I am pro-choice, not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith. My faith leads me to care for my neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. Religious freedom allows me to practice my faith in ways that are meaningful to me but does not allow me to force my beliefs on someone else (that would be oppression).
If I’m being honest, a lot of my choices are based on the privilege that I experience and not my faith.
For me, abortions will always be accessible, even if/when they are illegal. I am a white woman who can access the health care I need. If for some reason I found myself needing an abortion, I would be able to use paid sick days, travel (if needed), and pay for any medication or procedure my insurance doesn’t completely cover. On top of that, I have a support system of family and friends, many of whom I could openly discuss personal issues. To say it simply, this is not my problem. I could easily opt out of the conversation around abortion because of my privileges. But, my faith leads me to care for other people, especially those who have been marginalized and oppressed by the system that affords me a position of privilege. Codifying Roe v. Wade into law, or at the very least, not overturning it, will help people maintain dignity in personal matters related to reproductive health and human rights regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and all of the other markers used to segregate and oppress neighbors. So, if I say my faith is based on love for neighbors, I have to set aside (or use) my privilege to help others.
When I vote, donate, or volunteer, I consider how my actions will impact the lives of those I am called to love. If I show a bias, I believe that bias should be toward those experiencing poverty and hardship. I am pro-choice because I love my neighbors.
If you are interested in what my denomination has to offer to the discussion this next section is for you. If not, scroll down to below the first picture to the section on action and prayer, and I’ll tell you a little about what I’m doing.
According to the Presbyterian Mission Agency website, “Presbyterians have struggled with the issue of abortion for more than 30 years, beginning in 1970 when the General Assembly, the national governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), declared that, “The artificial or induced termination of a pregnancy is a matter of careful ethical decision of the patient . . . and therefore should not be restricted by law . . .” (Minutes of the 182nd General Assembly (1970), United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., p. 89)” Abortion/Reproductive Choice Issues Presbyterian (U.S.A.) Mission Agency
In 1992 the highest governing body of the PC(U.S.A.) met and of the many topics they gathered around were abortion and reproductive rights. This is my favorite quote from the 204th General Assembly which took place in 1992: “The Christian community must be concerned about and address the circumstances that bring a woman to consider abortion as the best available option. Poverty, unjust societal realities, sexism, racism, and inadequate supportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely.” (Minutes of the 204th General Assembly (1992), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), pp. 367-368, 372-374)
In 2012, the 220th General Assembly put out a resolution on reproductive health affirming the 1970 and 1992 statements and adding an up-dated rationale. You should read the entire document for yourself, but I will try to summarize the main points. Presbyterians understand that deciding what to do about an unplanned pregnancy is difficult and should be decided by individuals and not legislated by government. Those seeking and those providing abortions should not be criminalized. No laws should be enacted that Defund or criminalize family planning services. Instead, we should advocate for access to education and health care for everyone. We believe that education, health care, and of course, love and support will actually reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies. Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.
“Religious Freedom Without Discrimination” was approved by the 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the PCUSA, this section feels particularly important: “Presbyterians have historically valued religious liberty and continue to support the freedom to act according to one’s religious beliefs. However, in cases involving the refusal of goods and services, false claims of “religious freedom” cause direct harm to those who are denied access. Legislating such claims as cases of protected religious freedom would undermine years of progress in state and federal civil rights and anti-discrimination law. The key distinction lies in whose choice is being limited or protected. Personally choosing not to have an abortion or use birth control, for example, is religious freedom. Making that choice for someone else, on the basis of one’s own religious principles, is religious oppression—as is done when an insurance company denies health care coverage for birth control or a doctor refuses to prescribe contraceptives. Using one’s own idea of “religious freedom” to limit the lawful choices of others through your own economic leverage creates a dense pattern of religiously sanctioned discrimination.” The document also contains specific examples of Reproductive Health Care and LGBTQ rights that are challenged under the banner of religious freedom but are actually forms of religious oppression.
In May 2019 the stated clerk put out this response to Alabama’s antiabortion legislation. This document quotes a section of the Roe v. Wade decision to show that it “not a blanket endorsement of abortion as is sometimes implied by opponents.” The document concluded by centering the women and doctors at the heart of abortion decisions.
I appreciate the way my denomination has talked about abortion issues and I will be looking to see if there is a PCUSA response to what’s happening with the SCOTUS.
Action and Prayer
I want to make a difference where I can, which is in small things: my work with Days for Girls, checking in with other clergy, attending demonstrations when I can, contacting my local representatives, praying, and writing in this blog.
I’m looking into ways that my particular position as a clergy person can be useful. I’ve been looking at the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board and their work to see what other clergy are doing. And I regularly check in with my clergy friends so we can share our collective experiences and wisdom.
I’m in the habit of attending demonstrations in my collar. My hope is that my presence as a clergy person is helpful. Spirituality and social justice are connected for me, and I would love nothing more than to meaningfully engage in conversations about that. It seems to me that some of the dialogue around social justice issues assume that the ‘church’ is either harmful or negligently uninvolved. I realize that not everyone wants to engage in deep theological discussions in public places (or at all) so I remind myself that simply being present as a clergy person is enough. At the most recent demonstration, a person who knew me from volunteering with DfG Pittsburgh as a college student (they’ve graduated but still live and work in the area) saw me in the crowd and took a moment to reconnect. So maybe there is something to this ministry of presence with people with periods. This connection gave me a little hope, hope that none of us are alone. I think that’s mostly why I attend these events, to feel that I’m not alone and that there are many people working for causes I care about so I don’t have to do everything. I can show up and support and do what I can when I can. And I’m there to remind others that they are not alone either and that we are in this together.
I try to keep up with trusted sources like Dr. Jen Gunter on her Vagenda. These two articles have been helpful for me recently: Your Medical Team cannot tell if you have had a self managed abortion and Stop talking about coat hangers and start talking about misoprostol
Most of my “hands on” work is with the Pittsburgh Chapter (and collection point) of Days for Girls. Days for Girls International does not take political sides in hot button issues like abortion, but I believe the work DfGI does in education around menstrual health and providing menstrual management is a vital step in giving people with periods dignity, control over their own bodies, access to education and employment. Menstrual health education is the basis from which women and girls will make other choices for their health and wellness. Providing this education and resources is a place where nearly all of us can agree and work together for the benefit of all people with periods. If you are looking to donate to support people with periods, I suggest making a monetary donation to The Pittsburgh Chapter or to Days for Girls International or purchasing needed materials from the Pittsburgh Chapter’s amazon wish list. Wish list items can be shipped directly to Third Church.
Here’s the thing about prayer…. sometimes, I worry about issues like this and call it prayer and sometimes I think a quick prayer and call it good enough, and in my best prayers, I am still until I am aware of God’s presence and I give my worry to her and let her hold it for me. She reminds me that I am not alone and that nothing can separate me from the love of God.