An Annotated Directory of the Prochoice Religious Community in the United States
This directory lists the current prochoice and reproductive justice elements of organized religion in the United States. It is intended primarily as a resource for those seeking to support these values in light of contemporary legislative and judicial setbacks, and for those seeking fresh approaches toward a better future.
If one were looking for the prochoice religious community in the United States, this is a rough map of where to find it.
Data from polling and the history of prochoice religious thought, organizing, and institutional support suggests that the prochoice religious community may be a majority or near majority of religious people in the United States. We are defining these as the members of officially prochoice groups and denominations and dissident members of antiabortion denominations, as well as religious independents of all kinds—making the prochoice religious community as broad and diverse as the country itself. Because this is so, Political Research Associates has also published a related essay titled “The Prochoice Religious Community May Be the Future of Reproductive Rights, Access, and Justice.”1
Here is what is and is not included in this directory:
This directory lists those institutions and organizations that self-identify as religious in nature, or what some call “faith-based.” It includes both formal religious institutions as well as ecumenical and interfaith advocacy groups.
The institutions and organizations listed here are specifically (sometimes guardedly) prochoice and oppose legal restrictions on access to abortion care. Some take the broader reproductive justice view. Many of the organizations listed were at some point part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), founded in 1973. Organizations came and went from RCRC over time, and some no longer exist. (RCRC itself is no longer a coalition but a freestanding organization.) Nevertheless, a history of affiliation with RCRC remains a useful indicator of some measure of interest and commitment on the part of the listed institutions and organizations. But the past membership in RCRC is not the whole of the prochoice religious community. Some groups listed in this directory were never part of RCRC. Some are new.
The directory does not include such denominationally related institutions as seminaries, publishing houses, and colleges, although those institutions may also sometimes be relevant to the breadth and depth of the influence of the denominations. Some such entities have multiple denominational affiliations, and so their inclusion here would add unnecessary complexity to the directory and the individual listings.
This directory is intended as a starting point for anyone looking into this. But its utility requires a few caveats.
It may be stating the obvious, but just because an institution has a position does not mean all members are aligned with it. Thus, not every individual in the prochoice Christian and Jewish denominations and organizations (that comprise most of the organized prochoice religious community) are necessarily prochoice. (Just as not everyone in officially antiabortion religious institutions are themselves antichoice.)
It is important to underscore that unlike many conservative antiabortion religious institutions, these denominations have democratic polities, which is to say that they elect their leaders and decide their theological and public policy positions via considered democratic processes. These positions often evolve over time and may trend in both directions.
What’s more, there are many religious bodies that do not have an official position on abortion. The National Council of Churches of Christ (NCC) and some of its 38 member denominations are in this category.2 While some NCC member denominations are prochoice, others are not or have no position, But many members of those churches without a formal position may be, as individuals, prochoice.
In any case there are, as this directory shows, many prochoice religious communities and religiously motivated activist groups. Some are mixed in their orientation, and a few are not strictly faith-based, but they are notable for purposes of this directory.
Adding to the complexity of identifying and working with the prochoice religious community is that these organizations often have differing views on a wide range of issues, from marriage equality to the politics of support for or criticism of the nation of Israel. So, while this directory focuses on matters of reproductive rights and justice, every organization has its own character, history, and priorities, some of which may conflict with those of other groups.
Alliance of Baptists has a virtual headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The Alliance, which comprises some 4,500 members in 140 congregations, has been prochoice since at least 2012 and takes what may be fairly called a justice perspective, although they did not originally use that language.
