As America continues to be in an increasingly politically, as well as culturally, divided state, one finds that religion lies at the center of this disunity. One issue that clearly elucidates this schism is the difference in religious Americans’ versus non-religious Americans’ approaches to abortion. The 2013 Summer Christian Lawyer Magazine’s reflection on the landmark case Roe v. Wade, reveals the level to which religious and non-religious peoples in America live within divergent cosmic dramas, as each group retains its own narrative regarding the inception of personhood, as well as the institution of marriage in regards to the 14th Amendment. These two groups maintain and utilize a unique discourse: the religious right takes a strict stance on abortion in light of religious reasoning, and the non-affiliated left disregards their argument almost entirely in favor of a more feminist and secular rationalization. In effect, both maintain and embolden their own arguments and beliefs, respectively.
The 2013 Summer Christian Lawyer Magazine is a publication by the Christian Legal Society. The CLS is a, “non-profit, non-denominational organization of Christian lawyers, judges, law professors, and law students and friends whose members profess to follow the ‘commandment of Jesus’ to ‘seek justice with the love of God’”. This organization works to provide legal aid to those in need, and promote the practice of law with a higher moral obligation in mind. The source material to be discussed in this essay, specifically pages 1-7, includes:
1) a letter from the Executive Director of the CLS regarding the sanctity of life, as well as,
2) an article from the pro-life legal superstar, Tom Brejcha, reflecting on the implications of Roe v. Wade 40 years after the decision.
Both the letter and the article reveal the stark differences between the perspectives of those of a religious background, specifically Christian in this case, and those with a secular understanding of abortion. This source elucidates a completely different understanding of the inception of life and the sanctity of marriage from that of the secular perspective, and in effect allows for drastically different interpretation of the jurisprudence on which Roe v. Wade was decided between the religious and the non-religious.
The gap between these two groups’ understandings of the world is evident through the magazine’s reframing of conception’s narrative through religious and moral lens. In the Executive Director’s opening letter regarding the sanctity of life, he claims that, “Since Roe, nearly 55 million unborn children have died at the hands of abortionists in this country alone.” From a secular perspective, these abortions would not be considered “deaths” as the secular idea of personhood differs from the religious understanding that life begins at conception. The Director continues by calling on his fellow Christians to “fight for life”2, emphasizing the idea that life and personhood are determined at conception. In the article itself, the opening paragraph cites the fact that, “Many Christian young people, born a generation or more after Roe, sport t-shirts or sweatshirts emblazoned with arresting slogans such as, ‘I survived Roe v. Wade.’” The implication here is that abortion is equivalent to infanticide, and that those who are born are lucky to have survived, which dramatically reframes of the secular narrative that abortion is simply an extraction of fetal cells at a time when their removal from the womb would result in a limited chance of survival.
In contrast, legal terms (which are generally secular) dictate that a fetus may only be aborted up until it is viable (it can survive outside the womb). In Floyd v. Anders it was decided that, “the proscription against abortions performed after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy was unconstitutional because the state may only forbid abortions when the fetus is viable.” In addition, Roe v. Wade, maintained the idea that viability exists at quickening (the stage in pregnancy where the woman can feel the baby’s movements) or conception is “no longer strongly regarded as relevant by science,”4 supporting the claim that, “the fetus is not a person.”4 This assessment of personhood diverges sharply from the religious claim presented in the Christian Lawyer Magazine, illustrating two separate realities in which the beginning of life and personhood are understood to occur at different points during the human gestation period.
The article in the Magazine specifically reflects on Roe v. Wade, and encourages readers to fight this “profoundly regrettable decision”3 by providing a framework for legal reasoning to be used in court, when challenging this case and others like it. The article portrays Roe v. Wade’s most important antecedent and arguably its foundation to be Griswold v. Connecticut, which invalidated an old, unenforced law banning the use of contraception at the behest of a married couple. In this decision, the Court explains that this statute ‘invaded the sacred precincts of the marital bedroom’”3, a course of reasoning that the CLS nullifies, since it’s intentionally conducive to the concept of marriage as a religious institution rather than an objective social one. Arguing that this focus on marriage’s alleged sanctity is invalid, the CLS argues that the Court should have based their decision on, ‘the right of privacy...the right of an individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion.’”3 CLS claims “a liberty that had been based on the special position of the married was made universal in a way that repudiated the legally privileged status of marriage … a massive departure from the long line of cases that [represent] a vindication of the family.”3 Essentially, the CLS argues that the government having a say in abortion would violate the prestigious kind of privacy that a marriage legally defined as embodying. The CLS concludes that Roe v. Wade’s decision is incorrect as its precedents refer to the legal protection of the sacred institution of marriage, rather than the liberty of the woman to maintain her privacy and act of her own free will.
