Valentine’s Day hearings were held for new Montana abortion legislation (HB 471), making abortion a religious right.
If passed, Montana’s legislation would begin the process of setting a U.S. legal precedent, protecting abortion on religious liberty grounds. The bill states in part: “At any time during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, a pregnant woman has the right to obtain an abortion from a willing health care provider, even when the abortion is prohibited by this chapter or otherwise prohibited under the laws of this state, if the woman seeks the abortion in accordance with the woman’s sincerely held religious tenets.”
This is another instance of a larger strategy to conflate religion—Christianity in particular—with abortion. Some might argue the bill is balanced since it seems to add conscience protections for medical professionals and systems that conscientiously object to counseling, referring or providing abortion. But Rev. Jim Harden, medical ethicist and author of Ethical Theory and pertinent Standards in Women’s Reproductive Health, worries, “The bill couches abortion as a religious liberty decision, creating a false dichotomy. It pits the one imagined religious liberty (abortion) against the other actual religious liberty, behavior of medical objectors.”
This latest move is consistent with the new religious liberty tactic the Biden Administration and other pro-abortion politicians have been taking since the run-up to the mid-terms. Essentially, they have been trying to build a case to Christianize abortion, thereby criminalizing public pro-life activity. If they can make abortion an expression of religious liberty then pro-life expressions could be deemed to interfere with abortion, a conspiracy to deprive a woman of a civil liberty. If this or other laws like it are permitted, it could cascade, essentially piercing the veil of 1st Amendment protections for public pro-life activity, including that of medical professionals, if that activity is deemed to interfere with a woman’s religious conviction to get an abortion.
Rev. Harden continues, “If anything has become clear since May 2 it is that the pro-abortion politicians want to criminalize all public pro-life activity. And taking away religious liberty protections would be devastating to all pro-life people and organizations since most are Christian. More importantly, laws like this damage the ability for women to receive ethical medical care, since the laws protect abortion access rather than the proper standard of care to women.”
SCOTUS has historically refrained from getting involved in defining what is an appropriate religious belief. But there is some precedent for differentiating between a legitimate religious belief and a mere philosophical or emotional opinion. This has occurred on multiple occasions when it comes to handling religious exemptions for mandatory vaccinations for medical workers in hospital settings. People object to vaccines for all sorts of reasons, not all of which are religious. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) established a legal precedent in supporting religious liberty defining religion as that which “typically concerns ‘ultimate ideas’ about ‘life, purpose and death,’” excluding “social, political, or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences.”
Rev. Harden concludes, “The insidious nature of Montana’s bill is that it seems to anticipate religious objections along the lines the EEOC established when it comes to abortion stating in the beginning: ‘different religions have had and currently have divergent and deeply held theologies, religious beliefs, and values on profoundly religious questions regarding when human life begins, bodily autonomy, and when abortion is allowable….’ Just because a pro-abortion person claims to be a Christian or Jew does not make Christianity or Judaism pro-abortion. It just makes that person a religious hypocrite.”
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