American Baptist Churches USA (ABC), headquartered in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is a mainline Protestant denomination and member of the NCC, with about 1.1 million members in about 5,000 congregations. It has a mixed view, acknowledging that they are “divided as to the proper witness of the church to the state regarding abortion. Many of our membership seek legal safeguards to protect unborn life. Many others advocate for and support family planning legislation, including legalized abortion as in the best interest of women in particular and society in general. Again, we have many points of view between these two positions. Consequently, we acknowledge the freedom of each individual to advocate for a public policy on abortion that reflects his or her beliefs.” ABC USA was represented on the board of directors of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR), the predecessor to RCRC, in 1983–84.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reflects the Quaker public policy view of abortion, one that is consistent with contemporary definitions of reproductive justice. There are a variety of Quaker sects, totaling about 76,000 members in the United States. The more liberal of the Quakers are members of the NCC. The AFSC incorporates commitment to the sanctity of life with support for “a woman’s right to follower her own conscience concerning child bearing, abortion and sterilization… That choice must be made free of coercion, including the coercion of poverty, racial discrimination, and the availability of service to those who cannot pay.”3 (The Friends Committee on National Legislation, however, states, “Members of the Society of Friends are not in unity on abortion issues. Therefore, FCNL takes no position and does not act either for or against abortion legislation.”)
Church of the Brethren, headquartered in Elgin, Illinois, is a member of the NCC and has about 123,000 members and 1,047 congregations in the United States as of 2010. The church updated its social policies in 2017 from the standpoint that, “The question of whether or not to have a child is considered from various perspectives with various principles guiding our actions: stewardship, legacy, obedience, family, peer or economic pressures and worries, and the like. Consequently, we desire to position one another to think deeply about the consequences of decisions regarding reproductive rights.” The church did not take a position for or against abortion legislation. However, Church of the Brethren Women’s Caucus was a past member of RCRC.
Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is a Christian denomination that broke with the larger body of Mormonism in 1860. Headquartered in Independence, Missouri, and a member of the NCC, the Community of Christ claims 250,000 members in 1,100 congregations in 59 countries. The denomination has repeatedly affirmed “the right of the woman to make her own decision regarding the continuation or termination of problem pregnancies.”4
Disciples of Christ (aka the Christian Church) headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a mainline Protestant denomination and a member of the NCC. It has a half million members in 3,000 local congregations. It has been prochoice since 1973. An independent activist unit, Disciples for Choice was a founding member of RCRC. The Disciples’ statements on abortion resolved to “respect differences in religious beliefs concerning abortion and oppose, in accord with the principle of religious liberty, any attempt to legislate a specific religious opinion or belief concerning abortion on all Americans.”5
The Episcopal Church (TEC), headquartered in New York City, is a mainline Protestant denomination and is a member communion in the NCC. It has about 1.9 million members, of whom 1.7 million are located in the United States as of 2017. In 2015, Pew Research estimated that 1.2% of the adult population in the United States (3 million people) self-identify as mainline Episcopalians,6 which suggests that those who identify as Episcopalians exceeds the actual membership. (The idea that identity may transcend formal membership may also be true for other mainline Protestant denominations that have experienced declines in members in the past few decades.) TEC recognizes a person’s right to terminate their pregnancy and opposes legal restrictions, but it officially condones abortion only in cases of rape or incest, and when a person’s physical or mental health is at risk, or cases involving fetal abnormalities. TEC was a founding member of RCRC and has several active denominational entities that are also past members of RCRC, including Episcopal Urban Caucus and Episcopal Women’s Caucus.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, is a mainline Protestant denomination and member of the NCC, with about 3.5 million baptized members in 9,200 congregations as of 2017. The church believes that “abortion prior to viability should not be prohibited by law or by lack of public funding.” The Lutheran Women’s Caucus was a founding member of RCRC.
Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), headquartered in Sarasota, Florida, is an international denomination founded in 1968. It claims 222 member congregations in 37 countries, most of them in the United States. The MCC has a specific outreach to LGBTQ families and communities, considers access to abortion a fundamental human right, and in 2015 formally adopted a reproductive justice framework.
Moravian Church in America, Northern Province is a small Protestant denomination headquartered in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Church declared in 1974 that “the Bible does not speak directly to the matter of abortion and the Moravian Church has refrained from being dogmatic when a biblical position is not clear.”7 The Church is a past member of RCRC and a current member of the NCC.
National Baptist Convention, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, is a historically Black Protestant denomination and is a member of the NCC. It claims 7.5 million members in 31,000 congregations. It has a policy of allowing individual congregations to determine their own views on abortion. According to the 2016 Pew Religious Landscape Study, 52% of historically Black Protestants believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Carlton W. Veazey, the former longtime president of RCRC, is an ordained minister in the denomination.
Presbyterian Church (USA), headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, is a mainline Protestant denomination and member of the NCC with about 1,350,000 active members and 19,000 ordained ministers in 9,000 congregations as of the end of 2018. There are also hundreds of thousands of additional inactive members or otherwise in close relation to the official church. PCUSA has been officially prochoice since 1970 and has repeatedly reaffirmed its basic position. The denomination has a prochoice action caucus Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO) and along with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, were founding members of RCRC. Internal advocacy divisions include Presbyterian Women and Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns. The church-related online journal Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice sometimes features reproductive justice work.
Seventh Day Adventist Church, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, a 21 million member denomination worldwide, was officially, albeit guardedly, prochoice since 1992. Its membership includes abortion providers, and abortions are provided at some church affiliated hospitals. However, those who disagree with this view have fought to have the denominational position changed. Following a long deliberative process, a 2019 statement by the World Church Executive Committee shifted the church’s position, advising that abortion is “out of harmony with God’s plan” and that it is justified only in rare and extreme circumstances, when the decision should be “left to the conscience of the individuals involved and their families.” Adventist world church president Ted N. C. Wilson explained that the statement is “is not part of the Church Manual” and is not intended to be something by which “church boards and members will judge other people.” Addressing church leaders, he added, “Please instruct and encourage our church members not to do that. It is a biblical statement to inform not only the world but ourselves how the Bible speaks to us about life.”8 The statement takes no position on public policy.
United Church of Christ (UCC), headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is a mainline Protestant denomination and member of the NCC. It has about a million members in about 5,000 congregations. The UCC has been officially prochoice since the 1960s and embraces reproductive justice. It was a founding member of RCRC. The retired director of the UCC’s Washington office is, in 2019, the chair of RCRC.
United Methodist Church (UMC), which does not have a central headquarters, is a mainline Protestant denomination and a member of the NCC, with about 13 million members about half of whom are in the United States. In 2015, Pew Research estimated that 3.6% of the U.S. population, or 9 million adult adherents, self-identify with the UMC. This reveals a much larger number of adherents than registered membership (which may also be indicative of the broader sense of community and identification with other denominations that have lost actual members for a variety of reasons).
The UMC’s official position on abortion has evolved over the years. Under pressure from a sustained campaign by internal and external Christian Right groups, the UMC went from being officially prochoice (as a founding member of RCRC) to one with a mixed view. The UMC officially withdrew from RCRC9 and proscribed any UMC entity from being part of RCRC. The UMC stated in 2016, “Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.” The denomination also seeks to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to reduce the incidence of abortion. Additionally, “We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.”
However, like other denominations with stronger official positions, the view of the membership is mixed and the denomination has been internally divided. Nevertheless it is still a big tent with some identifiably prochoice centers. The Methodist Federation for Social Action (a founding member of RCRC) is a progressive social action caucus in the UMC with a nationwide constituency. United Methodist Women, headquartered in New York City, while part of the UMC, also has its own endowment and a measure of independence. Over the years, various divisions of the UMC have been RCRC members, including General Board of Church and Society, General Board of Global Ministries, and the Women’s Division.
The UMC was considering a plan for schism in 2020, primarily over matters related to the acceptance, marriage, and ordination of LGBTQ people; however, the denomination’s decision-making General Conference was postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 crisis. It is expected that eventually there will be a two-way split, with conservative churches departing the historic denomination. It is also expected that most of the U.S. congregations will stay, while more conservative churches internationally will depart.10 It may be that after all this, the UMC will someday return to a strong prochoice view.
