The religious case for legalized abortion

It is the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. More than 35 million women in the … Continued

It is the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. More than 35 million women in the United States have had a legal abortion since, making it one of the most common medical procedures performed.

Yet, few issues today are as contentious as abortion, and the battles over access are only become more and more heated. This year alone, states enacted 80 new legal provisions seeking to restrict access to abortion services, representing a sharp increase from 2010. It gets worse-the laws passed this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005-and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010. Abortion has been a focal point in many of the campaign debates this year, with each of the Republican candidates trying to show how more anti-choice they are. Each has signed the Personhood Republican Presidential Candidate Pledge that would grant legal status to zygotes and embryos, and effectively end abortions and in even some methods of birth control.

View Photo Gallery: The Catholic Church in particular is credited with organizing and driving the anti-abortion movement for decades., but religious arguments shape the pro-choice side, too.

There is a religious case for safe, legal, and accessible abortion services. It is true that religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, often according greater value as fetal development progresses. Science, medicine, law, and philosophy contribute to this understanding. However, many religious traditions teach that the health and life of the woman must take precedence over the life of the fetus.

Christian and Hebrew scriptures neither condemn nor prohibit abortion. They do, however, call us to act compassionately and justly when facing difficult moral decisions. Women must have the right to apply or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions or accessibility barriers. The scriptural commitment to the most marginalized means that pregnancy, childbearing, and abortion should be safe for all women, just as a scriptural commitment to truth-telling means that women must have accurate information as they make their decisions.

In my more than 35 years of working with women struggling with the question of continuing a pregnancy to term or having an abortion, almost every one of them wrestled with what would be best in her particular circumstance, and with what her faith taught her. Few made their decisions alone. Almost every woman involved the most important people in her life. Many faith traditions teach that abortion is always a moral decision and that respecting women’s moral agency means that only the individual woman can know what is right in her own circumstances.

Surely people of faith across the spectrum can agree that we must work together to reduce unintended and unwanted pregnancies and 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.

People of faith base their support in recognizing that abortion is always a serious moral decision. It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term. A large number of clergy and people of faith affirm women as moral agents who have the capacity, right and responsibility to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified in their specific circumstances. Many religious denominations have passed policies in support of legalized abortion, including the American Baptist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Union for Reform Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ and The United Methodist Church.

Religious leaders have been in the forefront of the movement for abortion rights for more than fifty years, advocating for women to be able to make their own moral decisions. Leaders of all faiths should offer their counsel compassionately, competently, and justly to individuals and to families. Women must be able to make their own moral decisions based on conscience and faith. It is time for us to recognize that as a country and end the attacks on reproductive justice.

Rev. Debra Haffner is an On Faith panelist, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and Executive director of the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization dedicated to sexual health and justice.

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  • bertzel

    Guess that’s why a catholic obgyn told a pregnant woman, who was not even concidering an abortion, that if it comes to saving the baby or the woman, he would save the baby…..
    I find it ironic beyond belief for pro-lifers to condem an abortion at ‘life’s conception’ yet praise war and condone the killing of all humans involved….

  • bertzel


  • ephetsgma

    “People of Faith” is an interesting term. Faith is built on beliefs and beliefs are usually based on opinions. Facts are not a par of this system usually.

    People of faith could include those whose faith is based on facts not beliefs. I have faith that evolution is what happened and there was no master plan. This is based on facts as we know them (they may change as we get more facts).

    There is no law or super power mandate about evolution. Nature usually allows only a small number of pregnancies to go to term. Is this cruelty? Is it Gods will? Or is it he inadequate way Evolution developed our reproductive system? As we developed better medical care the number of pregnancies increased. This was mans intervention,not Gods.

    The idea of bad abortion ,good pregnancy is a man made rule that has nothing to do with nature or a super power. It was a way to increase tribal members, have more warriors and more workers. it was a man made law to provide what was thought to be society needs. God has always been used to validate these needs, Evolution could care less. “God” could care less. Only organized religion cares.
    People of faith are the followers of the Religious man made laws. No Devine law has or ever has been made. .

