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

Book Club: Pro – Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Pro PollittPro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt, prize-winning author, poet, essayist, and columnist for The Nation, is a book for people who are in the “muddled middle” of the abortion debate. YOU are a member of this group — more than half of Americans — if you do not want to ban abortion, exactly, but don’t want it to be widely available, either.

Pollitt argues that “muddlers” are clinging to an illogical and ultimately untenable position and need to sit down and examine their reasoning carefully. She does so in a witty, engaging manner, taking us through 218 pages in the following six chapters:

RECLAIMING ABORTION. Pollitt states her case:

“Abortion. We need to talk about it. I know, sometimes it seems as if we talk of little else, so perhaps I should say we need to talk about it differently. Not as something we all agree is a bad thing about which we shake our heads sadly and then debate its precise degree of badness, preening ourselves on our judiciousness and moral seriousness as we argue about this or that restriction on this or that kind of woman. We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women … We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child — indeed, sometimes more moral.”

WHAT DO AMERICANS THINK ABOUT ABORTION? Polls are one thing; voting, another. Voters in even the most conservative states reject extreme abortion restrictions, despite polls predicting passage. Continue reading

Brookline Clinic Shootings: December 30, 1994

BROOKLINE, MASS., DEC. 30 — A gunman dressed in black opened fire with a rifle at two abortion clinics here this morning, killing two female staff workers and wounding at least five other people.

This matter-of-fact sentence was the opening of a Washington Post story on December 31, 1994. Today marks the 20th anniversary of these shootings at the Planned Parenthood and Preterm Health Services clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

Planned Parenthood buffer zone in Vermont. Photo: Adam Fagen

Planned Parenthood buffer zone in Vermont. Photo: Adam Fagen

The Brookline shootings are generally considered the third in a series of assassinations by anti-abortion activists and followers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida, in March 1993. A history of acts of violence compiled by NARAL frames Dr. Gunn’s killing as a turning point, while recognizing that violent acts were happening all through the 20 years since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

I was living in Massachusetts in 1994; my life, however, was such that I did not have much time or energy for the news. I have a friend who lived in Brookline at the time; I asked for her memories of the shooting. She sent me this:

 My 7-year-old daughter and I were coming home to our apartment in Brookline on the trolley to Cleveland Circle when we saw the police swarmed around the brownstone that the [Planned Parenthood] clinic was in. I had a friend who worked there part time, so I was very worried. I wanted to join the crowd of people behind the police line to find out what happened, but my daughter’s safety was first on my mind. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • pillArizona’s abortion restrictions are making national news for their colossal suckiness. (Rolling Stone)
  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is an anti-choice zealot and, unsurprisingly, so is his wife. It seems she has strong ties with a “crisis pregnancy center” that counsels women (and tells them big lies) to dissuade them from having abortions. What does this mean for us? It means buffer zones at abortion clinics could be a thing of the past if Scalia has anything to say about it. WHICH SADLY HE DOES. (Salon)
  • Criminalizing pregnant women for having the misfortune of being addicts. That’s the agenda in Tennessee. (RH Reality Check)
  • Abortion opponents cannot grasp the fact that pro-choice advocate Chelsea Clinton is choosing to have a child. The air is really thick with stupid these days, isn’t it? (Think Progress)
  • Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe all health insurance plans should cover birth control. Maybe because something like 97 percent of women use or have used some form of contraception in their lifetimes? That could be why. (Time)
  • Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan thinks people can walk into “a 7-Eleven or any shop on any street in America” and pick up birth control like it’s a pack of Juicy Fruit Gum. Look, I know the guy’s celibate and all, but lack of sex doesn’t excuse this kind of ignorance. (NY Times)
  • Rand Paul said something reasonable and non-extreme about abortion and conservatives are pissed. (HuffPo)
  • Need some tips to make sex and birth control less awkward subjects in your life? Here ya go! (Care2)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • plannedparenthoodactionorgSince it’s that time of the year again, let’s play a round of anti-choice March Madness! (Mother Jones)
  • The GOP might as well face the facts … They’ve lost women forever. (Salon)
  • Foolish parents continue to put their children at risk for cervical cancer. (RH Reality Check)
  • In honor of Women’s History Month, we present you with 50 women who shaped America’s health. (HuffPo)
  • When Women Have More Control Over Bearing Children, Their Lives Are Obviously Way Better — DUH! (Jezebel)
  • Salon expounds upon this less-than-shocking news. (Salon)
  • Unfortunately, doctors don’t prescribe long-acting contraception for adolescents very often. (Healio)
  • A whopping 233 million women may need contraception by 2015. (NBC News)
  • In case you weren’t aware, the Catholic Church has quite the costly stance on contraception. (MSNBC)
  • Completely disregarding the ruined life of the victim, CNN instead expressed grief that the guilty verdict ruined the “promising” lives of Steubenville rapists. Uggghhh. (Rawstory)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Because Planned Parenthood is so committed to women’s health and providing the best preventive care possible, we’ve just pledged to dedicate $3 million to launch an initiative to fight breast cancer with expanded screenings and education! Woo hoo! (MSNBC)
  • Dear Todd Akin, Your assertion that a woman’s body can “shut the whole thing down” to prevent herself from being impregnated by her rapist is the biggest crock of $&*% we’ve ever heard. Sincerely, Legitimate Ob/gyn Professionals (NYT)
  • You know who’s more extreme on abortion than Todd Akin? Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan! Boom. (The Daily Beast)
  • Please take a look at this fantabulous video extolling a myriad of benefits of contraception. It is so worth your time. (Guttmacher)
  • The tone deaf GOP is going all in on a plan to abolish abortion, and they could give a friggin’ crap if you were “legitimately raped” or molested. (Jezebel)
  • Remember that one time when Paul Ryan co-sponsored legislation with Todd Akin using the language “forcible rape” instead of just plain “rape” — as if there were different categories and classifications of rape? Well, he now insists “rape is rape” and pretends like this is just basic common sense that he’s always embraced! HA! It’s unfortunate that rape wasn’t “rape” when he insisted upon using the “forcible rape” phrase in the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. (RH Reality Check)
  • The Daily Beast has an epic slideshow detailing the history of abortion rights in America. (Daily Beast)
  • It’s time to panic: Gonorrhea is becoming resistant to the only medical treatment left. (The Grio)
  • Isn’t it interesting that anti-choicers have taken extreme interest in a black woman’s death following an abortion (which is extremely rare), rather than the much higher rate of mortality among black women after childbirth? (Double X)
  • The Catholic Church: a long legacy of protecting the pre-born from not being born, but not protecting post-born children — from rape. (Gawker)
  • In related religious news, the Christian right’s affinity for the notion of fetal personhood has absolutely no scriptural basis. Whatsoever. (Role Reboot)
  • The scary world that awaits us if the GOP wins their war on a woman’s right to choose. (Mother Jones)
  • Medical science has proved that circumcision has significant health benefits, including decreasing the risk of cancer and lowering HIV transmission rates. However, circumcision rates are plummeting, which is probably going to cost the United States billions in health care costs. (USA Today)
  • Sadly, a young pregnant leukemia patient has died due to the failure of the Dominican Republic to allow her timely access to chemotherapy — all because because abortion is illegal in the DR and life-saving chemotherapy treatments are likely to terminate a pregnancy. (CNN)