YWCA USA (Young Women’s Christian Organization), headquartered in Washington, DC, reports that it serves more than 2 million women, girls, and their families through 210 local associations in 46 states and the District of Columbia. It supports abortion rights as part of comprehensive women’s reproductive health care. The YWCA currently partners with Planned Parenthood nationally to connect young women with information and education regarding matters of sexual health including access to abortion services. It is a past member of RCRC.
Catholics for Choice is a Washington, DC, headquartered education and advocacy organization founded in 1973, and it was a founding member of RCRC. It is the only openly prochoice Catholic organization in the United States. It publishes an influential quarterly magazine, Conscience. A spokesperson said, “Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the individual’s capacity to make moral decisions about their lives.” They have many resources for prochoice Catholics including The Truth about Catholics and Abortion, which makes the theological case for how to be Catholic and prochoice.11
Humanist & Unitarian Universalist
American Ethical Union (AEU), headquartered in New York City, is a national humanist movement that is organized like a religion, with about 10,000 members in local societies in 15 states. Officially prochoice since 1991, AEU issued a strong statement condemning the 2019 abortion ban legislation in Alabama. The American Ethical Union National Service Conference is a past member of RCRC.
Society for Humanistic Judaism, headquartered in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is the congregational arm of the Humanistic Jewish movement, comprising non-theistic Jews organized into 29 communities or communities in formation in 19 states and the District of Columbia. It is a past member of RCRC.
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, had about 163,000 members and 55,000 church school enrollees as of 2011. The UUA was a founding member of RCRC and has an active subsidiary group, the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation, and 23 State Action Networks. The UUA issued a strong statement on reproductive justice in 2015 after a four-year study and has an active reproductive justice program.
Traditional Jewish teachings sanction abortion as a means of safeguarding the life and well-being of a mother. There are about 6.7 million Jews in the United States.12 While the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements openly advocate for the right to safe and accessible abortions, the Orthodox movement is divided. Still, there are a number of specifically Jewish organizations, some of these ecumenical, that have historically supported abortion rights. According to the 2016 Pew Religious Landscape Study, 83% of American Jews believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
American Jewish Committee, headquartered in New York City, is an advocacy and civil rights group with ten regional offices in the United States and many internationally. It is a past member of RCRC.
American Jewish Congress is a New York City-based civil rights and pro-Israel advocacy organization, which also has a long and strong tradition of feminist and prochoice activism. It is a past member of RCRC.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a New York City headquartered civil rights, anti-bigotry, and advocacy organization with 29 offices in the United States and three offices in other countries. It is a past member of RCRC.
Central Conference of American Rabbis, headquartered in New York City, is the leadership organization of Reform rabbis in the United States. It is a past member of RCRC.
Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), formerly known as the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, is the women’s affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism and represents more than 65,000 women. First publicly supported availability of contraception in 1935, WRJ was a founding member of RCRC in 1973. WJR partners with the Religious Action Center in a Reproductive Health & Rights Campaign.
Reform Jewish Youth Movement (formerly called the North American Federation of Temple Youth) comprises 8,500 members in 750 local youth groups and was a founding member of RCRC.
Hadassah is the Women’s Zionist Organization of America headquartered in New York City, has 330,000 members in the United States, and is a past member of RCRC.
Jewish Women International, a Washington, DC, based organization that seeks to “empower women and girls by ensuring and protecting their physical safety and economic security, promoting and celebrating inter-generational leadership, and inspiring civic participation and community engagement.” It is a past member of RCRC.
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, headquartered in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, comprises about 90 congregations in 26 states. It is a past member of RCRC. The related Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association has about 300 members and is also a past member of RCRC.
