The American faithful are bracing — some with cautious glee and others with impending dread — for the Supreme Court to potentially overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and end the nation’s right to legal abortion.
An overturning of the 49-year-old’s decision has never seemed more possible since a draft notice suggesting the judges could do so was leaked this week. While religious believers at the heart of the decades-old fight against abortion are shocked by the breach of High Court protocol, they are still deeply divided and their beliefs on the contentious issue are more entrenched than ever.
National polls show that most Americans support access to abortion. A Public Religion Research Institute survey from March found that a majority of religious groups think it should be legal in most cases – except for white evangelical Protestants, 69% of whom said the procedure should be banned in most or all cases.
In conservative Christian corners, the draft notice has raised hopes. Religious groups that have historically taken a strong anti-abortion stance, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have urged worshipers to pray for Roe’s overthrow.
The Reverend Manuel Rodriguez, pastor of the 17,000-person Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in New York’s Queens borough, said his mostly Latino congregation is heartened by the prospect of Roe’s disappearance at a time when the courts in some Latin American countries such as Colombia and Argentina have decided to legalize abortion.
“You don’t fix a crime by committing another crime,” Rodriguez said.
Bishop Garland R. Hunt Sr., senior pastor of The Father’s House, a predominantly African-American nondenominational church in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, agreed.
“It is the result of continued and necessary prayer since 1973,” Hunt said. “As a Christian, I believe that God is the giver of life – not politicians or judges. I definitely want to see more babies protected in the womb.”
No faith is monolithic on the issue of abortion. Yet many adherents of religions that do not ban abortion are dismayed that a view held by a minority of Americans could supersede their individual rights and religious beliefs.
In Judaism, for example, many authorities say that abortion is permitted or even required in cases where the woman’s life is in danger.
“This decision would prohibit abortion where our religion allows us to do so,” said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, Scholar-in-Residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, “and it bases its concepts on when life begins on the someone else’s philosophy or theology.”
In Islam, similarly, there is room for “every aspect of reproductive choice, from family planning to abortion,” said Nadiah Mohajir, co-founder of Heart Women and Girls, an organization in Chicago-based nonprofit that works with Muslim communities on reproductive rights and other gender issues. .
“A particular political program infringes on my religious and personal right and freedom,” she said.
According to new data released Wednesday by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 56% of American Muslims say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, a figure that roughly matches the beliefs of American Catholics. .
Donna Nicolino, a student at Fire Lotus Temple, a Zen Buddhist center in Brooklyn, said her faith calls followers to be compassionate toward others. Restricting or banning abortion ignores the reasons women have abortions and would hurt the poor and marginalized the most, she said.
“If we really value life as a culture,” Nicolino said, “we would take things like ensuring maternal health care, health care for children, decent housing for pregnant women.”
Sikhism prohibits sex-selective killings — female infanticide — but is more nuanced when it comes to abortion and promotes compassion and personal choice, said Harinder Singh, senior research and policy fellow at Sikhri, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that creates faith-based educational resources.
A 2019 survey he co-led with research associate Jasleen Kaur found that 65% of Sikhs said abortion should be the responsibility of the woman rather than the government or religious leaders, while 77 % said Sikh institutions should support those considering abortion.
“The Sikh community interviewed is very clear that no religious or political authority should decide this issue,” Singh said.
Compassion is a virtue also emphasized by some Christian leaders who are calling on their staunchly anti-abortion colleagues to turn down the heat as they speak out on the issue.
The Reverend Kirk Winslow, pastor of Canvas Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California, said he views abortion through a human and spiritual lens rather than a political issue. Communities should turn to solutions such as counseling centres, parenting classes, health care and education, he said, instead of being “swept up in a culture war”.
He has counseled women who wondered if they should have an abortion and stresses the importance of empathy.
“Amidst the pain, fear and confusion of an unexpected pregnancy, no one ever said, ‘I’m thrilled to have an abortion,'” Winslow said. “And there are times when having an abortion can be the best chance we have of bringing God’s peace to the situation. And I know many would disagree with that position. have not been in my office during these very real and very difficult conversations.”
Similarly, Caitlyn Stenerson, pastor of the Evangelical Alliance Church and campus minister in the Twin Cities Area of Minnesota, called on church leaders to “use caution,” keeping in mind that women on their pews may have had abortions for various reasons and may be grieving. and dealing with trauma.
“As a pastor, my job is not to burden people more, but to bring them to Jesus,” Stenerson said. “We are called to speak the truth, but with love.”
Ahead of a final court ruling expected this summer, religious leaders on both sides are bracing for the possibility that abortion will become illegal in many states.
The Reverend Sarah Halverson-Cano, senior pastor of Irvine United Congregational Church in Irvine, Calif., said her congregation is considering providing sanctuary and other support for women who may travel to the state to terminate their pregnancy. On Tuesday, the day after the draft notice was leaked, she led worshipers and community members at an abortion rights rally in nearby Santa Ana.
“Our faith calls us to meet the needs of those in need,” Halverson-Cano said. “It’s time to stand with women and families and see how to respond to this horrific injustice.”
Niklas Koehler, president of the Students for Life group at Franciscan University in Steubenville, a private Catholic college in eastern Ohio, said he and others regularly attend a special Mass on Saturday with prayers for the end of abortion. They then cross the state line to nearby Pittsburgh to hold a prayer vigil and distribute leaflets outside an abortion clinic.
Such actions will continue to be necessary even if the draft notice becomes the law of the land, Koehler said, because abortion is likely to remain legal in states like Pennsylvania.
“We will continue to pray outside the clinic,” he said.
Bharath reported from Los Angeles and Henao from New York. Associated Press writers Giovanna Dell’Orto in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Peter Smith in Pittsburgh contributed.
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