The abortion debate is widely framed as a divide between secularists who support access to abortion care and religious ones who oppose it. This false binary has obscured the diversity of religious positions on the issue, especially those who support access to abortion. While Jewish support for abortion has been acknowledged on some occasions, support for abortion rights in Christianity, Islam, and other religious traditions has been largely ignored.
Vigorous media coverage of Christian opposition to abortion, in particular, has amplified the Christian anti-choice perspective in public debate. But this is actually a minority position.
With media attention drawn to Friday’s March for Life in Washington and the upcoming anniversary of Roe v. Wade — perhaps the last, as an increasingly conservative Supreme Court may overturn it later this year — it is important to correct this mischaracterization of religious Americans. views on abortion.
The focus on religious opposition to abortion neglects the religious perspectives and commitments of the millions of people who have abortions in this country. Moreover, an imbalance in media coverage normalizes religious opposition to abortion, thus paving the way for the codification of particular theological beliefs into law. This ultimately denies the right to religious freedom to other religious communities whose beliefs about pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing differ.
Vigorous media coverage of Christian opposition to abortion, in particular, has amplified the Christian anti-choice perspective in public debate. But this is in fact a minority position; only 45 percent of all Christians think abortion should be illegal in most or all circumstances. The majority of white mainline Protestants (59%), black Protestants (56%) and white Roman Catholics (52%) support legal access to abortion in all or most cases.
The majority of followers of other faiths show similar, and in many cases stronger, support for abortion rights. The majority of Jews (70%), Muslims (51%), Buddhists (69%), Hindus (62%) and Unitarian Universalists (83%) support the legality of abortion in all cases or in in most cases.
Media coverage of religion and abortion also perpetuates a particularly harmful narrative about religious women and their reproductive autonomy. In stories about Christian women and unwanted pregnancies, for example, we are usually led to believe that these women are forced by their faith to pursue these pregnancies.
Consider the December 2 New York Times Magazine cover story. Merritt Tierce became pregnant at 19 and, because of her Christian faith, decided not to terminate her pregnancy. Her story reinforces a popular (but certainly not universal) narrative that Christian women should not have abortions, as she writes: “Nobody asked me if I was ready to be a mother or a wife. Nobody asked me if I was ready to disappear.
It often seems that religion is not even a relevant statistical data point in understanding who gets an abortion. In fact, 62% of women who have abortions identify as women of faith. Women of religious identification, with the notable exception of evangelical women, abort almost at the same rate as their representation in the population.
Over the past six months, our research team has conducted interviews with women who are having abortions in North Carolina and who identify as Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. We have found that many women who identify as religious view their abortions as supported by their religious beliefs.
For many Christian women, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is made out of a kind of love that is in harmony with their religious views. Jane, a white student, explained that she was unable to give a child “the right life right now” and that her choice was made out of love for the children she hoped to have one day. She connected this love to her understanding of the love of Christ. “It was the love of Christ to die for us. It was the love of God to send his Son to die for us, and then it was the love of God that brought him back. Me making a choice of love, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Sidrah, a Muslim woman with three children, described herself as a “very religious person”. She told us, “If there was any doubt in my mind that Islam doesn’t allow it, I wouldn’t have crossed it. In fact, Sidrah said the termination brought her closer to God. “At that time, He alone was giving me the light, the rope to get out of this situation, and other people were trying to push me and push me into this hole, and I knew it was going to be so hard for our family.” Although her mother and sister pressured her to continue with the pregnancy, despite her mental health and financial difficulties, her husband supported her and Sidrah relied on her relationship with God to guide her towards abortion.
It’s not just about religious individuals: Many religious leaders support access to abortion, and any effort to address abortion policy must take these perspectives into account. Many Christian pastors openly express their support for women seeking abortions. More than 1,000 rabbis across North America teach and write about how Judaism supports, and in some cases demands, the termination of pregnancy. And over the past decades, several Muslim scholars and jurists have written legal opinions in favor of abortion rights for women in many common medical and personal circumstances.
In addition, faith groups have worked over the past year to build a multi-racial, multi-faith movement of congregations across the country that will publicly proclaim their support for reproductive dignity. National designation of SACReD (Spiritual Alliance of Congregations for Reproductive Dignity) congregations will be launched next week with training and support for congregations to study ethical issues related to pregnancy, abortion and childbearing and work towards destigmatization of abortion.
Religious diversity in abortion is particularly important to keep in mind as the Supreme Court considers whether Mississippi’s abortion restrictions are constitutional. The Imminent Threat of Roe v. Wade has raised serious concerns from many religious communities, and an amicus brief to the Supreme Court signed by Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Unitarian, Sikh and other groups reflects a challenge to the mainstream narrative that religions are anti-abortion.
The brief states that many religious traditions “recognize and support each woman’s moral right to make her own decisions regarding her pregnancy” and that allowing Mississippi law to remain in place would violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise. of religion. “by imposing the point of view of certain religions on all women.” Indeed, many religions view the beginning of human life and the termination of pregnancies in a way that goes against the prohibition of the state.
It is high time for the American public to recognize the diversity of religious positions in the abortion debate in this country, for our media to portray this diversity, and for our courts to honor it.