Because of, Not In Spite of, My Faith


Editor’s Note: This article is part of a pre-election series
featuring leading voices in sexual and reproductive health advocacy,
showing how shared American values underpin their support for sexual
and reproductive health, rights, and justice. Read them all here

I was born in the heartland – Kokomo,
Indiana – and my family’s eight moves took me to places as different
as Temple, Texas, New York City, and a small town in the Sacramento
Valley. I sold Girl Scout cookies and earned merit badges. I marched
down Main Street playing the flute in my green band uniform. I was co-captain
of my cheerleading squad, pledged allegiance to the Flag, sang "God
Bless America," and went to church on Sunday. I still go to church
on Sunday. My religious faith informs everything that I do in my life,
including my chosen work as an advocate for reproductive rights as a
basic human right. I became a lawyer in large part because my faith
called me to fight for social justice and the equality and dignity of
all people. 

Some people may be surprised that this
bio belongs to such a visible and vocal voice for reproductive health.
We’re used to hearing such biographical attributes for those on the
other side of the debate, but my Unitarian Universalist faith has long
affirmed that laws that proscribe abortion are an affront to human life
and dignity. We are not alone; major religious denominations representing
millions of Americans (including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian
Church, United Methodist Church and Reform and Conservative branches
of Judaism) support the legal right to abortion.   

The attempt to legislate one set of religious
beliefs about women’s ability to control their reproductive lives
is an offense to a bedrock commitment of America’s constitutional
democracy: freedom of religion and separation of church and state.

Yet growing fundamentalist influence
over U.S. domestic and foreign policy is making the nation forget its
commitment to religious freedom. This fundamentalist belief–that everyone
must follow one set of religious truths–battles against a more open
view that respects differences of religious beliefs and ethical positions.

It’s human nature to want everyone
to agree with one’s religion or personal moral code. I understand
that well. I taught Sunday school each week out of the desire to pass
along my religious faith and traditions to the next generation. But
I also accept that there will always be vast differences among religious
and secular perspectives on life. And I understand, and firmly believe,
that government should not help me or anyone else spread our religious
beliefs. The government is not a Sunday school.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme
Court grounded the right to privacy in the protection of personal liberty
guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and
it recognized a notion of liberty that includes a woman’s right to make
fundamental decisions affecting her destiny, such as whether or not
to terminate a pregnancy. Since then, the Court has recognized again
and again that religion stands staunchly on both sides of the abortion
issue, and that women and men of good conscience disagree about its
moral implications. As the Supreme Court wrote in Planned Parenthood
v. Casey
, "reasonable people will have differences of opinion
about these matters." 

Given the different opinions that clearly
exist on both sides, what I find most disturbing about the public debate
on reproductive health, especially in an election year, is that the
moral case for reproductive decision-making isn’t injected into the
argument by those who support a women’s right to choose. While I’ve
heard many politicians say that they are pro-choice despite their
religious beliefs, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say that he or
she supports reproductive health because of his or her faith.
Perhaps it’s because they feel those who oppose reproductive health
have already claimed the moral stronghold, and that the public can’t
accept that there could be religious grounding on both sides of the
debate.     

As Americans we’ll never agree on the
validity of religious texts, but most of us agree that the Constitution
is sacrosanct. Religious liberty is tied inextricably to Constitutional
values. While the Constitution dictates that religion should not be
legislated or imposed by government, it also allows that we should have
the right of conscience in making personal decisions about when and
whether to have a child. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote
in Casey: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define
one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of
the mystery of human life." This is precisely why more of us should be talking
about why our faith leads us to protect the health and lives of women
and their families. We can’t protect rights that we don’t talk about.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Nancy Northup please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you. We are not all fundamentalists or extreme Catholics. Yet even the Catholic Church once deemed the beginning of life, or the “ensoulment”, to take place at the time a woman felt a “quickening” in the womb, around 3 or 4 months into the pregnancy, at the time when the fetus begins to look like a human being. There is a very high incidence of natural miscarriage in the first trimester and it is old women’s wisdom not to publicly reveal a pregnancy until after a few months for this reason. Nature allows for mistakes, casts them off and starts over. It is a woman’s right to determine if she is ready, in mind and body, to nurture and expend the phenomenal amount of energy that is required to raise a healthy child. I personally feel that the elevation of a zygote to personhood is a fetish, part of some cult that I tolerate but certainly don’t follow.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for sharing this perspective, many people feel the same way and these voices need to be heard. The anti choice stance should not monopolize the debate, claiming to be the “moral” side.

