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Protecting the sanctity of life or violating religious freedom? Idaho faith leaders talk abortion.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 03: A pro-choice activist holds up a sign during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in response to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade May 3, 2022 in Washington, DC. In a leaked initial draft majority opinion obtained by Politico and authenticated by Chief Justice John Roberts, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey should be overturned, which would end federal protection of abortion rights across the country. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 03: A pro-choice activist holds up a sign during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in response to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade May 3, 2022 in Washington, DC. In a leaked initial draft majority opinion obtained by Politico and authenticated by Chief Justice John Roberts, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey should be overturned, which would end federal protection of abortion rights across the country. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Some religious leaders say state’s abortion ban goes against their religion while others believe it protects life

As the Idaho Legislature considered several laws restricting abortion in the past two years, leaders from at least one faith group have advocated for the passage of these laws.

In a petition requesting to appear as an amicus curiae in the cases before the Idaho Supreme Court, the Diocese of Boise stated that they see Idaho’s anti-abortion laws as a critical part of their faith.

“Throughout the (2022 legislative) session, the Diocese counseled and educated legislators,” regarding its position on abortion bills, “and provided support to the proponents of the Fetal Heartbeat Preborn Child Protection Act,” the Diocese wrote in its petition to the Idaho Supreme Court.

“The Diocese of Boise supports laws that recognize the sanctity of human life, including an unborn child’s fundamental right to life,” the Diocese wrote. “The Diocese keeps itself and its faithful, informed of legislative and judicial developments related to the sanctity of life, including matters related to unborn humans.”

While the Catholic Diocese and other faith groups legally advocate to protect sanctity of life, other religious groups in Idaho say abortion restrictions violate their right to religious freedom.

With a diverse religious community in the state, groups including the Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Jewish community and others hold different perspectives when it comes to abortion.

Deacon Gene Fadness, Diocese of Boise 

Deacon Gene Fadness is the spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Boise. The Diocese of Boise covers the entire state of Idaho, with more than 160,000 followers across the state. Fadness has been with the Diocese of Boise since 2015.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, all human life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death, Fadness said. This means that the Catholic Church not only opposes abortion, but it also opposes euthanasia and capital punishment. Fadness points to the excerpts about abortion in paragraphs 2270-2275 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the church’s authoritative teaching document.

“There are exceptions in those rare circumstances when an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother,” Fadness said in an email. “However, because all human life is sacred, we don’t believe the innocent child who is conceived as a result of a rape or incest should have its life eliminated. One violent and horrific act does not deserve yet another.”

In the civil sphere, Fadness said that the Catholic Church has not opposed legislation that has exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.

Recently, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a “Standing with Moms in Need” campaign to encourage Catholics and people outside of their religion to do more to support pregnancy centers, adoptions and social service programs to help parents facing unplanned pregnancies.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website, the church opposes abortion. However, it allows exceptions if a pregnancy is the result of a rape or incest, if the life of mother is in danger or if the fetus has severe birth defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth — a consideration that is not included in Idaho’s abortion ban.

Elder Russell M. Nelson, the president of the church, says on the church’s website that an abortion in the case of rape or incest is sometimes advisable for the mother for her physical and mental health.

The exceptions to abortion make up a small share of pregnancies, Nelson said, adding that most abortions are performed on demand, and the church believes those to be an immoral form of birth control for unwanted pregnancies.

“Terminating the life of a developing baby involves two individuals with separate bodies, brains, and hearts,” he said. “A woman’s choice for her own body does not include the right to deprive her baby of life — and a lifetime of choices that her child would make.”

Pastor Duane Anders, Cathedral of the Rockies (Boise First United Methodist Church)

Pastor Duane Anders is in his 11th year as a senior pastor in the United Methodist Church. In a statement from clergy members of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences of the United Methodist Church, the church affirms its belief that women have a right to bodily autonomy.