Most secularists would argue that a woman is entitled to the right to privacy through the 14th and 1st amendments. Secularists acknowledge the interest in the potentiality of life, but argue that this must be balanced against the woman’s right to privacy.4 Alternatively, the religious right believes life begins at conception. However, legal courts have clearly acknowledged a denial of personhood, and therefore a denial of rights, for the fetus, therefore weighing the interests of the mother above those of the fetus.4
In effect, these polarized views perpetuate divergent rhetoric regarding the issue. The cultural discourse surrounding the issue of a “fetal heartbeat” versus a “forced pregnancy” reinforces drastic divides in understanding and emotional reactions, among Americans when are confronted with the idea of abortion. The magazine claims that, “at its core, abortion is not a legal, philosophical, or popular debate. It is about real life and death.”2 More shocking language in the article used to describe abortion include, “moral madness and ultimately evil”2 and “killing an infant because he or she is unwanted is evil”2. The article’s clearest conveyance of the CLS’s opinion, and in reflection the Christian right’s opinion, is the claim that, “pro-lifers see Roe as an abominable cover for killing one’s inconvenient offspring, cheapening sexuality, sundering and undermining the bonds of family and community, and achieving, by slower degrees, in the aggregate yet another 20th-21st century mass holocaust.”2 The language and the rhetoric in the phrases are clearly intended to evoke an emotional reaction. This religious discourse enforces a culture focused on obeying a higher power and the conservative values that result from this religious commitment. The emotional strength of this doctrine’s ideals enforce a deep divide that prevents agreement or understanding on either side.
To contrast the rhetoric of this article, one must also analyze secular discourse regarding abortion. In The New England Journal of Medicine, the author Elizabeth Nash begins by writing “abortion rights”, immediately contextualizing abortion as an inherent and inalienable right, rather than a brutal practice likened to infanticide. Nash refers to abortions in medical terms, akin to any other medical procedure or service. Using secular, purely scientific and legal language to describe the flaws surrounding abortion liberties and laws in the United States, she uses phrases such as, “restricted both public and private insurance coverage,” and “burdensome and unnecessary standards”6. This choice to use such secular and unemotional verbiage is intentional, mirroring the reasonable nature of secular culture, where an abortion is merely another medical process, and that the individual is entitled to this procedure by their, “rights to maintain their bodily autonomy and dignity and to determine their own lives and futures.”6 This straightforward and medical interpretation of abortion contrasts greatly with the previously analyzed religious perspective, displaying how both parties are isolated within their mentalities and perceptions of reality.
The 2013 Summer Christian Lawyer Magazine allows for an interesting analysis of the ways in which Christian and secular peoples live in different realities, specifically in their approaches to the issue of abortion. The magazine illuminates these starkly different realities through its narration of the concepts of life and personhood, its religiously-based legal interpretation, as well as its use of emotionally impactful rhetoric regarding the issue. While right-wing Christians espouse the sanctity of life and the horrors of infanticide, liberalist secularists argue for the right of bodily autonomy and a woman’s right to privacy. It is clear to see that these two groups have no overlapping understandings; their arguments simply cannot weigh against one another since they each conflict with the other’s reality. How are these diametrically opposed groups to come to a consensus or an agreement on law when the facts at hand are fundamentally disputable in the eyes of each group? The schism that the issue of abortion has created among secularists and Christians has not only created a polarization among people based on belief, but in fact has binarized the entire United States around a single wedge issue, with no clear path to agreement or resolution ahead.
1. Brejcha, T. (2013, Summer). Roe v. Wade: Reflections After 40 Years. Christian Lawyer Magazine, 8(4), 3-7
2. Christian Legal Society. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2020
3. Griffin, E. (1981). Viability and Fetal Life in State Criminal Abortion Laws. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), 72(1), 324-344. doi:10.2307/1142912
4. Harmon, A. (2019, May 22). 'Fetal Heartbeat' vs. 'Forced Pregnancy': The Language Wars of the Abortion Debate. The New York Times. Retrieved November 22, 2020
5. Nammo, D. (2013, Summer). Life is Sacred [Editorial]. Christian Lawyer Magazine, 8(4). Retrieved November 22, 2020, from
6. Nash, E. (2019). Abortion Rights in Peril — What Clinicians Need to Know. New England Journal of Medicine, 381(6), 497-499. doi:10.1056/nejmp1906972
*The author does not claim to represent all the opinions of all the members of the Postpartisan in this essay.