“At our best, this nation is a refuge for diverse faiths and viewpoints respecting matters of religion.” This is Interfaith Alliance’s starting point – in our work to advance an inclusive vision of religious freedom and, more specifically, our amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
On December 1st, 2021, the Court will hear oral arguments regarding whether pre-viability restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional. This will be the first time that the justices have considered a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which recognize a constitutional right to abortion as a matter of privacy before the point that a fetus can survive on its own, since 1973. Current science places viability at approximately 23-25 weeks gestation.
At issue in Dobbs is a 2018 Mississippi prohibition on abortion after 15 weeks. After the law went into effect Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), the only remaining clinic in the state, sued then-governor Phil Bryant and prevailed before the federal district court and 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. “States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability,” wrote the appeals court judges, “so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right but they may not ban abortions. The law at issue is a ban.”
JWHO continues to serve patients seeking comprehensive reproductive healthcare, but operates alongside many service providers across the country facing state restrictions that dramatically restrict when and how patients can access abortion. Mississippi is one of nearly two dozen states that have adopted gestational bans, prohibiting abortion after a certain point in pregnancy, and the Supreme Court recently allowed Texas to implement the most restrictive ban at 6 weeks.
Various religious traditions approach matters of healthcare differently and people of all faiths and none seek comprehensive reproductive services, including abortion, every year. As we argue in our brief, current law regarding abortion up to viability respects these theological differences and enables patients to make decisions based on their own beliefs and circumstances, not the religious views of their state legislators. But pre-viability bans do just that, placing abortion out of reach for millions of people and imposing one set of views on all residents of a given state. These restrictions also disproportionately impact marginalized communities, including communities of color, young people, and those in rural and underserved areas.
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, emphasized the consequences of states enacting medically unnecessary restrictions, saying, “These debates over legislating health care by religious values put more at stake than politicians’ beliefs. These laws can make it impossible for people of differing faith or conscience to receive the treatments their own values demand, and thus deliver the clear message that the protections of the Constitution do not apply to them. That doesn’t uphold our sacred principles; it undermines them.”
For nearly three decades, Interfaith Alliance has led the fight for an inclusive vision of religious freedom that protects people of all faiths and none. Our commitment to this basic right demands that we speak out against threats to religious freedom, no matter the circumstance. This summer, the Interfaith Alliance Board of Directors engaged in a rigorous and thoughtful dialogue around the urgent threat to reproductive freedom. In recognition of our theological differences and in keeping with our commitment to true religious freedom, the Board adopted its first ever Interfaith Alliance Statement of Policy on Religious Freedom rooted in the shared understanding that all of us should be free to make decisions based on our own beliefs and circumstances – not the religious views of our bosses, doctors, or elected officials.
Learn more about Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and read the full amicus brief. We undertook this effort in partnership with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, American Humanists Association, and Bend the Arc Jewish Action.