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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

Proudly, Prayerfully Pro-Choice

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I woke up Friday morning to the "breaking news" that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had reversed its decision to pull funding for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood. My reaction was that this was not just good news for the women needing the services that Planned Parenthood provides and the Komen Foundation funds -- it was good news that the power of public outrage can actually have an impact on the anti-abortion zealot driven politicization of women's health issues. And the bad news was that the outrage was even necessary -- and that women's health care continues to be exploited as a wedge issue in our polarized partisan politics.

Speaking out on this issue -- which of course I did because, well, because I'm me -- I unleashed a flurry of responses from folks who were unable to reconcile my position as a pro-choice advocate with my vocation as a priest and pastor. One commenter summed it up tersely: "What kind of religion do you represent, lady?"

The answer is that I represent one which gives me room to be both proudly and prayerfully pro-choice. In 1988 the Episcopal Church went on record with a powerful statement affirming its commitment to both the sanctity of life and a woman's right to reproductive freedom. From the resolution:

All human life is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and to give birth which is bestowed by God.

We regard all abortion as having a tragic dimension, calling for the concern and compassion of all the Christian community. While we acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion, as Christians we believe strongly that if this right is exercised, it should be used only in extreme situations. We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.

And then, in 1994, as the anti-abortion movement mobilized to restrict reproductive freedom of American women, we added this "further resolve":

"The Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision."

That's the "religion I represent" -- one that acknowledges there is tension between the sacredness of life we affirm and the freedom of choice we support. And the parish I represent -- All Saints Church in Pasadena -- is one that has been officially "prayerfully pro-choice" since 1989.

And so as a proudly and prayerfully pro-choice priest and pastor, I rejoice that there's a silver lining in the whole sorry mess of the Susan G. Komen Foundation vs. Planned Parenthood story. That silver lining is the elevation of the issue of access to women's health care for underserved populations to the top of the news and -- for the moment -- the good news of a victory against the politicization of health care in general and women's health care in specific.

My prayer is that we learn from this that our voices can count, that our mobilizing can make a difference. And my hope is that together we can protect women's reproductive freedom by blocking the efforts of the anti-abortion zealots to make women's health care a sacrificial lamb on the altar of partisan politics.