    UUs rock

  • invalid-0

    …stop the next safe abortion. I no longer attend Catholic mass because I feel no need to support an institution whose power is derived more from rules than the message of God’s love. I should tithe to men who constantly tell me what I can’t do? My masochism ends with what I render to Caesar!

  • invalid-0

    So often we read of extremists on both sides of this argument lashing out in violent rhetoric that only inflames the debate and fuels passions on both sides. However, you have eloquently stated your opinion and beliefs in a way I have not seen before.

    I do not agree with your premise, both of your argument, and your organization, however, I can relate to your interest in protecting your cause.

    You say that you are for reproductive health, where I would see it as destroying a being created in the image of God. Conversely, you would probably call me Anti-choice, whereas I would classify myself as being aligned with God’s word. Two different views living in the same world, voting in the same elections, and having to interact in society on a daily basis.

    One thing that caught my attention is your insinuation that abortion is an alternate form of birth control. You stated, “it also allows that we should have the right of conscience in making personal decisions about when and whether to have a child”. I could not agree more. However, when did planning, prevention, and moral judgment become obsolete? The answer is when man rebelled in the garden.

    I hope I am not coming off as too fundamentalist for you to keep reading. I am simply stating that humanity is in a state of sin, and as such, we are prone to making decisions like this. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” How can we trust our “feelings” about something when we are in a state such as this? We need to have a standard to measure against. And that is all that those of us, whom are considered “anti-choice”, are doing; holding this idea up to the standard of the Bible, and saying, it doesn’t fit.

    According to your own religious beliefs, the UUA believes:

    “Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion…. It affirms the worth of human beings, advocates freedom of belief and the search for advancing truth….”

    If attempting to affirm the worth of human beings, how can someone advance an idea that devalues human life prior to birth? Psalm 127:3 states, “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” Jeremiah 1:5 states, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee…”. These verses seem diametrically opposed to your viewpoint. If human life is a gift from God, who are we do destroy it?

    The UUA states it believes in the search for advancing the truth. The bible also puts forward these ideas. However, in a fallen society, the truth is not easy to grasp. Jesus states in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. This truth cannot be multifaceted. It cannot be said that he is One way among many; he says he is THE way, and THE truth. The bible also says that he is the word made flesh in John 1:14. Would you then suggest we embrace the bible, since it is also then truth?

    In closing, I would state that when it comes to the issue at hand, the bible is clear here. John 15:13, Jesus speaking: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. What greater love is there than to risk reproductive health, put trust in God, and bring a child, whom God gave life to, into this world.

    Respectfully
    -SGP.

  • paul-bradford

    "My Unitarian Universalist faith has long affirmed that laws that proscribe abortion are an affront to human life and dignity." 

     

    Nancy,

     

    Your conviction is not simply a "religious" belief that you know better than to "impose" upon others who do not share your views on spirituality.  I’m sure you don’t say to yourself, "I would speak out against the attempt to restrict access to abortion but for the fact that I don’t want my Unitarian values to be inflicted upon people against their will."

     

    This conviction of yours, which Unitarians as well as some non-Unitarians share, isn’t just some nutty idea that a few people in your cult have cooked up and the rest of us simply endure because of the First Amendment Blah Blah Blah.  Your conviction is an essential element in your sense of justice, and you (like every sane, responsible, compassionate person) want to infuse your sense of justice into the fabric of our society.  To work for justice is to become more human, to quell one’s sense of justice is to become less human.  I’m glad that you’re willing to do what it takes to become more human.

