Rev. Whitney Prose Bruno is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and lives in Columbus with her husband and daughter. A member of the Ohio Clergy for Choice network, Rev. Bruno is a strong advocate for access to abortion healthcare thanks in part to her personal experience as a pregnant person and as a mother. Read her exclusive interview, conducted by Ohio RCRC Faith Organizer Rev. Terry Williams.
Could you share a bit about your personal journey as it relates to reproductive health, rights, and justice?
My personal story is both messy and holy; It’s birth and death and life and the necessity of abortion all rolled into one.
At 38 weeks, my daughter Persephone ripped out of my uterus. She died on the way to the hospital and could not be revived.
I bled out and was revived with 40 days in the hospital: surgery to remove Persephone, surgery to install stints in my veins that she crushed, and surgery to re-inflate my lung.
My liver had been shoved into my shoulder blades. I needed regular blood transfusions. I still have physical therapy to walk, I still received transfusions, and I have a 'window' in my uterus. Due to all of this, my menses is extremely sporadic and unpredictable.
If I get pregnant again, I will very likely die without an abortion.
I use protection with my husband but, because of all the blood clots I'm still being treated for, I cannot use any hormonal contraception. Although a low chance, I could still get pregnant. I would not know for 10 weeks or so due to the sporadic timing of my menses.
The harder it is for me to access abortion — the more hoops to jump and doctors to convince — the more likely my remaining daughter will lose her mother to a potential sibling who also will die with me.
If I could say one thing to legislators and advocates, it would be this: I already fight to control my body every single day of my life; please don't add more worries to this mother’s heart.
As a person of faith, why do you support reproductive choice in Ohio?
News flash: faith communities are made of humans. And humans have sex. As a person of faith, I approach sex from a faith perspective. This faith perspective leads me to support reproductive choice.
No two people are alike, and no two pregnancies are alike. We are all created in diversity and experience a diversity of life. Therefore, no cookie cutter laws and restrictions work for people. To hate evil, love good, and do justice — to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves — is to understand people need choices. Need free will. Need to be able to pick what is best for them, their families, and their futures for their unique situation.
This is what "pro-choice" means. Not "pro-death" or "pro-abortion." It means the ability to choose. Ability to choose is based on access, education, support networks, and people like me and others: faithful folk who will sit in that messy choice and love you through it.
Because... news flash... I'll have a messy choice some day, and I'll need someone sitting and praying and helping me think through my choices. (Whether that be abortion related or not.)
Life IS sacred. And the sacredness of life doesn't end at birth. Pro-choice means a holistic look at the big picture and how to bring forth the most love in the lives present in the situation — potential lives included.
How does your faith tradition and spirituality inform your views on abortion?
I first ran into the pro-life groups in college. They handed out little baby erasers and told everyone these were what were being aborted. This was led by a Christian group and confused me. I mean, first off, the message was “erase this tiny baby!” and the second message was I had no idea why a Christian group was so up in arms over abortion. So I got curious, which means I got an obsession that's 15 years running.
I delved into writings from many faith traditions and the holy text of them. It was an academic curiosity for quite some time. When I unexpectedly had my own issues, it turned into a theodicy obsession and opened the doors to truly understanding the pastoral need of us. Of humanity.
Abortions have always happened and will continue to happen. How do we make them safe? How do we do mothers and fathers and potential children justice? How do we care for these people before and during and after their abortion or miscarriage or unhealthy birth or...?
I could go on a very long time, but in a nutshell, I believe God made all of us, and made us Very Good. Very Good includes sexuality. For me, abortion is never an easy choice, and sometimes it is the best choice out of a series of bad options. People who have known it shouldn't be ashamed and feel they are evil, or unwelcome in faith groups. To do justice, something we are called to do as the people of God; and to love one another — we must make abortion safe, accessible to all classes and races, and be pro-life: for the life of mother, father, already living children, and the potential child. Sometimes, putting all lives together, abortion is the most loving thing to do.
What can people who value faith and spirituality do to support reproductive health, rights, and justice?
Speak. We need to break the taboo about reproduction. I've yet to meet a person who lacks all genitalia like a Barbie doll. Yet, that kind of artificial aversion invades our sacred spaces and faith. This means part of our bodies — bodies God made very good — are too unclean and "unmentionable." Unmentionable are shameful. Shameful are evil. Pretty soon, normal things God gave us like sexuality, menses, fertility have become so taboo and evil that we hate part of ourselves.
