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

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

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

  • 70 percentWhen asked if they believe the government should restrict access to abortion, 70 percent of registered voters said no. It’s too bad our elected officials are so dead set on being tone deaf. (Politico)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is frustrated that more adolescent boys and girls aren’t getting the HPV vaccine. Is it simply because no one wants to talk to kids about sex? Seems pretty petty! (NYT)
  • Ireland forced a suicidal woman who was pregnant as a result of rape to give birth, against their own laws. (The Guardian)
  • Despite the Affordable Care Act being “the law of the land” for quite some time now, some insurers are still not covering birth control! (Time)
  • Speaking of the ACA, our government continues to find new ways to be even more accommodating of religious institutions that refuse to cover birth control for their employees. (HuffPo)
  • Good news and bad news. The good: Teen births are at a historic low in the United States. The bad: While the story itself doesn’t mention Arizona, a PDF of the report linked in the story shows our state has a significantly higher rate of teen pregnancy than the national average. (WaPo)
  • Because abortion is health care, California will not allow its Catholic universities to eliminate abortion coverage for their employees. (SF Gate)
  • The “Ice Bucket Challenge” craze has pissed off anti-abortion, anti-stem-cell zealots. (NY Mag)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Supreme_Court_protectI’ve spoken about my experiences as a clinic escort and the importance of buffer zones around abortion clinics many times on this blog. We at Planned Parenthood are staunch supporters of buffer zones and believe they’re crucial in protecting our patients from potential harm and harassment. So, imagine our collective dismay yesterday when the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision calling the 35-foot clinic buffer zone in Massachusetts “unconstitutional” on the basis that it violates the First Amendment of those who wish to “counsel” clinic patients. Pretty infuriating to say the least. (Mother Jones)
  • Will SCOTUS also throw women under the bus in the upcoming Hobby Lobby decision? (RH Reality Check)
  • Four years ago, Aaron Gouveia and his wife had to make the heartbreaking decision to abort their non-viable, very much wanted child. His story describes how the presence of anti-abortion protesters made the saddest day of their lives exponentially worse. (Time)
  • President Obama is the first Commander in Chief to help advance transgender rights! (Associated Press)
  • Women who volunteer in the Peace Corps are now able to receive insurance coverage for abortion (albeit in limited circumstances: rape, incest, or life endangerment). Better to have baby steps than no steps, I guess. (RH Reality Check)
  • Check out this fascinating piece on the history of sex-ed films shown in schools over the years. (Truth-out)
  • The headline might sound sensational, but it’s the truth — Abortion Clinics Are Closing Because Their Doors Aren’t Big Enough. (Vice)
  • The Vatican is aware their teachings on contraception aren’t followed or even highly regarded by most Catholics, but apparently, it’s easier to keep the doctrine stale and irrelevant than to evolve because they’re not likely to make any changes. (Toronto Star)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • In “wanting it both ways” news, a Catholic hospital is claiming that fetuses aren’t human beings in order to help themselves win a malpractice lawsuit. So, essentially, fetuses are only human beings when someone’s trying to abort them. Otherwise — NOPE! (Jezebel)
  • President Obama is here to remind you how pro-choice and awesome he is. (YouTube)
  • Religious women love their birth control as much as the rest of us. (Guttmacher)
  • In what will be a true victory for choice, Dr. Tiller’s former clinic is gearing up to start serving patients again. (The Daily Beast)
  • Taking time away from other controversies, the Catholic bishops have announced that they will not compromise with Obama on birth control. (NBC News)
  • Proving that all schools would benefit from giving students access to contraception, NYC has seen its teen pregnancy rate plummet. (Center for Reproductive Rights)
  • In nearly every state, the total number of abortion providers has dropped since 1978. (The American Prospect)
  • Guess what, naysayers, condoms won’t prevent you from having great sex after all! (New York Daily News)
  • Dear lovely lesbians, Pap testing is super important for you guys, too! (The Advocate)