Abortion is a moral decision

Abortion is a moral decision, and only women themselves can know what is right in their individual circumstances.

More than one third of American women have had abortions since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. I’ve provided counseling and support to more than a thousand of them. To a roommate in college who had to travel to New York City because legal abortion was not yet available in Connecticut. To countless scared teenagers at a family planning clinic in Washington, D.C., in the late ’70s and early ’80s, including the daughter of a leading anti-abortion activist. To patients in the hospital where I did my clinical pastoral training, many of whom were facing late-term procedures because their fetus had a life-threatening abnormality, others whose own lives were at risk due to a medical complication of pregnancy. To congregants of all ages needing counsel when faced with an unexpected pregnancy or complication.

In more than 30 years of working with women struggling with the question of continuing a pregnancy to term or having an abortion, I can think of fewer than a handful who approached the decision lightly. Almost every woman wrestled with what would be best in her individual circumstances, and with what her faith taught her. Few made their decisions alone. Almost every woman involved the important people in her life in one of the most important decisions of her life. Abortion is a moral decision, and only women themselves can know what is right in their own, individual circumstances.

More than 30 years ago, many religious denominations courageously passed resolutions in support of women’s moral agency and their right to a safe and legal abortion. Despite numerous legal challenges and social, scientific and medical advances, this theological commitment remains: Women must be able to make their own moral decisions, based on conscience and faith. Choosing abortion often means choosing life, especially when making that choice upholds and protects the lives, health and futures of a woman, her partner and her family.

Virtually all faith traditions affirm the sanctity of life. Our faiths also celebrate the blessings of generating life and assuring that life can be sustained and nurtured. It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term. That is why many religious leaders support responsible procreation, prenatal care and intentional parenting.

Religious leaders who disagree on abortion can still work together to reduce unintended and unwanted pregnancies, and to address the circumstances that result in the decision to have an abortion. Poverty, social inequities, ignorance, sexism, racism and unsupportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely. More than 1,200 clergy have endorsed the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision, calling for a religious and moral commitment to reproductive health and rights, including comprehensive sexuality education, contraception and safe, legal and accessible abortion services.

No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on abortion, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Women must have the right to apply or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions. Bishop Olmsted and Sarah Palin are entitled to their own theologies, but they don’t have a monopoly on understanding what it means to “choose life.” The women and families I’ve known who decided to have an abortion first searched their hearts, their faiths and their souls to know what “choosing life” meant to them, in their lives and in their circumstances.

As a feminist, as a clergyperson, and as a person of faith, I supported them, and I will continue to work to support reproductive justice for all.

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  • annecfowler

    Shortly after my ordination to the priesthood, I was asked to speak at the National Abortion Federation’s annual meeting, on a Clergy Panel, with the theme of “Abortion as a Moral Choice.” I wondered skeptically who would attend such a panel, but to my surprise, the room was packed with people – abortion providers and other clinic workers. Our audience was so eager and grateful to hear their work affirmed, to hear religious authorities assuring them that God was on their side! I understood that I had a responsibility, indeed, a call, as a pro-choice religious professional, to speak out and to advocate publicly for women’s reproductive rights and health, and I have tried to be faithful to that call.

  • wpjunk

    Instead of advocating killing fetuses and babies in the womb, why don’t you focus on preventing the exploitation of women?

  • nanjim65

    Women will have abortions as long as they lack control over their reproductive lives. Before birth control became generally available, a woman’s period, sometimes referred to as ‘the curse’ nowadays because of physical discomfort, was called ‘the blessing’ because it meant she was not pregnant. The choice of whether to have an abortion is one of the most terrible (that is, full of terror) ones any human faces. As a person of faith I appreciate Debra Haffner’s thoughtful comments.

  • haveaheart

    Thank you for this excellent essay, Ms. Haffner.It is encouraging to finally see the UU perspective represented on this blog.

