A Quiet Faith: Pro-Choice Clergy Speak Out


The much-discussed notion of so-called pro-life feminism, especially within communities of faith and among young people, is simply misguided. 

As a religious leader, I have spoken with many young people in my community who believe that reproductive rights are central to promoting respect for women’s dignity. With so few pro-choice religious leaders getting notice, you would never know that many clergy advocate for access to a full range of reproductive options.

Across the country, clergy provide support to parishioners when struggling with medical issues and women’s reproductive health care is no different.  In my work to promote social justice, I have provided counseling for young people and other individuals faced with difficult decisions about reproduction and I know firsthand the importance of making high-quality reproductive health education and care affordable and accessible to all those who seek it. This is why I work with and support Planned Parenthood.

Clergy and people of faith have always been an integral force in expanding reproductive freedom and women’s rights.  In the earlier years of Planned Parenthood, many churches housed Planned Parenthood health centers. Clergy have also helped make contraceptive services available and have denounced religious opposition to birth control.

As a counselor in my community, it is imperative to me that individuals are provided with access to a full range of reproductive health services, including education, contraception, adoption referral, health screenings and abortion. The choice to terminate a pregnancy is a profoundly intimate choice and I believe that no religious leader has the right to force a decision on any individual.

The reproductive rights movement is not about forcing anyone into a decision but rather about empowering every woman to make her own choice in consultation with herself, her partner, her doctor, her clergy person and her god.  

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  • nycprochoicemd

    Reverend, thank you for so simply stating why reproductive choice is a matter of faith and of social justice.  It is hard to reconcile the absolutist stance many religious leaders take towards abortion with the generous, kind, and caring stance they take with respect to most other matters.  I do feel that the religious community can be, and should be, a part of our movement for social justice, with the understanding that reproductive choice is a vital part of social justice.

  • grayduck

    “The much-discussed notion of so-called pro-life feminism, especially within communities of faith and among young people, is simply misguided.”

     

    So Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were misguided?

     

    “In my work to promote social justice, I have provided counseling for young people and other individuals faced with difficult decisions about reproduction and I know firsthand the importance of making high-quality reproductive health education and care affordable and accessible to all those who seek it. This is why I work with and support Planned Parenthood.”

     

    Are you saying that men have come to you and claimed that they were considering engaging rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, or fornication, were not willing to fully protect and support the mother and child if a pregnancy arose, and were unwilling to ensure that effective contraception was used and you considered those to be “difficult decisions?” Nearly all abortions come about because a man makes such a decision. I see nothing difficult about acting lawfully, responsibly, and honorably.

     

    “The choice to terminate a pregnancy is a profoundly intimate choice and I believe that no religious leader has the right to force a decision on any individual.”

     

    On what authority do you base your belief? Jesus was a religious leader and he said that people who killed would not inherit eternal life. Was he acting against some authority?

     

    “The reproductive rights movement is not about forcing anyone into a decision but rather about empowering every woman to make her own choice in consultation with herself, her partner, her doctor, her clergy person and her god.”

     

    Are women really consulting with clergy about whether to engage in adultery, fornication, or prostitution without using effective means of contraception and with the intent to use abortion as a means of birth control? Again, those are the decisions that are resulting in virtually all abortions. Very few abortions result from “problem pregnancies-” situations in which problems develop during the pregnancy. Nearly all abortions result from criminal and irresponsible sexual behavior with the intent to use abortion as a method of birth control in the likely event of pregnancy.

     

    My guess is that I will get no answers from this author. She will probably be another one of those “post and run” people who are unwilling to defend their ideas in the comments section.

     

  • grayduck

    From her church’s web site: “We, as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

     

    How does killing babies so that people can have more adulterous sexual encounters and fornicate more affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person?

     

    “We, as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.”

     

    Where is the justice, equity, and compassion in killing unborn babies? Remember, the decision to do so is nearly always made when a man decides to engage in sexual intercourse with a woman he is not married to and has no intention to protect and support if she becomes pregnant. It is a completely irresponsible, selfish decision done with complete disregard for the life and dignity of the child.

     

    “We, as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote…[t]he right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.”

     

    When men and women decide to use abortion as a method of birth control, they are flouting their consciences in favor of their lustful desires. When people support Roe v. Wade, they are denying the democratic process from working within states.

     

    “We, as a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote…[t]he goal of world community with…justice for all.”

     

    Where is the justice for the unborn when Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and abortion is paid for with taxpayer dollars? Where is the justice for people like Laura Tedder, who survived multiple abortion attempts and, as a result, was born with cancer? Or Ana Rosa Rodriguez, who was born without an arm because of an attempted abortion?

