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How faith groups feel about this major abortion case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this week

A group of anti-abortion protesters pray together in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
A group of anti-abortion protesters pray together in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi.
Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Faith groups from across the political and theological spectrum are sharing their views on abortion as the Supreme Court weighs a case that could overhaul America’s approach to reproductive rights.

Here’s a brief overview of the legal battle and a roundup of religious reactions to Wednesday’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court:

What’s at stake in the case?

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization centers on a Mississippi law that bans abortion under nearly all circumstances after the 15th week of pregnancy. Abortion-rights advocates say the policy violates past court decisions, including Roe v. Wade, since those rulings put the cutoff for legally obtaining an abortion at around 24 weeks.

Mississippi officials and their supporters, on the other hand, argue that past rulings were not rooted in the Constitution and, therefore, need to be overruled. During Wednesday’s oral arguments, Mississippi Solicitor General Scott G. Stewart called on the court to return power to state legislatures and let them craft abortion policy without federal interference.

How will the court rule?

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case likely won’t be released for several months, but most legal insiders are sharing similar predictions for how it will turn out.

At least five of the court’s six conservative justices appear willing to rule in favor of Mississippi, while the court’s three liberals are united against the state, according to Amy Howe, who analyzes Supreme Court cases for SCOTUSblog.

However, it is still unclear whether Mississippi officials will get exactly what they’re asking for. The court may decide to uphold the controversial law but not overturn Roe v. Wade, Howe wrote Wednesday.

There’s a “potential for a ruling that nominally keeps Roe ... in place but scraps the (fetal) viability line — a decision that would allow Mississippi and other states to prohibit abortions at some points prior to when a fetus can live outside the womb,” she said.

How faith groups reacted

Such an outcome would likely disappoint a wide variety of faith groups, including some of those siding with Mississippi in the case. Many of the statements released Wednesday by more conservative religious leaders called on the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“It should be abundantly clear that the (legal) precedent in the area of abortion is completely unmoored from the Constitution itself. Furthermore, it completely disregards the individual whose rights are most affected: the preborn child. That cannot continue. Denying the dignity of our most vulnerable neighbors should not be a hallmark of American jurisprudence,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a statement.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, did not directly reference Roe in his remarks, but it’s still clear that he’s hoping for the country’s current approach to abortion rights to come to an end.

“In the United States, abortion takes the lives of over 600,000 babies every year. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health could change that. We pray that the Court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion, and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act,” he said.

Other faith leaders would be frustrated by a ruling in favor of Mississippi for very different reasons than Leatherwood or Archbishop Lori. Some — generally from more liberal religious traditions — have argued that people of faith should embrace the Roe v. Wade standard.

“In Judaism, abortion is not only permitted, but in some cases required when the life of the pregnant person is at stake. Restrictive abortion laws ... limit our ability to fully practice our religious tradition and make safe healthcare decisions in alignment with our beliefs,” said Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, in a statement.

Katy Joseph, director of policy and advocacy for the Interfaith Alliance, argued that protecting abortion access is part of protecting religious freedom.

“Religious traditions approach matters of health care differently, and people of all faiths and none seek comprehensive reproductive services, including abortion, every year. True religious freedom means that people seeking care should be able to make decisions based on their own beliefs and circumstances, not the religious views of their doctor or state legislators,” she said.

Many of the faith-related groups that released statements on Wednesday’s oral arguments have been following the case for months. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Interfaith Alliance, for example, both filed briefs with the Supreme Court earlier this fall spelling out their views on the case.