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Religious Tolerance logo

Abortion access:

Current beliefs by various
religious and secular groups

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A diversity of views exists within the U.S. and Canada concerning abortion access. Many pro-life and pro-choice groups have been organized with opposing goals. Surprisingly, they agree on a few very important points:

bulletThey both want to see the abortion rate decline.
bulletIn those cases where they feel that an abortion is acceptable, they are both concerned that it present a minimal health risk to the woman.
bulletOnce human personhood is attained by the embryo or fetus, both pro-life and pro-choice supporters are concerned that his/her life be preserved, except in very unusual circumstances.

Unfortunately, the two sides cannot agree on when personhood is attained. Most pro-life groups believe it happens at conception and are thus generally opposed to all elective abortions. Pro-choice groups typically believe that it happens later in gestation or at birth, and are thus generally supportive of a woman's access to affordable, safe, elective abortions.

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Pro-choice groups:

bulletLiberal and some mainline denominations: In general, these either promote a woman's right to choose an abortion, or are relatively silent on the matter. A number of liberal and mainline Christian and Jewish faith groups and organizations have publicly stated that abortions are sometimes an acceptable option, and should remain legal. According to lists prepared by The Secular Web and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, they include, in alphabetic order: 1
bulletAmerican Baptist Churches-USA (see below),
bulletAmerican Ethical Union,
bulletAmerican Friends (Quaker) Service Committee,
bulletAmerican Jewish Committee,
bulletAmerican Jewish Congress,
bulletCentral Conference of American Rabbis,
bulletChristian Church (Disciples of Christ),
bulletCouncil of Jewish Federations,
bulletEpiscopal Church (USA),
bulletFederation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot,
bulletMoravian Church in America-Northern Province,
bulletNa'Amat USA,
bulletNational Council of Jewish Women,
bulletPresbyterian Church (USA),
bulletReligious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 
bulletReorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,
bulletUnion of American Hebrew Congregations,
bulletUnitarian Universalist Association,
bulletUnited Church of Christ,
bulletUnited Methodist Church,
bulletUnited Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.
bulletReligious groups other than denominations:
bulletCatholics for Free Choice,
bulletEpiscopal Women's Caucus,
bulletEvangelicals for Choice,
bulletJewish Women International,
bulletLutheran Women's Caucus,
bulletNorth American Federation of Temple Youth,
bulletUnitarian Universalist Women's Federation,
bulletWomen of Reform Judaism,
bulletWomen's American ORT,
bulletWomen's Caucus Church of the Brethren,
bulletWomen's League for Conservative Judaism.
bulletSecular organizations: A number of secular organizations promote the right of women to have free access to abortions. These include:
bulletAmerican Humanist Association
bullet NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation
bulletPlanned Parenthood Federation of America

A list of statements by many of these organizations may be found on-line. 2

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Pro-life groups:

bulletConservative and some mainline denominations: These are found in most religions, and are generally opposed to abortions. They have adopted a range of policies:
bulletSome are unalterably opposed to all abortions, from conception to birth, for any reason;
bulletSome would allow abortion only to save the woman's life;
bulletSome would permit abortion to save her life or when pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

There are approximately 1,000 denominations  in North America who take a pro-life stand and oppose abortion access. The largest of these are:
bulletThe Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian group in the world with about one billion members. They teach that abortions are a form of murder, no matter what the situation or conditions leading up to the pregnancy. The only exception is when a medical procedure needed that has the death of the embryo or fetus as an undesired and unintended side effect. Contrary to the historical record, the church also teaches that its current position has remained unchanged from the beginning of Christianity. Details.
bulletThe Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., also opposes elective abortions.

Other large pro-life groups opposing elective abortions are:
bulletAfrican Methodist Episcopal Church
bulletAssemblies of God
bulletChurch of God in Christ
bulletChurch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons)
bulletChurch of the Nazarene
bulletEastern Orthodox churches
bulletLutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
bulletProgressive National Baptist Convention
bulletThe Salvation Army
bulletAnd hundreds of others, including all or essentially all Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other Evangelical denominations.

An exception among conservative Christian groups is the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They are pro-choice to the extent that they believe that "The final decision whether to terminate the pregnancy or not should be made by the pregnant woman after appropriate consultation." However, they do not condone abortions "...for reasons of birth control, gender selection, or convenience..." They recognize that abortion can be a legitimate option for some women who "face exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as significant threats to the pregnant woman's life, serious jeopardy to her health, severe congenital defects carefully diagnosed in the fetus, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest." 4

