Reproductive Justice

6 Nov

On November 2, 2013, I spoke at the Kentucky Road Rally for Reproductive Rights.  Here is what I said.

KY Road Rally There is hardly an area of human life that clergy don’t see our interactions with people. We are on the front line when it comes to questions of how to have children, how not to be pregnant, and how to raise children in a safe and healthy environment. Because these are some of the meaning-of-life questions that people struggle with. And these are also the questions fundamental to reproductive justice.

Reproductive justice recognizes that all people and communities should have the social, spiritual, economic and political means to experience the sacred gift of sexuality with health and wholeness. Rather than just telling the government to “butt-out,” reproductive justice asserts that government must have a central role in eliminating the myriad social inequalities that are related to reproductive oppressions.

Reproductive justice is why we are gathered here at the rally today. In Kentucky, year after year there are proposals that continue to go before the legislature that would seek to limit a person’s access to comprehensive sexuality eduction, seek to limit a person’s access to the full range of pregnancy-related healthcare, including contraception and abortion, and seek to deny critical family support. Many of those seeking to further these reproductive oppressions claim that they do so on the basis of their religious tradition, or because their faith calls them to do so. This leads many politicians and voters to a severe misunderstanding that to be a person of faith means to fit into a particular, narrow box. But that is just not the case.

Many, many people of faith support reproductive justice. Many of us even find it to be a core principle of our faith. This does not mean supporters of reproductive justice agree with each other all of the time – we don’t. Even within a specific faith tradition, we often disagree on particulars. But this disagreement is healthy because it encourages further discussion and exploration. What is not healthy, what is not just, is when one particular religious perspective gets written into law. When this happens, it removes a person’s ability to make choices according to his or her religious beliefs and conscience. When one particular, narrow religious perspective gets written into law, it denies the reality that there are other faith perspectives that are crying for wholeness and justice.

Such is the case with sexuality education. Many people of faith DO support comprehensive, science-based sex education. In some of our traditions, we are taught that we are made in the image of God. We celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality. We believe “all persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure.”* When we celebrate our sexuality with holiness and integrity, we participate in a life-giving and life-fulfilling gift.

And it is important that we understand this gift! This means supporting science-based sexuality education programs that are age-appropriate, accurate, and truthful. “Programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention fail our young people.”* Sexuality education that respects and empowers young people has more integrity than education based on incomplete information, fear, and shame.

“Our culture too often models sexuality without responsibility, and many adolescents are left on their own to struggle through these conflicting sexual messages. It is with adult guidance and comprehensive information and education about sexuality that young people are able to make responsible decisions; education that includes what consent means and who can give it, that includes abstinence, contraception, and STD prevention.” This type of education gives a person the skills to make moral and healthy decisions about relationships for themselves now and in their future adult lives.

People of faith also support access to the full range of pregnancy-related healthcare services, including contraception and abortion. The decision about becoming a parent is one of the biggest decisions a person will make. And yet a small group of religious conservatives want to limit and restrict access to healthcare services that would best help someone make the decision about whether or not they want to parent. Contraception and abortion are viewed by this faction not as health care services, but as part of their narrow religious agenda.

It is unacceptable for our laws to willingly and consistently single out women, particularly low-income women, specifically for the purposes to denying access to healthcare. And this is the situation right now with lack of access to contraception and abortion. By making it harder for a woman in need to access these services, by making her take time off not just one day but also for a medically unnecessary ultrasound, by allowing doctors and pharmacies to put limits on what healthcare treatment, services, and pharmaceuticals they provide, the government is putting up barriers that are unjust and unfair.

As people of faith, we understand compassion to be at the core of our relationships with one another. We may have different personal and religious beliefs about abortion, and still agree to respect a woman’s right to make decisions according to her own beliefs, according to her own conscience.**

As people of faith, we believe that the ability to make informed, moral choices is a sacred part of what it means to be human. To respect a person means to give them accurate information they need to make a meaningful, moral decision about whether and how to parent.

As people of faith, we also support healthy families. We believe that each person has inherent worth and dignity. For some of us, this comes as having been created in the image of God. For others, it comes to us by virtue of simply being human. Because of this, we are called to create a world where every individual and every family can have access to what they need to thrive. It is the seat of hypocrisy for lawmakers to deny access to contraception and abortion and then further penalize families by cutting access to childcare and other supportive services. When food stamp programs are cut, children go to school hungry and then some wonder why they can’t learn. When parents don’t have access to reliable, affordable childcare, they are often forced to take unpaid time off to care for children, furthering the cycle of poverty. A family also deserves access to decent, affordable housing. There is a direct link between the stability of a child’s home situation and how well they do in school. When we deny a child food, childcare, or stable housing, how can we expect that child to thrive? How can we expect that family to thrive?

Families deserve better. In the United States, it is the role of government, not to impose one set of religious views on everyone, but to protect each person’s rights, each family’s rights.

Legislators, please: listen to your constituents. All of them. Reproductive justice is a complex issue that requires a complex response. Families deserve better than passing one narrow religious perspective as law. And doing so is unethical and unjust. It does not recognize the moral agency of your constituents who find themselves faced with these difficult, life-changing decisions every day. It is not acceptable when one group has it’s views written into law such that other people are denied the ability to make their own moral decisions. Our laws and policies should protect the rights and abilities of each person to make decisions according to their own beliefs and conscience.

To those of you out there who perhaps feel alone in the struggle for reproductive justice, know that you are not! There are many, many of us who find that our faith encourages us to have a deep concern about perennial legislative failures to mandate science-based sexuality education and child care services, and are concerned about the equally predictable efforts to block access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception. To those who feel alone, you are not, and your voice matters. People of faith support reproductive justice!

We rally today as people from across Kentucky, from various faith traditions ranging from atheist to evangelical, from pagan to Pentecostal, from unaffiliated to Unitarian Universalist, but in common we have a vision of a Kentucky where all people and all communities have the social, spiritual, economic and political means to experience the sacred gift of sexuality with health and with wholeness. May it be so.

————–

Please note: Due to the nature of this speech, I did not attribute my quotes as well as I normally would have. The following are specifically quoted:
* Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexuality Education
** Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision

Other inspiration came from the following sources, which I highly recommend you check out:

2 Responses to “Reproductive Justice”

  1. Trish Ramey November 6, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    I am with you 100 percent, Dawn, but I had an interesting conversation with someone at church a few Sundays back. She argued that, based on the science, a fetus is alive and deserves full personhood rights. It was not religiously based belief, but a belief based on a black-and-white approach to the beginning of life. She truly believes that abortion is murder and should be outlawed. It’s very difficult to find a mutually respectful place when one side is willing to acknolwedge your right to your viewpoint, and the other side believes you support murder.

    • Marian Weedon November 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

      Look for examples of when the life of the mother is at stake like a tubular pregnancy. Mother has cancer without treatment she dies with treatment the baby dies. She has a husband, and maybe other children. Too many of the abortion stories are about a woman (man is not discussed) that can not afford to be a mother. They say irresponsible woman wants to kill because she was irresponsible. Maybe try to see if she is FOR prevention.

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