National Council of Jewish Women, headquartered in New York City, claims 90,000 members in 28 states. A founding member of RCRC, NCJW supports “unrestricted abortion access for all” and has major programmatic initiatives and staff working at the intersection of religion with sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice. One of these programs is the Rabbis for Repro campaign, which invites rabbis and cantors to pledge to teach and preach about the Jewish perspective on abortion. Initial signatories represent all of the denominations of Judaism: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Orthodox.13
Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, headquartered in New York City, has been officially prochoice for five decades. As of 2010, there were 1,648 members, most of whom serve in the United States and Canada. It is a past member of RCRC. It is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the major congregational organization of Conservative Judaism, and had 572 affiliated congregations around the world as of 2017. It is a past member of RCRC. The related Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, comprising about “400 sisterhoods and synagogue women’s groups,” is also a past member of RCRC.
Union for Reform Judaism, officially prochoice since 1967, has reaffirmed its position a number of times including in 1975. Headquartered in New York City, it maintains an active Washington presence in the Reform Action Center (RAC). As of 2013, the Pew Research Center survey calculated that Reform Judaism represented about 35% of all 5.3 million Jews in the United States, making it the largest Jewish religious group in the country. RAC partners with Women of Reform Judaism on a Reproductive Health & Rights Campaign “to provide an organizing structure for congregations, women’s groups, and other Reform Jewish communities to take collective action for reproductive health and rights on a local, state, provincial, and federal level.”
Women’s American ORT is a New York City-based fundraising organization that seeks to help educate women and girls in 35 countries in Jewish culture and academic subjects. It is a past member of RCRC.
Ecumenical, Interfaith, & Activist Groups
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a Washington, DC, headquartered national, multi-faith, and secular advocacy group focusing on religious freedom and equality with 30 local chapters in 25 states. It actively fights for reproductive choice via legislation, litigation, and other aspects of public policy.
Auburn Seminary is a multi-faith, non-degree-granting seminary in New York City. The school has two centuries of roots in mainline Presbyterianism, but today it sees itself “as the beating heart of the multi-faith movement for justice.” The school conducts a variety of research, publishing, and training programs and is deeply engaged in matters of reproductive justice, such as a 2019 discussion, “Body Liberation: The Audacious Spiritual Claim for Reproductive Justice.”
Christian Democrats of America is an online progressive, evangelical organization, based in Chandler, Arizona. CDA says of themselves: “We are committed to reforming social injustices by working to influence the ideals of the Democratic Party and work with candidates that have both strong and principled Jesus-based values and a Progressive agenda.” Their “platform” on abortion reads in part: “We believe abortion should be legal, safe and rare. Democrats and Republicans must stop referring to this issue as ‘us vs. them’ as there are many ways we can promote both life and choice in a moderate way [emphases in the original]. We can lessen abortions and protect a woman’s right to choose at the same time. Abortions are at their lowest numbers in decades because Democrats support agencies such as Planned Parenthood and other family planning institutions that provide free birth control and family planning. If we follow a comprehensive plan that includes access to contraception, education, adoption laws, economic incentives that assist low-income mothers, we can cut abortion rates dramatically.” CDC has repeatedly denounced Dominionism on their podcast and described the 2019 abortion ban in Alabama as an example.
Clergy Advocacy Board, Planned Parenthood Action Fund is part of the policy arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, with offices in New York City and Washington, DC. “CAB members are dedicated clergy and faith leaders from different denominations and communities throughout the U.S. who work with Planned Parenthood at the national and state levels to further the goal of full reproductive freedom for all women and men.”
Concerned Clergy for Choice, headquartered in Albany, New York, describes itself as “a multi-faith statewide network of religious leaders committed to standing with Planned Parenthood patients and health centers across New York State.” It is an arm of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts.
Faith in Women is a state-based educational organization in Mississippi that says of itself, “Faith in Women connects faith leaders across Mississippi with the reproductive health resource and education they need to compassionately and fully serve the women in their congregations and communities. From networking events to educational trainings, we provide a range of opportunities for faith leaders to meet and learn from trusted experts as well as each other.”
Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health and Justice is a statewide organization that describes itself as “a grassroots group of clergy, faith leaders and lay people who reflect diverse faith beliefs as well the diversity of our community. Through advocacy and education, the Interfaith Coalition supports and protects reproductive health, rights and justice of all Florida residents, with a special focus on the essential health care services of the Florida Planned Parenthood affiliates. The Interfaith Coalition affirms the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, and believes in the constitutional right of religious liberty and the right of each person to make reproductive health care decisions in accordance with their own conscience and faith beliefs, without shame or stigma.” The Interfaith Coalition plans to do congregational organizing on the model of Just Texas.
Interfaith Voices for Reproductive Justice (IVRJ), launched in 2018, currently exists only online but states that its mission is “to build and galvanize an interfaith movement of progressive voices collectively working to construct new, progressive theological and ethical paradigms that affirm women’s moral capacity to make decisions that are in women’s own best interests, benefits their families, and contributes to the good of the broader community.” IVRV also states that it is “grounded in reproductive justice theory and strategy. IVRJ not only does reproductive justice work, but it strives to embody reproductive justice as the thread that runs throughout the organization.”
Just Texas: Faith Voices for Reproductive Justice is a project of the Austin, Texas, based advocacy group, Texas Freedom Network. Just Texas “supports efforts to ensure women have access to abortion and other reproductive health care services. That access requires adequate state funding and broad availability of birth control, especially for low income women.” They “oppose politicians’ attempts to codify a single religious standard that ignores the rich diversity of Texans’ beliefs about reproductive rights.”
Just Texas seeks to designate Reproductive Freedom Congregations in the state. They say that 25 congregations had received the designation as of August 2020, with many more in process. These congregations are invited to adopt three principles: “We trust and respect women. We promise that people who attend our congregation will be free from stigma, shame, or judgment for their reproductive decisions, including abortion. We believe access to comprehensive and accessible reproductive health services is a moral and social good.”
Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is a latter-day continuation of the effort led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The campaign, led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the North Carolina-based Repairers of the Breach and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, does not have a specific position on abortion. The campaign has engaged activists in 40 states in the past two years and includes both prochoice and prolife people in their social justice efforts. They have sought to avoid letting the issue divide a unifying moral narrative for social and economic justice. However, the campaign has taken the view that the Christian Right’s (what they call Christian Nationalism’s) focus on abortion comes at the expense of poor women of color, and is thus an act of oppression and a distortion of the moral narrative. Barber expressed this view in an essay in The Nation14 in the wake of his traveling to Alabama in 2019 to denounce the hypocrisy of antiabortion politicians who he charges are “prolife” only when it comes to abortion.15 The Campaign argues that the antiabortion politics of the Christian Right are part of a long-term effort to sustain White supremacy and social and economic injustice in the United States.16 Barber said in 2020, “You know where they actually started? They actually started being against desegregation and when that became unpopular, they changed the language to be about abortion.”17
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) headquartered in Washington, DC, evolved from an underground network called the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion formed in 1967, six years before Roe v. Wade. Originally named the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR)18 since its founding in 1973, RCRC was the premier interfaith coalition of prochoice religious organizations. No longer a coalition, in recent years it has continued as a freestanding organization with affiliates in 12 states. RCRC maintains a list of faith perspectives in this area. In its heyday, RCRC maintained a coalition council and clergy for choice network, which had significant representation from the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, secular humanist, and other non-Christian communities. RCRC was also the home of the Black Church Initiative, a large and robust network of Black clergy committed to Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice during the 1990s. RCRC hosted an annual Black Church Summit in partnership with Howard Divinity School.
