While surveys show Americans remain more in favor of access to abortion than opposed to it, the importance of religion in people’s lives often shapes their views on the topic, experts say.

So when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, many with strong religious beliefs – particularly Christian conservatives – applauded the ruling.

“I really believe in the mission of making abortion unthinkable in our lifetimes,” said Cristina Flores, 19, of the anti-abortion group Students for Life at UTEP. “When abortion happens, it is the killing of a human life.”

Part of Students for Life of America, which has been around since 2006, the University of Texas at El Paso group was founded in 2019 and has about 20 members, said Flores, a sophomore who is studying creative writing and linguistics.

“We believe in the value of all human life from conception to natural death,” added Flores, who was homeschooled and grew up in a Christian household.

One-third of Americans (33%) say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts research on religion, culture and public policy. That figure includes 25% who say it should be illegal in most cases and 8% who say it should be illegal in all cases. 

Released on July 7,  the survey was conducted over two days following the court overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey – the landmark ruling that protected abortion rights for nearly half a century.

Religious influence

But how much does religion influence our views on abortion?

Just under one-third of Americans, or 31%, agree that their religious faith dictates their views on abortion, while 66% disagree, according to the research institute’s survey.

The survey also shows that 65% of those who say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases agree that their religion dictates this view – compared to only 14% of those who say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, the survey shows.

How one views the importance of religion in their lives also matters in shaping their beliefs: 76% of those who say religion is the most important thing in their life agree that their faith dictates their views on abortion, the survey shows.

“The correlation between religious views and abortion is most strongly seen among white evangelical Christians,” El Paso religious studies scholar Ann B. Horak said. “Their views on abortion often align with their more traditional views on women and the family.”

A professor who serves on several community boards, Horak said she has countless conversations with students and women in the organizations in which she volunteers.

“From my experience, many younger Catholics and many women in general within the Catholic church may have their own personal antipathy to abortion, but they are hesitant to say that their religious beliefs should influence civil law,” she said.

In the border region, Horak said, many Catholics are familiar with the struggles women face and the lack of support they often receive. That, she said, “makes them more understanding about the choices women sometimes make.”

But that is not always the case.

Many stand steadfast behind religious teachings on the sanctity of human life and adamantly believe that life begins prior to birth – without exception.

Asked whether she believes anti-abortion laws should allow for exemptions, such as pregnancies that came about through a rape, Flores of UTEP’s Students for Life group, gave an unwavering “no.”

“Abortion is not going to un-rape a woman,” she said. “Abortion won’t solve the problem.”

Asked the same question, Mario and Lucy, a devout Christian couple in their 60s who asked their last name not be used for this story, said they might make one exception: when a pregnant child is involved.

“In the case of the 10-year-old who was raped, for example, I think I could put my religious teachings aside for that,” said Lucy, referring to a girl from Ohio who was raped and had to cross state lines to Indiana for an abortion.

The case gained national attention after President Joe Biden referenced it in a speech about abortion bans following the Roe v. Wade ruling. A 27-year-old Ohio man allegedly confessed and was arrested and charged with felony rape of a minor under 13.

“In most other cases, especially where adults are involved,” Lucy said, “it’s wrong and it goes against God.”

Texas’ ban on abortion makes no exceptions for rape or incest, though it does make exceptions when abortion could save the pregnant person’s life or prevent substantial impairment of major bodily function.

Mario said he would prefer there be more effort put into revamping and improving the adoption process so more children could be placed into loving homes and that more resources be put into providing health care, nutrition and education for the poor.

“We can’t just say we’re pro-life and not support babies and their families,” he said. “It’s our duty and our calling by the church and by God.”

Religious affiliation also plays a major role, the survey shows: Nearly three in four white evangelical Protestants (73%) say their religious faith dictates their views on abortion.

That compares to 33% of Black Protestants; 33% of white Catholics; 32% of Hispanic Catholics; 26% of white mainline Protestants; and 20% of non-Christian religious Americans.

El Paso Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz. (Courtesy of El Paso Catholic Diocese)

Religious leaders’ influence

How much of that religious influence comes from religious leaders themselves?

Less than one in five Americans (16%) say they look to religious leaders for guidance on how to think about abortion, the institute’s study shows.

But those who say religion is the most important thing in their life (46%) are most likely to agree that they look to religious leaders.

El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz said all life is sacred and only God can decide who lives and who dies.

“For this reason, the Catholic community has always been pro-life. Against the death penalty. Against war. Against abortion. For families. For women. For humanity,” Seitz said in a statement following the Roe v. Wade ruling.

About 80% of El Pasoans are Catholic, according to the Diocese.

Seitz said the ruling was a relief for many, and that abortion is never the solution.

Stating he understood the Supreme Court decision comes as a shock to many, Seitz said everyone “must work like never before to ensure that women are supported, promoted at all levels of society, empowered to welcome the gift of life, and never targeted or criminalized.”

He said further that the church must continue working to ensuring that “families are supported with living wages, access to affordable healthcare, educational and work opportunities, pathways to citizenship for those who are undocumented.”

Gloria Sanchez, who was raised Catholic but doesn’t consider herself particularly religious, says she doesn’t attribute her anti-abortion views to her religion or the influence of religious leaders.

She, like others who have a more secular approach, calls her view a human rights issue.

“Outside of whatever religion says, I just can’t comprehend it. It just breaks my heart,” said Sanchez, a stay-at-home mother of two young daughters, ages 4 and 6. “I can’t look into my daughters’ eyes and explain to them why an abortion is okay – because it’s not.”

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...