10 Largest Christian Denominations and Five Largest non-Christian Religious Groups
35,000 US adults were asked to identify their religious affiliation (if any) and to answer the question: "Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, or illegal in all cases?” Results from the 2008 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's US Religious Landscape Survey(2 MB) appear below along with the official positions of 15 major religions in the US.
Religious Group(% of US adult population in 2007)
Abortion should be legal in all or most cases
Abortion should be illegal in all or most cases
(Not Clearly Pro or Con)
Listed by level of membership support for legal abortion,
from highest to lowest
*Responses from Unitarian Universalists were combined with those from other liberal faith groups, such as people who identified as "spiritual but not religious," in the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's US Religious Landscape Survey, June 2008.
**Institutional positions on abortion were drawn from official statements, where available. In cases where no official statements are available, such as Judaism and Islam which are not represented by central governing bodies, religions are listed under "not clearly pro or con" and expert opinion is quoted below to summarize the group's position on abortion.
Should abortion be legal?
Not Clearly Pro or Con
Raymond A. Zwerin, DD, and Richard J. Shapiro, DD, stated in their booklet Abortion: Perspectives from Jewish Traditions(1 MB) , published by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and reproduced on its website, www.rcrc.org (accessed Feb. 28, 2011):
"According to Jewish law, a fetus is not considered a full human being and has no judicial personality of its own…
Thus, abortion becomes permissible, according to the vast majority of authorities, under a wide variety of circumstances.
However, it must also be said that Judaism as a religious heritage does not tilt absolutely to one side of any issue. Callousness as to the seriousness and the tragedy of an abortion is unacceptable. Abortion as a means of avoiding the responsibility of bearing children is antithetical to Jewish values.
...Due to the general leniency in matters of abortion, as well as to a longstanding Jewish insistence on the separation of religion and government in American life, all four non-Orthodox Jewish movements—Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Humanist—are on record opposing any governmental regulation of abortion. Moreover, many Orthodox authorities take the same position."
The 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), head of state and spiritual leader of Tibet and a Buddhist monk, stated during a New York Times Magazine interview with Claudia Dreifus, published on Nov. 28, 1993:
"Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance."
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) stated in an Aug. 25, 2009 article titled "Hinduism and Abortion," posted on www.bbc.co.uk:
"When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the foetus and society.
Hinduism is therefore generally opposed to abortion except where it is necessary to save the mother's life.
Classical Hindu texts are strongly opposed to abortion:
• one text compares abortion to the killing of a priest
• another text considers abortion a worse sin than killing one's parents
• another text says that a woman who aborts her child will lose her caste"
[Editor's Note: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the late Indian leader and practicing Hindu, wrote in a Mar. 1, 1929 response to a man seeking advice on whether his wife should seek an abortion, reprinted in Ghandi's 1947 volume Self-Restraint v. Self-Indulgence:
"It seems to me clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime."]
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in its Sep. 1991 publication A Social Statement on: Abortion(44 KB), reproduced on the church's official website, www.elca.org, wrote:
"Because of our conviction that both the life of the woman and the life in her womb must be respected by law, this church opposes:
• the total lack of regulation of abortion;
• legislation that would outlaw abortion in all circumstances;
• laws that prevent access to information about all options available to women faced with unintended pregnancies;
• laws that deny access to safe and affordable services for morally justifiable abortions;
• mandatory or coerced abortion or sterilization;
• laws that prevent couples from practicing contraception;
• laws that are primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion.
The position of this church is that, in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, where pregnancy results from rape or incest, or where the embryo or fetus has lethal abnormalities incompatible with life, abortion prior to viability should not be prohibited by law or by lack of public funding of abortions for low income women. On the other hand, this church supports legislation that prohibits abortions that are performed after the fetus is determined to be viable, except when the mother's life is threatened or when lethal abnormalities indicate the prospective newborn will die very soon.
Beyond these situations, this church neither supports nor opposes laws prohibiting abortion."
[Editor's Note: No statement on abortion has been found from the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., though two church leaders have declared positions, one pro-life and one pro-choice:
• According to a Feb. 12, 2009 article titled "A Closer Look at the President's Faith-Based Advisory Council," posted on the Bold Faith Type blog, www.faithinpubliclife.org, William J. Shaw, DMin, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. from 1999 to 2009 "has advocated for a comprehensive pro-life stance - arguing that the right to be born without the right to live has been used as a tool of injustice."
• Carlton W. Veazey, DMin, a National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. minister based in Washington, DC, is President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a national pro-choice organization.]
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) stated in a Sep. 7, 2009 article titled "Sanctity of Life – Islamic Teachings on Abortion," posted on www.bbc.co.uk:
"All schools of Muslim law accept that abortion is permitted if continuing the pregnancy would put the mother's life in real danger. This is the only reason accepted for abortion after 120 days of the pregnancy.
Different schools of Muslim law hold different views on whether any other reasons for abortion are permitted, and at what stage of pregnancy if so...
However, even those scholars who would permit early abortion in certain cases still regard abortion as wrong, but do not regard it as a punishable wrong. The more advanced the pregnancy, the greater the wrong."
"At the end of the third period of development—that is, the mudhghah phase, at 4 months (120 days) of gestation—the human 'spirit' (ruh) enters the body, termed 'wuluj' according to Islamic metaphysics. At this point, the fetus is referred to as 'another creation'...
It is at this point and after it that abortion is absolutely forbidden unless the life of the mother is threatened by the continuation of pregnancy."]
The American Baptist Churches USA, in its Mar. 2002 "American Baptist Resolution Concerning Abortion and Ministry in the Local Church," posted on the church's offfical website, www.abc-usa.org, stated:
"As American Baptists we oppose abortion, as a means of avoiding responsibility for conception, as a primary means of birth control, without regard for the far-reaching consequences of the act...
