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Faith leaders: Abortion conversation has changed, not religious stances



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Faith leaders were some of the first to respond to the Supreme Court's landmark decision on abortion in 1973, and the conversations have continued in their congregations for the nearly five decades since.

KSL spoke with some of Utah's most influential faith leaders about how their stances have not changed, but the conversations surrounding them have.

Historic photos capture Utah's Cathedral of the Madeleine in a different era. Though the cathedral has weathered many storms since 1917, religion within has remained the same.

"The moral principle of the Catholic Church is called the common good," Rev. Martin Diaz, pastor at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, said.

On Jan. 22, 1973, the beliefs of Catholics across the country were challenged when the Supreme Court legalized abortion.

"In spite of this horrifying decision, the American people must rededicate themselves to the sacredness and protection of all human life," a Catholic priest in New York said back when the decision was made.

"We are not pro-birth, we are pro-life," Rev. Diaz said. This is something he still feels today.

"Wow, what a challenge us Christians, us Catholics, have to be pro-life in the next days, months, years ahead. To really, truly be pro-life, to really honor every single life that comes into the world," he said.

Yet, Rev. Diaz said they have added perspective to their beliefs.

"As Catholics, we're hoping we can take a message from God and be as loving as God is," he said. "We would never counsel anyone to have an abortion, but we know that it happens. And so, if anyone has gone through an abortion, we love those people."

Love and grace is what it's all about at the Calvary Baptist Church.

"Grace is God giving you what you don't have. Mercy is God withholding what you do deserve," Rev. Oscar Moses, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, said. "Abortion, in my perspective, is clearly wrong. But I also believe that we serve a God of grace and mercy."

Traditionally, Baptists have been against abortion, but Rev. Moses said his beliefs differ from the mainstream.

"I believe that those decisions — as it relates to women and abortion — is between her gynecologist, her and her God," Rev. Moses said.

It's not navigating faith that Rev. Moses worries about, rather the socioeconomic impact on his people.

"I have a predominantly African American community," he said. "Will they have access to equal health care? Will they be given prenatal care? And for single home families? You know, will they have the assistance that they need?"

At Congregation Kol Ami, Rabbi Sam Spector said they are part of both reform and conservative movements of Judaism, meaning they focus on conserving certain traditions while embracing more modern beliefs.

"There are different Jewish perspectives and a lot of debate within Judaism of when exactly does life begin," Spector said. "The most important commandment is to save a life, which overrides everything else."

In Israel, Spector said panelists decide whether or not someone is allowed to have an abortion — in all situations, prioritizing the life of the mother.

"They have different criteria — quality of life is one of those, rape, incest situation, a mother is the, you know, life of the mother, is the child, is the mother going to be a single mom, will this put financial burden on her where she goes into poverty."

But there is no panel here in Utah. Instead, Rabbi Spector counsels couples one-on-one, even discussing abortion before marriage.

"I talk to them about the importance of getting genetic testing done," Rabbi Spector said. "I talk to couples, too, and say, 'Do you have the same stance?'"

"There are 613 laws in the Torah. Most of those are only for Jewish people, but eight laws that apply to all people are preventing unnecessary suffering on living creatures. And I think you can use that law to make an argument on either side of this debate," Rabbi Spector said.

Historic decisions invoking conversations that will stand for years to come.

"The challenge is, how do we as a society develop the common good?" Rev. Diaz said.

He said they are working on a new program dedicated to helping out mothers with prenatal care, child care, etc. as an effort to help the community as a whole.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed their stance on abortion when Elder David A. Bednar from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at the National Press Club in May.

"We affirm the sanctity of life, and also the means whereby mortal life is created," he said. "It already highlights the fact that there should be consideration given in cases of rape, incest, the health of the mother, and the viability of the fetus."

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Erin Cox

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