     

    I wonder if you would spend a minute today looking at this issue from my perspective.  I believe, as you do, that it is an affront to human dignity to force an unwilling mother to bring a pregnancy to term; I also believe, however, that her child has as much right to live as she does.  My sense of justice (which I admit I do wish to impose upon others)  calls me to respect BOTH fetal and maternal rights.

     

    I oppose abortion, but I limit the means I use to protect the unborn to those means which respect the fact that a woman’s body is her own.  That means that I seek to awaken a sense of justice in others.  It wouldn’t make any sense to pass a law that says, "You must be sane, responsible and compassionate or else we’ll lock you up in prison." but it does make sense to hold other people accountable to the CALL of being more sane, more responsible and more compassionate.

     

    Imagine, for a minute, that you continued to endorse the idea that a woman has the right to abort and imagine you had the choice between two ways of advising a mother who was considering terminating her pregnancy: You could say 1) "It’s your right.  Do as you wish." or you could say 2) "If you care to do right by your child you’ll give her/him every chance at living the best life possible — even if it means making a few sacrifices of your own."

     

    You could take option #2 without denying her choice or imposing a religious belief on an unwilling recipient.  You would simply be doing your best to embrace the truth as fully as possible.

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • invalid-0

    when you called her religion a cult?

  • invalid-0

    Your article is quite sad.

    It seems anyone who argues the right to abortion is really arguing the right to have sex with anyone at any time without consequence. Sex between two people who love each other is a great thing! Why do we believe we can abuse it so much… it has gotten to the point that a lady like yourself argues that you can have it with anyone at any time, and if that means you end up creating life out of it, you can also destroy that life. All in the name of what I want when I want.

    Our self idolizing society is eating away at our children. We have people arguing that their ‘faith’ affirms their decision to kill life. May I ask “faith in what”?

    A poor woman in Calcutta spoke eloquently. “please don’t kill your child. If you don’t want him/her give them to me, I will love them”.

  • invalid-0

    …bearing children without thought of having the means to raise them is the only true sign of a faithful American? I guess someone’s excrement is not malodorous! As for Calcutta, I really hope that “poor woman” doesn’t hoard children the way some people hoard stray cats and dogs. And if this woman has such infinite love, how much meth is she taking to spread her wealth of love?

    Spare US your insanity and admit your true calling: ban all birth control so we’ll have unwanted children growing to become soldiers doing “God’s work (Palin)” in the Middle East with an endless supply of IED-fodder for the next “hundred years (McCain),” converting Islam to Christianity at gunpoint. Your aversion to tolerance is matched only with the paranoia the rest of US will somehow “force” everyone to have sex with everyone else,
    as if the commerce of popular culture will get our widowed Americans into the sack, regardless of age or health.

    Yea, I have so much faith in God, I’ll stop paying the bills, stop going to work and spend every waking moment in church. I’ll even find ways of staying awake so I can show I love God more than those around me because I’ll spend more wake-time on my knees, without thought for sustainance and hygeine. And my wife and child will be at my side, without questioning my authori-tay!

    Nobody’s taking away your gun nor your Bible because of your righteousness. But I pity those around you who feel they must remain silent in the face of your SELF-righteousness, if only to minimize your haranguing effect. If only we could have a “Brave New World” where your kind could live your miserable lives apart so the rest of humanity could progress, unhindered by dogma.

    “This is reli-jun – YOUR reli-jun.” Johnny “Rotten” Lydon

  • invalid-0

    It seems anyone who argues the right to abortion is really arguing the right to have sex with anyone at any time without consequence.

    Actually, some of us are arguing for the right to have sex with our spouses without the threat of an unwanted pregnancy. One third of all women who seek abortions are married.