  • eliseom

    I haven’t figured out why a mother flushing her newborn down a toilet is guilty of murder whereas aborting an indeterminate time sooner is OK. Science does not say that life begins with the first breath of outside air. It is inconceivable to me that the mother, knowing that the fetus feels pain, can go through with the procedure. If the mother cannot protect it, who besides humane legislation can protect the right not to be killed? Religious zealots are only making matters worse. It only takes a little empathy for a helpless victim.

  • bstanton1

    This writer lost all credibility the moment she used the term ‘anti-choice’. Can’t take someone seriously when they resort to rhetoric and name-calling. Would feel the same way if it was a Pro-Life writer calling others ‘Anti-life.’ It stains any logic she thinks she may be using.

  • WinstonDixon

    It’s hard to argue with the Rev’s contention that God is pro-choice — given that he gave us free will. What she seems to forget though is he expects us to take responsibility for our choices at the moment of death, something which is bound to be profoundly unpleasant for millions of people if the human soul actually exists and the spirits of their unwanted children are there to meet them when they cross over.

  • bbccmm

    …its oue responsibility to safe guard the earth “”for HE gave us Damion over the earth””that being said we need to control our birth rate and abortion is a viable option..

  • bbccmm

    …dose this apply to the spilling of the seed to the ground???

  • WinstonDixon

    No, not in anybody’s book but the ill-informed.

  • ccnl1

    Romney believes that the horn-blowing angel Moroni appeared to the con artist Joe Smith. Not good for someone who wants to be president of any group !!! Obama “mouths” that he is Christian i.e. believes in gay Gabriel and war-mongering Michael the Archangel and Satan. BO’s support of abortion however vitiates has Christianity as he is the leader of the Immoral Majority who are now the largest voting block in the country. Immoral Majority you ask??

    The 78 million voting “mothers and fathers” of aborted womb babies !!! (2012 -1973 Rowe vs. Wade = 39.

    39 x 2 million = 78 million. Abortion rate in the USA as per the CDC is one million/yr.

    And the presidential popular vote in 2008? 69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM. The population of the Immoral Majority in 2008? ~ 70 million !!!!!!

  • ccnl1

    So is suicide!!!!

  • cricket44

    The only soul you need to concern yourself with is your own, WD.

  • cricket44

    It’s by far the most accurate terminology. Someone who respects that a woman is competent enough to decide whether to give birth or not is pro-choice.

    Someone who feels she needs to be forced, at all cost, to give birth against her will, wants to her to have no choice at all.

  • CalP

    If abortion is against the law, what should happen in the case of spontaneous abortions? Who should be held responsible? When we refer to babies, at birth, we can refer to them as male or female; how are we to refer to the life that begins at conception? But more important, how does one know exactly when conception begins?

    Life, in general is not owned by any single country, and no nation possesses the right to make decisions about when life begins, unless it is being done for a special purpose, perhaps to determine when tax deductions for the life should be applied.

    If someone already has five children that they can barely afford, financially, or for health reasons, why should that person be required to bring another life into the world. Perhaps, governments should consider a system by which that person will be relieved of the costs of bringing that child into the world, and for supporting the child until age 16 or 18 years.

  • lufrank1

    Well —– a very very sad result of failure to use contraception OR at least an early abortion before the brain becomes active……is the Pending death of the Santorum’s 3 year old daughter!

    Dark Ages totally unrealistic religious dogma has caused anothet tragic death of not a simple clump of mindless cells, but a living, breathing three year old darling baby girl!

  • lufrank1

    Actually —- human life is a continum. We have continuing life cycles like all sexually reproducing animals.
    We can impose specific terms on various points of the cycle, like haploid gametes, diploid zygote, blastula, gastrula, embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, young adult, gamete producing adult, haploid gametes, zygote,….etc. etc. etc.

    When does (or did) human life begin? Way way back in time.

  • lufrank1

    Please try to enroll in an authoritative Biology course (no home schooling by the uneducated).
    An egg, zygote, blastula, gastrula, embryo or fetus is NOT a baby///////
    merely a potential baby —like any spermatozoon or oocyte (of which 99%+ never make it to birth.

  • Bluefish2012

    Bull, bertzel. All kinds of people–pro-lifers and pro-abortionists–favor war as a means of self-defense when all peaceful means have been exhausted. “Praise killing?” Maybe there are nut jobs out there who do that, but they’re a very small percentage of people. Where do you come up with stuff like that?

