Anti-abortion laws are an attack on religious freedom


If religious freedom is a real American right, then it must apply to everyone, not just conservative Christians who oppose abortion rights.

When the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, removing the right of all citizens to abortion, Twitter exploded.

Among the many rants against the decision were numerous tweets from American Jews announcing that by removing the constitutional right to abortion, the Court was also removing the religious freedom of American Jews.

A press release from the Unitarian Universalist Association also asserted: “Abortion access and the right to choose are a matter of gender equality, bodily autonomy and religious freedom, all of which are teachings long-time Unitarian Universalist clerics”.

“We encourage the Orthodox people and organizations who applaud the Roe v. Wade overturning to consider the loss of religious freedom for Orthodox Jews, when rabbis permit or require abortion and the secular state does not won’t allow it.” — Chochmat Nashim (@ChochmatNashim) June 29, 2022.

These statements overturn the religious freedom debates of recent years, in which religious freedom has been framed as a right involving primarily conservative Christians. Rather, the statements hark back to 20th-century religious liberty arguments.

Widely accessible legal abortion, the argument goes, allowed pregnant women to make their own decisions about abortion, within the context of their own religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and potentially in consultation with their clergy. (Pregnancy and abortion rights then and now can affect trans men as well as women. But the conversation back then was all about women.)

Since the previous Roe v. Wade of 1973, conservative Christians used religious liberty to assert that they – as individuals, churches or the businesses and organizations they operate – should not be required to participate in or pay for health services that might include Abortion.

This position places the rights of conservative Christians above the rights and freedoms of anyone whose religious beliefs permit abortion and whose access might be affected by such denials. Republicans, driven by conservative Christian ideas, have already enacted abortion bans in states like Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri.

They made no secret of their desire to push for more such bans, which are pending in many other states. They will also be offered at the federal level. These supporters seek to impose a very particular Christian vision on the whole country.

Religious freedom then becomes a valuable tool for restoring reproductive freedom in states where abortion is prohibited. At the heart of the argument is the very diversity of religious attitudes towards abortion.

The stereotype is that religious people are opposed to abortion, but in fact religious groups and individuals have had – and continue to have – a wide range of opinions on the issues involved. In the United States today, opposition to abortion is led by conservative Christians, particularly Catholics and evangelical Protestants. But this alignment only took shape in the 1980s, and it was never shared by more liberal Christians or most other religious traditions active in the United States.

For much of US history, abortion was fairly common in the early stages of pregnancy. A broad cultural consensus held that life begins at the “speeding up,” when a woman begins to experience fetal movement in the fourth month of pregnancy. Newspapers advertised a variety of methods – indirectly and delicately worded – to prevent or end unwanted pregnancies.

These practices were relatively uncontroversial and were not ethical or religious issues. They were not attacked until the end of the 19th century when medicine became professionalized. White male doctors, informed by the scientific racism of the time, warned against abortion as a form of “white race suicide”. Many states began to pass anti-abortion laws, and many religious leaders began to reconsider the issue.

In the 20th century, American Christians differed widely on the issues at stake. Only the Catholic Church consistently advocated banning abortion. The Protestants were much more divided. Since “people of good conscience” disagreed about starting a pregnancy, many concluded that the state had no right to make that decision.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), for example, was pro-choice until the early 1980s because of the Baptist commitment to “soul freedom” – that each individual should be free to follow God and responsible. only before God – and the ideal that accompanies it. of the separation of Church and State. Despite growing anti-abortion sentiment within the denomination, most Baptists viewed anti-abortion laws as a violation of these theological principles. Some Baptists today, especially outside the SBC, continue to hold these views.

Many liberal Protestant denominations are now actively and conscientiously pro-choice. They note that the Bible does not directly mention abortion. One of the few biblical texts that mentions miscarriage, Exodus 21:22-23, very clearly places less value on the fetus than on a woman’s life.

This passage, among others, leads some Christians to conclude that abortion is permissible, at least in certain circumstances. Pro-choice Christians base their support for abortion rights more on fundamental theological principles. They argue that all people are equally loved by God and therefore should enjoy the same rights to bodily autonomy and freedom of conscience.

And despite the official position of the Catholic Church, many Catholics also support abortion rights, sometimes for reasons related to their Catholic faith – in particular, their Catholic commitments to social justice and conscience rights. Christian traditions therefore do not speak with one voice on the subject of abortion.

The United States, of course, is not a Christian nation but a religiously pluralistic nation. And non-Christian traditions have even more diverse responses to abortion. Generally speaking, Islam allows abortion up to around 120 days, and to save the life of the mother, it is always allowed. Judaism goes so far as to make abortion compulsory to save a mother’s life.

Liberal forms of Judaism support abortion rights as a feminist issue. More traditional forms of Judaism allow abortion to protect maternal health and debate the health threats that make abortion legal, with some allowing mental health threats.

Buddhism has a similar range of responses to abortion, and since the Supreme Court ruling, Buddhist leaders have publicly declared their support for abortion rights, with comments like this, from Buddhist Minister Shin Blayne Higa, who wrote, “I will continue to support the spiritual and bodily autonomy of women and others to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health. I believe complex and difficult decisions should be made with compassion and empathy, without bias or interference.

“As a member of the clergy, I will continue to support the spiritual and bodily autonomy of women and others to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health. I believe that complex and difficult decisions should be made with compassion and empathy, without prejudice or interference”. — Blayne Higa (@blaynehiga) June 25, 2022.

Hinduism is also internally diverse, even more so than Christianity or Islam, but a study shows that 68% of Americans who identify as Hindus say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In India, which is predominantly Hindu, abortion is legal in most cases.

Americans have grown accustomed to a conservative Christian monopoly on the language of religious liberty. As a powerful religious minority, it has used this ideal, ironically, to subjugate the rest of the country to its own religious values. The conservative Christian claim that life begins at conception is theological rather than biological. For many other believers, access to abortion is in itself a religious value. Meanwhile, a growing number of Americans do not identify with any religion.

If religious freedom is a fundamental principle of the United States, as conservative Christians claim, it opens the door for others to argue that the right should be available to all, not just some, and not just those in power. It remains to be seen whether the position held by one stream of Christianity – the belief that abortion is murder – will be the last word for all Americans.


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