Speak. When I lost my daughter at birth and shared publicly, I learned a good portion of the men and women in my congregation have had stillbirths, abortions, or infertility. In quiet silence they have suffered, ashamed. Some of these hurts are 70 years old, but still fresh enough to bring tears to winkled, clouded eyes.
Speak. Paul says, "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ." This 'Law of Christ' is to love God and love one another. We cannot bear one another's burdens when we have burdens too taboo to ever share.
Speak. We rejoice with one another when a baby is born. Why not also cry with one another when pregnancies are lost? When hard decisions are made? When parenthood isn't happy ever after? Because it's a taboo topic.
Speak. We often lack the language to even do this because for so long we have repressed and hidden the "lesser body parts." I know a woman who was raised knowing little boys have monkeys in their pants and girls have kitties. Going to the zoo was a horrific prospect for her at age 10. Another woman told me she didn't know how she got pregnant. And she truly didn't know. She thought weddings caused pregnancies.
Language, education, the ability to speak is important. In 4-H, my advisers stressed we needed to know the proper name for every part of our animals so that we could thoroughly care for them. I was told to call the vet and name the very specific muscle my goat tore. But as far as myself? "My privates" are way too undefined to be useful for health.
What other ways are you engaging reproductive health advocacy, education, and justice?
Speaking. I'm not hiding my story, and using it as an example of why reproductive health is not a clear case of "Pro-Life" versus "Pro-Choice." To my knowledge, not a single person has had an abortion because they wished to be pro-death. The choice was made with a laborious amount of agony. Speaking about these stories and removing the labels lets us see one another as children of God in a messy world. And let us love one another and seek common ground.
I read a ton. I write to lawmakers. I offer childcare to people going to protests. Because of my daughter and health, I often can't make protests. But I'll watch your kids so you can go.
I recently heard about abortion doulas who give pastoral care through and after abortions. This is something I'd like to learn a lot more about.
What resources do you find most helpful in this work? What additional resources do you wish you had?
The book "Amazing You" is great for kids and adults alike. Reading it out loud has adults practice saying words they may be too ashamed to say normally. It's educational for all ages too. It is very basic sex ed with drawn pictures of penises and vulvas. It glosses over actual intercourse, so something else is needed for preteens. I'm still seeking.
I'd like to become certified in the Our Whole Lives program that the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists wrote. It is morals-based sex education for all ages.
We need a way to recognize reproduction in its glory and its sorrow in our sacred spaces. It's something I've been passionately researching and working with for years. In Japan, the Bodhisattva — which is kind of like a Christian saint — named Jizo is said to watch over water babies. Water babies are children who are lost before or shortly after birth. They almost fully exited the primordial waters of creation, but never fully did. Jizo statues are set up with bibs and toys and names of the water babies, for the parents and their support networks to recognize the life who almost stepped on this earth. It is not a shame moment, but a recognition time. Abortions and miscarriages and SIDs babies — all are given Jizo.
The Catholic church has a version of this with Saint Joseph. But I've found nothing among any other faith traditions. God willing, some day I'll put a book of these together, including a Protestant version. In the meantime, I tell people to look up Jizo.
What do you wish more people understood about the intersection between religion and reproductive health?
I wish more people understood that sexuality doesn't end at the church door. Inside our sacred spaces, and outside in our God-made sacred bodies, we are sexual creatures. Our genders, sexes, and sexualities are given to us from God and are part of what make us Very Good.
God could have easily created genderless, sexless humans. Just as God could have chosen to make one kind of flower alone. But God loves diversity. Many kinds of flowers. God made a world that is set up to become ever more diverse through evolution. God chose this. I wish we all could rejoice in God's gloriously diverse creation.
I wish more people knew that Planned Parenthood was began by pastors and rabbis. Clergy in New York got together specifically to help people because reproductive health had been given so many layers of regulations. The more layers, the more money a person needs to get the right paperwork, the right doctor, the right lawyer to have access to birth control, condoms, abortions, or even just yearly exams. These clergy saw that the poor, women, and people of color were greatly disadvantaged by the rules. For the love of God, they got together to do justice. Amos has God's words telling us to forget about our fancy words and beautiful services. God HATES them when they are not expressions of our worship of God known through justice or through love of one another. These clergy listened. And worshiped God by doing justice.