By Rev. Laura Young, Executive Director, Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
“I hope you like this life because you’re not going to like the next one.” No, this man wasn’t talking about reincarnation, he was telling me I was going to “hell,” after he asked me when I was going to stop “murdering babies.” This past-middle-aged white guy was barking at me from the sidewalk in front of Preterm women’s health clinic, which performs abortions, on a bitter cold morning in East Cleveland.
The general rule at clinics is not to engage with protesters, but my impulsive side won that day; I calmly said, “Why don’t you just love God and your neighbor?” Wouldn’t it be nice if we all worked on that a little more? At a minimum, people should not be out chastising, yelling, and judging in the name of religion (or otherwise); harassing women and others entering clinics is antithetical to loving your neighbor. Love and compassion are key religious values. Jesus, for one, did not shame women. There should be no place in religion for shame and judgment; however, shaming and judging women who have abortions, and those who perform them, is a common practice of religious people.
Many assume that all people of faith are anti-abortion/anti-choice. However, the vast majority of Christians and the majority of U.S.-Americans is in favor of keeping abortion safe and legal whether they would choose themselves to have an abortion or not. Many people are “pro-faith, pro-family, and pro-choice,” as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice slogan goes.
It is a surprise to many that there exists an organization promoting ‘pro-choice’ religious views. Through education, advocacy, and counseling, the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice seeks to raise the voices of the faith community to ensure that all people can access the reproductive health care they need.
There are assaults on reproductive freedom in Ohio with bill after bill restricting abortion passed by our lawmakers. Right now, our governor has signed a bill into law that will defund Planned Parenthood, and we are fighting bills that would ban abortion for the sole purpose of terminating a pregnancy due to a Down Syndrome diagnosis, ban abortion at 20 weeks, require a woman who terminates a pregnancy to choose burial or cremation for the “fetal remains”/products of conception, including a death certificate, and ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (so-called Heartbeat Bill), which is usually around six weeks.
Years ago I heard about a couple at my former church who found out that our denomination (United Methodist) was “officially pro-choice” and they promptly left the church, presumably for one that was not. Yet, many mainstream denominations are on the record as holding an official pro-choice stance; we just keep it kind-of secret, which has not been responsible.
The church law in many Mainline and other religious denominations states that abortion should be safe, legal, and accessible. Members of the RCRC include the Episcopal, United Methodist (UM Women and Gen. Board of Church & Society), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, Catholics for Choice, and Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism. The full list of members may be found here.
Based on how the “Religious Right” has hijacked the abortion conversation, many might assume that the Bible would be full of scripture condemning abortion. However, the Bible can be viewed quite clearly as pro-choice. In the book of Numbers (the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament/Torah), there is a story that is essentially “abortion on demand.” Number 5:11-31 tells the story of “the unfaithful wife” or “the jealous husband.” The husband, in that story, can take his wife to the priest if he thinks she’s been unfaithful. She can be given a bitter drink that will cause the contents of her womb to expel. The theory is that if she has been unfaithful, the fetus will abort. So, not only was abortion accepted in this story, it was carried out by the religious leader at the request of the husband. A terrible practice, but one that shows abortion was not outlawed in ancient Judaism, or today.
Other Hebrew scripture (Old Testament) is commonly interpreted to mean that life begins at first breath (Gen. 2:7), and that a woman’s life is valued more highly than her fetus. If someone does harm to a woman, the price is a life for a life. If someone causes a woman’s fetus to die, he is to pay the husband a fine (Exodus 21:22-25). These are horribly patriarchal laws but they do add up to a woman being of greater value than a fetus. Today, it seems the anti-abortion movement values the fetus more than the woman or the fetus, once born. Otherwise, policies to support women and families would be much stronger, e.g., infant mortality reduction, paid parental leave, more affordable health care and pre-natal care, etc.
So, for those concerned with Hebrew and Christian scriptural references, we can feel confident arguing for a theological position that supports a woman’s reproductive choice. (RCRC is an interfaith group, and seeks to expand involvement of those beyond the Christian and Jewish traditions, but the involvement of most members at this time is from those communities.)
Our faith demands that we work toward a compassionate society in which children are born wanted and loved, and welcomed into a safe community that provides for their needs. To do this is to love God and our neighbor in a very tangible way. At Ohio RCRC, we are working hard to preserve and protect rights and moral dignity of all who are making decisions about reproductive health and suffering reproductive loss. We recognize a woman’s moral decision-making abilities and we respect all life, including that of a woman and her family. Together, we are working to bring about a just society in whichall people are cared for and loved.