President-elect Donald Trump rose to power and political prominence vowing to severely restrict women’s access to reproductive health care. His promises helped boost his popularity among conservative Christians, who tend to oppose abortion. They voted for him in droves.
The national conversation around abortion and faith has largely been dominated by conservative Christianity. But clergy have been part of the abortion rights movement since before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States in 1973.
Now that the electoral college has given Trump four years to implement those potentially devastating reforms, and with Republican leaders threatening to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding, religious leaders are coming together to renew their commitment to reproductive justice ― not despite their faith, but because of it.
The Huffington Post asked progressive voices from several religious traditions to explain why their faith and understanding of morality compels them to stand up wholeheartedly for Planned Parenthood, in support of reproductive justice.
You can bet that if Trump and his administration attempt to roll back decades of progress on this issue, these religious leaders will be speaking up loudly.
Aminta Kilawan, Co-Founder & Board Member, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
“In Hinduism, the word ‘Shakti’ is the only word that truly exemplifies ‘strength’ and ‘power;’ ‘Shakti’ has always been perceived as female. Among the major world religions, Hindus subscribing to Sanatana Dharma perform worship to various goddesses, including Durga (goddess of power), Kali (goddess of creation and destruction), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and Saraswati (goddess of wisdom). Moreover, Hindu scriptures, namely those categorized as “sruti” (that which is heard and of divine origin) like the Upanishads see all human beings as equal, irrespective of gender. We could argue that Hindu theology reveres women, while cultural norms have tended to discriminate against women.
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 Verse 32 indicates that an individual who ‘regards with equanimity the happiness and distress of all others, as if it were their own, is considered the best of yogis.’ Surely, if a person were to put them self in the position of a woman who was not equipped to bear a child, s/he would want the ability to choose. Surely, a woman should have control over her own body in the same way a man has control over his. Anything else would be denying the equality that the Bhagavad Gita calls upon us to carry out. This is our position as Hindus at Sadhana, though we do not claim to speak for all Hindus.
Dharma (Hindu duty/moral order) is fluid; it is not absolute or rigid. Dharma is contextual and flexible; it is understood based on the time and space in which it exists. It has taken our country so long to get as close as we have to gender equity and the equilibrium that the Gita so often references. Protecting women’s reproductive rights is supremely important during this uncertain time. Any attack against women’s rights would be an attack against dharma. Our dharma would therefore beckon us to stand with Planned Parenthood, as it is a primary provider of women’s health services.”
Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO of National Council of Jewish Women
“As each of us is made in the image of God — B’tselem Elohim (Genesis 1:26) — nothing is more important than our health; we have an obligation as Jewish women to care for and to protect our bodies, and ensure our neighbors can do the same. Planned Parenthood is a front line provider of care to millions of women and men, and we must defend its right to provide critical services to anyone and everyone who needs them. Our religion teaches us that issues having to do with reproductive health are issues that should be decided between a woman and her doctor.”
Rabbi Susan Talve, Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis, Missouri
“The highest value in Judaism is the saving of a life. If a woman becomes pregnant and the pregnancy threatens or endangers her, she is obligated to choose her own life over the potential of the fetus. This basic principle acknowledges a woman’s right to choose and obligates her to make the difficult decision of terminating a pregnancy when her life is at risk. Risk can mean many things. Risk to one’s life can be physical, spiritual, or emotional.
I am grateful to have my faith tradition supporting me each time I counsel a woman to put her life first. I am grateful to live in a country that offers safe, legal, and affordable abortions. And I am grateful to Planned Parenthood for making sure that all women, including poor women, are able to make this choice. I remember the days before Roe v. Wade when young women and poor women turned to coat hangers and back alleys instead of clinics and doctors. When you take away safe and affordable access to abortion, you don’t stop abortions, women just die. Judaism requires me to protect women’s lives by protecting their right to choose.”
Ani Zonneveld, President, Muslims for Progressive Values
“There is no position in the Quran in regards to abortion what-so-ever. It is often deducted by scholars of Islam that abortion is permitted under 120 days of gestation, after which it is believed the fetus enters the ‘stage of ensoulment’, where God blows God’s soul into the fetus at this time, for which it then becomes a living entity, and killing a living entity is forbidden.
According to scholars and jurists of Islam, abortion is also absolutely permitted beyond the 120 days should the pregnancy endanger the life of the mother. The mother’s life is of more importance given she is the pillar of the family and her status and contribution to the family and society is established.
Tunisia legalized abortion in 1965, and most Muslim-majority countries permit abortion with varying conditions. However, the influence of Christian fundamentalists on this issue is rubbing off on Muslims, giving patriarchy yet another false excuse for the control over a Muslim woman’s life.”
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, Domestic Program Director, Catholics For Choice
“Catholics can, in good conscience, support access to abortion and affirm that abortion can be a moral choice. At the heart of Catholic teachings on moral matters is a deep regard for an individual’s conscience. The Catechism states that ‘a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.’ As Catholics, we are called by our faith to follow our conscience in all matters of moral decision-making and to respect another’s right to do the same.
The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom reinforced the call for Catholics to respect the positions of people of other faiths. This right of conscience includes women making decisions about their pregnancies. Catholics believe each woman is a moral agent, capable of making the best decision for herself and her family about her own reproductive life based on her individual conscience.
Church teachings, tradition and core Catholic tenets— including the primacy of conscience, respect for women’s agency and support for the beliefs of other faiths—leave room for supporting a prochoice position on abortion. Catholics can support policies that enable each woman to follow her own conscience when making a decision about a pregnancy, including a decision to choose abortion.”
Willie J.Parker, MD, MPH, Protestant Christian, Abortion Provider
“The sacredness of human agency does not, or at least should not, stratify by gender. In multiple passages of sacred text, from Joshua’s ‘Choose you this day who you will serve,’ to Paul’s exhortation in the New Testament, “Let every person be fully persuaded in their own mind,” the declaration and insistence on the ability to choose has alway been a function of humanity. That reproductive agency is seen as different because it is unique to female existence creates a moral inequality between men and women that the Apostle Paul rebutted in his declaration “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Since he could not have meant that biologically, one has to assume he was referring to the moral center, the seat of agency and decision-making. For those of us who embrace moral equality between men and women, it means that we respect a woman’s decision when it lines up with the declaration of ancient Jewish wisdom: ‘No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.’”
Starhawk, Co-founder of the Reclaiming tradition of modern Paganism
“My Pagan faith is rooted in the belief that we are all interconnected, all part of the great creative force that has many names but that we call Goddess. Nature and life are sacred—but that’s Life with a capital L, not every germ cell, seed, zygote, or individual spark of potential existence. Not every seed can come to fruition, and not every potential can be realized. The Goddess is Winnower as well as Birth Giver. Sexuality is a sacred aspect of life, and making choices about our sexuality, about our bodies and physical selves, is both a duty and a sacred right. To interfere with that right is tyranny.
Pagans place spiritual authority within each individual. No priest or legislator can tell us how to resolve our own dilemmas, for it is in wrestling with tough choices that our spiritual development takes place. In our face to face encounters with the great forces of life, death and regeneration, we come to know the Goddess.
Planned Parenthood provides health care for women, which includes care for those difficult choices we must make about our ability to bring forth life. For Pagans, healing is a sacred calling and a core value, and it is a community responsibility, for none of us get through life without experiencing some illness or injury or loss. We need community to help us face the things that are too hard to face alone. So as a Pagan, I stand solidly in support of Planned Parenthood.”