     

  • mechashiva

    Thank you for posting this, reverend.

     

    I attended my first ever service at a Unitarian Universalist church this morning, and I found it incredibly inspirational. It was wonderful to talk with people who came from a wide range of faiths (and non-faith) who had all come together in the spirit of compassion for all. I’ve long heard the common complaints about UUs from Protestants, but I’d also heard of the benefits of such a community. I’m happy to say that I will be returning, in no small part due to the response of the congregation to a reading from today’s Memory Book concerning Dr Tiller’s murder one year ago. All agreed it was unconscionable to murder in the name of respecting life.

     

    There certainly are ethical ambiguities with regard to abortion, particularly for members of a humanist religion. I’m happy to have found a faith community that values individual conscience in these matters, rather than simply telling us what to think and how to act.

  • princess-rot

     

    How does killing babies so that people can have more adulterous sexual encounters and fornicate more affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person?

     

    If you project all these horrific personality flaws onto women – and I see none of the mundane, non-soap-opera reasons* women commonly have abortions for – why would you want them to have a child? Children are not punishments for behavior you imagine others always engage in that you don’t approve of.

     

    *for regulars, I know this is redundant but I’m trying to get through to a misogynist here.

  • grayduck

    “It was wonderful to talk with people…who had all come together in the spirit of compassion for all.”

     

    A spirit of compassion for all? How is killing babies- many of whom being sentient-, and leaving some of them maimed for life, compassionate?

     

  • grayduck

    “If you project all these horrific personality flaws onto women…why would you want them to have a child?”

     

    Why do you assume that I do? All of the anti-abortion policies that I support are designed to prevent women from becoming pregnant, helping them carry through with the pregnancy if they do become pregnant, or showing them the advantages of not aborting.

     

    “…I see none of the mundane, non-soap-opera reasons* women commonly have abortions for…”

     

    Please explain this interjection.

     

  • mechashiva

    Please provide legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support your claim that embryos or fetuses are sentient. Please provide documentation that proves the individuals who claim to have survived attempted abortions are not lying.

    Many people who chose abortion do so because it is the decision that results in the least amount of suffering (not just for themselves, but for numerous others). There are more lives involved in such a decision than only that of the embryo. I will not waste time on you beyond pointing out that incredibly obvious fact.

  • prochoiceferret

    Why do you assume that I do? All of the anti-abortion policies that I support are designed to prevent women from becoming pregnant, helping them carry through with the pregnancy if they do become pregnant, or showing them the advantages of not aborting.

    Oh, so you don’t actually support preventing women from dismissing your “advantage”-showing and having a safe, legal abortion if they want one! That’s not so bad, I suppose.

    “…I see none of the mundane, non-soap-opera reasons* women commonly have abortions for…”

     Please explain this interjection.

     

    I think that means that women having abortions “so that people can have more adulterous sexual encounters and fornicate more” is kind of like saying that men buy kitchen knives so that they can kill and dismember their ex-wife’s rich new boyfriend who is also the long-lost bastard son of Prince Pierre of Rhodesia. Which is to say, sometimes it happens, but it’s pretty silly to generalize that to everyone having an abortion / buying kitchen knives.

  • grayduck

    MechaShiva on May 31, 2010 – 4:38pm: “Please provide legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support your claim that embryos or fetuses are sentient.”

     

    How about the extensive research by Dr. Anand, an Oxford-educated researcher at the University of Arkansas? According to him, “[o]ur current understanding of development provides the anatomical structures, the physiological mechanisms, and the functional evidence for pain perception developing in the second trimester…well before the third trimester…”

     

    http://uams.edu/update/absolutenm/articlefiles/5619-REL_Anand_Nature_article_Nov06.pdf

     

    See also the following to sources regarding Dr. Anand’s work.

     

    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.128.1743&rep=rep1&type=pdf

     

    http://journals.lww.com/anesthesiology/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2001&issue=10000&article=00006&type=fulltext#P25

     

    Also see the following.

     

    http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/Fetal_Pain/BJOGfetalpain1999.pdf

     

    Please provide documentation that proves the individuals who claim to have survived attempted abortions are not lying.

     

    How about this article from the New York Times, which reports on a criminal conviction in connection with a survived abortion attempt? Please note that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Danforth strictly forbid any law that places a time limit on abortion, so the law used to convict the abortionist was unconstitutional under Roe, Danforth, and Casey.

