There is an assumption that religious people do not agree with abortion. However, surveys of people who have abortions demonstrate that holding religious beliefs or identifying with a faith tradition does not stop people from accessing abortion healthcare. In the United States two thirds of people obtaining abortions indicate that they are affiliated with a religious denomination. Globally the trend is the same in Muslim and Buddhist majority countries, Catholic countries in South America and Asia, and Christian communities in African nations such as Uganda and Zimbabwe.
So although the official doctrine of most religions contain some prohibitions on abortion, it is clear that people of faith have abortions at largely the same rate as those with no faith.
Researchers who study the effects of abortion stigma have found that that women who identify most strongly with their religious beliefs are more likely to experience internalised stigma and feelings of shame about their abortion, as well as fearing negative reactions from their family and friends. The culture of silence and condemnation within many religious communities is clearly failing people at a time when they need emotional and spiritual support.
However, research also shows people’s personal faith can be a powerful tool for managing abortion stigma as they conduct their own independent theological analysis of their lived experience and come to conclusions that are very different to the dominant religious voices.
In our own experience with FVRJ, we are always learning from the stories of those who have had to walk in the complexity of the tension between ideas of right and wrong in order to discern the best way forward for themselves and their families.
Social scientists studying public attitudes to abortion have found that people of faith generally have diverse views that do not fit neatly with either of the labels ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’. Overall, people who are most involved in their faith tend to have more restrictive views on abortion, but the relationship is not straightforward. People who identify as ‘pro-life’ actually give very nuance responses when presented with a range of scenarios where someone might need an abortion. Researchers call this ‘abortion complexity’. Abortion attitude studies conducted in Northern Ireland show that a high level of complexity exists for people here, including those who identify with a religious denomination.
So if you’ve ever felt alone in your abortion experience or views as a person of faith, you are absolutely not. The approach to abortion that is most often heard in Northern Ireland from some Catholic and Evangelical churches and organisations is not the only one. It does not reflect the diversity of views among Christians, Jews, Muslims and all the other faith communities that have a right to be heard.
You can read more about support for reproductive freedom from a range of faith perspectives on the website of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.