Jews, Muslims and others say Roe v. Wade reversal threatens their religious freedom

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

A recent survey conducted by the group shows that Muslim respondents hold divergent opinions on whether and how state laws should regulate abortion. A small minority — 13.7% — said they would support laws allowing abortion at any stage of pregnancy without any restrictions. An even smaller share — 7.2% — said they would support laws that prohibit abortion entirely. Between these two extremes, respondents were fairly evenly spread.

Abdulaleem, the executive director of Karamah, says these inquiries around abortion are new.

"The everyday average Muslim did not know what Islam's law was on abortion," she said. "So now, thinking people are educating themselves on what Islamic law says about it."

The answer is not entirely straightforward, says Ismail Royer, director of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team at the Religious Freedom Institute. There are four major schools of thought in Islam, and each offers a different interpretation of sacred laws, including when it's permissible to get an abortion.

Where they agree, however, is that abortion is categorically forbidden 120 days after conception except to save the mother's life, because this is when Islam teaches that the soul is breathed into the fetus, he said.

From Royer's perspective, even the most restrictive state laws on abortion would not infringe on Muslims' ability to practice their religious beliefs.

"The only question where the rubber meets the road here is a law that requires a woman to die in childbirth to save a fetus' life," he said. "That is the single scenario in which a question of religious liberty would come up."

Asifa Quraishi-Landes, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in comparative Islamic and U.S. constitutional law, disagrees.

"Under Roe, I, as a Muslim, had the choice to pick among my religious practices and values," she said. "But if Islam tells me I have 120 days and the state says I don't, that feels like an infringement."

Abdulaleem says that although she does not foresee Karamah submitting its own religious liberty lawsuits, it may sign on to amicus briefs in support of others.

"Just because Catholics believe that life begins at conception, they can't make that the rule for everyone," she said. "A lot of Muslims are thinking about what will happen to the separation of church and state if the wall is this easy to penetrate."

In another sector of the American religious landscape, the Satanic Temple, founded in 2013, began fighting abortion restrictions in state courts before Roe v. Wade was overturned, and currently has two cases moving forward in Texas.


"We're making a simple free-exercise claim," said Lucien Greaves, who co-founded the temple. "Our argument is that abortion restrictions were predicated explicitly on the religious notion that life begins at conception, and that's not a point of view we agree with or that should be confirmed by the government."

Members of the temple — about 700,000 worldwide — do not believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural. They do believe in religious freedom and pluralism. Over the last nine years, they have been embroiled in several court battles to ensure their right to the same religious freedoms as others.

"I don't feel like religious liberty is meant to only benefit religious groups," Greaves said. "What we usually see are not religious liberty requests, but requests for exclusive rights for one religion."

Philosophically, Satanic Temple members are guided by seven tenets, including Tenet III — "One's body is inviolable, subject to one's own will alone" — and Tenet V — "Beliefs should conform to one's best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one's beliefs."

"The reference to body autonomy and science puts the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy or not clearly in the hands of the pregnant person," Greaves said.

In 2020, the group developed an abortion ritual that involves looking at oneself in the mirror and repeating Tenets III and V before and after an abortion. The goal, it said, is to affirm bodily autonomy and dispel notions of guilt, shame and mental discomfort that can rise up when having an abortion.

The group also contends that state-mandated sonograms and waiting periods before being able to procure an abortion interfere with its members' ability to perform the abortion ritual.

Ultimately, however, legal experts say it's still unclear exactly how religious groups will litigate for abortion rights and how many will take this on.

Bond-Theriault at Columbia Law School says that although she is certain there will be a deluge of religious liberty lawsuits around abortion, she expects that most of them won't happen right away. The Dobbs decision is still new, and it's not yet clear what laws will be passed in which states, or how those laws will be implemented.

"People are upset and angry, but right now it's become the Wild West of case litigation and theory," she said. "We're here for the long haul, and we're thinking strategically about how to do this in a way so we can include as many people under the tent as possible."


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