These Christian women are fundamentally divided on abortion. But one common thread unites them

They spoke out in light of the Supreme Court's upcoming decision on Roe v. Wade.

June 16, 2022, 5:01 AM

Lila Rose became the face of the anti-abortion movement among millennials. Cherilyn Holloway founded Pro Black Pro Life, an anti-abortion group, after feeling pressured to have two abortions.

Revs. Jennifer Butler and Stephany Spaulding, meanwhile, turn to their Christian faith to guide their work for reproductive justice, in support of the right to abortion.

And as the nation braces for a Supreme Court decision that could impact Roe v. Wade, Christian women on either side of the abortion debate reflected on how their faith informs their views on abortion.

PHOTO: Anti-abortion protesters pray as they await decision announcements in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on May 16, 2022 in Washington. The Court issued decisions for Patel v. Garland and Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate.
Anti-abortion rotesters pray as they await decision announcements in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on May 16, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The Court issued decisions for two cases, Patel v. Garland and Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, FILE

"If you're in support of human rights, you should be in support of that first human right, which is life for all humans" both "born and unborn," Rose said.

"I'm an advocate for human dignity and justice," Butler said. "And that means everybody is created in the image of God and everyone has moral agency and should have access to choosing politicians and choosing health care decisions that impact their daily lives."

PHOTO: Lila Rose, President of Live Action
Lila Rose, President of Live Action
Live Action

The Supreme Court's 1973 decision on Roe v. Wade determined that a woman's right to have an abortion is protected under the Constitution as part of a right to privacy. Without that federal protection, the decision will be in the hands of the states.

At the heart of the debate over Roe are seemingly competing arguments for the rights of pregnant people and the rights of the unborn.

The women ABC News spoke with said their faith helps shape their principles, and while there are fundamental differences that divide them, they are also linked by a common concern: addressing the root causes of abortion.

Christian callings

Cherilyn Holloway, the founder of Pro Black Pro Life, said that during her youth she felt pressured to have two abortions amid fears over the consequences of pregnancy, including economic struggles and potential homelessness. She previously reflected on how her faith came into play in an interview with ABC News' Soul of a Nation in May 2021.

"I sat on my floor, and I wept," she said, describing her emotions after the second abortion.

"I was tired of being a subpar Christian, I was tired of saying I was a Christian and not acting like it," she added.

PHOTO: For Cherilyn Holloway, her support of Black Lives Matter has everything to do with her stance on abortion.
For Cherilyn Holloway, her support of Black Lives Matter has everything to do with her stance on abortion.
ABC

Holloway now travels around the country to have conversations with women about the state of Black motherhood and to educate the Black community on "how to be a community that values life at all stages."

“Building up a community in a culture that values lives means that we need to make abortion unnecessary,” she said.

According to Rose, the president of Live Action, an anti-abortion nonprofit, her advocacy against access to abortion is not just religious, but based on a "universal morality."

"You can fight for life, no matter your religious background," she said, "but being a Catholic – it's definitely crystal clear for any Catholic that life is precious."

PHOTO: Lila Rose, 25, of Arlington, left, and Kristan Hawkins, 28, of Manassas, are pictured on the U.S. Supreme Court steps in Washington, DC.
Lila Rose, 25, of Arlington, left, and Kristan Hawkins, 28, of Manassas, are pictured on the U.S. Supreme Court steps in Washington, DC.
Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE

Rose said she was raised in a Protestant home, but after learning about different religions in college and "wrestling with issues of faith," she converted to Catholicism.

Catholics initially spearheaded the anti-abortion movement in the U.S., but in the late 1970s the issue became a part of a growing political movement among white evangelicals led by Jerry Falwell, the late Baptist pastor and televangelist, according to Melani McAlister, a professor of American studies at George Washington University.

When evangelicals first began debating Roe, McAlister said, "they were not so clear, necessarily that the Bible didn't allow abortion."

But in the late 1970s, Falwell established the Moral Majority – a political action committee to advance a conservative agenda – and one of the issues they took on was the fight against abortion.

"This is where Catholics and evangelicals came together," McAlister said, adding that over the years, abortion has become an "identity issue" for white evangelicals.

For Rose, who believes in a nationwide ban on abortion, overturning Roe would be "a step in the right direction," she said, but not "full justice."

PHOTO: Anti-abortion activists participate in the 49th annual March for Life as they march past the U.S. Supreme Court, Jan. 21, 2022, in Washington, DC.
Anti-abortion activists participate in the 49th annual March for Life as they march past the U.S. Supreme Court, Jan. 21, 2022, in Washington, DC.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images, FILE

“Whether you're conceived in California or Texas, you, as a human being deserve the right to live,” she said.

As part of her activism, Rose has conducted controversial undercover investigations targeting the work of Planned Parenthood, the nation's top abortion provider.

White evangelicals are more likely than other Christian subgroups to say that their religious views influence their views on abortion, according to a May 2022 Pew Research Center survey examining American views on abortion.