A conservative Jewish exception is the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. They support a case-by case analysis in accordance with Jewish law. "We cannot endorse a public policy that does not reflect the complex response of halacha (Jewish law) to the abortion issue. In most circumstances the halacha proscribes abortion but there are cases in which halacha permits and indeed mandates abortion. The question is a sensitive one and personal decisions in this area should be made in consultation with recognized halachic authorities." 5

bulletChristian groups other than denominations: Priests for Life maintain a listing of hundreds of such groups, too numerous to list here. A small sampling includes:
bullet100% Pro-Life,
bulletActon Institute,
bulletAmerican Liberties Institute,
bulletThe Work of God,
bulletYour Catholic Store,
bulletYour Catholic Voice,
bulletYouth Apostles. 8
bulletGroups that are not specifically Christian: Priests for Life also maintain a list of over 1,000 pro-life groups that are not affiliated with religious denominations. They are also too numerous to list here. A small sampling includes:
bulletA Baby's Prayer Foundation,
bulletAbba Pregnancy Care Center of Winchester, VA,
bulletAbortion Alternatives Com,
bulletAbortion, Does It Matter?,
bulletYouth for Life Austria,
bulletYouth Show the Truth,
bulletYuba-Sutter Right to Life,
bulletYuma (AZ) Right to Life. 3

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The position of the American Baptist Churches:

The General Board of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. adopted a statement in 1988-JUN, and modified it in 1994-MAR. It recognizes that no consensus exists within the denomination concerning abortion access. They did agree that they opposed abortion "as a means of avoiding responsibility for conception, as a primary means of birth control, and without regard for the far-reaching consequences of the act." They condemn violence and harassment directed at abortion clinics. They feel that physicians should be able to opt out of performing abortions without sanctions and discrimination.

The membership holds diverse views concerning:

bulletWhen human personhood begins,
bulletWhether there are situations in which an abortion can be a morally acceptable action,
bulletWhether there should be laws to protect the life of embryos and fetuses by criminalizing abortion, and
bulletwhether women should be allowed to choose to have an abortion.

The statement concluded: "We affirm our commitment to continue to counsel and uphold one another, to maintain fellowship with those whose opinions differ from ours and to extend the compassion of Christ to all."

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Inconsistencies in the pro-life and pro-choice movements:

There are two inconsistencies in the "pro-life" movement from the viewpoint of pro-choicers:

bulletThere appears to be relatively little mention of IUD's (Intra-uterine devices). The precise mechanism by which IUDs prevent pregnancy is unknown.
bulletSome researchers believe that the IUD immobilizes sperm, preventing them from reaching the ovum;
bulletOthers believe that it causes the ovum to pass through the fallopian tube so fast that it is unlikely to be fertilized
bulletMost believe that the IUD interferes with the implantation of fertilized ovum in the uterine wall. 

If the third property is true, then IUDs terminate the development of a fertilized ovum after conception, and cause its expulsion from the body. To a person who believes that human personhood begins at the instant of conception, there is no ethical difference between using an IUD, having a first trimester abortion, or having a partial birth abortion, or --for that matter -- strangling a newborn just after birth. Yet pro-life groups actively campaign against PBA's, picket abortion clinics, and attempt to pass restrictive legislation limiting choice in abortion. Some have made negative statements about IUDs. But none have, to our knowledge, picketed IUD manufacturing facilities, or sponsored anti-IUD legislation. This is surprising, because in those countries where IUDs are widely used, the number of fertilized eggs which IUDs apparently expel from women's bodies far exceeds the number of surgical abortions. About 43% of American women will have had a surgical abortion sometime during their lifetime. Women who use an IUD will expel about one fertilized ovum annually (assuming that they engage in intercourse once per week)

IUD's are becoming increasingly popular. Two studies have reported effectiveness rates of 99.4 and 99.9%. 6

bulletThe Roman Catholic church has occasionally "held funeral and burial services" for aborted fetuses. 7 However, this has not been the general rule. Embryos and pre-viable fetus have not usually been considered full persons to the extent of being worthy of a formal requiem mass or formal burial service.

There is also a serious inconsistency among the pro-choice movement, as viewed by pro-lifers:

bulletThere is little agreement among pro-choicers as to how late in gestation elective abortions should be permitted. For example, some argue that elective abortions should be restricted after fetal viability; some place the time limit at about 26 weeks when the fetal brain's higher functions start are initiated; some would allow pregnancy termination at any time up to childbirth.

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Related essays in this web site:

bulletMain menu: Abortion: all aspects; all points of view
bulletHistorical Christian beliefs about abortion
bulletRoman Catholic beliefs about abortion
bulletJewish beliefs about abortion

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  1. "What Does the Bible Say about Abortion?," at: http://www.infidels.org/org/ffrf/nontracts/abortion.html
  2. "We Affirm! National Religious Organizations Support Reproductive Choice," at: http://www.rcrc.org/religion/weaffirm/affirm.html
  3. "Pro-life Groups," Priests for Life, at: http://www.priestsforlife.org/
  4. "Guidelines on Abortion," Seventh-day Adventist Church, at: http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/main_guide1.html
  5. "Right to Reproductive Choice," Jewish Council for Public Affairs, at: http://www.jewishpublicaffairs.org/
  6. "More Women Opting For IUD Contraception. IUDs Improved Substantially Since Dalkon Shield," WXII12, at: http://www.wxii12.com/
  7. John Cardinal O'Connor, "Abortion: Questions and Answers," (1990), Page 23.
  8. "General Christian Links," Priests for Life, at: http://www.priestsforlife.org/
  9. "American Baptist resolution concerning abortion and ministry in the local church," American Baptist Churches, 1994-MAR at: http://www.abc-usa.org/

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Copyright 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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