Abortion: What’s Faith Got to Do with It?

sunsetPlenty, actually. Whenever I hear a politician claiming he or she is a person of faith, I cringe. All too often it’s followed by the words: “I believe in the sanctity of all life, which is why I’m against abortions and will work to defund Planned Parenthood.”

In one sense, faith is a belief in a supreme being or in a particular religion. Not all religions are opposed to abortion, however. A 2013 Pew Research article reveals a wide range of opinions.

Traditional Judaism, for example, approves abortion as “a means of safeguarding the life and well-being of a mother.” Most of the branches openly support a woman’s right to safe and accessible abortions.


Let’s build bridges across our beliefs, instead of building ideological walls between one another.


Though Buddhism has no official position on abortion, many Buddhists hold the belief that human life begins at conception and that, therefore, abortion is morally wrong. However, in Japan, with a large Buddhist population, abortions are common.

Traditional Hinduism condemns abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. It follows the general value system “that the correct course of action in any given situation is the one that causes the least harm to those involved.”

Although Islamic scholars disagree over exactly when life begins or when abortion is acceptable, most view terminating a pregnancy after four months — “the point at which, in Islam, a fetus is thought to become a living soul” — as not permissible. Many also believe that, prior to four months, abortions should only be permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. Continue reading

Population, Environment, and Growing Up Catholic

religionsMy Planned Parenthood story started almost 50 years ago, in the late ’60s, while I was attending college. They were heady times, full of excitement and confusion from all the competing movements and ideas blowing in the wind.

More specifically, it started on July 25, 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued his Humanae Vitae encyclical, which, among other things, rejected most forms of contraception as “artificial.” This rigid, unyielding interpretation of Catholic doctrine was for me the final straw that sent me on the secular journey I travel today.


Planning for parenthood — isn’t that what all future parents should be doing?


Raised in a strict Catholic family, I had always taken my faith seriously, despite the fact that my mother insisted I was going straight to hell whenever she caught me masturbating. For her, sex was a simple equation: Any sex, even thinking about it, outside marriage was a sin. I received no help from my dad, who kept his views largely to himself. Like most Catholic boys, I spent much of my early years inventing new ways to describe the “m” word in the confessional. High school dating became a constant battleground between God and the evil lust stirring within me. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I fully realized how much this warped view of sexuality had stunted my emotional growth as a child and teenager, delaying my appreciation of a fuller, richer view of human sexuality.

While battling lust, I was also searching for meaning. At one point, I actually contemplated a religious vocation, based upon my own personal version of Pascal’s Wager. If the God of my Catholic faith really existed, then to risk an eternity in heaven for the brief pleasures of a mortal life would be folly. Why not go for the sure thing and become a monk? The idea of a simple monastic life fully given to God was one I devoutly wished to believe in — I also liked the robe. It would make choosing what to do with my life so much easier. For years, I sought an answer, taking courses in philosophy and comparative religion, and going on retreat with a Franciscan friend. After much study and reflection, however, I found all the arguments used to support Catholicism, and other religions as well, unconvincing. They required that I renounce my rational side and take a leap of faith to embrace their extraordinary claims. It was a deliberate and personally painful process, but in the end I came to reject religion. Having gone through this struggle, I think I better understand not only myself, but the powerful appeal that religion still holds for many people. Continue reading

A Conversation With Faye Wattleton: Part 2, Belief and Mission

Ms. Wattleton speaks out against George H.W. Bush’s gag rule, which banned any mention of abortion in federally funded family-planning programs.

Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. She was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. In this second installment, we discuss her religious beliefs and their influence on her work, which came up often in our conversation.

Religion was a strong influence during Faye Wattleton’s childhood and remains so in her adult life. She grew up in a fundamentalist family, and that religion, along with her experiences as a nurse, brought her to a belief in individual freedom that was absolute, including the conviction that every woman has the right to make her own reproductive choices.

When I asked about her work for reproductive rights, she said, “My view about that is perhaps most reflective of my religious upbringing, with respect to who shall judge. Judge not that you be not judged.”


“Our reproduction is still a proxy for the larger question of our full status as human beings and as citizens.”


That religious upbringing was shaped by the fact that her mother was an ordained minister in the Church of God, and her calling determined the course of Wattleton family life. While Faye was still little, this calling took her and her parents away from St. Louis and the safety of extended family. When she reached school age, her parents left her with families within the church, each year in a different place. During this time, she learned to rely on herself and think independently, perhaps preparing her to be a leader while keeping her within the protective bubble of the greater Church of God community.

