As Supreme Court debates abortion, dueling theologians protest outside

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WASHINGTON (RNS) – Religious supporters and abortion rights opponents protested outside the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday, December 1, giving voice to dissenting faith-based opinions as judges heard arguments oral in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that could turn decades of debate over abortion policy upside down.

The protests began earlier in the morning at the Lutheran Reform Church in Washington, where the National Council of Jewish Women, Catholics for Choice and other religious groups held an interfaith service with speeches from religious leaders and legislators supporting the right to abortion.

Many speakers have condemned Mississippi’s law in court, which prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy – much earlier than stipulated in the landmark Roe v. Wade of 1973, which legalized abortion nationwide and prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability, which is around 23 weeks.


RELATED: Before There Was Roe: Religious Debate Before Landmark High Court Decision On Abortion


“We come together, we cry out that we are human. We cry that we are not moving parts to be pushed back 50 years in the past, ”said Rabbi Mira Rivera.

Abortion rights supporters and opponents protest outside the United States Supreme Court on December 1, 2021, in Washington. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois and member of the NCJW, noted that the pleadings took place during a Jewish holiday.

“It’s Hanukkah time,” she said, telling the traditional story of the Jewish celebration as her voice began to rise. “The Maccabees, when they entered the temple, did not expect the candles to light for more than a day. And there was a miracle. But the Maccabees were also warriors, and we must be warriors for freedom in the future. “

The NCJW and Catholics for Choice were among several faith groups that filed an amicus brief in the Mississippi case earlier this year. In addition to expressing general support for abortion rights, the authors argued that abortion bans infringe the religious freedoms of some faiths, including American Jews who consider “the creation of a human life.” like “something that happens gradually over time”.

The argument seemed to resonate with Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who insisted during oral argument on mentioning the specter of religious thought regarding abortion. After a ban lawyer criticized decisions such as Roe v. Wade as “the right to end a human life,” Sotomayor, a Roman Catholic and one of the court’s liberal loyalists, challenged the lawyer’s framing.

“How is your interest other than a religious point of view? The question of the beginning of life has been hotly debated by philosophers since the dawn of time – it is still debated in religions, ”she said. “So when you say it’s the only right that takes away the state’s ability to protect a life, that’s a religious point of view, isn’t it? “

Abortion rights supporters and opponents protest outside the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday, December 1, 2021, in Washington, DC RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Abortion rights supporters and opponents protest outside the United States Supreme Court on December 1, 2021, in Washington. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

As judges questioned lawyers in the case, the NCJW and Catholics for Choice marched from the church to join thousands of other protesters outside the Supreme Court. Crowds gathered for dueling rallies separated by metal barricades, with opponents and supporters of abortion rights relying on faith to justify their positions.

They represent a range of abortion support that varies according to religious tradition. A 2014 Pew Research study found that American Jews were among the most supportive, with 83% saying they believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Another Pew survey, conducted this year, also reported a smaller majority of black Protestants (64%), non-evangelical white Protestants (63%) and Catholics (55%) saying the same thing.

The reverse was true among white evangelicals, however, with 77% stating that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. And while lay Catholics may lightly favor abortion rights, the church itself is still adamantly opposed – including many American bishops, who have recently been embroiled in a debate over whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be denied the Eucharist.


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For their part, religious opponents of abortion were well represented in the crowd. Students from Liberty University, an evangelical Christian college, gathered in prayer circles to sing hymns. A group with signs reading “Prepare to Meet Your God”, “Repent or Perish” and “Abortion is Murder” preached fire and brimstone in a megaphone. A man with a cross on his baseball cap held up a sign calling for the end of Roe while waving a “Call to Heaven” flag – a sign known for its significance during the Jan.6 uprising.

Reverend Michael Salemink in front of the United States Supreme Court, Wednesday, December 1, 2021, in Washington, DC RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Reverend Michael Salemink before the Supreme Court of the United States, December 1, 2021, in Washington. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

Others stood still, such as the Reverend Michael Salemink, Synod minister of the Lutheran Church of Missouri and leader of Lutherans for Life.

“The sanctity of human life comes from what God does for us by creating, redeeming and calling every human being from the moment of fertilization,” he said in an interview. “The scriptures are clear, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, which describes the grace of God for us, identifies every human being as precious – not because of something we do or some ability we have, but just because the way God loves us and he shows this love to every human being from the very beginning.

But across the street, Reverend Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City took a very different position.

“I think it is immoral to restrict access to abortion,” she said, arguing that the laws designed to do so are built on a “misogynist, capitalist and white supremacist foundation”.

“The people who will be most affected by a Roe overthrow will be the poor people… those people who are traditionally also black, brown and native,” she said. “The God I know and am lives at the intersection of all of these things and would seek out those who will be most oppressed.”

Reverend Amanda Hambrick in front of the United States Supreme Court, Wednesday, December 1, 2021, in Washington, DC RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Reverend Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft before the Supreme Court of the United States, December 1, 2021, in Washington. RNS Photo by Jack Jenkins

After closing arguments, some court observers suggested the judges would likely at least uphold the Mississippi ban, and perhaps even overturn Roe and related cases entirely. Brent Leatherwood, head of the Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, celebrated the idea.

“While it is difficult to predict the end result in all cases by simply listening to oral arguments, the Court has a unique opportunity before it to dismantle the framework for abortion that has been built as a result of the Roe decisions. and Roe. Casey, ”Leatherwood said in a statement. “The Court should not hesitate to do so.

But Sheila Katz, head of the NCJW, told Religion News Service that she intends to continue defending the right to abortion, regardless of the court ruling. She and others protested in Washington on Wednesday “because of our faith, not in spite of herself,” she said, and she expressed hope that Congress would pass federal legislation protecting the right to abortion. if the court struck down Roe.

“Our tradition allows termination of pregnancy – the end,” she said.

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