Roe a matter of religious liberty

Forty years after abortion was made legal by the momentous Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, women’s access to … Continued

Forty years after abortion was made legal by the momentous Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, women’s access to reproductive health options are more restricted than they have been since. Although support for Roe v. Wade is at an all-time high of 64 percent, state anti-abortion legislation and federal restrictions continue to create steep barriers to access by many women. These barriers undermine religious liberty for women. The reenactment each year of the Hyde Amendment, restricting coverage of abortion services is especially troubling.

View Photo Gallery: The Catholic Church in particular is credited with organizing and driving the anti-abortion movement for decades, but religious arguments shape the pro-choice side, too.

While the political uproar over restrictions on abortion and contraception that erupted during the presidential campaign prevented further backsliding on women’s reproductive freedom for now, it has not yet led to any effort to reverse the most egregious measures still in effect. The current legal status quo ensures, as a practical matter, that millions of women who might need an abortion will be unable to exercise their right to access one in accordance with their own moral and religious beliefs. The Hyde Amendment’s language, which dates to 1977, has varied from year to year; when abortion opponents in Congress are strong, its exceptions are limited to saving the life of the woman or in cases of rape, or incest; when abortion rights forces gain strength, it expands a bit to include cases where a woman’s health is endangered by a pregnancy. Regardless of the exceptions, the Hyde Amendment has always been the bulwark of the anti-abortion agenda.

Hyde started as a limit on Medicaid coverage. Poor women were an easy target. It has been expanded to include federal employees and their dependents, a share of whose health insurance is paid for by the federal government. It now includes military personnel and their dependents, disabled women on Medicare, federal prisoners, Native American women using the Indian Health Service, and even Peace Corps volunteers (who don’t even get the exceptions mentioned earlier). From year to year it has barred the District of Columbia from using locally raised taxes to cover abortions.

The pervasiveness of the Hyde Amendment led to the insertion of similarly unjust restrictions in the Affordable Care Act. That language requires that, for health plans operating in the state-based exchanges, insurance premiums to cover abortion be segregated from premiums for all other health care services, lest federal subsidies somehow enable abortions. As a result, it is not at all clear that private insurance companies will continue to offer any abortion coverage under the new law due to these convoluted provisions – a significant step backward – and that’s just what abortion opponents wanted.

This special treatment for abortion services is driven by a desire to eliminate all access. Its proponents make no secret of their intent. State and federal laws have adopted the views of a minority driven on religious grounds to end access to abortion altogether, regardless of its constitutional status. This isn’t a secret or inferred truth – certain religious groups have made the elimination of abortion a central point of their policy agendas, based on their religious teachings and beliefs.

That the government is enlisted in this battle puts it in opposition to those seeking to exercise what the Supreme Court deems to be a constitutional right. It puts the government in the position of making a moral judgment according to the religious criteria of abortion opponents. When it does so, it deprives every woman whom Roe was supposed to protect of her religious liberty. It is women who are denied access to abortion on the same basis as other health care because of some groups’ religious objections, as embraced by the government. It is one thing for opponents to work privately to persuade women not to have abortions. It is quite another for their views to become public policy. In some ways, whether public opinion supports access to abortion or not is beside the point. The Constitution supports it, and therefore no government body should be involved in undermining it.

We must reverse course and assert our support of the principles of Roe. President Obama should put forward a budget without the Hyde language – one that ensures every woman is accorded her constitutional right to make her own faith-informed decision about abortion rather than privileging the views of those who oppose it. Removing the Hyde language would undoubtedly lead to a vigorous and emotional debate in Congress. It would force the hand of proponents to justify it on something other than religious grounds. It would be a beginning to restore the promise of Roe for every woman, regardless of her income – that the question be decided, as Justice Blackmun wrote, “by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection.”

Nancy K. Kaufman is the chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women, a grassroots organization inspired by Jewish values that strives to improve the quality of life for women, children, and families and to safeguard individual rights and freedoms.

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  • BearLeeDunn

    The question isn’t: “when does life begin?” the question is: “is a beating heart life?” A beating heart is the epitome of life, and therein we hold this truth to be self-evident, that his beating heart has an inalienable right to beat.
    stopping this heart from beating is the epitome of murder. The genocide of the unborn.