According to the poll, the majority of white evangelicals believe abortion should be mostly illegal. Meanwhile, majorities of each of the other Christian subgroups surveyed support abortion in some or most cases, including Catholics. According to Pew, while people from other religious backgrounds were surveyed, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, the numbers of respondents with those backgrounds were too small to be reported separately.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the leaked majority opinion, argued in the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on Roe v. Wade that there's no explicit right to privacy, let alone the right to an abortion, in the Constitution. Without federal protections, the decision goes back to the states.

“As a pastor, as a mom, as a sister, I was horrified,” Butler said, reflecting on her reaction to the leak.

PHOTO: Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life.
Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life.
Gabriele Stonyte Photography

Revs. Butler and Spaulding are part of the reproductive justice movement, a framework that emerged in the 1990s led by Black female advocates that merges social justice and human rights. Advocates argue that access to reproductive care, including sex education, contraception and abortion services is central to self-actualization and personal bodily autonomy.

Reproductive justice advocates have called on Congress to pass federal protections for abortion access.

“I am angry because Congress has not yet codified Roe vs. Wade,” Spaulding said. “Women must have access to the best health care for their lives.”

PHOTO: Stephany Rose Spaulding, a Baptist pastor and a Democratic candidate for Illinois' first congressional district.
Stephany Rose Spaulding, a Baptist pastor and a Democratic candidate for Illinois' first congressional district.
Stephany Spaulding

Butler said that through her ministry as a pastor, she has accompanied women with unplanned pregnancies on their journeys to choosing either abortion or adoption, and these experiences solidified her belief in giving women the right to choose.

“What I realized just in being compassionate with them, just in listening to them and being supportive, was that they really had moral fiber to make the decisions that they needed to make in order to protect their lives and the lives of people around them,” she said.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion bans are certain to go into effect in more than a dozen states, and are likely to go into effect in more than a dozen more, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization.

Spaulding, a Baptist pastor and a Democratic candidate for Illinois' first congressional district, said that as a faith leader she approaches the issue of abortion with “compassion, empathy, and a thirst for justice for those who are the most vulnerable.”

“What our faith tradition calls us to are the three tenets [of] freewill, grace and love,” she said.

“In reproductive justice, those three pillars coalesce,” she said. “In our faith tradition, God grants us choice. In our faith tradition, God grants us grace. In our faith tradition, God looks at everything with radical transformative love.”

Finding common ground

Despite fundamental disagreements on abortion, the women shared concerns about economic inequalities, which may contribute to a woman's decision to get an abortion or limit access to reproductive care.

"One of the biggest reasons women need abortions is economic reasons," Butler said. "We need to put those protections in place."

PHOTO: Demonstrators walk on First Street during the annual 49th March for Life anti-abortion demonstration on Capitol Hill on Jan. 21, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Demonstrators walk on First Street during the annual 49th March for Life anti-abortion demonstration on Capitol Hill on Jan. 21, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images, FILE

Butler said that as an advocate for reproductive justice, she works with "a lot of pro-life leaders" who are also concerned about providing more support for pregnant women.

"They know what women need are all of these supports -- good jobs, supportive childcare, so that they can work if they need to, [and] access to contraception and the ability to plan their families," she said.

Rose said that providing resources, including parental support and job placement, for pregnant women is also part of the work of the anti-abortion movement.

"One of the responses of the movement is to have thousands of pro bono pregnancy resource centers that are helping young mothers, a lot of single mothers," she said.

Some crisis pregnancy centers have been criticized by abortion rights advocates because while appearing to support women, they seek to convince women not to terminate their pregnancies through deceptive tactics and medical misinformation.

PHOTO: People pray outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 5, 2022 in Washington, D.C. as protestors on both sides of the abortion debate continue to demonstrate following the leaked draft of the Court's potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
A person holds a cross during a prayer outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 5, 2022 in Washington, D.C. as protestors on both sides of the abortion debate continue to demonstrate following the leaked draft of the Court's potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Tom Brenner/Getty Images

For Holloway, "abortion is a Band-Aid to bigger issues," and this informs her advocacy work.

"We need better health care, specifically for Black women. We need better quality education. We need better quality jobs in an economic situation. We need better safety nets," she said.

For Spaulding, those same concerns define her work for reproductive justice.

"If we are going to do the work that actually supports and sustains life," she said, "we need sustainable housing. We need sustainable access to food justice. We need to make sure that maternal health care is free and available to all who need it, we need to make sure that paternal leave is available to all who need it."

Holloway said she doesn't want to "demonize" anyone's choices because her advocacy is not focused on opposing abortion but on addressing its root causes.

“We have to fight for parental leave, equity and health care, jobs, and economic stability for our community,” she said. “ This is where we should have been fighting all along.”

PHOTO: Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life.
Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life.
Gabriele Stonyte Photography

Amid difficult political discussions, Butler said her faith gives her "hope" and reaffirms her commitment to reaching out and working with faith leaders across the political aisle.

"Depriving people of access to this important element of health care called abortion is incredibly cynical. You know, we're just making impossible conditions for women and families," she said.

She said both sides of the abortion debate should come together to work on solutions to economic inequities, "so that we can all thrive."

ABC News' Alexandra Svokos contributed to this report.

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