An issue that never goes away: What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?

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What do U.S. religious groups teach about the contentious abortion issue?


Remarkably, the abortion issue is as contentious as when the U.S. Supreme Court liberalized law 46 years ago, with new state restrictions injecting it into courtrooms and the 2020 campaign. The following scans significant teachings by major religious denominations.

The Catholic Church, the largest religious body in the U.S. (and globally), opposes abortion, without exceptions. A Vatican Council II decree from the world’s bishops declares that “from the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care,” and calls  abortions “abominable crimes.” The official Catechism says the same and dates this belief back to Christianity’s first century (Didache 2:2, Epistle of Barnabas 19:5).

Eastern Orthodox and Catholic leaders have jointly affirmed “our common teaching that life begins at the earliest moments of conception” and is “sacred” through all stages of development. However, America’s 53-member Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops acknowledges “rare but serious medical instances where mother and child may require extraordinary actions.”

A Southern Baptist Convention resolution before the Supreme Court ruling advocated permission in cases of “rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity” or damage to a mother’s “emotional, mental, and physical health.” The SBC later shifted toward strict conservatism on many matters. A 2018 resolution affirms “the full dignity of every unborn child” and denounces abortion “except to save the mother’s physical life.”

Two United Methodist Church agencies helped establish the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (since renamed Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) to champion women’s unimpeded choice. But the 2016 UMC conference directed the agencies to leave the coalition, and voted to withdraw endorsement, upheld since 1976, of the Supreme Court’s “legal right to abortion.” The UMC recognizes “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify” abortion. It opposes late-term abortion except for danger to the mother’s “physical life” or “severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says members “must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange” abortions. “Exceptional circumstances may justify” it, though “not automatically,” with incest, rape, “serious jeopardy” to the mother’s “life or health,” or “severe defects” such that the baby cannot survive beyond birth.

The largest African-American denomination, the Church of God in Christ, urges believers to be “actively engaged in rescuing preborn children” from abortion, aids pregnant women, crisis pregnancy centers, and adoption agencies, supports the National Black Pro-Life Coalition, and opposes Planned Parenthood. Its presiding bishop joined a 2016 pre-election statement telling Hillary Clinton innocent unborn lives are “a gift of God that we are called upon to protect.” (Major black Baptist groups generally leave decisions to each congregation or individual.)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America believes “human life in all phases of its development is God-given and, therefore, has intrinsic value.” However, abortion can be “morally responsible” with a “clear threat” to the mother’s physical life, rape, incest or “extreme fetal abnormality.” Prior to viability, laws should reflect that, with public funding for low-income women. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod specifies only the mother’s life exception.

The Assemblies of God’s detailed biblical statement typifies views of evangelical churches.

Continue reading “What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?”, by RIchard Ostling.

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