How can Christians respond to abortion clinic closures?

January 2nd, 2019

In the years before Roe v. Wade guaranteed a women’s right to privacy to her reproductive healthcare choices, over 1400 clergy members around the country were organized to counsel and help women with unwanted pregnancies access safe abortions. The 1967 book, Abortion Counseling and Social Change, written by Howard Moody and Arlene Carmen, emphasizes the pastoral obligation to help women in need over the morality of abortion, which might be surprising to those who equate religion with being anti-abortion. They saw how it was usually privileged, married, white women who were able to receive exemptions for “therapeutic” abortions, while desperate poorer, single women of color were forced to seek out illegal abortions or do it themselves.

Though the Clergy Consultation Service eventually became the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice after 1973, with the changes in the Supreme Court and the variety of state laws that have forced closures of abortion clinics, there might be a need for a renewed Clergy Consultation Service. In 2000, there were sixteen abortion providers in Tennessee; today there are six.

At the beginning of last month, Planned Parenthood, the remaining abortion provider in Nashville, where I live, “temporarily suspended abortion services,” according to a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Mississippi. Communications assure supporters that this is only a temporary measure while the clinic undergoes a period of quality improvement, and the clinic remains open to provide wellness exams, birth control, and sexually-transmitted infection testing. However, many are worried about access to abortion services for those in Middle Tennessee and beyond.

Most of my life, I’ve lived in mid-sized to large urban areas, and I never doubted that I would be able to access whatever healthcare I might need, including reproductive healthcare, so the ceasing of abortion services came as a shock to me. Sure enough, Nashville is now the largest urban area without an abortion clinic. For those seeking an abortion, the nearest clinics are approximately a three-hour drive away, and the state-mandated forty-eight hour waiting period means that those seeking abortions either need to make multiple trips or incur the costs of being away from home for a longer period of time.

Not surprisingly, the suspension of abortion services at the Nashville location of Planned Parenthood was met with elation in certain religious circles that see it as a victory for pro-life causes. And, simplistically, it is possible that this suspension will lead women with unwanted or crisis pregnancies to end up having their child. Perhaps abortion-minded women will end up at a crisis pregnancy center and be given the tools, resources, and support they need before and after birth.

On the other hand, the hurdles involved in accessing a legal abortion might drive women to unsafe options. Or we might end up with even more children in foster care and more families, particularly those of color, struggling for survival below the poverty-line.

While abortion might remain legal, decreased accessibility to reproductive healthcare services will have an effect. Christian communities concerned by this could organize in two ways: one, to provide transportation, housing, and other support for abortion-minded women who must travel, or two, committing to tangibly support women and families who give birth. Forcing women into childbirth due to a lack of safe or accessible options cannot be the end-game, even for those who are anti-abortion.

The United States is notoriously unfriendly in the global community to families with children, with no requirement for paid parental leave and a high rate of maternal mortality. If we want to encourage women on the margins to carry unplanned pregnancies to term, there are better ways than shuttering abortion clinics and limiting access to reproductive healthcare.

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