June 21, 2016

Where major religious groups stand on abortion

Major religious groups' positions on abortion

Abortion is still a difficult, contentious and even unresolved issue for some religious groups.

The United Methodist Church provides one example of a religious group whose stand on abortion is not entirely clear. At its quadrennial convention, held in May, church delegates voted to repeal a 40-year-old resolution supporting the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and approved another resolution ending the church’s membership in a pro-abortion rights advocacy group. However, the church’s Book of Discipline (which lays out the denomination’s law and doctrine) stresses that abortion should be, in some cases, legally available.

Some religious groups have little or no ambivalence about abortion. For instance, the nation’s largest denomination – the Roman Catholic Church – opposes abortion in all circumstances. The second-largest church, the Southern Baptist Convention, also opposes abortion, although it does allow an exception in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.

Other sizable religious groups in opposition to abortion with few or no exceptions include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Assemblies of God, the largest U.S. Pentecostal denomination. Hindu teaching also is generally opposed to abortion.

On the other side of the debate, a number of religious groups, including the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the two largest American Jewish movements – Reform and Conservative Judaism – favor a woman’s right to have an abortion with few or no exceptions.

Many of the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denominations – including the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Methodists – also support abortion rights, although several of these churches temper this support with the call for some limits on when a woman can terminate her pregnancy. For instance, while the Episcopal Church opposes statutory limits on abortion, it teaches that “it should be used only in extreme situations.”

There are several religious groups that have no public position on abortion. For instance, in Islam, which lacks a single organizational authority, there are a range of views among scholars about when life begins and thus when abortion is morally acceptable. Similarly, in Orthodox Judaism there is disagreement among rabbis and scholars about the issue. And for the National Baptist Convention, a historically black Protestant denomination in the U.S., church policy is to allow each individual congregation to determine its views on abortion.

Even when a religious institution has a clearly stated policy on abortion, church members may not always agree. For instance, roughly half of all U.S. Catholics (48%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, in spite of the Catholic Church’s strong opposition.

(To explore the views of members of many other religious groups on abortion, see our interactive website featuring data from the 2014 Religious Landscape Study.)

Topics: Abortion, Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous6 months ago

    More information about the views of members of various religions or religious denominations would be appreciated. The degree of disconnect between the official view and the membership view would indicate how influential their leaders are.

  2. Anonymous6 months ago

    The data are incomplete as they did not survey one of the most influential religions in America, namely, Humanism.

  3. Paul Moniodis6 months ago

    You omitted the Eastern Orthodox Church’s position against abortion, which is clear in its opposition.

  4. Anonymous6 months ago

    I think you may have a mistake in your chart. There you include the Presbyterian Church in the group supporting abortion with few or no limits. In the text, you put them in the group with some limits, which is where I think they probably are.

  5. Anonymous6 months ago

    Both parties, Democrats and Republicans, are in trouble with the public because the public is so dumbed down. Being a Democrat, I continually marvel at how the GOP electorate can so easily take up the “red meat” thrown their way and allow themselves to be manipulated so they cannot see the truth. But then how can I criticize them when I have just become aware of how many elitist, corporate Democrats act like they care for their constituents while campaigning while all the while represent special interests just like the GOP for the bucks.
    My biggest complaint about more educated and successful Republicans, is they can be had by their party’s leaders dangling tax breaks. Yet these are the same people who are first to sign up for Social Security and Medicare. I’d sometimes would rather not have them for friends because on the tail of their tax breaks is their almost complete lack of care for what happens to their fellow human beings. God fearing indeed!

  6. Anonymous6 months ago

    What about Sikhism, Buddhism and other religions that are not mentioned? What about their views?

  7. Peter van Arkens6 months ago

    Islam is mentioned here, saying: “For instance, in Islam, which lacks a single organizational authority, there are a range of views among scholars about when life begins and thus when abortion is morally acceptable.”

    Going back to 2008, Hussein Obama was asked point blank when he says conception starts and his answer was: “That’s a question above my paygrade!” In other words, he supported Islamic belief then and he does to this very day.

    If you take that bit of info then and review decisions he’s made in his 8 years in the WH, only a fool would believe he’s not a Muslim. It does show the general apathetic attitude Americans have towards these incredibly important areas. Can’t be bothered to think….

  8. Roger Price6 months ago

    The Jewish consensus on abortion remains quite curious. See
    judaismandscience.com/the-curiou…

  9. Kumar Ramanathan6 months ago

    You note that Islam and Orthodox Judaism lack organizational entities and thus designate them as having no clear position, but is this not obviously true of Hinduism as well? The only citation provided for the latter is a link to an article that offers scriptural interpretation, while the bulk of evidence and explanation here is about official positions taken by formal organizations.