  • WmarkW

    I disagree. The fact that the federal government doesn’t pay for abortions has helped reduce the role that the abortion issue plays in national politics. It was much less aparently in 2012 than it was in the days of Ronald Reagan. The ability to debate issues that potentially have resolutions, is better off for that.

  • mindfulwhim

    Since employers, by law, are not allowed to discriminate against hiring someone based upon their religious affiliation, employers are also not allowed to prevent women from accessing family planning or reproductive health services, even if is against the religious beliefs of the employer. For example, if a woman who is an atheist, applies for employment with a Catholic hospital, it is illegal for the hospital to deny her employment based upon her religious beliefs. Therefore it is (and should be) illegal for that employee to be denied access to contraception and to abortion, if she so chooses to exercise those rights.

    It is inconsistent for religious organizations to ban abortion, and then to deny medical and social services to those individuals already born, whose parents didn’t want them. Research shows that prisons are full of those unwanted children.

    Maybe “right to life” advocates should concentrate on providing resources to those poor and indigent who are already born, instead of making people who are ill-equipped to provide for a family, have children.

  • Hempy

    Abortion rights needs to be addressed as a First Amendment right. If a woman believes that abortions are OK, then that is her First Amendment freedom of religion right. Neither Congress nor state legislatures have any authority to deny a woman this right.

    To impose all kinds of requirements on woman amounts to prohibiting the free exercise of her religion religion.

    This view is based on Roger Williams’ view that “The government of the civill Magistrate extendeth no further then over the bodies and goods of their subjects, not over their soules.”

    A woman’s right to an abortion is a soul liberty right, more commonly called freedom of conscience. To deny a woman an abortion or to subject her to all kinds of pseudo-religious propaganda is a violation of her right to the free exercise of her religion.

  • Hempy

    A beating heart does not establish consciousness.

  • Catken1

    “: therein we hold this truth to be self-evident, that his beating heart has an inalienable right to beat. ”

    Inside someone else’s body, using her resources and her body parts to sustain itself, without her consent.

    Be honest, here. You’re perfectly willing to consider a fetus a full human being, but you’re also perfectly willing to reduce its mother (whose heart is just as lively) to the status of property to be used without concern for her consent or for what happens to her as a result.

    Tell me, why should a woman’s human life end upon conception?

  • vexx

    This is absolutely disgusting. THERE IS NO RIGHT TO MURDER. However we do have a right to life.

    The child is made by the father and mother but it is not any less human because of where it grows. The fact that anyone can approve of murder for convenience is simply astounding. Tell me why it counts as double homicide to kill a pregnant woman? Because your’e taking 2 lives.

    So it suddenly isn’t human when its unwanted? Religious liberty stops where the rights of others are unwillingly trampled, if there was a church doing human sacrifice it would still be illegal, this is no different.

  • vexx

    The 1st amendment has nothing to do with this, if I believe cocaine is OK it doesn’t make it any less of a crime to use.

    And religion doesn’t protect murderers or thieves, why would this be different?


    Life does not begin at conception.

  • Catken1

    “The child is made by the father and mother but it is not any less human because of where it grows.”

    “Where it grows” is inside another person’s body. What it grows with is resources and body substance provided by that other person. She is not any less human because there is another person inside her, and she has no less right to say no to the continued inhabiting and use of her body than I or you or anyone else would.

    “Tell me why it counts as double homicide to kill a pregnant woman? Because your’e taking 2 lives. ”

    Exactly. Not “one life and a valuable incubating machine.”

    If a child depends on me for a blood or organ donation, I can say no and thereby kill them, without calling it “murder”. But if I choose to give, the fact that I had the right to say no doesn’t mean that the child is not a human life, and it does not mean that someone else is entitled to shoot the child, or that it would not be homicide to do so.

    “So it suddenly isn’t human when its unwanted?”

    No human is entitled to use the blood, organs or other physical resources of another human being who does not want to give them. If you don’t want me to go on living, and I need your kidney to go on living, you may deny me your kidney and refuse me life. Does that make me non-human? Does that mean my right to use your body to sustain my life has been unwillingly trampled, or does it just mean that your right to determine at any time who may or may not use your body has been upheld?

  • Catken1

    Well, the mother’s life certainly doesn’t end upon conception, anyway. Nor does her human status.

  • Catken1

    The 1st Amendment has everything to do with it, because at question is your religious belief that a woman who gets pregnant ought to be punished with loss of her human status and relegation to the status of property, and that a fetus is entitled to the use of another human being’s body without needing her consent to do so.

