Be Bold. I cannot think of a better call to action for people of faith who care about reproductive health, rights and justice. For the past month, the All* Above All coalition has been on road trip rallying people from all walks of life to speak out about the Hyde Amendment, a federal policy that denies health coverage for abortion care for women who use Medicaid benefits. The tour is driving 2,000 miles across the country and ending in Washington, DC. As I have been following the tour, I wondered if other clergy and people of faith would show up.
I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with Robin Rothrock, may she rest in peace. Nicknamed "Rocket Woman," Robin not only founded and managed the Hope Medical Group clinic in Shreveport, LA for over 30 years, but she was also a central and much beloved member of the national abortion-care providing community. I introduced myself to her as a seminary student and after a warm greeting, she asked me "What happened to the churches? They used to be with us...."
Her question was a good one. What happened to the energy that started groups like the Clergy Consultation Service, a group of Protestant and Jewish clergy that referred women to safe abortion providers in the days before abortion became legal? While they started small with less than 30 ministers and a rabbi founding the network that helped women to find safe and reliable care in an uncertain and dangerous time, there were more than a thousand when Roe v. Wade made the organization unnecessary and rightfully took abortion care out of the shadows.
There are many congregations throughout the country that support access to abortion, but in much quieter ways -- too quiet I think. Perhaps after Roe v. Wade was made law, they thought the fight was done and turned their energy towards other issues. Maybe people and communities of faith who support abortion access, most of whom believe strongly in the separation of church and state, did not want to be accused of evangelizing or pushing their faith on others.
Regardless of the reasons for our reticence, this issue has literally come to our congregations' doorsteps: in 2009, a fanatical anti-abortion activist assassinated Dr. George Tiller as he was ushering at his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kansas. Just over a month ago, activists from Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue), interrupted prayers at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. Standing up from the pews in which they were seated, OSA members began hurling verbal assaults at the congregation, yelling that they should "repent." They targeted the church because of the UU's stance in support of reproductive rights.
Outside the church, OSA protesters pushed their posters of bloody fetuses against the windows of the religious education rooms where the children were gathered for Sunday School. In an ironic twist, someone called the local Planned Parenthood that was breaking ground on a new facility just down the street from the church. A rapid response team was at the church in minutes to help coach the congregants in how to deal with the protesters.
It is time that people of faith and religious congregations who believe that access to abortion is a sacred right see this again as our fight. Our silence is not protecting us or anybody else for that matter. And while it may feel scary and uncomfortable to raise our voices for something as stigmatized as abortion, our faiths demand no less of us.
Another thing that Robin said during our fateful meeting stuck with me. She said, "You know, I consider what I do to be a ministry." To minister is to listen and to empathize, to support and to be there for someone and to reach out to help meet the needs of people in our communities.
We must stand up for access to the health care that people in our congregations need, including abortion care. We must speak out. And we must be bold!