The Journal Gazette
Monday, November 29, 2021 1:00 am

Abortion access has religious support

Faith groups wary as high court case looms

HOLLY MEYER | Associated Press

On the day the Supreme Court hears arguments in a Mississippi abortion ban case, Sheila Katz plans to be at a nearby church.

It is where the Jewish organization she leads is helping to host a morning interfaith service in support of abortion rights. That gathering, and a planned rally outside the court, are among the ways the National Council of Jewish Women and like-minded faith groups are challenging the erosion of abortion access in the U.S.

“We're going to start together as diverse groups of faith, to pray and learn and sing together,” Katz said. “That feels like the right way to send the message that we are doing this work because of our faith and not in spite of it.”

Faith groups with progressive views on abortion rights say access is at a precarious point as the conservative-majority Supreme Court considers challenges to two state laws, including a unique Texas measure that prohibits abortions before some even know they are pregnant. 

Wednesday's arguments in the Mississippi case will be closely watched as the state's 15-week ban – and possibly abortion rights nationwide – hang in the balance.

“Things are dire,” said Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice.

“We're really at the precipice of losing a constitutional right that we thought would be guaranteed to us for forever.”

Beyond rallies and religious services, faith groups backing access have filed briefs that include religious freedom defenses in the Mississippi case – Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

They also have launched advocacy campaigns, called on believers to speak out, contacted lawmakers and published opinion columns.

Those on the other side of the fight, including the religious, also are mobilizing. The anti-abortion movement counts Catholic bishops and evangelical pastors among its prominent leaders.

But Katz and her allies say it's a misconception that religious Americans in general are anti-abortion. People of faith are among those who support access and get abortions, Katz said.

“For too long, we've allowed a small but loud group from the religious right to dominate the narrative, and it's time we reclaim it,” Katz said.

A majority of Buddhist, Hindu, historically Black Protestant, Jewish, mainline Protestant, Muslim and Orthodox Christian adults support legal abortion in all or most cases, according to Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study.

According to the study, Catholics are split on the issue while most evangelical Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say abortion should be illegal in all or most instances.

“I believe that the God of our understanding is on the side of a woman's right to autonomy and agency and thriving, and so that means that God is on a woman's side to choose,” said the Rev. Erika Forbes, an outreach and faith manager with the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive nonprofit that supports abortion access.

Forbes isn't fighting for herself – she has already benefited from the reproductive-rights advocacy of others. Forbes said she has had two abortions and went on to get an education and eventually become the parent she wanted to be.

Forbes has organized clergy in Texas to march, testify, and write opinion columns as well as engage in activities including escorting people into clinics. Through her private practice, Forbes, who received her ordination as an interfaith minister from One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York, also has provided spiritual counsel to those considering their reproductive options.

“It is about my children's children – that they have the ability to create the lives that will allow them the freedom and the justice and the human thriving that is part of our humanity,” she said.

Rabbi Joshua Fixler, associate rabbi at Congregation Emanu El in Houston, said his Jewish faith has a different view of when life begins than some Christian traditions, and it has been distressing to see Christian beliefs enshrined in law.

“Based out of a verse in Exodus that Jews and Christians interpret differently, Jewish law says that a woman whose pregnancy threatens her life can or maybe even should get an abortion,” he said.

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