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Does religious freedom protect abortion access?

A protester carries a sign as they attend the "Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice" at Union Square near the U.S. Capitol.
A protester carries a sign as they attend the "Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice" at Union Square near the U.S. Capitol.

Last month, a synagogue in south Florida sued the state over its abortion ban, citing a violation of Jewish people’s religious freedom.

Experts say this is just the beginning of what could be a wave of lawsuits from religious groups.

A common thread relevant to recent developments is the influence that anti-abortion religious institutions, like the evangelical Christian church, the Catholic Church, and others have wielded in building political support for new, restrictive laws.

Professor Asifa Quraishi-Landes writes in The San Francisco Chronicle that the Florida ban and the reversal of Roe v. Wade “is also an infringement on [Muslims’] religious freedom.”

First of all, there is not just one sharia rule on abortion. There are many. As Islamic law expert Abed Awad and Imam Omar Suleiman have pointed out, different Islamic schools of thought have different rules on whether and when one can have an abortion. Among them are: Abortion is permissible through the first 120 days of pregnancy, abortion is permissible but discouraged up to 40 (some say 80) days after conception, and abortion is prohibited unless there is a compelling reason such as risk to the life or health of the mother (an exception that exists in every Islamic legal school, regardless of the timing). In fact, as Shaikh Hatem al-Haj notes, Muslim religious scholars of the past tended to be more lenient on abortion than they are today.

Does religious freedom protect a right to an abortion? We talk with a rabbi and an imam in states with restrictive abortion bans.

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Kathryn Fink