Where various religious adherents stand on abortion may surprise you

New Poll Shows White Evangelicals Oppose; all other religious groups support them.

(Jose Luis Magana | AP) The US Supreme Court is seen in Washington early Tuesday, May 3, 2022. A draft opinion suggests the US Supreme Court may be ready to drop the landmark case of Roe v. Wade in 1973, which legalized abortion nationwide. A new poll shows members of most religious groups have some support for abortion rights.

A series of polls in recent days have shown that a majority of Americans say abortion should be legal; a new poll from Pew Research is no exception.

The major poll of 11,044 Americans released Friday shows that 61% of respondents say abortion should be legal in most or all cases — little changed from 1995, when 60% said the same.

But contrary to what many might assume, anti-abortion advocates are not necessarily all religious. In fact, the country’s many religious groups have far-reaching opinions on the legality of abortion.

The only religious group overwhelmingly opposed to abortion are white evangelicals, with 73% saying abortion should be illegal. Many white evangelicals celebrated earlier this week when a leaked draft opinion showed a majority of Supreme Court justices are poised to rule Roe v. to overthrow Wade and abolish women’s constitutional right to abortion. (The actual verdict is expected in June.)

The survey found that white evangelicals are also much more likely than other religious groups to say that life begins at conception. An overwhelming number of white evangelicals (86%) say that the claim that the fetus is a person with rights reflects their beliefs “extremely well” or “fairly well.”

Other Christian groups, even those considered highly devout, such as black Protestants, are far more supportive of abortion rights. Among black Protestants, 23% say abortion should be illegal most or all of the time; 66% say it should be legal in all or most cases.

Black Protestants also differ from white Evangelicals when it comes to when life begins. Only 38% of black Protestants said human life begins at conception.

“They’re both highly religious groups,” said Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at Pew Research, referring to white evangelicals and black Protestants. “But their views on abortion are very different.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception about religious groups is the widespread view that Catholics are generally opposed to abortion rights. While the Catholic Church has consistently opposed all forms of abortion — and U.S. bishops have made it a defining doctrine of the church — the Pew poll shows that 56% of Catholics say abortion is acceptable in all or most cases should be legal. Only 44% of Catholics said they were “extremely” confident that life begins at conception.

“The bishops have tried to persuade their own people and failed,” said Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior analyst for the Religion News Service. “Catholics don’t listen to bishops.”

Religious “Nones” — US adults who religiously identify as atheists, agnostics, or “nothing special” — are the most supportive of legal abortion. Eight in ten respondents say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Atheists, a small subset of the “nothings,” are the only group where a majority say abortion should be legal in all cases, without exception.

The Pew poll did not break down religion for minorities such as Jews and Muslims. But a new study released Thursday by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding finds that 75% of American Jews and 56% of American Muslims believe abortion should remain legal.

The survey, conducted by market research firm SSRS of 2,159 respondents (807 of whom were Muslim), asked Pew a similar question: Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, right? In any case illegal?

The survey found that younger Muslims are more likely than Muslims aged 50 and over to think that abortion should be legal in all cases.

“Broader society may think that Muslims are less supportive of legalized abortion, but that’s clearly not the case from this data,” said Meira Neggaz, executive director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

However, among all religious groups, like all Americans, few held an absolutist view of the legality of abortion. Even the biggest anti-abortion advocates said there are some times when abortion should be legal, and even those most supportive of legal abortion said there are times when abortion shouldn’t be allowed.

“One commonality among these groups is that a significant number of them view the issue of abortion in shades of gray,” the Pew poll found.

For example, a majority of all religious groups, including white evangelicals, say abortion should be legal if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health. And all religious groups, including 56% of white evangelicals, say how long a woman has been pregnant should matter when deciding when abortion should be legal.

Americans are generally more in favor of restricting abortions later in pregnancy than earlier in pregnancy.

The Pew poll had a margin of error of 1.5 percentage points for the entire study. Where various religious adherents stand on abortion may surprise you

Joel McCord

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