  • johndennis01

    You wrote that despite numerous legal challenges and social, scientific and medical advances, a theological commitment to resolutions courageously passed 30 years ago remain. Perhaps it was courageous within the restriction and dogma of religion, but the courage was not shown by religion, it was shown by those women and men who fought for the rights of mothers to make their own ethical decisions despite the attention of zealous evangelical christians and most other denominations bullying them, screaming at them, and threatning violence in many cases. The legal challenges you mention were primarily from religious groups who try to force individuals to follow their particular rules and dubious morality. It is the secular fields of science and medicine, as well as more modern and sophisticated ethics which supports the stand that you, to your credit, have embraced.

  • RSPhD

    Reverend Haffner’s thoughts are indeed a welcome explication of the important morality involved in any such decision. The world of moral choices is not black or white; there are always compelling arguments for both sides — else there would not be this long-running argument. Those who denigrate the ethics or morality of people who hold a different position do an injustice to reasoned discourse.

  • suzyanand

    Thank you so much, Reverend Haffner, for this intelligent and rational approach to “morality.” Education is absolutely the key to reducing the need for abortion.www.preparetomorrowsparents.orgpromotes the inclusion of parenthood preparation and relationship skills education in our schools. When all students receive truly comprehensive sexuality and relationship education, the need for abortions will naturally decline.No one benefits from the abortion debate as it currently stands in this country, except the politicians who manipulate it.

  • XpatriatedTexan

    When I talk to my classes about abortion, I often say, “If you can’t think of a time when abortion would be the morally right and proper choice, then you should thank God you have lived such a sheltered life. If you can’t think of a time when it would be morally wrong; then you need to stop being lazy about things.” An expansion of my thoughts can be found at:

  • YEAL9

    Hmmm, all this and still the word “adoption” does not appear.

  • YEAL9

    Some famous adopteesAristotle – philosopher

  • joe_allen_doty

    I am both PRO-WHOLE LIFE and I am also pro-choice. Most of the anti-abortion folks use a misunderstanding of the masculine-oriented Hebrew Scriptures to support their doctrine. The Jewish men of Bible times (and men until the microscope was invented) believed that a woman didn’t have “seed” until she gave birth to a man’s “seed.”Those men thought that their “seed” already had a fully developed tiny baby in it and the women’s wombs were merely “seed beds” for their seed. Even the artist Leonardo da Vinci, in his human anatomy drawings, drew a sperm with a fully developed baby in the fetal position in the head of it. In my theologically educated opinion (Master’s degree level), it is up to a woman and her higher power, meaning God, to make a choice to remain pregnant and not up to another human being. And, the doctor who performs an abortion procedure should do what God wants him to do, too, after the woman has made a choice.If a woman does NOT want to have a baby after getting pregnant, that has an effect on the development of the fetus in her body. A person does not become a living soul until he breathes. That’s in the Bible, too. A girl or woman should NOT be forced to carry a baby to term if she has been raped or is a victim of incest. Some ignorant “Christians” will say that while God didn’t approve of the rape, he must have approved of the girl or woman getting pregnant. That’s stupid! It’s like punishing the person twice. Most so-called “pro-life” persons are only pro-life when a woman is pregnant. They are NOT interested in making sure that the child after it is born has a quality life until he or she is able to be a responsible adult, anyway until age 18 years old.

  • bruce18

    This article reaffirms my belief that humans are capable of convincing themselves that virtually any activity is morally correct.Choosing abortion often means choosing lifecould not be any more contradictory. Any yet, its written with full conviction of its truthfulness.Perhaps we should be thinking in terms communicated in the prayer Our Father.Thy will be done,

  • Ken16

    There is nothing potential about the life of the child in the womb. That child lives by any biological definition. It is pure metaphysics that drives the secular doctrine of ensoulment known as “viability” or “personhood,” a metaphysics that the “enlightened modern” would indulge in to impose their own tattered morality on others.What self-serving sophistry to claim, “It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term.” If life is truly precious it will not be regarded as subservient to the desires of the mother not to bear the child. Something other than life in itself is in the driver’s seat here. Convenience, waiting for another time and better situation, anything other than the naked life of the child already developing in the womb. What justice is this for the half that are girls? Feminism aborts its own claim to justice when it tries, as in this post, to assert abortion as serving a higher good.