We grieve with all who struggle with the difficult circumstances that lead them to consider abortion. Recognizing that each person is ultimately responsible to God, we encourage men and women in these circumstances to seek spiritual counsel as they prayerfully and conscientiously consider their decision...
We also recognize that we are divided as to the proper witness of the church to the state regarding abortion. Many of our membership seek legal safeguards to protect unborn life. Many others advocate for and support family planning legislation, including legalized abortion as in the best interest of women in particular and society in general. Again, we have many points of view between these two positions. Consequently, we acknowledge the freedom of each individual to advocate for a public policy on abortion that reflects his or her beliefs."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), in its "Official Statement - Abortion," posted on the church's official news website, www.newsroom.lds.org (accessed Feb. 24, 2011), wrote:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions.
The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when:
• Pregnancy results from rape or incest, or
• A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or
• A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct.
The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion."
Should abortion be legal?
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, in its 1987 General Resolution titled "Right to Choose," updated on June 3, 2010 and posted on its website, www.uua.org, stated:
"[T]he 1987 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association reaffirms its historic position, supporting the right to choose contraception and abortion as legitimate aspects of the right to privacy...
Unitarian Universalists oppose any move to deny or restrict the distribution of government funds as a means of restricting access to full contraceptive and abortion counseling and/or services, at home or abroad; and
...actively oppose all legislation, regulation and administrative action, at any level of government, intended to undermine or circumvent the Roe v. Wade decision; and
...communicate their opposition to such attempts to their legislative representatives and to the electorate; and
...expose and oppose bogus clinics and other tactics that infringe on the free exercise of the right to choose; and
...promote legislation funding safe abortions for low-income women..."
The General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church (USA), in its article titled "Presbyterian 101 - Abortion Issues," posted on the council's official website, gamc.pcusa.org (accessed Feb. 25, 2011), stated:
"[T]he General Assembly, the national governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), declared [in 1970] that 'the artificial or induced termination of a pregnancy is a matter of careful ethical decision of the patient … and therefore should not be restricted by law …'...
[T]he Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) encourages an atmosphere of open debate and mutual respect for a variety of opinions concerning the issues related to problem pregnancies and abortion.
The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision. Possible justifying circumstances would include medical indications of severe physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, or conditions under which the physical or mental health of either woman or child would be gravely threatened."
The General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church, in its 2008 article titled "Family Planning and Reproductive Health - Social Principles," posted on the board's official website, www.umc-gbcs.org, stated:
"Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.
But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.
We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We support parental, guardian, or other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.
We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life...
Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel."
A.L. Barry, late President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in his article "What About Abortion," posted on the church's official website, www.lcms.org (accessed Feb. 25, 2011), wrote:
"God forbids us to take the life of another person, and this most certainly includes abortion...
Our church's explanation of the Small Catechism puts the matter well when it says, 'The living but unborn are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception. Since abortion takes a human life, it is not a moral option except to prevent the death of another person, the mother.'...
Just because something happens to be legal does not make it moral, ethical or right... The church needs to inform its members that abortion is sinful and then encourage them, as Christian citizens, to use available legal means to change the law. Christians do not resort to illegal activities to change our nation's laws...
Isn't abortion acceptable in the case of rape or incest?
While the emotional arguments for abortion in these situations might seem compelling, the fact of the matter is that it is wrong to take the life of one innocent victim (the unborn child), and further burden the life of the other victim of these horrible situations, the mother. It is indeed a strange logic that would have us kill an innocent unborn baby for the crime of his father."
John Paul II (originally Karol Józef Wojtyla), 264th Pope of the Catholic Church, in his Mar. 25, 1995 Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life), posted on the church's offical website, www.vatican.va, wrote:
"Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an 'unspeakable crime'…
It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being."
The Southern Baptist Convention, in its June 1984 Resolution On Abortion, posted on the church's official website, www.sbc.net, stated:
"[W]e deplore the practice of performing abortions, as well as dispensing to minors without parental consent or even notification, contraceptive medications which have potentially dangerous side effects, and deplore also the use of tax funds for such activities...
[W]e call upon all Southern Baptists to renew their commitment to support and work for legislation and/or constitutional amendment which will prohibit abortion except to save the physical life of the mother...
[W]e encourage Southern Baptists to inquire whether or not their physicians perform abortions on demand or give referrals for abortions, and... we commend those of the medical profession who abstain from performing abortions or making abortion referrals...
[W]e urge our agencies and institutions to provide leadership for our cooperating churches and members, by preparing literature to take a clear and strong stand against abortion, and to inform and motivate our members to action to eliminate abortion on demand."
"The Assemblies of God views the practice of abortion as an evil that has been inflicted upon millions of innocent babies and that will threaten millions more in the years to come. Abortion is a morally unacceptable alternative for birth control, population control, sex selection, and elimination of the physically and mentally handicapped. Certain parts of the world are already experiencing serious population imbalances as a result of the systematic abortion of female babies. The advocacy and practice of so-called partial birth abortion of babies is particularly heinous...
In the modern era, situations in which pregnancy seriously and imminently threatens the life of the mother are exceedingly rare. If, however, responsible diagnoses confirm that childbirth is likely to result in the death of the mother, historic Christian faith usually has favored the life of the mother above that of the unborn child. Unlike the unborn child, the mother is a mature person with established family and societal relationships and responsibilities...
Whenever abortion and other immoral life-threatening practices present themselves, Christians have an obligation to address these evils in public forums and to seek legislative and judicial redress."