LDS Church, Catholics, other Utah faith leaders react to Roe v. Wade being overturned

State’s predominant religion says its position “remains unchanged” after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision on abortion rights.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints office building on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Utah-based faith said its position is unchanged following Friday's decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and its abortion protections for women.

Faith leaders in Utah had mixed reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday ending the constitutional right to an abortion:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reiterated its stance on abortion, saying its position “remains unchanged” in light of the high court’s ruling.

Utah’s predominant faith opposes elective abortion for personal or social reasons, and discourages members from performing, encouraging, arranging or paying for such procedures. According to the church’s General Handbook and topic entry, it allows for exceptions for its members in cases of rape or incest, when the mother’s life or health is in jeopardy, or when the fetus has serious defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.

“As states work to enact laws related to abortion,” its updated topic page explains, “church members may appropriately choose to participate in efforts to protect life and to preserve religious liberty.”

Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris, however, denounced the ruling as “another overreaching” decision by “a far-right Supreme Court that has regularly undermined democratic safeguards.”

The statement acknowledged that, while Latter-day Saints hold “a diversity of personal and public policy views” around abortion, official church policy allows for terminating a pregnancy in some instances. Because of this, the current ruling threatens Latter-day Saint religious liberty on the matter, the statement argues, prioritizing an “extreme agenda over the well-being and personal conscience of Latter-day Saints and our neighbors.”

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said it was grateful for the court’s decision but that it also recognizes the role communities play in offering support to women in need before, during and after pregnancy.

“Courts cannot ensure that women have the support and resources needed to raise healthy children,” the diocese said. “We encourage all communities of faith, neighbors, friends, and family to be ready and willing to walk with moms as they seek to provide lives of dignity for their children.”

Imam Shuaib Din of the Utah Islamic Center said Friday he had not seen the news about the court ruling but noted his religion is clear that abortion is not allowed except in extreme cases such as rape, incest or threats to the mother’s health.

“The pendulum swings in this country, as we know,” he said. “It swings one way or the other. So we need to find a balance, a happy medium. Finding a happy medium is not always easy, especially in the case of abortion. So it’s up to the society as a whole to find that happy medium and not make this a more (divisive) issue than it has to be.”

The imam said premarital sex and teenage pregnancy are driving factors in a majority of abortion cases, and that Islam “nips the problem in the bud” by teaching abstinence. He said Utahns should focus on having healthy and strong families.

“If our moral compass is pointing in the right direction,” he said, “then this would not have been a big concern to begin with.”

Rabbi Samuel Spector of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami said he understands those who are celebrating and those who are saddened by the court’s decision.

“I encourage people to look for the humanity in one another,” he said, “and to try and listen to each other’s stories and to be loving to each other during this time.”

The leader of the state’s largest synagogue encouraged Utahns who fear a lack of abortion access in the Beehive State to advocate for their beliefs, tell their stories and “know that you have people out there who see holiness and beauty in you and your views.”

Judaism does not necessarily have a set position on abortion.

“In my religion,” he said, “this is not really an issue where it’s black and white, but rather where we have to look at the specific case.”

Abortion is not to be used as a form of birth control in Judaism but is permitted under circumstances such as rape, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when a pregnancy would cause severe hardship.

Under Jewish law, Spector said, life begins at birth, not conception.

The rabbi said he fears when states begin to restrict abortion, affluent women will be able to go to another state for an abortion, while less-moneyed women won’t.

“And that’s going to create not only further economic divide in our country,” he said, “but also it’s going to create a situation then where women of lower socioeconomic status, and particularly women of color, do illegal abortions that can really put their lives in danger.”

The Rev. AJ Bush, pastor at First United Methodist Church in downtown Salt Lake City, said she was “heartbroken” over the Supreme Court’s ruling, which she said stands at odds with the faith’s teachings that a pregnant woman “deserves an abundant life” and “the ability to choose.”

”The people I have worked with, it has never been an easy or light decision,” she said, reflecting on her own experience counseling those considering an abortion. “But it’s one that they have taken seriously and discerned what is best for them.”

Bishop Scott Hayashi, outgoing head of the Utah Episcopal Diocese, said in a statement that while he is not a strong supporter of abortion, he believes women should get to choose what is best for their bodies, adding that he supports sex education and easy access to birth control.

“I believe that there has been more concern for the unborn,” he said, “and far less for the mother and the baby once he or she has been born.”