“I go back to the creation story in the book of Genesis where it says God created us male and female,” Anders said. “And so, if I have a right to decide what to do about my body, so should a woman. For me, it’s that simple.”

He said that being anti-abortion is more complicated than pregnancy, and it is not a black-and-white issue.

“It’s interesting to me that often people that are pro-life also support the death penalty,” he said in a phone interview. “They’re pro-life, but they’re not willing to support taking care of our homeless folks, or they’re pro-life but not willing to pay teachers a fair wage. If you are going to be pro-life, you have to be pro-life across the whole spectrum.”

Anders said that abortion is a personal decision. In the case of an unplanned or non-consensual pregnancy, he said that women should make a decision that allows them to follow their heart and faith.

Restricting abortions stops safe abortions and makes it harder for people who do not have the means to travel for a safe abortion, he said.

“Those with means will find a way to travel to the next state or to the next country,” he said. “We’ve made it an issue of the elite, and we are once again punishing those who have few resources.”

The Rev. Sara LaWall, Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

The Rev. Sara LaWall has been the minister of her church since 2015. She said that part of the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition is to achieve justice for all people, including reproductive justice.

“Part of the principles around dignity and individual freedom are about recognizing the inherent value in every human in their sexuality, in their relationships and in their ability to choose if they want children,” LaWall said in a phone interview.

The Bible is not the singular source of wisdom in her religion. The Unitarian Universalist tradition draws beliefs from different world religions, human experiences and science.

“Every person is different and every person needs the freedom to have their own bodily autonomy and to know that their bodies are sacred, valued and worthy however they show up in the world and no matter what the choices they make,” she said.

As a minister, she said her job is to offer spiritual guidance and support people. For individuals seeking her guidance because of an unplanned pregnancy, LaWall said she hopes to help people make the decision that feels right for their body.

“I think this law takes away the rights and freedoms that were decided 50 years ago, and it makes us have to go backwards and forces one sector of the population to have no bodily autonomy,” she said. “Haven’t we been hearing this fight play out during the pandemic?”

LaWall said she is committed to providing a safe space for people facing unplanned pregnancies.

“There are pro-choice religious people out there, and we claim it as a religious issue,” she said. “This legislation and Supreme Court are infringing upon my freedom of religion.”

The Rev. Andrew Kukla, First Presbyterian Church 

The Rev. Andrew Kukla is the lead pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boise and has been a supporter of Planned Parenthood in Idaho. With the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the Presbyterian Church USA reaffirmed its stance on abortion at the national denominational meeting this year.

“A foundational principle of our denomination is that the Lord alone is God of our conscience, so we should not be in the business of creating rules and laws that govern the autonomy of a person over their own body,” he said.

Kukla said that life begins throughout a pregnancy, and the reality is that an abortion stops a life from coming to be. However, he believes people should respect a mother’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Kukla said the church cannot use the Bible as a law to govern all cases.

“We have biblical characters of faith that we point to as models who had multiple wives or who understood their wives to be property,” he said. “Suddenly, we would point to the Bible and say, ‘It’s wrong there.’”

He said that so much of Christianity encourages that life must be protected at all costs, but to him, relying on the Bible for all cases is problematic.

“When we tell a mother with an unplanned pregnancy that life must be protected at all costs, do we also say that to a soldier who picks up a gun and goes to war?” he asked.

Kukla said he hopes to guide pregnant people in ways that do not put shame on them for making difficult decisions. Whether a person chooses to raise a child, to place a baby for adoption or to have an abortion, he said there are consequences in all aspects of a pregnancy.

Pastor David Paschal, Calvary Baptist Church

Pastor David Paschal has been living in the Treasure Valley since 2018 after moving to the area from Colorado. He described his church as conservative and focused on helping the community.

Paschal referred to Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:4 in the Bible to define the start of life, noting that care for a child begins from the time of conception until adulthood.

Paschal said that he sees abortion as taking a life.

