An Open Letter to Religious Leaders,
on Abortion as a Moral Decision
Reprinted with Permission from the
Religious Institute, Reproductive Justice
As religious leaders, we are committed to supporting peoples efforts to achieve spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being, including their
reproductive and sexual health. We assist women and families confronted with unintended pregnancies or pregnancies that can no longer be carried to
term. We are committed to social justice, mindful of the 46 million women worldwide who have an abortion each year, almost half in dangerous and
illegal situations. We seek to create a world where abortion is safe, legal, accessible, and rare. Millions of people ground their moral commitment
to the right to choose in their religious beliefs. While there are strong public health and human rights arguments for supporting the right of
women to safe and legal abortion, here we invite you to consider the religious foundations for affirming abortion as a morally justifiable decision.
Affirming women's moral agency
Abortion is always a serious moral decision. It can uphold and protect the life, health, and future of the woman, her partner, and the family.
We affirm women as moral agents who have the capacity, right and responsibility to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified
in their specific circumstances. That decision is best made when it includes a well-informed conscience, serious reflection, insights from her faith
and values, and consultation with a caring partner, family members, and spiritual counselor. Men have a moral obligation to acknowledge and support
Respect for life
Our religious traditions affirm that life is sacred. Our faiths celebrate the divinely bestowed blessings of generating life and assuring that
life can be sustained and nurtured. Religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, often according greater value as fetal
development progresses. Science, medicine, law, and philosophy contribute to this understanding. However, we uphold the teaching of many religious traditions: the health
and life of the woman must take precedence over the life of the fetus. The sanctity of human life is best upheld when we assure that it is not
created carelessly. It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term. We
support responsible procreation, the widespread availability of contraception, prenatal care and intentional parenting.
Scripture neither condemns nor prohibits abortion. It does, however, call us to act compassionately and justly when facing difficult moral
decisions. Scriptural commitment to the most marginalized means that pregnancy, childbearing, and abortion should be safe for all women. Scriptural
commitment to truth-telling means women must have accurate information as they make their decisions.
Moral imperative for access
The ability to choose an abortion should not be compromised by economic, educational, class or marital status, age, race, geographic location or
inadequate information. Current measures that limit womens access to abortion services - by denying public funds for low-income women; coercing
parental consent and notification as contrasted with providing resources for parental and adolescent counseling; denying international family
planning assistance to agencies in developing countries that offer women information about pregnancy options; and banning medical procedures - are
punitive and do nothing to promote moral decision-making. When there is a conflict between the conscience of the provider and the woman, the
institution delivering the services has an obligation to assure that the womans conscience and decision will be respected and that she has access to
reproductive health care, either directly or through referral. We condemn physical and verbal violence and harassment directed against abortion
clinics, their staffs, and their clients.
We must work together to reduce unintended and unwanted pregnancies and address the circumstances that result in the decision to have an abortion.
Poverty, social inequities, ignorance, sexism, racism, and unsupportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely. We
call for a religious and moral commitment to reproductive health and rights; there must be access to comprehensive sexuality education and
contraception, including emergency contraception.
No government committed to human rights and democracy can privilege the teachings of one religion over another. No single religious voice can
speak for all faith traditions on abortion, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Women must have the right to apply or reject
the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions. We oppose any attempt to make specific religious doctrine concerning abortion the law
for all Americans or for the women of the world.
A call to religious leaders
Religious leaders have been in the forefront of the movement for abortion rights for more than fifty years. We call on leaders of all faiths to
prepare themselves to offer counsel compassionately, competently, and justly to individuals and families faced with pregnancy decisions. We urge
- Advise and assist adolescent women in involving parents and family members in their decisions, while acknowledging that not every family can
offer this support.
- Provide age-appropriate faith-based sexuality education that underscores the importance of planned childbearing and responsible sexual
decision-making, including abstinence.
- Encourage parents to talk openly and honestly about sexuality with their own children.
- Counsel women facing pregnancy decisions to reflect, pray, examine their own conscience and faith, and talk with partners and family members.
- Support with love to those who choose adoption or termination of their pregnancies, including providing worship opportunities for those who
seek them to mourn losses from miscarriages, stillbirths and abortions.
- Provide financial and emotional support for those women who carry their pregnancies to term and provide loving community for them after birth.
- Publicly advocate for reproductive rights - including sexuality education, contraception, prenatal care, adoption, and abortion - through
sermons, public witness, and involvement in the political process.
More than thirty years ago, many religious denominations passed courageous resolutions in support of womens moral agency and their right to a
safe and legal abortion. Despite numerous legal challenges and social, scientific and medical advances, we reaffirm this theological commitment:
women must be able to make their own moral decisions based on conscience and faith. We call for increased dialog and respectful listening with
those who disagree with us. With them, we share the vision of a world where all children are loved and wanted. We renew our own call for relational
and reproductive justice for all.
The Open Letter was developed at a colloquium of theologians sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and
funded by the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. Participants included Rabbi Dr. Rebecca Alpert, Temple University; Rev. John Buehrens, First Parish
in Needham, MA; Rev. Ignacio Castuera, Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Rev. Steve Clapp, Christian Community; Rev. Stacey L. Edwards,
Trinity United Church of Christ; Rabbi Dr. Sue Levi Elwell, Union for Reform Judaism; Rev. Dr. Larry L. Greenfield, Protestants for the Common Good;
Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Religious Institute; Frances Kissling, Catholics for a Free Choice; Kate Ott, Religious Institute; Rev. Mark Pawlowski,
Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan, and Leslie Watson Malachi, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Religious support for abortion rights
Many religious denominations have passed policies in support of legalized abortion. They include:
- American Baptist Church
- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Episcopal Church in America
- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
- Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
- Presbyterian Church (USA)
- Union for Reform Judaism
- Unitarian Universalist Association
- United Church of Christ
- The United Methodist Church
- United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism
More than 40 religious denominations and organizations are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. More than half (53%) of
US Catholics identify themselves as pro-choice, and more than six in ten (61%) believe abortion should be legal. More than 8 in 10 US Jews identify
themselves as pro-choice. More than 2300 religious leaders have endorsed the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, which
calls in part for a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD
prevention and treatment.
The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
304 Main Avenue, # 335
Norwalk, CT 06851
Copyright 2005, Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
Reprinted with permission