Dozens of faith groups filed briefs this summer aimed at shaping the Supreme Court’s approach to a major abortion case slated for later this year.
This is not surprising in light of the prominent role of religion in the abortion debate. What is striking are the claims by some groups about the relationship between previous abortion rulings and the religious freedom law.
According to some religious critics of these past rulings, court rulings like Roe v. Wade, who said the government cannot ban abortions before viability, have “haunted” the religious freedom landscape for the past five decades.
By ruling that the Constitution guarantees access to abortion for at least part of a pregnancy, the Supreme Court has paved the way for aggressive political and legal attacks against people of faith who believe life begins in pregnancy. conception, argued the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in its brief.
“The failure of the (abortion rights) framework of this tribunal has made (…) conflicts over religious freedom more frequent, more intense and more confrontational than they should be,” said the case.
Some religious supporters of the right to abortion, on the other hand, have argued the opposite: that Roe v. Wade and other decisions on abortion have reduced religious conflict.
If those precedents were reversed, government officials would find it harder to respect the diversity of religious teachings on early life, they said.
“The tribunal’s viability standard helps to isolate these most difficult and controversial theological and philosophical questions from the pressures and pressures of mainstream politics. In doing so, it respects a healthy religious pluralism, ”argued a brief by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, American Humanist Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.
Debate the issues
Briefs focusing on religious freedom represent only a small portion of the more than 125 “friends of the court” documents filed by individuals and groups with expertise in abortion. They are still important, however, because they help show that the judges’ eventual decision in the upcoming case could affect more than access to abortion.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, centers on a Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether such a policy is allowed despite previous rulings that women have the right to have abortions until fetal viability (approximately 24 weeks).
If the judges say yes – and especially if they go so far as to cancel Roe v. Wade – States would have much more power over abortion rights.
Some more conservative religious freedom advocates have said this would be a good thing, as it would give believers more opportunities to influence related laws.
“Voices inspired by faith should be heard in the ideas market. And they should be heard where they matter – in the democratic discussion and debate that produces the applicable law, ”the Christian Legal Society brief said.
However, others believe such a development would harm the cause of religious freedom by allowing more states to enshrine religious teachings on abortion in secular laws.
If the tribunal gets rid of the viability standard, lawmakers will necessarily look to faith to help them develop new legal safeguards, the Americans United brief said.
“Before viability – the biological point at which independent existence outside the womb becomes possible – the prospect of an abortion necessarily depends at least in part on one’s beliefs about what life is and when it begins. therefore based on irreducible questions of conscience which, for many people, are based on intrinsically religious considerations, ”he said.
According to a brief from the National Council of Jewish Women, Catholics for Choice, Muslim Advocates and more than 40 other faith groups, predictable abortion bans violate the religious freedom of those who believe early abortions are morally acceptable . These people of faith also deserve to have their values reflected in abortion laws, the groups said.
“Many religions teach that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a woman’s moral prerogative, and that abortion is morally permitted or even required in certain circumstances,” the brief explained.
Religious opponents of the right to abortion do not dispute this fact. But they wonder why the Supreme Court should care.
The Constitution’s protections of religious freedom grant every person of faith the right to share and live according to their beliefs, not the right to veto laws based on competing teachings, according to the brief by the Jewish Coalition for religious freedom.
“At first glance, a doctrine that would allow religious adherents to totally prevent the state from pursuing goals with which they disagree – going beyond protecting their own free exercise – might seem appealing to advocates of religious freedom. However, such a new and compelling regime would quickly prove untenable, especially in a large and religiously diverse country, ”he said.
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization December 1.