the same reason we have laws that protect born human beings. Although we have religious beliefs that claim all human life is valuable, the case against abortion can be made entirely through scientific and philosophical reasoning. It’s not the same with Sharia laws that are—by definition—religious laws. Christians can support bans on abortion and oppose Sharia law. There’s nothing hypocritical about holding those two positions.

Alan Shlemon

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