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May 2005 Newsletter
Equal Marriage Rights
Religion and Reproductive Freedom
An Introduction to the Issues
from the Interfaith Working Group
Issues in Human Reproduction
The government, religious bodies and the medical community are all involved in
the many facets of human reproduction: sex education, birth control,
technologically-assisted conception, marriage, adoption, and abortion.
Human reproduction is a contentious subject among people of faith, touching on
fundamental beliefs, including: the nature of gender, the meaning and purpose
of life, definitions of marriage/family, the role of humans on earth, gender
roles, the purpose of sex, risks and rewards of knowledge, scriptural
interpretation, and women's autonomy.
The government must preserve citizens' rights, make rulings when individuals'
rights conflict, provide education, ensure adherence to medical safety
procedures, prevent disease spread, assure that children are cared for, and
document lines of descent to determine inheritance and responsibility for care.
Options for state-provided sex-education include teaching students about
sexual abstinence only, teaching that abstinence until marriage is preferred
above all else, and giving a comprehensive overview that includes various
contraceptive methods and information about sexually transmitted diseases.
Many still think there should be no state-provided sex-education of any kind,
and there is also extensive debate about the age-appropriateness of some
materials among people who do want some kind of publicly funded sex-education.
Abstinence-only education teaches only that sexual activity is bad for students.
An abstinence-until-marriage curriculum assumes that all students want to be
part of a mixed-gender marriage, and teaches that they should abstain from
sexual activity until then. Comprehensive sex education ideally covers every
possible subject that will help students make informed choices.
From a religious standpoint, which version (if any) to support, and what
specifically to teach within that version will depend on one's beliefs about
other reproductive topics. The religious view of knowledge will also be
important (neutral, viewing knowledge as a gift, or viewing
knowledge--especially about sexual issues--as a bad thing).
The government's interest is in providing a comprehensive education for all
students without advocating for any particular religion -- a very difficult a
Birth Control Availability
Some believe contraceptives should be available at cost to those who can
afford them, available to legal adults who cannot, and/or available to
students through public schools. Some religious traditions, based on their
view of reproduction, oppose birth control availability for everyone. There
are religious traditions that oppose women's autonomy, and as such, are
especially opposed to contraceptives for women. Some who oppose sex outside of
marriage believe that distribution of condoms in schools encourages adolescent
sexual activity. Those who oppose abortion but not birth control often favor
condom distribution to reduce pregnancies. The government is interested in
preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases and reducing the number
of unwanted pregnancies and children who are wards of the state or supported
by state funds.
Like birth control, the question in technologically-assisted conception is who
(if anyone) can access it, what methods are available, and who pays. Most
religious traditions have no issues with this, but some feel that conception
is God's purview only.
Human cloning has rapidly become an issue of much debate, and raises many
issues, including guaranteeing human bio-diversity, that are very different
from other reproduction issues. The primary medical debate has been over high
risks associated with the procedure. Religious groups that believe that a
soul enters the body at conception are disturbed by a procedure in which there
is no conception per se. For a variety of reasons, most religious groups
oppose human cloning,
While everyone seems to agree that adoption is good, state and religious
institutions may disagree about who may adopt. The government must see to the
safety and welfare of state wards. Some religious institutions, however, feel
that certain behaviors, attitudes or beliefs disqualify an individual from
being a fit parent, or that some family structures are not acceptable. They
may oppose policies that allow certain types of adoptions.
While marriage is not legally directly related to reproduction, in some
religious traditions marriage and reproduction are very closely tied or
inseparable. These beliefs, coupled with other beliefs about who is
permitted to marry, can lead to religious institutions insisting on
limitations on civil marriage which are inconsistent both with the
responsibilities of the state to treat all people equally under the law, and
with definitions that other religious traditions may have for marriage and
Abortion is one of the most contentious and violence-inspiring issues in the
ountry. The state’s legal interest in a person begins with the issuing of a
birth certificate and has not historically included an interest in fetuses.
However, prior to Roe v. Wade states could and did outlaw abortion. Under Roe
v. Wade, they are permitted to increasingly weigh the fetus' rights against
the mother's rights as the fetus approaches viability, but the mother's
health is still paramount.
Weighing the rights of a potential legally-recognized human living inside
another legally-recognized human is not easy; as with other reproduction
issues, religious opinion is varied, but three common positions are: outright
support for a woman's right to choose an abortion; discouragement of abortion
combined with recognition of the social necessity of keeping it legal; and
objection to abortion and its continued availability/legality. The autonomy
of women, existence of a soul and the time at which it enters the body,
historical understanding of the fetus, and the necessity of procreation are
major areas of disagreement.
The Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot outlaw abortion, but attempts
have been made to prevent government funds from going to abortion providers.
Some states heavily regulate facilities where abortions are performed, require
parental consent, require waiting periods to discourage abortions, provide
state funding for anti-abortion activist groups and/or outlaw travel across
state lines for the purpose of getting an abortion. These measures, plus
violence and threats of violence against abortion providers, have resulted in
fewer abortion clinics. Women pursuing abortions must make long and repeated
trips to clinics, a particular hardship for young and poor women. The
availability and regulation of pharmacological (drug-induced) abortions is
still a matter of legal debate.
The Government cannot possibly accommodate all religious beliefs concerning
human reproduction, or take a broad interest in preventing or enforcing
reproduction without violating Constitutional guarantees of individual
liberty. Without infringing upon the government's limited interest, Americans
should be able to reproduce or not reproduce, to marry or not marry, to adopt
or not adopt as they see fit, and to have access to the knowledge, tools,
and medical procedures that make those choices possible, leaving religious
organizations to teach their members about the limitations to which they would
like them to adhere.
Visit our reproductive freedom links section.