In western countries, it is mostly the Roman Catholic Church and various religious fundamentalists (primarily evangelical Protestant Christians), who are against abortion. However, a majority of Catholics are pro-choice (at least in western countries). In a poll of U.S. Catholics, only 14% agreed with the Vatican’s position that abortion should be illegal, and 85% believed a woman should be able to access an abortion in some or all circumstances.
The doctrines of all major religions allow abortion at least in a few circumstances. Most religions have a liberal stream of thought that is more fully pro-choice, as well as many pro-choice adherents. For example, the group Catholics for Choice points to the supremacy of individual conscience in Catholic doctrine over the dictates of the Pope and the hierarchy. Jews are largely pro-choice, and so are many Muslims. The diversity of Christianity means that many denominations are pro-choice, such as the United Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church. Also, the Bible can be interpreted as being pro-choice.
Before abortion was legalized in the United States, many religious leaders were at the forefront of calls to legalize abortion. From 1967 to 1973, the members of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion – 1,400 ministers and rabbis across the country – helped thousands of women obtain illegal but safe abortions.
Today, a number of religious organizations educate the public about women’s right to abortion, teaching that it can be a religiously responsible decision:
- Catholics for Choice (international) – A voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.
- The Religous Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health & Ethics (international) – A multi-faith network of progressive feminist religious scholars and leaders, who seek out the positive, renewable moral energies of our faith traditions and direct them to the issues of population, consumption, ecology, reproductive health, and the empowerment of women.
- Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (U.S.) – A community of religious organizations and faithful individuals dedicated to achieving reproductive justice through education, organizing and advocacy.
Catholics for Choice, The Facts Tell the Story: Catholics and Choice (2015)
Pew Research Center, Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Abortion (2013)
Think Progress (Tara Culp-Ressler): “God Loves Women Who Have Abortions”: The Religious Abortion Advocates that History Forgot (2014)
Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions (book), by Daniel Maguire (Fortress Press, 2001)
Belief.net: The Biblical Basis for Being Pro-choice (2003)