    If I believe that men are subhuman beings who ought to have their organs harvested for any woman who needs them, if I believe firmly that it is murder for you to refuse such a donation, does that mean it ought to be a crime for you to refuse? After all, I understand it to be murder for you to put your selfish right to choose not to donate your body over some precious woman’s right to life, and your religion ought not to protect murderers – so why can’t I prosecute you for murder?

  • tony55398

    There are many reasons for abortion, there is fear, there is money, there are the,I don’t wants, but one reason is not among them, Love.

  • cricket44

    Wrong. And that’s what happens when you substitute your imagination for someone else’s reasoning.

  • cricket44

    Vexx, I commend you on your decision to remain a virgin and/or get a vasectomy so as to never, EVER risk getting a woman pregnant. Because you KNOW that every pregnancy carries risk, every single one, so the potential need for abortion is there every time and I know that YOU, vexx, want to do *your part* in preventing abortion.

    That’s the only power you have to do so. Otherwise, you’re just spewing hypocrisy.

  • cricket44

    My question is, when is the woman no longer a person with rights?

  • dcrswm

    “Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another person” since abortion is legal it, by definition, cannot be murder.

  • Catken1

    So women who have abortions in order to spare their deformed and damaged fetus a short and horrifically painful life are not loving? Women who have abortions in order to protect their own lives – and not deprive their existing children of a mother – are not acting in love? Women who have abortions in order to ensure that they can have children at a better time, children who will get what they need to grow and thrive and be properly cherished, are acting in love, too.

    And you can condemn women who have abortions for not being “loving” when YOU are “loving” enough to give up YOUR right to choose not to share YOUR body with any human being who needs it. Not till then.

  • nkri401

    The best estimate when life began is about 3.6 billion years ago.

  • nkri401


    A miscarriage is also murder of a child; the mother of miscarried child deserves a death penalty, don’t you agree?

  • tony55398

    I guess abortion is like in war, “I had to destroy them in order to save them.” That’s some peoples idea of Love.

  • amelia45

    To make progress in the abortion war, take steps to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, which is the primary reason women seek abortion. Reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and you will reduce the number of abortions. It is so simple.

    Support funding for organizations that provide contraceptives and health care services to poor women, like Planned Parenthood. Support the Affordable Care Act because studies show that access to both contraceptives and health care improves the chances of women (and men) using the right contraceptive and using it correctly.

    If you want a “win” in the abortion war – support contraceptives.

  • SimonTemplar

    The fact that there have been 55 MILLION abortions since 1973 (a holocaust, in my opinion) suggests that it’s not so hard to get an abortion as Ms. Kaufmen would suggest.

    It almost sounds as if those on the left are disappointed that the 55 MILLION number is not higher.

  • leibowde84

    It is pathetic when self-reighteous people such as yourself think they know anything about what the other side is thinking. I, myself, feel as if abortion is a debatable issue and has been ruled as protected by the US constitution. Whether or not you agree with the SCOTUS decision is your own prerogative, but accusing those that disagree with you about this legally “tricky” subject actually want more abortions, or even that they are “in favor of abortions” is a misstatement of fact. It is offensive and shows your own stupidity.

    Pro-Choicers, to everyone with a brain, aren’t in favor of abortions. They are in favor of giving women the right to make reproductive moral choices for themselves. They don’t want to “kill babies,” no matter how much you spew that garbage, and no one with any intelligence will ever believe you. Pro-choicers and Pro-lifers both have valid points and citizens should be able to construct their opinions on the subject for themselves.

    This is the problem with social conservatism (and liberalism for that matter). Normal people see that there are valid arguments on both sides of most arguments of this nature, so they show a certain level of respect for the other sides. But, these rational people are pushed to the side as “not caring enough” by radicals who think the opposition are “sinning against God.” Divisiveness should be ridiculed and rejected. Argument and discussion should be welcomed. When you use language that accuses those who disagree with you as pushing for more abortions (in number), you are making yourself look childish and you are making your own side appear to be wrong in regards to the issue.

  • leibowde84

    If you are pro-life … you might have a point. If you are pro-life and against contraception … you have a mental disability.

    LESSON = “Be Reasonable.”

  • leibowde84

    You are right, it’s not about love; it’s about the legal rights of women to have control over what is in their body. First of all, men have no way of knowing what this issue is truly about because we don’t have the ability to carry a child. Second, Due to this fact, it is “sinful” to judge someone for something that you have no way of understanding.