     

    http://www.nytimes.com/1993/06/15/nyregion/prison-term-for-doctor-convicted-in-abortions.html

     

    “Many people who chose abortion do so because it is the decision that results in the least amount of suffering…”

     

    What kind of suffering does a man endure by not engaging rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, or fornication, being willing to fully protect and support the mother and child if a pregnancy arises by his actions, or being willing to ensure that effective contraception is used during sexual intercourse?

     

  • prochoiceferret

    What kind of suffering does a man endure by not engaging rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, or fornication, being willing to fully protect and support the mother and child if a pregnancy arises by his actions, or being willing to ensure that effective contraception is used during sexual intercourse?

    Gosh, I don’t know. These are all very good reasons for a man not to choose an abortion.

     

  • crowepps

    What kind of suffering does a man endure by not engaging rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, or fornication

    None whatsoever as far as I know, which means their motivations in doing all of these are purely hedonistic and self-centered. Feel free to harangue them to stop.

    being willing to fully protect and support the mother and child if a pregnancy arises by his actions

    It may restrict his ability to consider only himself or cost him money, both of which are apparently an outrageous curb on his freedom (to be self-centered and selfish).

    or being willing to ensure that effective contraception is used during sexual intercourse?

    As I understand it, men feel that condoms reduce the pleasure of sex, and obviously it’s far more important to a man to feel the maximum amount of pleasure possible than it is for him to ensure fetuses he creates aren’t aborted.

     

    Go on over to the ‘men’s rights movement’ website for a while and tell them all how immoral they are.

  • ahunt

    My understanding is that the neurological structures for pain experience are not developed until after week 25 of gestation…not the case?

  • crowepps

    His reference didn’t say that the pain was EXPERIENCED or PERCEIVED by the fetus.  What he said instead was:

    “[o]ur current understanding of development provides the anatomical structures, the physiological mechanisms, and the functional evidence for pain perception developing in the second trimester”

    All of the physical structures are there and the ability for them to ‘function’ is ‘developing’, which sort of leaves the perception that the fetus can already ‘suffer’ even though the functioning hasn’t actually started yet and there is no evidence that it actually does so.

     

    Considering how cheerfully these guys will sentence a grossly malformed fetus to a series of massive reconstructive surgeries with painful recoveries, it does seem a little weird that they’re all ‘it’s outrageous that the fetus may feel PAIN during abortion’.  Especially since as I understand present day late second trimester/third-trimester procedures, the fetus is dead at that point.

  • colleen

    How about the extensive research by Dr. Anand, an Oxford-educated researcher at the University of Arkansas? According to him, “[o]ur current understanding of development provides the anatomical structures, the physiological mechanisms, and the functional evidence for pain perception developing in the second trimester.

    All of the research cited refers studies on to premature neonates who are, by definition, already born. Likewise the evidence you cite addresses pain perception, not sentience. No one was disputing the notion that premature infants feel pain. The ability to feel pain does not = sentience and embryos are never premature neonates.

    Why bother citing articles when they don’t support your absurd claims?

  • ahunt

    Indeed…the basic definition of “sentience” is the ability to feel or perceive, so I’m not getting the whole reference.

     

    Also…GD needs to give us his definition of “many.”

  • mechashiva

    1. Prematurely born neonates are not comparable to fetuses, which is one of the many reasons why most researchers use animal fetal models for studies of fetal neural function.

     

    2. Consciousness is not the same thing as pain response which is not the same thing as pain perception.

     

    3. Elective abortion is restricted by “viability,” which is not defined by a set gestation time because it can vary from case to case and is also subject to change as medical technology improves. Miss Rodriguez was seeking an elective abortion when her fetus was viable, and the clinic should have instead given her a referral for pre-natal care and other social welfare programs. That’s what would have happened if she had come to the facility where I worked. In fact, I have done that myself on numerous occassions. In any case, thank you for the legitimate news source. It confirmed one of my other suspicions… that abortion survivors are the result of illegal procedures performed in unsafe environments by individuals who provide sub-par abortion services (to put it mildly) late in gestation.

     

    4. You sure do place a lot of emphasis on the man, and your question misses the mark. Perhaps you should ask yourself, “Who would be effected by the birth of an uwanted child, and how would they be effected?” That’s what my patients did, and they didn’t assume the worst of everyone involved the way you seem inclined to do.

  • rabbi-dennis-s-ross

    Your thoughts are welcome and much appreciated!

  • grayduck

    ahunt on May 31, 2010 – 8:48pm:  “My understanding is that the neurological structures for pain experience are not developed until after week 25 of gestation…not the case?”

