Forty years ago last week, the Supreme Court handed down one of the most impactful decisions in our country's history: Roe v. Wade. While the decision guaranteed that abortion under limited circumstances was legal in America, the last four decades have been a struggle to ensure access to that right. Indeed, in many communities around the country, it is today impossible for a woman to obtain reproductive health care, including an abortion if she decides it is necessary.
Barriers to access come in many forms: waiting periods that can be days long; a dearth of clinics, especially in rural areas; and unnecessary, costly and invasive medical procedures as a prerequisite for an abortion, to name a few. Of course, for poor women, those things are all exacerbated: in many places, a woman would need to take several days off work to drive to a clinic on the other side of the state, pay for housing and food through the mandatory waiting period, pay for other medically unjustified procedures, pay for the abortion itself, then wait a day or two to feel well enough to drive back home.
Another big obstacle is the Hyde Amendment, which mandates that no federal dollars be used for abortions. For many of America's poor, especially women, government programs are their only access to basic services and care.
As clergy, I see this problem with a pastoral eye. How is it just to deny a woman access to a constitutionally-protected right simply because she is poor? Because, for all that rhetoric bandied about regarding a woman's right to choose and the role of government in our lives, it boils down to the fact that real women -- with real lives, real families and real faith -- suffer when our nation's laws offer judgment and political interference instead of compassion, support and respect. Every woman has moral agency and deserves the right to control the path of her reproductive life.
I believe -- as does the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, for which I work -- that it is utterly unacceptable for our nation's laws to single out a group of women (most of whom have few, if any, other insurance options) for the sole purpose of taking away health care. Indeed, it is also immoral. That is why I sent a letter to President Obama this past Tuesday -- which I share with you below -- to ask that he submit what we're calling a "clean budget": one that does not include the Hyde Amendment and other restrictions on abortion coverage.
A recent poll showed that fully 70 percent of Americans believe that Roe should be upheld. To keep abortion legal in America, but to throw up so many roadblocks to its implementation that it's rendered ineffectual is an unconscionable bait and switch that leaves millions of women with no choice at all.
President Obama needs to show that ours is a government of, by and for the people, not just a small, religious minority that is making choices for a woman that should be hers to make in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith. By submitting a clean budget without restrictions on coverage for abortion, President Obama will help make this important point: decisions about pregnancy should be made by a woman, in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith -- not by laws that reflect one particular religious viewpoint. The proper role of government is not to interfere with -- or to limit -- options. Government's proper role is to create conditions under which each person and family has the resources they need.
January 22, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As a faith-based organization committed to reproductive justice, we are grateful for all your administration has done to protect and expand access to quality health care. We look forward to additional progress in your second term, in the hope that even more people will have the rights and resources they need for sexual and reproductive health.
Today is the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case which established a legal right to abortion under certain conditions. While Roe has helped many individuals and couples make their own decisions about parenting, its limited scope means that far too many women-often but not always for economic reasons-still lack meaningful access to the full range of reproductive health care options. In this spirit, we urge you to omit all language from your Fiscal Year 2014 budget request that would restrict coverage for abortion.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice advocates for public policies that represent what we believe are both important faith values and important democratic values. First, we seek policies that show compassion, support, and respect for those in need-not judgment and political interference. The Hyde Amendment and similar restrictions create unnecessary obstacles that make difficult situations even worse. Our wives, sisters, mothers, daughters and friends deserve better.
Second, we seek policies which protect the right of every person to make health care and other personal decisions according to their own conscience and religious beliefs. Thankfully, human beings were created with the capacity for independent thought and moral decision-making. Recognizing this, our nation's Founding Fathers made respecting individual beliefs and rights a hallmark of American democracy. Sadly, however, these rights are too often -- and unjustly -- denied to women when it comes to reproductive health care. We ask you to put forth a budget that respects a woman's right to make her own decisions about pregnancy, in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith.
Third, we seek policies that promote justice, meaning that all people have access to the resources they need to live happy, healthy, and responsible lives. Unfortunately, the Hyde Amendment and other restrictions do just the opposite. We believe that it is unacceptable -- and in fact immoral -- for our nation's laws to single out a group of women (most of whom have few, if any, other insurance options) for the sole purpose of taking away health care.
Mr. President, these discriminatory limitations stand in stark contrast to the principles of equality and fairness your administration strives for in virtually all other arenas of the health care debate. By putting forth a budget without abortion coverage restrictions, you will send a clear sign to Congress and the nation that you no longer support these unnecessary and unfair barriers to care. I urge you do so, on behalf of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and on behalf of all the women whose health care options are limited by these biased policies.
Rev. Harry Knox
President and CEO
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice