reproductive justice

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Launches ‘It’s Time’ Campaign

At a standing-room-only event at the National Press Club today, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice launched a new campaign designed to shift the public conversation about religion and sexuality.

An underlying premise for the It’s Time campaign is that the Religious Right has dominated that conversation and as a result, “an unprecedented number of bills are being proposed – and far too many are passing – that attempt to write one narrow-minded, dangerous religious view of abortion and sexuality into law.”

The campaign seeks to enlist people of faith – the majority of whom support access to contraception, sexuality education, and reproductive healthcare including abortion – and give them tools for engaging in respectful conversation with friends, families, religious congregations, and communities.  Speakers at today’s launch included religious leaders, healthcare advisors, and advocates.

“We all need to be reminded that many, many people of deep faith across this country are pro-faith, pro-family and pro-choice,” said Rev. Alethea Smith-Withers, RCRC board chair. LaTasha Mayes, executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh, said polling indicates that 76 percent of African Americans who attend religious services weekly agree that abortion should be legal and safe.

Dr. Willie J. Parker, a Chicago physician who provides abortion care, said that he is “witness to the torment” of patients who are told when they make the decision to have an abortion “that doing so is mutually exclusive with the faith identity that they hold.” Said Parker, “I believe a compassionate, explicit and assertive voice within the faith community….sets at liberty those who are held captive by religious dogma.”

Another speaker, Aimee Thorne-Thompson of Advocates for Youth, described herself as a secular person who understands that religion has been used as a tool of oppression but can also be a tool for justice. “I want young people to know that they can bring their whole selves to these conversations and their activism, and that includes their sexuality and their faith, if they have it.”

RCRC President Harry Knox, said, “For us, the call to reproductive justice is a moral one, grounded in centuries of spiritual teachings and sacred texts.” Knox recently wrote:

“Religious leaders, in particular, must articulate the simple fact that while people of faith vary widely in their beliefs about when and whether ending a pregnancy is morally acceptable, a vast majority of the American people believe that decisions about pregnancy should be made by a woman, in consultation with her partner and physician, and perhaps her clergyperson – not by the government.”

According to Knox, the It’s Time campaign will be at the Supreme Court in March as the Hobby Lobby case is heard; in Texas in April to nurture a new clergy network committed to reproductive justice; in Tennessee in May to teach people how to “lead faithfully at the epicenter of a ballot initiative fight”; and around the country to help people shape public discourse and be heard at the voting booth.

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40 Years After Roe, My Personal Fight for Justice

"I am my mother's child. The one she told one day many years ago, as I laid on a hospital table that, 'God did not intend for your life to be like mine!' The forms had been signed, we were in agreement and I was tearfully rolled into the very cold, unfriendly operating room.

"It was 1974, one year after the landmark decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. I was fourteen and my mother was twenty-eight, on welfare with five other children. Fourteen at the time of my birth, she was what we now call 'an unwed teen mother.' On this day, at that moment, the decision was not about legislation or white men in suits far away. It was not about the doctor, the nurse, or the technicians. It was just the two of us and God."

I wrote those words, published in In Motion magazine, 15 years ago. I had at that point devoted more than a decade to working with the black church to fight for reproductive rights in my home state of Louisiana and in Washington, making sure that girls and women like me have not only reproductive choice, but reproductive justice -- the choice to determine our own futures and the justice that comes from a system that respects us as human beings with equal dignity and equal rights.

Today, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and after 15 more years of fighting and praying, I see many reasons to celebrate. I am grateful for those who continue to fight for women's rights in the halls in Congress and in front of clinics; to the doctors and medical staff who risk their own safety to care for women in need; to the women who must shut out the noise of politics to make the most personal of decisions; and to the family and friends who stand behind them. Behind an issue that inspires so much venom and shouting, it's easy to forget that there are countless men and women who are quietly fighting for justice on a small, personal scale.

But on the national scale we see a very different picture. In 2012, state legislatures passed 92 laws restricting reproductive justice and many more followed in 2012. Republican presidential candidates and their allies in Congress went after women's right to birth control, claiming that an employer should decide whether a woman's health care covers her contraceptive care. Prominent figures on the right dismissed the wrenching circumstances of women who become pregnant by rape, claiming it wasn't possible or that some rapes are more "legitimate" than others. While so many Americans grappled with their own and their loved ones' decisions with decency and grace, our politicians experienced a crisis of empathy and a deficit of facts.

Particularly galling is the campaign by some far-right groups to promote the idea that legal abortion is a "genocide" of African Americans. This campaign seeks to paint black women as passive victims rather than as fully realized human beings facing real, tough choices. In the process, it has helped to make the political debate about reproductive rights even more about caricatures of women and less about real women.

Polling consistently shows that Americans' personal views of reproductive rights are not always the same as their political views. A recent poll by Planned Parenthood found that 23 percent thought abortion was "morally acceptable" and 40 percent said it "depends on the situation." That "depends" is important -- as has been the case with the LGBT rights, civil rights, paycheck fairness and gun violence prevention movements, sometimes strongly held political opinions must bend when they run up against the real experiences of a real person.

I celebrate 1974 and the start of my "pro-choice, pro-faith" journey. I have hope for the future of reproductive rights. Roe v. Wade still holds in the courts. And last year, as attacks on reproductive rights reached a fever pitch, women across the country rose up with their votes. Women didn't ask our politicians to make the personal political. But we must continue to fight back by making the political personal. This is about choice and it's about justice -- for every woman, no matter her story.

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

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