As a clergy person who regularly speaks out in support of access to abortion care, people often talk to me about their personal struggles with their day to day life and their faith. Far too often the lessons they heard from the pulpit and the pews have left them feeling unprepared to make healthy decisions about relationships and sex and feeling judged for using birth control or seeking abortion. I counsel them as a minister, but also as someone who has been where they are and knows how difficult it can be to reconcile those negative messages with our real lives.
I look back 30 years, and see myself as a young woman facing an unintended pregnancy. I was barely scraping by, working two jobs, in the grip of substance abuse, and in an unhealthy relationship. I had been told that abortion was a sin. But I knew the true sin would be to bring a child into the chaos of my life, into a mutually dysfunctional relationship with people who were so clearly unprepared to be parents.
In a single visit to an independent clinic, I was able to get the care I needed from courageous and compassionate staff, but only after running a gauntlet of protesters shouting that I was going to hell. It was a difficult and lonely experience, and my feelings in the days after the procedure yo-yoed back and forth between grief and relief.
I have never regretted this most intimate healthcare decision, not then or at any time since. I knew it was the best decision for me, and I knew I was lucky. Even though I did not have health insurance I had the support to help me seek the care I needed. This helped me to eventually get out of that relationship, grow as a person and eventually find love and build a family. I later went to Divinity School hoping to become the kind of clergy person I wish I had known in my early years, someone who believes in standing with people in my community rather than isolating them, understanding and supporting them rather than judging.
I know now that mine is a story of privilege. For 38 years the Hyde Amendment has denied federal coverage for abortion for people who use Medicaid benefits. Nearly one in three women who experience unintended pregnancy will have an abortion, and nearly 70 percent of them are living in poverty. Most already have children and know what it means to make difficult parenting decisions. This issue speaks to the very heart of justice for me as a woman who has had an abortion and as a clergy person who works to support the women in my community.
I believe that a woman, no matter what her economic circumstances, should have access to safe and dignified reproductive health care. I believe that a woman facing an unintended pregnancy is best suited to make decisions for herself and her family, without political interference. I believe that God gives each of us, in consultation with our faith and with those who matter most to us, the ability to determine our capacity for parenting, caring for others in our families, and serving our communities.
Scripture upon scripture in both the Hebrew and Christian books of the Bible call the faithful to care for those in poverty, those who struggle to make ends meet, the downtrodden and heavy laden. We know that a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy may miss paying her rent or buying groceries for her family in order to pay for the abortion she needs and wants. People of faith may have different views on reproductive health, rights, and justice, but we should be able to agree that a woman facing a difficult situation deserves compassion and access to full spectrum reproductive healthcare, rather than shame and denial of basic services.
The political gamesmanship in which low-income women are being used as pawns is morally wrong. Religious liberty means that each of us has the constitutionally protected right to make our own healthcare decisions according to our own faith and conscience. Withholding coverage or making it harder to access abortion care when a person needs it interferes with their ability to make a decision based on their personal beliefs. There is no right to spiritual or emotional harassment, no matter how strongly others feel about their own beliefs. Nor should there be a right to deny basic reproductive healthcare to any woman, regardless of whether her insurance is public or private.
I believe that God calls us to address the racial and economic injustices of the Hyde Amendment, a policy that hurts those who already struggle to access quality health care the most: low-income women, women of color, young women, and immigrant women.
The decision of when and whether to parent a child is complicated, one of the most crucial decisions any of us will ever make. I have always been grateful that I had the means and the access to follow my own conscience regarding the outcome of that pregnancy long ago. Today I am the mother, wife, daughter, friend, community member and clergy person God calls me to be, and my life is better because I had the access and means to have a safe, legal, affordable abortion. Regardless of how she gets her insurance, every woman deserves the same.