‘Regulated by somebody else’s faith.’ Why some Utah religious groups oppose abortion restrictions.

Seven local religious communities came together to submit a brief in support of a lawsuit challenging Utah’s abortion trigger ban. Meanwhile, the Legislature further limited access.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters hold signs as members of Abortion Free Utah and other groups meet at the Capitol to celebrate the end of Roe v. Wade, on Saturday, July 2, 2022.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, policymaking around abortion has been left entirely to states. And during the 2023 session, the Utah Legislature took that decision and ran with it.

At least three bills the lawmakers passed could result in more restrictions on abortion, with some refining and expanding on a 2020 trigger law that is currently on hold as a challenge to it makes its way through Utah courts.

That blocked law would impose a near-ban on abortion, with limited exceptions for sexual assault, incest, for deadly fetal abnormalities and threats to the life of the mother.

Recently passed laws — which Gov. Spencer Cox has indicated he will sign — would add a number of restrictions to the abortion law, among the most impactful being a ban on abortion clinics, an 18-week cutoff for victims seeking an abortion and unprofessional conduct penalties for doctors who are found to violate the law.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Steve Edwards at Temple Har Shalom in Park City on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

As the courts consider whether Utah’s trigger ban is constitutional under the state constitution, several local religious communities wrote to the courts to explain how the law would violate their religious beliefs. A few leaders and members of those groups sat down with The Salt Lake Tribune to explain why.

Steve Edwards of Temple Har Shalom

“Basically, the people the Legislature legislates toward are very clear if you read the legislative proceedings. The very term unborn child assumes the Christian theological position — that the child becomes a human being at conception.”

“... So this is what’s going on. These legislators are enacting Christian theology. And if my daughter wants to get an abortion in those states, she can’t, even though she may be compelled or allowed by Jewish law to have one. I mean, this is basically intrusion of government into the most private decisions. It’s an affront.”

“... Christians often think the golden rule is enacted by them, but it’s kind of in every major religion. And the Jewish version of that is actually in the very center of the Torah. ... I would say to Mormons, if you believe in the golden rule, just think about how would you feel if somebody came to you and said, ‘Your most private, personal moral decisions are going to be regulated by somebody else’s faith.’ You would be up in arms and you would be completely irate. Why would you do that to anybody else?”

Bishop Phyllis Spiegel of the Episcopal Diocese

“(The Episcopal Church) statements that are made (in support of) abortion, but also we very strongly feel that our call is to serve the poor. That’s a piece for me that goes hand in hand, to say we support your decision, but we also recognize that we have work to do as a society because you’re not supported financially, educationally, even understanding how to get access to the resources that you should have — all those things. So the church wasn’t just talking about one thing, we were talking about it as a whole.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bishop Phyllis Spiegel at the Episcopal Diocesan Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

“... Even people within the Episcopal Church when this conversation needs to be had, the first thing they will say is, ‘I know it’s a sin,’ and we’re like, ‘Stop. That’s not the language we use, when have we ever used that language?’ But there’s such harsh self-judgment. And that’s the first thing that clergy have to overcome is to say, ‘Sit here, we’ll tend to your soul, but right now you need your doctor to tend to your body.’”

“... Working with the feelings and people that think they’ll never be forgiven for this choice, but they had no other choice that they could make — within me, there is a place of anger that rises up. Because the church has made people feel — I mean, church at large, not the Episcopal Church — has made people feel unforgivable. And that’s heartbreaking.”

Luna Banuri of the Muslim Civic League

“It’s kind of hard to say if I have all the opinions (of Muslims), right? I do talk to a lot of folks and I do believe that the consensus is that this is an issue which does not need to be legislated, or that does not need to be looked at as a punitive action if a woman wants to exercise her free will. And for us, it’s a very clear violation of the tenets of Islam.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Luna Banuri, the executive director of the Utah Muslim Civic League, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

“... Muslim women do not seek counsel of just one person. We are a community-based faith. A lot of it is our peers around us, and (a) support system will include family, friends, spiritual advisors and doctors. But the approach should always be with empathy and love, although because of the patriarchy that also exists, we’re not always sure what kind of advice (women) are receiving.

“So, that is exactly why the reversal of Roe v. Wade only furthers the patriarchy. And it affects us directly (to keep women from) getting accurate and empathetic care and advice, because your doctor is your caregiver, (and they) are aware of the laws that are around us. ... That is one of also the central reasons why we are opposed to this ban — women should be allowed to seek counsel and be able to make those decisions themselves.”