Progressive Clergy: Abortion is a Moral Health Care Choice
Much of the discussion about abortion and public policy in Washington this past year has been dominated by those who advocate for, or say that they have found, "common ground" on abortion. While this approach and its results have been in considerable dispute
, particularly as prochoice progressive religious voices have been largely marginalized during this period, I am pleased to report that prochoice religious progressives have found their collective voice and are seeking to get heard -- the Gatekeepers of the various Conventional Wisdoms be damned.
This is significant in part because, popular misconceptions aside, vast numbers of American religious individuals and major institutions are and have been prochoice for decades. Listed in the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as Moral Decision (below) are some of the major American religious insitutions that are officially prochoice as well as other data indicating the magnitude of religious prochoice sentiment. It is also significant, because too often, religious identity in general and Christian identity in particular, has been equated with antiabortionism, and allowed to be defined by the Religious Right. This is now, and has always been false; and allowing the Religious Right and antiabortionism to define the breadth and depth of the religious views on this and related matters has been an error of historic proportions.
I want to underscore my own efforts to raise this issue, as mainstream and progressive religion has been at or near the advocacy for reproducive justice for decades. I tried to underscore this in my book last year, Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America
, part of the mission of the book of 19 essays by 22 writers was to show that the Religious Left was not, contrary to the dictates of certain Democratic Party consultants and Beltway Insiders, not going to abandon reproductive justice, gay and lesbian civil rights -- including marriage equality -- and separation of church and state. These are core values, not periferal matters to be jettisoned whenever someone thinks it is politically convenient. In these, among other ways, we sought to show what an authentic Religious Left is like, as distinct from the faux religious left
that has been created to advance the centrist political agenda in Washington.
Meanwhile, Catholics for a Free Choice has just published a new poll that also casts the views of Catholics with regard to abortion and health care coverate in a startling new light:
According to a new poll of Catholic voters carried out by Belden Russonello and Stewart for Catholics for Choice, Catholics support both a public option in healthcare reform and a plan that would include funding for abortion. The results show that the views of Catholics have been seriously misrepresented by the US bishops and by conservative Catholics in the debate over healthcare reform. A large majority of those polled, 84 percent, attend church regularly, from several times a week to a few times a year.
While Catholic voters are split on President Obama's ideas for healthcare reform, they do want to see costs lowered and overwhelmingly support a government plan that would make health insurance available to the uninsured.
Large majorities of Catholic voters support health insurance coverage for abortions--either in a private or a government-run scheme.
Pollster John Russonello from Belden Russonello and Stewart said, "We have been chronicling the opinions and voting patterns of Catholics for many years and the lesson of today's survey is consistent with our previous findings: Catholic views on healthcare and abortion are mainstream American views."
But back to where this post began. Today, the Westport, Connecticut-based Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, announced:
More than 1,100 clergy and religious professionals nationwide have endorsed the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as Moral Decision, upholding "the religious foundations for affirming abortion as a morally justifiable decision." The Religious Institute announced the endorsements as the U.S. Senate prepares to consider amendments to health reform legislation that would threaten coverage for abortion services in private insurance plans that receive federal funding.
"Already, federal policy unfairly prevents low-income women and federal employees from receiving subsidized reproductive health services, but the new proposals would mean that even more women and families would lose access to these vital services," said Rev. Debra W. Haffner, executive director of the Religious Institute. "Placing restrictions on private insurance plans that make abortion accessible to women represents a serious moral injustice."
"We affirm women as moral agents who have the capacity, right and responsibility to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified in their specific circumstances," the letter says. "The sanctity of human life is best upheld when we assure that it is not created carelessly. It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term."
The Open Letter calls on government leaders to respect religious difference on the question of abortion. It states: "Women must have the right to apply or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions. We oppose any attempt to make specific religious doctrine concerning abortion the law for all Americans or for the women of the world."
Here is the full text:
An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision (PDF)
As religious leaders, we are committed to supporting people's efforts to achieve spiritual,emotional, and physical well-being, including their reproductive and sexual health. We assist women and families confronted with unintended pregnancies or pregnancies that can no longer be carried to term. We are committed to social justice, mindful of the 46 million
women worldwide who have an abortion each year, almost half in dangerous and illegal situations. We seek to create a world where abortion is safe, legal, accessible, and rare.
Millions of people ground their moral commitment to the right to choose in their religious beliefs. While there are strong public health and human rights arguments for supporting the right of women to safe and legal abortion, here we invite you to consider the religious foundations for affirming abortion as a morally justifiable decision.
AFFIRMING WOMEN'S MORAL AGENCY
Abortion is always a serious moral decision. It can uphold and protect the life, health, and future of the woman, her partner, and the family.
We affirm women as moral agents who have the capacity, right and responsibility to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified in their specific circumstances. That decision is best made when it includes a well- informed conscience, serious reflection, insights
from her faith and values, and consultation with a caring partner, family members, and spiritual counselor. Men have a moral obligation to acknowledge and support women's decision-making.
