Rev. Vanessa Myers-Dudley is an ordained minister in the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ and lives in Chillicothe. A member of the Ohio Clergy for Choice network, Rev. Myers-Dudley is a strong supporter of reproductive health, rights, and justice. Read her exclusive interview, conducted by Ohio RCRC Faith Organizer Rev. Terry Williams.
As a person of faith, why do you support reproductive choice in Ohio?
My faith tradition places value in both ethical living and in an appreciation of the natural world through science. I have a bachelor’s degree in meteorology and a master’s in physical geography, so science is very important to me — specifically the scientific method and scientific thinking. I trust scientists, doctors, and nurses who have been well trained in doing applied research in their fields, and their voice is clear about abortion: It’s health care.
As a person who values science, I know that a fetus is not viable until a certain point in development (24 to 28 weeks). As much as we would like to put a specific time on that, it’s not really possible to rigidly categorize natural observables that carry so much variation; that’s just not how the world works. Creation is so much more complex than a checklist of stages and steps.
As a person of faith, I believe everyone is created in God’s image. Everyone has rights, and the people best suited to exercise rights in relation to pregnancy are the people who are carrying that pregnancy. The current legislation being passed in Ohio — the abortion bans and the regulation measures coming through the Ohio legislature — strip rights away from pregnant persons, and my faith doesn’t support that kind of manipulation and controlling influence.
How does your faith tradition and spirituality inform your views on abortion?
As a member of the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ, my faith tradition does not take the Bible literally; rather, we take the Bible seriously. We see the Bible as truth when it is taken in whole, so any individual scripture you quote at me is not going to sway my entire system of theological belief because my tradition has grown out of a holistic system of biblical theology.
Growing up in a tradition of social justice, I realize that the injustice inherent in our society has created second-class citizens in our country, both socioeconomically and racially. Abortions will be done whether legal or illegal and if they aren’t legal and safe, lots of people will die. Particularly those who are poor and disenfranchised, and people who don’t have the money for abortions, will be the ones who suffer most. That disparate impact is unjust. It’s simply not right that wealthy people should experience different health outcomes than non-wealthy people do.
My faith says controlling poor people isn’t righteous, and that if your religion does harm to others it’s not real religion. Christ was constantly fighting against the social powers of his time, not so that he could be in control of others, but rather to bring liberation to all people. That’s my theology: liberation and empowerment.
Any time you’re using religion to control people, you’re abusing religion. If religion is the only thing you can use to justify what you’re doing, then what you’re doing itself is ignoring facts and science and seeking your own way of doing things.
What can people who value faith and spirituality do to support reproductive health, rights, and justice?
Call your state representatives, work with Ohio RCRC, try to have actual discussions with your neighbors, and don’t let dialogue devolve into yelling matches with those who struggle with issues of reproductive choice. As a minister, one of the most effective ways I have found to impact this struggle for reproductive rights is to encourage directly impacted people to share their stories and to build solidarity among impacted persons by building relationships in local communities. We’re all in this together!
What other ways are you engaging reproductive health advocacy, education, and justice?
I signed on to the Clergy for Choice letter through Ohio RCRC and promoted the statement through social media. While putting your name on a letter and throwing it up on Facebook might not sound like a lot, publicly stating support for reproductive choice is a huge and necessary way to help break the stigma associated with this work.
Additionally, I stay updated with pending legislation in my state, and I make a conscious effort to be well-read on issues concerning reproductive health, rights, and justice. Staying informed so that you can spread good, reliable information to others is a ministry of its own.
What resources do you find most helpful in this work? What additional resources do you wish you had?
I use NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and the Planned Parenthood family of organizations to stay up to date on pending legislation and local rights concerns. I also keep an eye on what professionally accredited organizations like the American Medical Association, physicians’ groups, and nurses’ unions are saying about issues of the day. Peer reviewed science and the advice of professional science and medicine personnel really is the gold standard for information for me.
In terms of resources I’d like to see, I think general fact sheets on legislation are always helpful, and suggestions for letters to the editor would also be nice to have. I’d love to see an Action Tool Kit for clergy and laity who are looking to get locally involved in things like clinic support and spiritual care for people seeking abortion care services.
What do you wish more people understood about the intersection between religion and reproductive health?
I wish people understood what a holistic Christian doctrine of Imago Dei really means — that all people at all stages of life are important in their development, and that failing to care for the people right in front of us is a tragic failing for our society.
When all of the people who are supposedly “pro-life” aren’t supporting life after birth — aren’t supporting children’s health insurance, aren’t supporting SNAP and TANF benefits to needy families, aren’t supporting a living wage or worker’s rights — they aren’t really pro-life. Pro-life to me means supporting people first in their freedom to make choices about their lives, and that includes when and how to grow their family.
We have no way to know what life will truly be like for parents and children in situations of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Only those individuals — who are Imago Dei, made in the image of God — can decide how to shape their own futures.
I wish more people could understand that people making these personal decisions about abortion are not making them on a whim or from a selfish perspective. These pregnant people understand very well their life circumstances and capacity to engage parenthood. People who have abortions understand that there can be emotional consequences to having an abortion just like there can be emotional consequences to having a pregnancy or carrying a pregnancy to term.
Can we please treat the pregnant person as human too? Anti-abortion activists are often so concerned about the fetus and they aren’t concerned about the pregnant person’s rights and humanity, too. The fact that some of these abortion laws are willing to put women to death tells me all I need to know about how disingenuous these bills are — they are about controlling women, not about protecting life.