Religious Institute, which closed in 2020, was an interfaith reproductive justice think tank and educational network located in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Founded in 2001, the Institute served a network of more than 15,000 “clergy, religious educators, seminary presidents and deans, religious scholars, and people of faith who are committed to sexual, gender, and reproductive justice.” The Religious Institute maintained a database of “official positions of all major U.S. religious denominations on sexuality-related issues.” Their report A Time to Embrace: Why the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Movement Needs Religion also details the prochoice views of some major American religious institutions.19
SisterReach, founded in 2011 and headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, describes itself as “an advocate for the reproductive autonomy of women & teens of color, poor & rural women, LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming people.” They say, “our Reproductive Justice and Faith work is centered in Womanist liberation-theology.” SisterReach hosted a conference on Reproductive Justice, Faith and Religion in August 2020.
Other Religious Traditions
There are a number of Buddhist sects comprising about 1% of the U.S. population. Generally, Buddhist belief in reincarnation leads to the belief that life begins at conception. Buddhism generally condemns taking the life of any living thing, so aborting a fetus would not meet with easy approval. But like other religious traditions, views are evolving. One Buddhist scholar argues with antiabortion scholars saying that abortion can be “a good way to help both suffering pregnant women and at the same time is not obviously contrasting to Buddhist teachings.” She concludes that one can have an abortion and still be a good Buddhist, because the faith “allows enough freedom to choose the way. Whatever one decides, one has to be brave enough to accept the consequences.”20 Evidently, most American Buddhists can reconcile traditional teaching with making a moral choice about abortion. According to the 2016 Pew Religious Landscape Study, 82% of American Buddhists believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Hindus comprise less than 1% of Americans. Traditional Hindu teachings condemn abortion unless the health of the mother is at risk because it is thought to violate the religion’s teachings of nonviolence. Hinduism teaches that the correct course of action in any given situation is the one that causes the least harm to those involved. (In India, abortion has been legal since 1971 and is widely available, the doctrines of the majority Hindus, notwithstanding.21) According to the 2016 Pew Religious Landscape study, 68% of American Hindus believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Dr. Aseem Shukla, a physician and the cofounder of the Hindu American Foundation, a Washington, DC, based religious advocacy group, took a nuanced but essentially prochoice view in a 2011 essay in The Washington Post. Although Hindu theology comes at it in a different way, it ends up in much the same place as leading prochoice Christian churches. Abortion is to be avoided but it needs to be up to the woman to decide and that she should not be prevented from having a legal medical procedure. Dr. Shukla wrote, “while Hindu scripture is clear on this issue, one would be hard-pressed to find Hindu spiritual leaders finger-pointing and tut-tutting on this divisive issue. For their position is very clear: if you ask, we will tell you our position, but we will not enter into your life unless you come to us for guidance and advice.” Dr. Shukla continued, “Society’s salvation lies in a progressive embrace of contraception, education and most important, frank relationships between parent and child—the essential tools to prevent unwanted pregnancies.” He decries efforts of “the far-right” to undermine public schools generally, and sex-education in particular which he sees as critical to preventing unwanted pregnancies, and thus abortion.22
Muslims comprise about 1% of the American population, but Islam does not have a single organizational authority and so has no official position. There are a range of views among scholars about when life begins and thus when abortion is morally acceptable.23 There is, however, a small movement of progressive, prochoice Muslims in the United States. Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) is an international grassroots advocacy group of progressive Islam, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, with chapters in seven American cities. MPV says it “promotes theologically-sound frameworks for Islamic liberalism.” It helped to found in 2017 Alliance of Inclusive Muslims, which, among other things, advocates for gender equality and women’s reproductive health internationally. According to the 2016 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, 55% of American Muslims believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Native American Community Board (NACB) is an intertribal advocacy group headquartered in Lake Andes, South Dakota, with a reproductive justice perspective. A grantee partner of the Ms. Foundation and led by Charon Asetoyer of the Comanche Nation, NACB states: “Since its founding in 1988, NAWHERC [Native American Women Health Education Resource Center] has become the leading pathfinder in the country in addressing Indigenous women’s reproductive health and justice issues while working to preserve and protect our culture. NACB and NAWHERC serve reservation-based Indigenous women at the local, national, and international levels.”
