Christians in a post-Roe v Wade country

May 20th, 2019

Over the past several weeks, several state legislatures have passed laws severely limiting, and in one case, out-right banning, access to abortion. Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and Kentucky passed so-called “Heartbeat Bills,” that make abortion illegal after a heartbeat can be detected, or around six weeks gestation, when many women are unaware that they are even pregnant. The most restrictive law came out of Alabama, which outlaws abortion at any stage in a pregnancy with exceptions for the risk of the mother’s health but no exceptions for rape or incest and would hold abortion providers criminally liable.

While these laws will likely be contested in the courts, these legislatures are attempting to launch the challenge that will overturn Roe v Wade or at least damage it, making it harder to get an abortion in the United States. Despite the attack on Roe v Wade, even in the states where these laws were passed, support for banning abortion does not rise above 25-percent and, as of 2018, 71-percent of voters oppose overturning Roe v Wade. But state legislatures on both sides are gearing up for what seems inevitable  more liberal states enshrining the right to abortion in their state constitutions and more conservative ones passing “trigger laws” banning abortion that would go into effect if Roe was reversed.

With the future of abortion access looking uncertain in many states, individual Christians and their communities who have previously remained quiet on this controversial issue may need to start speaking up. Many of the Mainline Protestant denominations have statements on abortion that condemn legal attempts to limit abortion access based on what it was like for women before Roe. Though these statements discourage abortion except in extreme situations, they still acknowledge that reproductive decisions are best made by individuals who are pregnant in consultation with their doctors, families, and clergy, not politicians or judges.

"Pro-Choice and Christian" by Kira Austin-Young. Order here:

Despite media rhetoric on “the Christian position” with regard to abortion, Christians are not monolithically anti-abortion, nor do all of them support the passage of these kinds of laws. Christians also access abortion at the same rate as other demographic groups. This is not only an issue that affects people “out there” but also those in our pews — women who will have to travel for care, women who will risk being prosecuted when they miscarry, and women who are human beings capable of making complex moral decisions.

However, it is highly likely that women of color and women with fewer economic resources will be disproportionately affected by abortion bans, as was true before Roe v Wade. It is also these women who are more likely to die in childbirth as maternal mortality rates in some of these states passing abortion bans rival those in developing countries. Recently, abortion rates have declined to their lowest since Roe v Wade, but instead of instituting policies that would further discourage abortion and encourage growing families, these state legislators have taken the opposite tack.

Lest we grow complacent, just this week the Supreme Court showed their willingness to strike down another decades-old precedent, which signals a very real danger to abortion rights in this country. Whether or not you agree with abortion or would seek one for yourself, the time has come to speak up for those who will be put at-risk and plan for action in a post-Roe v Wade country.

In the years before Roe, ministers and rabbis joined forces to form Clergy Consultation Services, which helped women access safe abortions. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is its successor, though we may have to return to its original purpose. Many women are sharing their abortion stories in an attempt to let their communities know that this does not just affect faceless, nameless women, but people we know and people in our pews.

It was the dangerous and extreme circumstances that pregnant people would go through to end unwanted pregnancies that propelled the fight for abortion rights. The church must make sure we don't return to such times.

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