The Church of God is Christian, Protestant, foundational, evangelical, and charismatic. Members believe in prayer, the inerrancy and literal truth of the Bible, personal salvation, and the unique, individual revelation of the Holy Spirit.* Ms. Wattleton often heard her mother preach and witnessed the emotional responses of her listeners in churches and revival meetings.

While her mother evangelized, bringing others to what she saw as the only way to God, Ms. Wattleton’s sense of mission came from the conviction that each person acts within unique life circumstances that must be respected. When I asked about this difference between her mother and herself, she replied that it “probably was due to my early training as a nurse. I went to college as a 16-year-old, graduated at 20. And so I was really deeply influenced by my professional training and exposure [to other people’s lives and problems]. It’s possible that, had I chosen a different profession, I may have seen life differently, but this is the profession that I chose.” Continue reading

Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Reproductive Rights

Recently, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona co-hosted a workshop with Catholics for Choice, where we explored the intersections of faith and reproductive rights. Marissa Valeri, a Senior Associate in CFC’s Domestic Program, gave workshop attendees an overview of Catholic beliefs as they relate to abortion and birth control, and encouraged the audience to think about how their own religious background has influenced their views on abortion.

One of the points that really resonated with me is that Catholics believe that their individual conscience should be the ultimate guide to what is right, and what is wrong. If someone’s conscience tells them that something is morally right, they should follow their intuition, even if it contradicts a teaching from the Vatican.

I grew up in the Mormon Church. Mormons share a similar belief that everyone will be judged for their own lives and not be held accountable for something someone else does. Mormons also believe in personal revelation from God. I personally believe that if a woman prays about the decision to obtain an abortion and she feels that it is the right decision, no one is in a position to call her decision into question – not even her bishop.

Another thing that stood out for me was that even the Pope doesn’t know when life begins, or when the body receives a soul. If the Pope is the right hand of God and he doesn’t even know the answer to this question, I doubt that the debate will ever be settled. Continue reading

Can You Be Pro-Choice and Catholic?

Have you ever heard or have you been told

  • “You can’t be pro-choice and Catholic.”
  • “Life begins at conception.”
  • “You have excommunicated yourselves.”

The truth is, you can be pro-choice and Catholic – and indeed, most Catholics are. Catholics can, in good conscience, support access to abortion and affirm that abortion can be a moral choice.

Join us for an interactive workshop with staff from Catholics for Choice to learn the truth about Catholics, Catholic teaching, and abortion. Pro-Choice Catholicism 101: Listening to Your Conscience will outline how it is possible to be both pro-choice and Catholic – and how the vast majority of Catholics support comprehensive reproductive healthcare services.  Continue reading

Amanda Is Here Because Women Deserve Better Than Forced “Choices”

Canvassing in LD17 with David Schapira

Canvassing in LD17 with David Schapira

“She heads for the clinic and she gets some static walkin’ through the doors. They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner, and they call her a whore. God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes. ‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose.”

I remember hearing those Everlast lyrics one day when I was a teenager. My thoughts were very different then, but I was at a different stage in my life. I was a devout Baptist.

As a doting follower, I felt that part of my salvation relied upon opposing abortion. What did that mean to me? That there were lost souls in the world “killing babies” and that it was my duty to stop this atrocity. It meant that I was right because I had the Bible and Jesus Christ on my side, and anyone who opposed me was blinded by Satan and obviously wrong. To be frank, I knew absolutely nothing about abortion; not what it truly was or the reasons for women seeking it. I opposed it because my faith told me to, and it wasn’t a big deal to me.

A few years later, I feel that I was given a dose of my own medicine. Continue reading

Marianne Is Here Because Sex Ed Matters

Volunteering at the PPAZ office

I believe in Planned Parenthood. I believe in reproductive freedom, the right to choose, medically accurate sexuality education for all people, access to all reproductive medical care options and, especially, freedom from harassment for women who make that choice.

I am here for Planned Parenthood because I remember my high school years. I grew up in Santa Monica, California and I was educated in the Catholic school system. The best part was this was the early to mid-’70s. There was still kind of a ‘hangover’ from the late ’60s to early ’70s with ‘free love’, ‘summer of love’ and Woodstock. The ‘hangover’ was evident in our high school. The school administration was unabashedly liberal. They actually believed that ‘sex ed’ should be more than just some put-upon phys ed instructor, usually the football coach, trying to maintain order amongst a group of giggling teenagers and passing on some hard-won information about reproduction, sexual intercourse, birth and STDs.

The administration set up a balance of courses that the students passed through at each grade level. Freshman usually started with just the regular catechism courses. These taught the church’s position with regard to birth control and the role of sexual intercourse inside and outside marriage. This was required; after all, we were a Catholic high school. Continue reading