RESPECT FOR LIFE
Our religious traditions affirm that life is sacred. Our faiths celebrate the divinely bestowed blessings of generating life and assuring that life can be sustained and nurtured.
Religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, often according greater value as fetal development progresses. Science, medicine, law, and philosophy contribute to this understanding. However, we uphold the teaching of many religious traditions: the health
and life of the woman must take precedence over the life of the fetus.
The sanctity of human life is best upheld when we assure that it is not created carelessly.
It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term. We support responsible procreation, the widespread availability of contraception, prenatal care and intentional parenting.
Scripture neither condemns nor prohibits abortion. It does, however, call us to act compassionately and justly when facing difficult moral decisions. Scriptural commitment to the most marginalized means that pregnancy, childbearing, and abortion should be safe for all
women. Scriptural commitment to truth-telling means women must have accurate information as they make their decisions.
MORAL IMPERATIVE FOR ACCESS
The ability to choose an abortion should not be compromised by economic, educational, class or marital status, age, race, geographic location or inadequate information. Current measures that limit women's access to abortion services--by denying public funds for low-income women; coercing parental consent and notification as contrasted with providing resources for parental and adolescent counseling; denying international family planning assistance to agencies in developing countries that offer women information about pregnancy options; and banning medical procedures--are punitive and do nothing to promote moral decision-making.
When there is a conflict between the conscience of the provider and the woman, the institution delivering the services has an obligation to assure that the woman's conscience and decision will be respected and that she has access to reproductive health care, either directly or through referral. We condemn physical and verbal violence and harassment directed against abortion clinics, their staffs, and their clients.
We must work together to reduce unintended and unwanted pregnancies and address the circumstances that result in the decision to have an abortion. Poverty, social inequities, ignorance, sexism, racism, and unsupportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely. We call for a religious and moral commitment to reproductive health and rights; there must be access to comprehensive sexuality education and contraception, including emergency contraception.
No government committed to human rights and democracy can privilege the teachings of one religion over another. No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on abortion, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Women must have the right to apply or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions. We oppose any attempt to make specific religious doctrine concerning abortion the law for all Americans or for the women of the world.
A CALL TO RELIGIOUS LEADERS
Religious leaders have been in the forefront of the movement for abortion rights for more than fifty years. We call on leaders of all faiths to prepare themselves to offer counsel compassionately, competently, and justly to individuals and families faced with pregnancy decisions. We urge them to:
conscience and faith, and talk with partners and family members
- Advise and assist adolescent women in involving parents and family members in their decisions, while acknowledging that not every family can offer this support
- Provide age-appropriate faith-based sexuality education that underscores the importance of planned childbearing and responsible sexual decision-making, including abstinence
- Encourage parents to talk openly and honestly about sexuality with their own children
- Counsel women facing pregnancy decisions to reflect, pray, examine their own
- Support with love to those who choose adoption or termination of their pregnancies, including providing worship opportunities for those who seek them to mourn losses from miscarriages, stillbirths, and abortions
- Provide financial and emotional support for those women who carry their pregnancies to term and provide loving community for them after birth
- Publicly advocate for reproductive rights--including sexuality education, contraception, prenatal care, adoption, and abortion--through sermons, public witness, and involvement in the political process.
More than thirty years ago, many religious denominations passed courageous resolutions in support of women's moral agency and their right to a safe and legal abortion. Despite numerous legal challenges and social, scientific and medical advances, we reaffirm this theological commitment: women must be able to make their own moral decisions based on
conscience and faith. We call for increased dialog and respectful listening with those who disagree with us. With them, we share the vision of a world where all children are loved and wanted. We renew our own call for relational and reproductive justice for all.
The Open Letter was developed at a colloquium of theologians sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and funded by the Robert Sterling ClarkFoundation. Participants included Rabbi
Dr. Rebecca Alpert, Temple University; Rev. John Buehrens, First Parish in Needham, MA; Rev. Ignacio Castuera, Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Rev. Steve Clapp, Christian Community; Rev. Stacey L. Edwards, Trinity United Church of Christ; Rabbi Dr. Sue Levi Elwell, Union for Reform Judaism; Rev. Dr. Larry L. Greenfield, Protestants for the Common Good; Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Religious Institute; Frances Kissling, Catholics for a Free Choice; Kate Ott, Religious Institute; Rev. Mark Pawlowski, Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan, and Leslie Watson Malachi, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
RELIGIOUS SUPPORT FOR ABORTION RIGHTS
Many religious denominations have passed policies in support of legalized abortion. They include:
American Baptist Church * Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Episcopal Church * Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation * Presbyterian Church (USA)
Union for Reform Judaism * Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ * The United Methodist Church
United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism
More than 40 religious denominations and organizations
are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
More than half (53%) of US Catholics identify themselves as pro-choice,
and more than six in ten (61%) believe abortion should be legal.
More than 8 in 10 US Jews identify themselves as pro-choice.