I am a Baptist minister and president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice - RCRC. I am pro-choice about abortion because of my religious tradition and beliefs. I believe that God has given each of us free will and the responsibility to exercise it according to our understanding of God’s plan. I believe that women cannot exercise their God-given free will unless they can control their reproductive lives. That is why women’s ability to make moral decisions about their reproductive lives is a social justice issue – because without that ability (and the economic, medical and educational resources that make choices possible), women cannot be equal and cannot have justice.
I think we are polarized over abortion because of the framework we use (almost unconsciously) to think and talk about it: “religious = anti-abortion and secular = pro-choice.” It’s a mistake to think that all religions are against abortion. In reality, many faith traditions believe abortion must be an option for women. People who are religious are pro-choice and women who are religious have abortions.
Labels and stereotypes contribute to the polarization of views. We say that abortion is a moral issue – but then we make the mistake of thinking that the only moral position is to be against abortion. I don’t agree with that. Is it moral to have a child you can’t care for and – to be honest - don’t want? Is it moral for the government to force a woman who has been raped to have the child that results from the rape? Is it moral to require that a woman with a life-threatening illness continue a pregnancy? Is it moral to insist a young woman who has become pregnant have the child and place it for adoption? So you see, having an abortion can be a decision that is moral and responsible.
We need a radical change in thinking. We should stop stigmatizing abortion and women who have abortions and stop talking about “reducing the number of abortions” as if abortion were a plague. We should focus on improving women’s health and lives and on creating the conditions for responsible decisions about having children – including sexuality education for young people that teaches values and consequences, contraception, healthcare, childcare, and good jobs.
I don’t think it will be easy to change the conversation – the anti-abortion groups have a vested interest in keeping up interest in abortion and the media ask politicians about it as a litmus test of how liberal or conservative they are. I don’t think people who are against abortion on religious grounds will change. And I don’t think women will stop having abortions. But we have to move forward. What term do we use? I suggest reproductive justice.
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