- Several religious groups are taking up the argument that their faith gives them a protected right to abortion.
- In Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas and Idaho, religious groups have filed lawsuits, arguing that their religious right to abortion is under threat since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, according to Politico.
- “People are not educated or aware of traditional religion, which is in place to give society its ability to function … so people are more vulnerable to this messaging now and I think the left knows that,” Cecily Routman, president of the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation, told the DCNF.
America’s pro-life movement is famously led by religious groups like Catholics and evangelicals who believe life is sacred and begins at conception. But ever since the Dobbs decision led to tight abortion restrictions in many U.S. states, several religious groups have filed legal challenges against them — and cite their faith as a key reason why.
Some Jews, Episcopalians, Unitarians and even Satanist activists have launched a campaign to push the idea that states that ban abortions are infringing on their religious rights and have gone as far as filing multiple lawsuits to get the laws reversed, according to Politico. The claims range from Christian clergy arguing that they will not be able to counsel women considering abortions, to Jewish arguments that the procedure is not morally reprehensible until the child takes its first breath, to The Satanic Temple’s alleged right to its “abortion ritual.”
Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas and Idaho are all fighting lawsuits against their respective abortion bans since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, according to Politico. In Indiana, one lawsuit claims that the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which was signed into law in 2015 by former Gov. Mike Pence to provide additional protections for religious Americans, gives faiths, such as Reform Judaism, the ability to claim that abortion is their right.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs explain that in Reform Judaism “prior to the 40th day of gestation, the embryo is considered to be ‘mere water’ … the embryo or fetus is considered a physical part of the woman’s body, not having a life of its own or independent rights.” As a result, they argue that Indiana’s law, which bans nearly all abortions with limited exceptions, violates their First Amendment rights to free exercise and expression.
Cecily Routman, president of the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation, told the DCNF that this argument holds little weight, noting that Reform Judaism dismisses many of the traditional, orthodox beliefs that are central to Judaism.
“I can tell you that people I talk with, and I’m in agreement, [believe] they know very little about religion in general and even less about the Jewish religion,” Routman said. “Many of these people that claim that abortion is a religious right have either ignored the religious foundations of the Bible, or they distort verses in the Bible, or opinions on verses in the Bible to justify their position, none of which is a reflection of authentic religion.”
Routman further told the DCNF that after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Center, which dispelled the idea of a constitutional right to abortion in June 2022, the pro-choice lobby ran out of many of its arguments and is now trying to “weaponize” religion to promote its abortion agenda.
“They can get away with it better now because so much of the culture has disengaged from religion,” Routman noted. “So people are not educated or aware of traditional religion, which is in place to give society its ability to function. [W]ithout those guidelines, we just devolve into chaos … so people are more vulnerable to this messaging now and I think the left knows that.”
Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita filed an appeal Wednesday to challenge a judge’s ruling that gave the lawsuit class-action status, according to the Indiana Capital Chronicle.
The Satanic Temple (TST) also considers abortion to be a protected procedure and offers “religious abortion ritual[s]” for those who wish to rid themselves of “medically unnecessary and unscientific regulations” when seeking an abortion, according to their website. TST also sued in Texas, Idaho and Indiana, claiming that the state’s laws would make them unable to practice the rituals and violate their faith.
“The abortion ritual (1) requires an abortion; and (2) affirms her religious subscription to TST’s Third and Fifth Tenets,” an attorney for TST explained in an announcement regarding the Texas lawsuit. “But before Ms. Doe can get her abortion–and therefore participate in the abortion ritual–the government has required that she get a sonogram… [ These ] requirements substantially interfere with Ms. Doe’s religious beliefs and practices for two reasons. First, the requirements are a precondition to Ms. Doe’s ability to participate in a religious ceremony. It is a substantial interference per se for the state to place a regulatory hurdle–one that costs money–in front of a religious exercise.”
A similar lawsuit was filed in Florida on behalf of religious leaders from Jewish, Buddhist, Unitarian, United Church of Christ and Episcopalian congregations in hopes of overturning the state’s 15-week abortion ban. Marci Hamilton, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is representing the plaintiffs, told Politico that religious Floridians “are being substantially burdened by restrictive abortion bans.”
“For decades, the Catholic bishops and Evangelical right wing have claimed a singular religious high ground on the issue of abortion rights, and tried to label anyone opposed to their views as ‘secularists,’” Hamilton said. “Yet there are millions of Americans whose deeply held religious beliefs, speech and conduct are being substantially burdened by restrictive abortion bans.”
Several legal analysts have also said that the group’s claims have a good chance of being successful in court, noting that similar cases regarding the right to religiously object to the COVID-19 vaccines have created an avenue for stronger protections for religious Americans, according to Politico. Other clergymen have argued that the laws would prevent them from having the right to counsel women on the issue and let them know that in their faith abortion is not considered morally wrong.
Some legal experts told the DCNF, however, that these arguments really seek to exalt abortion at the expense of religion.
“With the exception of the Satanists, this is really about a small number of people from legitimate faith traditions disingenuously inserting their love for abortion into the tenets of belief,” Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, director of the Conscience Project, a legal advocacy center for religious rights, told the DCNF. “Doing so, again with the exception of Satanism, has nothing to do with the essential tenets or practices of authentic religious belief. These same pro-abortion people are also clamoring to invalidate laws regulating abortion with an erroneous and outdated understanding of the Establishment Clause. Both approaches grossly misunderstand the Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom, not to mention logical reasoning.”
Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, echoed Picciotti-Bayer and called the lawsuits’ claims “weak. ”
“The one that I think has been getting a lot of attention is people who would claim ‘Well, I have a religious right to get an abortion myself,’” Windham told the DCNF. “The first step is to have a sincere religious belief. This can’t be something you just made up yesterday to get around the law. It has to be a religious exercise of religious practice and this is where people are going to have a very hard time showing that this is actually a religious exercise, as opposed to something that their religion says is OK.”
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