For These Faith Groups, Funding Abortion Access and Advocacy Is a Matter of Religious Freedom

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The anti-abortion religious right doesn’t speak for the majority of people of faith in the United States, many of whom have been vocal and generous in their support for abortion rights and access. Some pro-choice U.S. faith groups have shared their collection plates with abortion advocates and providers. Others have mounted special campaigns, whether in individual houses of worship or nationally, and at least one is flexing the power of its investment portfolio.

Whether we’re talking about a single Unitarian Universalist congregation or a nationwide organization like the National Council of Jewish Women, Catholics for Choice or United Church Funds, faith groups representing pro-choice believers — those who make up many of the country’s major faith communities — are fundraising, giving and leveraging their money for the cause. Most of the efforts we’ve been able to uncover so far are relatively nascent, but it does seem like these faith groups are increasingly deciding that abortion is a religious freedom issue.

From a $1 million effort to individual collection plates

The largest and best-publicized recent faith-based effort to support abortion access was announced in January by the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). Its Jewish Fund for Abortion Access had just surpassed the $1 million mark in money raised and given directly to the National Abortion Federation. Launched in July 2022, the fund has helped nearly 10,000 people access an abortion so far, according to NCJW CEO Sheila Katz. The Jewish Fund for Abortion Access marks the first time that NCJW has marshaled its forces to raise money for a coordinated, movement-wide effort. 

On the national level, the National Council of Jewish Women is joined by Catholics for Choice, an organization representing the estimated 56% to 64% of pro-abortion Catholics in the United States. Catholics for Choice declined to estimate the amount the group has moved for abortion access or advocacy so far, but did say that it began increasing its support for the development of its faith-based state partners’ abortion funds in December 2021. Since then, Catholics for Choice says it has moved about 33% of its individual giving to these efforts. 

“When pro-choice Catholics, other pro-choice people of faith and allies donate to Catholics for Choice, a sizable portion of that gift is going toward direct action, helping to provide services for those most in need, in line with our Catholic social justice values,” said Catholics for Choice President Jamie L. Manson. According to Manson, Catholics for Choice provides grants to two faith-based abortion funds: the Faith Choice Ohio abortion fund and the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice abortion fund.

At least one Muslim group has also stepped up. HEART, a Muslim women’s group launched in 2009 in part to address issues of sex and sexual violence, started its own Sexual and Reproductive Justice Fund. Its position aligns with that of American Muslims overall, more than half of whom believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. HEART didn’t respond to questions about the amount of money raised so far in time for the deadline for this article.

On a much smaller scale (at least for now), a quick survey of pro-abortion religious groups uncovered individual Unitarian Universalist congregations whose financial support for abortion access has ranged from a special fund in the 1980s that once moved from $50,000 to $60,000 a year, to one-time instances of sharing the church collection plate. 

Flexing faith-based shareholder muscles

Even when faith groups aren’t directly giving money for abortion access or advocacy, a recent move by United Church Funds (UCF) and the Marguerite Casey Foundation demonstrates another way that the deep pockets of faith groups can move the needle on abortion rights — shareholder activism. United Church Funds provides investment management and planned giving services to United Church of Christ and other faith-based organizations.

Earlier this month, UCF and Marguerite Casey announced that after a “productive dialogue” with HCA Healthcare, the two organizations withdrew a shareholder proposal to require the healthcare system to continue providing emergency abortions in their hospitals in accordance with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act. 

“For UCF, reproductive healthcare is both a business issue and a matter of human rights. We will continue to use our voice to ensure that our investments support a just world for all,” said United Church Funds CEO Charles Buck.

A movement with room, and momentum, to grow

While many of these efforts are relatively modest, there are indications that the fall of Roe may be awakening new activism among faith-based organizations that support abortion rights and access. The National Council of Jewish Women plans to continue raising and moving money for this cause. NCJW’s Katz estimated that 1,500 Jewish communities in the U.S. alone would teach about Judaism and abortion during the international Repro Shabbat event held on February 17 and 18. Meanwhile, Catholics for Choice is planning to convene the first-ever collaborative of faith-engaged reproductive rights and justice leaders. 

Beyond moving and leveraging money, the national Episcopal Church recently affirmed its “no restrictions” policy on abortion access, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is helping congregations and clergy organize, and clergy themselves are stepping up to escort women seeking abortions in sanctuary states, publicly bless abortion clinics, and sue to overturn state abortion bans.

We’ll be watching to see whether all of this leads to more money from faith-based groups to support abortion advocacy and access — and whether, in light of the increasingly well-publicized fact that the majority of the country’s religious people support abortion access, more donors will become as loud and proud about their support for abortion as the National Council of Jewish Women. 

Such a development will no doubt be as welcome to abortion rights advocates as the Boston Foundation’s Fund for Reproductive Health, and for similar reasons — namely, yet more evidence that support for abortion rights is a mainstream American value.

For Katz, and perhaps the majority of abortion-rights supporters of faith, this fight is about something no less important than religious freedom.

“For too long, this country has allowed a small but loud group from the religious right to dominate the narrative around abortion and religion, claiming that abortion access is a violation of religious freedom,” she said. “But restrictive abortion laws rooted in just one narrow Christian understanding of when life begins limit our ability to fully practice our religious tradition. The overturning of Roe v. Wade is the greatest violation of religious liberty that we’ve seen in the United States in 50 years.”