They take the broad view that “Traditionally, reproductive health issues were decisions made by the individual, and were not thrusted into the political arena for any kind of scrutinization. The core of decision-making for the Indigenous woman is between her and the Great Spirit.” A 1991 Women of Color Reproductive Health Poll found that many Native women believe every woman should decide for herself whether or not to have an abortion.24
There are about 700,000 Sikhs in the United States and like other Asian religious traditions, there is no central doctrinal authority. Although Sikhs believe in the equality of women, they also generally believe that life begins at conception and that life is the creative work of a monotheistic God who is present everywhere. A strong traditional view inclined against abortion is balanced, however, by practical realities of life. The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a small Washington, DC, based media, policy, and education organization’s stated mission “is to empower Sikh Americans by building dialogue, deepening understanding, promoting civic and political participation, and upholding social justice and religious freedom for all Americans.”
Many thanks to Cari Jackson, Mollie Katz, Katharine Lannamann, Lisa Weiner-Mafuz, and especially Lucy Jones, a student at Elon University, all for providing historical materials and perspectives regarding RCRC.
1 Frederick Clarkson, “The Prochoice Religious Community May Be the Future of Reproductive Rights, Access, and Justice,” Political Research Associates, September 2020.
2 See Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Abortion, Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life, January 16, 2013.
3 Daniel C. Maguire, The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001. Page 128.
4 Daniel C. Maguire, The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001. Page 130.
5 Kira Schlesinger, Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Page 71.
6Religious Landscape Study, Pew Research Center, 2016.
7 Daniel C. Maguire, The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001. Page 129.
8World Church Executive Committee Considers Statement on Abortion: Amended statement is passed by majority vote, Adventist News Network, October 18, 2019.
9 Kira Schlesinger, Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Page 69.
10 Campbell Robertson and Elizabeth Dias, United Methodist Church Announces Plan to Split Over Same-Sex Marriage, The New York Times, January 3, 2020.
11 Catholics for Choice, The Truth about Catholics and Abortion, 2011.
12 Luis Lugo, Alan Cooperman, and Gregory Smith, The 2013 Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews.
13 Sheila Katz and Danya Ruttenberg, The Jewish Case for Abortion Rights, Newsweek, June 29, 2020.
14Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Exposing the Lie of ‘Pro-Life’ Politicians: The same coalition that trumpets concern for the unborn has consistently opposed policies that promote life and well-being for most of us, The Nation, May 30, 2019.
15 Bryan Lyman, At Rally Against Abortion Ban, Barber Denounces ‘immoral hypocrisy,’ Montgomery Advertiser, May 28, 2019.
16Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Exposing the Lie of ‘Pro-Life’ Politicians: The same coalition that trumpets concern for the unborn has consistently opposed policies that promote life and well-being for most of us, The Nation, May 30, 2019; Bryan Lyman, At Rally Against Abortion Ban, Barber Denounces ‘immoral hypocrisy,’ Montgomery Advertiser, May 28, 2019.
17 Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Speaking at the 13th annual MLK interfaith service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Augusta, Georgia, YouTube, January 23, 2020.
18 For the early history of RCAR/RCRC see “History of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,” Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 2003.
19 Debra W. Haffner, A Time to Embrace: Why the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Movement Needs Religion, Religious Institute, 2015.
20 Daniel C. Maguire, The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001. Page 67.
21 Daniel C. Maguire, The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001. Pages 50–55.
22 Dr. Aseem Shukla, On Faith: Abortion: Pro-choice and pro-karma, The Washington Post, March 3, 2011.
23 David Masci, Where major religious groups stand on abortion, Pew Research Center, June 21, 2016.
24 Daniel C. Maguire, The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001. Page 147.