National Religious Group Votes to Make Reproductive Justice A Priority for Action


Here is some religious liberty news that we reproductive justicers can celebrate: on Saturday,  hundreds and hundreds of Unitarian Universalist congregational delegates held up their yellow voting cards to support Reproductive Justice as their next congregational action and study issue.  Over the next four years, Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country will study, reflect, and act upon issues of reproductive justice. 

Reproductive justice is central in my faith-life and was a pivotal reason I decided to become a minister.  However, liberal religion has not prioritized reproductive justice, rights, or health for a long time.  Though often forgotten, liberal religious congregations (particularly the church ladies organizing within them) were instrumental in the 2nd wave feminist movement’s fight for accessible birth control and abortion. However, the religious left has not been much of a force for reproductive justice in many years — we have put the bulk of our energy into marriage equality for gays and lesbians. 

The vote this weekend at the Unitarian Universalist general assembly may signal the beginning of a change for which so many of us have been working. Though Unitarian Universalists represent a small fraction of religious people in this country, we often serve as the harbinger of change for the broader, liberal religious community. 

If the vote this weekend was indeed a harbinger of change, what do we want that change to look like? I hold a vision of a reproductive justice movement that is morally and spiritually grounded — indeed, all successful social change movements have been deeply connected to moral and spiritual traditions. What kind of collaborations and relationships could be forged between organizations that are “secular” and those that are “religious?”  Heck, could we escape that tired binary of secular vs. religious, could we free ourselves from the “conceits of secularism” that limit our understanding of social change? How can we expand our social imaginary to envision richer and more holistic community relationships?

Reproductive justice also holds a transformative and healing potential for liberal religionists. Predominantly White and professional in our demographics, we will need to challenge the cultural hubris of public health and law, challenge the assumptions that professionals know what is best — particularly for women in poverty and women of color.  We will need to challenge deeply embedded habits of control and over-management.  Second, religious liberals will need to grapple with the inadequacies of a “choice” framework. In a world where our connectedness and dependence on one other becomes more and more apparent, arguments based on privacy (“abortion is a private decision”) rely on a dated logic of individualism that not only sabotages our ability for mutual support and collective action, but also cripples our spirits in isolation, alienation, and fear.

Perhaps some of us will be like those of us who organized to pass the Reproductive Justice congregational action and study issue: a diverse group of men and women, straight and queer, young and old. As a predominantly white group, we reflected on our identities and how we could best be in relationship to communities and organizations of color.  Our efforts were collaborative and respectful. We worked to be mindful of those tricky dynamics of power and privilege as we planned our campaign.  And, we had fun!

Despite the ongoing struggles we will continue face for reproductive justice, this weekend something special and significant happened:  a group of religious folks voted to dedicate their energies to reproductive justice.  In midst of the Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight of Freedom” efforts to limit women’s access to contraception, let take some moments to celebrate the possibility that the religious currents may be a changing.  Let us do what we can to support the change!

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  • trustingwomen

    Re: my paragraph on secularism vs. religion, since I know that might raise some eyebrows: I’m mostly drawing here on the book “Rethinking Secularism”, edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen and the New School’s 2009 conference “The Religion-Secular Divide”.