“I don’t want to call every woman who has had an abortion a murderer, because they didn’t personally take the life of their child,” he said. “But someone is taking a life.”

Paschal said that he has counseled pregnant women who had been pregnant due to rape or incest. In those situations, he explains that the child they are carrying is not guilty.

“To punish the child for the sins of the father is not fair,” he said. “Punish the person who did wrong, but don’t punish the baby.”

He encourages women to seek support through resources like the Treasure Valley Path, a pregnancy resource center whose mission is to “express the love of Christ by helping women and families thrive during and after pregnancy.”

Pastor Jonathan Owens, Heart of the City Church

Pastor Jonathan Owens leads his church in Coeur d’ Alene. He moved to North Idaho in 2006 after working as a pastor in southern Idaho, California and Washington.

Owens said that he believes life begins at conception, citing the same Bible verses as Pastor Paschal from Calvary Baptist Church in Boise. Owens also referenced Luke 1:41, noting a moment when a baby inside a womb reacts to its surroundings.

“In the case of incest or rape, because we believe in the sanctity of life, we believe that the mother’s life and the baby’s life are both important to God and important to us,” he said in an email. “As evil as rape and incest are, both the mother and baby are precious to God!”

Owens said that when doctors take the Hippocratic oath, they are agreeing to do no harm to a mother and the child she is carrying.

“According to God’s word and to us, one life is not more important than the other,” he said. “Each case will look different, but a doctor has already agreed to do his or her best not to do harm to a human being, which includes both the baby and the mother.”

Rabbi Dan Fink, Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel

Rabbi Dan Fink has been with the Boise Congregation for 28 years. He has been a longtime advocate for women’s reproductive rights, even serving as the president of a local chapter of Planned Parenthood during his career.

“Nowhere in the Jewish world does life begin at conception,” he said in a phone interview. “Life begins at crowning during birth. Before birth, the mother’s life always takes precedence over the life of a fetus. The mother is a person, and the fetus is a potential person.”

How would he advise women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy?

“I would advise them to follow their heart,” he said. “I believe it’s immoral to deny a woman the right to control her own body, so I would advise the woman to follow the dictates of her conscience.”

Fink said that abortion is a personal choice that depends on the weight an individual gives to a potential life. In cases where a pregnancy endangers the life of a woman, Judaism even demands an abortion, Fink said.

“I believe that the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the abortion ban in Idaho is a gross violation of the religious freedom of every Jewish woman and family in the state,” he said. “It imposes a Christian view of life beginning at conception. That is one religion’s view, but it’s not mine.”

The Islamic community in Boise and North America

Reshma Kamal, a grassroots activist and leader in the Boise Muslim community, said that Islam is diverse, and it is difficult to pinpoint areas of complete agreement related to abortion.

“Islam is so diverse, and we are not here to judge,” she said. “But I see only men making these laws, and women should be there in the decision making process.”

Kamal referred the Sun to contact the Islamic Society of North America to better understand different scholarly stances on abortion in Islam.

Haroon Imtiaz is the director of communications at the Islamic Society of North America. Although he is not an authority in Islamic law, he said he can speak to the Sunni perspective on the different schools of thought related to abortion – one of the two major branches in Islam.

“There are four predominant legal schools in Sunni Islamic tradition including Maliki, Shafei, Hanbali and the Hanafi,” said Imtiaz in a phone interview. “These schools generally have come to an agreement that up until 120 days after conception, abortion is allowed only if there is a pressing need.”

Imtiaz said that cases of rape, incest, extreme fetal deformity and the risk of the life of the mother are pressing needs that give an individual the right to terminate a pregnancy. However, Muslim scholars note that fear of poverty is not a pressing need to terminate a fetus.

After 120 days of a pregnancy have passed, all schools agree that ensoulment occurs. Ensoulment is the moment in which a human gains a soul and life begins, according to the faith.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.