State Supreme Courts Deliver Varied Results on Abortion Bans

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Few experiences are as personal – or as life changing – as the decision to become a parent. Yet after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June 2022, state bans on abortion that undermine the ability of pregnant people to access the care they need based on their beliefs and circumstances have gone into effect.

On January 5th, 2023, Idaho became the latest state to uphold abortion restrictions that impose one set of religious beliefs on all state residents. In a decision upholding three bans currently in place, the Idaho Supreme Court held that the state constitution does not protect the right to abortion, a stark reminder that the fight for reproductive and religious freedom continues. The ruling came just hours after the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned their state’s abortion ban by affirming a right to privacy. Under a patchwork of protections, people across the country are left without reliable access to reproductive healthcare.

Our Right to Seek Healthcare Based On Personal Beliefs 

Various religious traditions approach matters of healthcare differently and people of all faiths and none seek comprehensive reproductive services, including abortion, every year. Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, federal law respected these theological differences and enabled patients to make decisions based on their own beliefs and circumstances, not the religious views of their state legislators. But the pre-viability bans enacted immediately after the Supreme Court’s ruling do just that, placing abortion out of reach for millions of people and imposing one set of views on all residents of a given state. These restrictions also disproportionately impact marginalized communities, including communities of color, young people, and those in rural and underserved areas. 

Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, former interim president of Interfaith Alliance and current senior advisor to the organization, emphasized the impact of a post-Roe world on religious freedom in a statement to the House Judiciary Committee in July 2022. She said, “The First Amendment does not simply protect the right to free exercise, but simultaneously guarantees that the government will not establish an official religion or favor religion over non-religion. We rely on policymakers to enact laws consistent with these fundamental dictates, rooted in our rich but imperfect history, and we count on judges to strike down laws that violate these principles. Our democratic tradition recognizes the harms of legislating based on an individual or group’s religious convictions. But this [is now] the reality for millions of pregnant people living in states where lawmakers impose their own views on abortion upon their constituents, whether they share those beliefs or not.” 

Contrasting decisions in Idaho and South Carolina illustrate the varied landscape of protections in a post-Roe world. No matter where we live or what we believe, all of us deserve the freedom to make our own decisions about our reproductive futures. For nearly three decades, Interfaith Alliance has led the fight for an inclusive vision of religious freedom that protects people of all faiths and none. Our commitment to this basic right demands that we fight back against threats to religious freedom, no matter the circumstances and with a collective voice.

Learn more about our work to achieve reproductive freedom for all here.