  • zaney8

    The Catholic church just recently stumbled through a nasty pedophile sex scandal which investigation demonstrated was partially hidden by church officials. It is ironic how this church can refuse to help women on some many levels, then demand that their sexuality be controlled by men. Its hypocritical.

  • WinstonDixon

    18th century America was convinced too that God was on its side when it legally defined African-Americans as property. Somehow I don’t think God is any more impressed with 21st century America’s throwback efforts to define unborn children during the last half of pregnancy as property either.

  • Sandwich1

    Actually bstanton1 a more accurate description of the “pro-choice” side would be abortion-choice not anti-life.

  • popshugo

    Are those who want to save the life of the unborn baby prepared to commit to providing financial and other support so that child has a life that is not one of financial misery and hardship. Quick to be “moral” but tight with the support.

  • fcs25

    Your argument is illogical and the conclusion doesn’t follow the premises.

  • JustAthoughtt

    I think a better saying would be: Quick to stand up for whats right, not as quick to take on the responsibilities of others.

    Why can’t I be against murder and against irresponsibility? Sex = Babies, Babies = time, love, and money…

    If you have sex, and you become pregnant, terminating the child is not the answer and making me responsible for your poor choices is also not the answer.
    However, it is the child who is the victim here, and I will gladly help out that child in need.

  • JustAthoughtt

    If you have 5 children that you can’t afford and you are pregnant yet again, STOP having unprotected sex…

    If you are grossly overweight and you have several medical conditions because of this, and you simply cant afford all your medical bills anymore…

    Then stop eating unhealthy food and stop sitting down all day…

    Should I have to pay for the natural consequences of your poor decisions…

  • thedefendantX

    The Roman Catholic Church wants the government to do as it says, not as it does on sexual behavior of priests who fathered and abandoned their out-of-wedlock children, as in a recent case in Baltimore. The Church claims no responsibility for his children, while claiming the right to admonish or excommunicate any priest who publicly challenges Church doctrine. Why are the children of priests none of the Church’s responsibility, while the public views of the priest on sexuality and birth control actionable by the Church as its responsibility?

  • JavierHvonSydow

    The real pedophile scandal is happening in society at large and in school districts across the nation. 4% of US priests (both accused and convicted) were involved in this, against over 25% of the population at large (which doesn’t include the unreported cases, which are many due to the familiar relationship in many of those cases. Let us look at ourselves deeply before pointing fingers…

  • jp1943

    To WinstonDixon: What nonsense! When you die, that’s it nothing else. No soul, no angels, no judgement day.

  • jp1943

    That’s a good thing! Sex is fun!

  • PhoenixResearchLtd

    Yeah, and your response is irrelevant because it doesn’t state WHICH argument or WHO made it.


  • PhoenixResearchLtd

    I am struck by the number of apparent male respondents who are AGAINST a woman’s moral right to make her own decision.

    Men arguing over something in which they have NO standing to do so.

  • PhoenixResearchLtd

    You call it a “child”, but we call it a fetus until it is viable.

    You put gratuitous melodrama and judgmental dicta into an extremely difficult, personal decision.

    Don’t have one if you don’t abide them. That’s your choice. But stay the frak out of others’ business while they wrestle with these decisions.It’s none of your affair.

  • Sandwich1

    So males cannot have a say on a moral issue because they’re male?

    What does someone’s sex have to do with the validity of a moral viewpoint?

    But it was ok for those MEN who sat on the Supreme Court to make abortion illegal to have a standing but not for the men today?

    This is just a smokescreen, that doesn’t deal with the issue.

    By this reasoning I could just as easily say if you aren’t African-American then you can’t speak about the wrongs of slavery, or if your not Jewish you have no say about the wrongs of the Holocaust. This is utterly ridiculous. Just because someone may not experience something themselves doesn’t mean they can’t recognize whether it’s right or wrong.

  • Sandwich1

    * abortion legal

  • TopTurtle

    If embryos are ensouled at the moment of conception, what would that soul look like when you meet in heaven? An embryo floating around in the air?