     

    Dr. Anand, the foremost expert in the area, believes that fetuses first become sentient as early as 16 weeks gestation. Hundreds of abortions occur after that point in gestation in Minnesota. The evidence we have suggests that the the vast majority of those could have been avoided had the women used pregnancy tests to detect their pregnancy earlier in gestation.

     

  • grayduck

    colleen on May 31, 2010 – 9:12pm: “All of the research cited refers studies on to premature neonates who are, by definition, already born.”‘

     

    Dr. Anand makes no such distinction.

     

    “Likewise the evidence you cite addresses pain perception, not sentience. No one was disputing the notion that premature infants feel pain. The ability to feel pain does not = sentience…”

     

    Here is the American Heritage definition of the word “sentient:” “Having sense perception; conscious” and “experiencing sensation or feeling.” If someone can experience pain, they can experience sensation or feeling, as pain is a form of sensation or feeling.

     

  • crowepps

    On what basis do you tout Dr. Anand as “the foremost expert in the area”?  He isn’t an expert on fetal development but instead an anesthesiologist with a sideline as a professional witness for ProLife activitists.

     

    The Systematic Multidisciplinary Reivew o the Evidence by a team of doctors published in 2005 did not support his theory at all, and stated that research showed pain perception was unlikely before 23 weeks, and while I find a great many articles about the opinions held by Anand posted on the internet, I cannot find a link to any actual research which he has done to support his opinions.

     

    http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/294/8/947

     

    What evidence are you referring to that “suggests the vast majority of those” were women who didn’t know they were pregnant earlier?

  • grayduck

    MechaShiva on June 1, 2010 – 12:04am: “Prematurely born neonates are not comparable to fetuses…”

     

    As I pointed out to colleen, Dr. Anand makes no such distinction, and he is the foremost expert on sentience and consciousness in both fetuses and premature neonates.

     

    “Consciousness is not the same thing as pain response which is not the same thing as pain perception.”

     

    The dictionary defines the word “conscious” as “capable of…perception.” If someone can perceive pain, he or she is capable of perception.

     

    “Elective abortion is restricted by “viability,” which is not defined by a set gestation time because it can vary from case to case and is also subject to change as medical technology improves.”

     

    Exactly, which is why the law used to convict the abortionist was not consistent with Roe v. Wade.

     

    “Miss Rodriguez was seeking an elective abortion when her fetus was viable…”

     

    How did you come to that conclusion?

     

    “…abortion survivors are the result of illegal procedures performed in unsafe environments by individuals who provide sub-par abortion services (to put it mildly) late in gestation.

     

    Perhaps, but the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations supports “…unrestricted access to…abortion services,” so they oppose any laws that restrict post-viability abortions or regulate the safety of abortions. So the distinction is not applicable in this discussion.

     

  • crowepps

    Since ProLife activists have managed to ban just about all research into human embryogenesis and fetal development, it would my guess that at this point all of the “foremost experts” on these matters are in other countries.  In addition, I would bet that most of them probably spend their time actually doing research rather than testifying to legislatures in conjunction with various ProLife attempts to ban abortions.

     

    In addition, the fact that Dr. Anand does NOT make that distinction seems to indicate that he may have some major blind spots in his theory.

    If someone can perceive pain, he or she is capable of perception.

    So by your reasoning since the multi-disciplinary team who reviewed the research concluded that the results show that fetuses cannot perceive pain before 23 weeks, this then would mean that pre-viability fetuses are not capable of perception and are NOT sentient.

     

  • colleen

    As I pointed out to colleen, Dr. Anand makes no such distinction,

    He does in the articles you cited. One has to dig a little to discover that he’s just another right wing ‘pro-life’ tool.

    and he is the foremost expert on sentience and consciousness in both fetuses and premature neonates.

    Oh spare us.

  • grayduck

    MechaShiva on June 1, 2010 – 12:04am: “You sure do place a lot of emphasis on the man, and your question misses the mark. Perhaps you should ask yourself, ‘Who would be effected by the birth of an uwanted child, and how would they be effected?’”

     

     

    But that question assumes that women decide to abort during the pregnancy. I think the evidence does not show that many abortions result from women just suddenly deciding, without provocation, in the middle of previously wanted pregnancies to abort. Rather, the decision is made before women even become pregnant. As such, I think the question is why are men not impregnating women in loving marriages rather than through rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, and fornication? Why are men not protecting and supporting the women they are impregnating? The facts show that the children of the men who do so are rarely aborted.

  • grayduck

    Looks like I was right when I predicted that she would be another “post and run” author.