  • itsthedax

    Here’s the thing: The anti-abortion people on this forum have thought about this issue and made a moral decision. Fine, they have every right to do so, and I will always defend that right.

    The problem is that they now wish to remove that right, so that no one else can make a decision based on their own thoughts and values.

  • persiflage

    The most strident anti-abortionists seem always to be men – go figure.

  • SimonTemplar

    @leibowde84: Oh it’s not offensive. It is being intellectually honest! 55 MILLION abortions since 1973, yet the author is complaining that abortions are not as readily available as she would like. Ms. Kaufman would be happier if there were no restrictions on abortion. If there were no restrictions on abortions, the death toll would be HIGHER than 55 MILLION. So, Ms. Kaufman would be happier under the same set of circumstances which would create a higher casualty rate in this holocaust.

    You said this is a legally “tricky” subject. Is a holocaust an intellectually “tricky” subject?

    I’m sure the advocates of any holocaust have what they consider to be “valid” arguments in favor of their positions. As for me, I consider the burden of proof to be on THEIR shoulders, not on those opposing the holocaust.

    If people should be free to make up their own minds on the issue, then why don’t the “pro-choice” advocates advocate for restrictions? Why don’t they advocate for ultrasounds? Why don’t they advocate for a waiting period? All of these “restrictions” can only equip a person to make a better choice, especially a person (like Ms. Kaufman) who is worried about the religions implications of abortion.

  • itsthedax

    Thanks for illustrating my point, Scott.

    You exercised your freedom to make a moral decision that suits you, and to govern your life according to that decision. And now you wish to restrict everyone else’s freedom to do the same.

  • GeniusPhx

    this is what i’ve been saying for some time. abortion is a religious freedom issue. the religious people say a fertilized egg has a soul (purely religious) and more liberal people are more science oriented. our constitution is a secular document which is pro-science. SCOTUS has said in subsequent opinions that no one can dictate when life begins on someone else. pro life is clearly a religious belief and shouldn’t be legislated on anyone.

  • kathmihok

    That’s a new slant…Killing an unborn child is a religious right !! What God condones the killing of a God-created human being??
    While it can’t be proven when a soul enters a being, your “science” has proven that a human fetus has human DNA. Not banana DNA , not kangaroo DNA.. human DNA. Human DNA sounds like it just might be human. Certainly is a “being”. Human being…hmmm. Yes, we do know when human life begins…human DNA and it is alive.. . simple and obvious.

  • kathmihok

    Infanticide is a RIGHT?? We should have the RIGHT to dismember and suction out the remains of a human being in its earliest stages??? How unconscionable!! And to think we call this freedom!! God help us all.

  • kathmihok

    How is it sinful to judge murder as wrong?

  • kathmihok

    Typical lib thinking… “It’s not MY fault I am pregnant” Over 99 % of pregnancies are NOT the result of rape. Go pro-choice…choose NOT to get pregnant. Libs never take responsibility for their actions. How is it “loving” to sleep around anywhere, anytime, take no precautions and then blame the baby for the imposition on your life

  • kathmihok

    Got some proof that life does not begin at conception? A fetus has human DNA, is alive and growing and can’t turn into a walrus.

  • kathmihok

    Ridiculous comment. Mlice aforethought is not a part of miscarriage. It certainly is in abortion. My selfish desies and my life are more important that the life of my child. So tragic. And how hurtful to those women mourning the death of their child after a miscarriage.

  • kathmihok

    Uh…hello..Prolifers ARE providing resources.. Google Catholic Charities, Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and dozens of others. No one is “making” anyone have a child. The woman chose to allow the pregnancy to happen. Time to take responsibility for your choices all you liberated, irresponsible women . We are tired of our tax dollars paying for your “choices”.

  • EddDoerr

    Kaufman is exactly right. The right of a woman to choose to end a problem pregnancy is a matter of religious liberty, freedom of conscience, church-state separation and health. Government has no business forcing women to comply with sectarian religious dogma. — Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (

  • paceaj

    But that’s YOUR religious opinion, which is contrary to the beliefs of ALL branches of Judaism. You’re not just fighting science, but those of other reliigions as well. What makes your misguided understanding of the Bible correct or your view of the world the “correct” one? There are lots of websites about this, if you want to bother to look.