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.
Should you leave your faith
outside the voting booth? I say no – not only is that impossible, it also will
make you a less informed voter. Your faith and your beliefs help shape what you
care about. I am a Baptist minister and I am pro-choice because of my religious tradition and
beliefs. My faith underlies my commitment to equality and justice. My beliefs
inspire me to fight for accessible healthcare for all and intentional
Growing up in a Christian home, I
was taught by my father – also a Baptist minister – that God has given each of
us free will and the responsibility to exercise it according to our
understanding of God’s plan. As a young African-American man growing up in the
South in the 1940s and as a minister in Washington DC,
I saw firsthand how Black women and poor women suffered because they had few or
no choices about an unintended pregnancy, even if it would damage their health
or cause great hardship in their family. Some of them were maimed in back-alley
abortions; some of them died. I believe it is a sin to force women to have a
pregnancy they do not want – and, if a child is born, a sin to deny that child
basic health, education and housing.
My religious tradition has many stories, teachings,
revelations, and laws about God’s purpose, but it also acknowledges that the
individual must in the end exercise the divine gifts of freedom and
responsibility when deciding to act. This is what my faith tells me about
life is sacred, potential life as well as existing life. Because life is
sacred, we must strive to ensure that people are healthy, safe and secure and
this includes access to comprehensive reproductive health services and
have a responsibility and commitment to ensure that the dignity of women and
their choices regarding childbearing are respected. Our
commitment to justice is active: we make justice a reality by ensuring that
families and communities have the medical, economic, and educational resources
necessary for healthy children.
officials have been entrusted with protecting the common good, and this
includes enacting and safeguarding policies that respect diverse religious
beliefs about whether and when to have children.
On November 4, voters in
Dakota and California will decide on anti-abortion
initiatives. Many other voters will also consider candidates’ stances on
reproductive health issues. Some will be influenced by what their minister tells
them – and more often than not, it will be to vote for banning abortion. As a
minister who tends to people in sickness and health, I have a different view.
The scriptures speak of taking care of the vulnerable, the weak, the outcast,
those in need. These ballot initiatives would do the reverse. They lack
compassion, respect, and understanding.
I think you’ll find an amazing
variety of views, and you’ll find there is a long-standing consensus among
religions that abortion is a private decision—a decision of conscience. It’s a
decision that should be made by the individuals involved, in consultation with a
medical doctor and guided by their faith.
We all have our own paths in life
– we may adhere to a specific religious tradition, be on a self-directed
spiritual path, consider ourselves humanistic, or profess no religious beliefs.
But I believe that, as people who are pro-choice, we share a deep commitment for
justice and equality. I believe that abortion bans and further restrictions on
reproductive health and rights are damaging to the well-being of individuals and
families. Public funding for family planning services for low-income women is a
social justice issue to me because a woman living in or near poverty is four
times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy and four times more likely to
have an abortion than a woman with higher income. Unintended pregnancy can
perpetuate poverty, interrupt education and job opportunities, and create family
hardship. Simple justice requires that we support access to quality family
planning information and services for all.
Your faith is part and parcel of
who you are. Listen to your conscience and trust it. It will guide you to vote
for equality and justice.