Forty years after Roe v. Wade: What role has religion played?

January 22, 2013

Faith in Values: Roe and Religion
Sally Steenland, in this article for the Center for American Progress, says. “It may be surprising for some to find out that in the years before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, clergy were among the staunchest supporters of women seeking an abortion.” Many religious leaders knew firsthand about the situations of desperate women who had come to them seeking help. Some clergy had witnessed the horrible results of illegal abortions performed on such desperate women under the most unsafe, unsanitary conditions. Thus a network developed in which these religious leaders, often at great risk, aided women in finding caring and competent medical care. Such religious leaders welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling that left a woman’s reproductive decisions up to the woman and her doctor.

Today, in contrast, many people believe Christians must strongly oppose abortion, regardless of a woman’s circumstances; and they claim that such opposition—based on an unquestioned belief that human personhood begins at conception—is the only right and moral position on the topic. Steenland emphasizes that “we need to remember another way of thinking—one that supports women’s reproductive health and rights through a lens of morality and faith. We also need to remember that when abortion opponents claim a monopoly on God’s truth, their certainty is less than 40 years old.” For more on how these changes in thinking came about, see my article “When Evangelicals Were Open to Differing Views on Abortion” (part of our September 6, 2012 FemFaith post). Also see Jonathan Dudley’s October 30, 2012 article for CNN, titled “When Evangelicals Were Pro-choice” and his follow-up article for the Huffington Post, titled “How Evangelicals Decided that Life Begins at Conception.” You might also want to read the Center for American Progress’s “An Affirmation on Faith and Reproductive Justice,” which shows how reproductive health issues are related to many other social justice issues, and urges people of faith to “work for economic, environmental, health, immigrant, gender, and racial justice so that a woman who wants to be a parent may raise her child with dignity.”

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


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