Many issues divide people of faith, and few inspire as much fervor as abortion. The debate on this topic sparks heated pleas on all sides. How do religious leaders and the people in their faith communities respond? The answer is not always as clear-cut as those who staunchly oppose abortion rights would have you believe.
Compassion vs. Condemnation
In the recently released documentary "The Pope: Answers," directed by Jordi Évole and Màrius Sánchez, Pope Francis reiterated the Catholic Church's stance on abortion, equating it with the murder of an innocent child.
However, he quickly followed this statement with the assurance that people who have abortions should not be condemned or isolated because of it. Rather, they should still be welcomed and cared for in the church.
Perhaps this explains the infrequent presence of Catholics at the forefront of pushing anti-abortion legislation. According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of all Catholics maintain that people should have the right to get an abortion. Even if their religion considers it a heinous act, actively seeking criminalization stands in the way of compassion for those who see it as the best option available to them.
Pro-Birth vs. Pro-Life
Many conservative evangelicals believe it's appropriate to seek legal retribution for abortion, and their views are prominent in legislatures in many red states. Some state governments even go so far as to offer rewards for information that leads to an arrest of someone who got an abortion, which essentially turns informants into bounty hunters.
This approach seems a far cry from the compassion of Jesus. Sister Joan Chittister posits that it is a deep moral failing to want to mandate that children be born without guaranteeing that they are fed, housed, and educated.
Given the state of healthcare in this country, even some who may not believe abortion is right might see no other feasible option if they cannot afford to care for a child or cannot fathom, having carried the fetus to term, giving them up for adoption.
Church vs. State
Perhaps the most compelling argument for upholding the right to abortion is that many people simply do not agree with the stance that abortion is murder. Furthermore, if the only argument for considering it wrong is based on religious doctrine, then to criminalize it is a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state as stated in the Bill of Rights. Both religious and civic freedoms depend on the commitment of lawmakers to honor this concept.
Followers of both conservative and reform Judaism support a woman's right to choose, particularly if continuing her pregnancy would endanger her life. In such cases, abortion is considered to be the optimal choice. Despite what anti-abortion activists would have others believe, many religious groups support the legal right to an abortion to some extent, including the following:
- Unitarian Universalist Church
- United Church of Christ
- Presbyterian Church
- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
- United Methodist Church
Finally, it's important to consider those who do not follow faiths that specifically prohibit abortion, such as Islam or Buddhism, or people who do not profess any religion at all. To turn the beliefs of a relative few into law is nothing short of an abuse of power. It is unconscionable to require people who do not have the same religious beliefs to adhere to the fundamentalist doctrines of a handful of religious sects.
While many people of faith may not choose to terminate a pregnancy themselves, they don't all support anti-abortion legislation. In fact, some passionately defend the right to choose. Upholding abortion rights allows the church to practice compassion and care for all people, not just the unborn.