Friday, February 11, 2011

A Theology of Reproductive Justice

On Monday, February 7th, I attended a celebration hosted by Planned Parenthood of York, PA, commemorating the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. "Celebrating Roe in a New Century with Liberty and Reproductive Justice for All" was held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York. After opening comments and recognition of two outstanding Planned Parenthood volunteers, the audience listened to a talk by lay minister James Cavenaugh. Cavenaugh, a prison chaplain, clinic escort, and founding director of the regional Fund for Choice, gave an eloquent talk on spirituality and reproductive rights.

Cavenaugh began by framing women as a group that is frequently mistreated and marginalized in our society. Many of the women he meets in prisons and clinics have been abused, he said, and many of the women seeking abortions feel like "the last, the least, and the lost." He applauded clinic escorts for giving comfort and protection to such women.

Reading from a letter he submitted to the Patriot News, he chided speaks from the 2011 March for Life in Washington D.C., who showed great concern for fetuses but little concern, in his opinion, for women and families. Had they forgotten all the deaths from botched illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade? The devastating health impact of botched abortions was considered so serious that in 1967, a group of concerned clergy formed the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion* and advocated for abortion rights.

Cavenaugh argued that if anti-choice advocates have their wish and abortion becomes illegal, unscrupulous abortion providers such as Kermit Gosnell will pop up everywhere, and women will die. Overturning Roe v. Wade will not make abortions disappear, he insisted. Abortions need to be safe, accessible, and rare, he stated, undergirded by good health care, education, and informed medical decisions.

Cavenaugh introduced the audience to a theology of reproductive justice, in which pro-choice convictions are rooted in what those who value women and girls see as sacred. He reminded listeners that all people do theology when they reflect on their beliefs, what is important to them, or what they consider sacred.

In a Microsoft Power Point presentation written by Rev. Matthew Westfox and himself, Cavenaugh fleshed out this theology of reproductive justice, exploring its role in the activism of groups such as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The term "reproductive justice" came into parlance from the work of SisterSong and other community activists of color. "Reproductive Justice" entails economic, social, and political power and resources for people to make choices regarding their own bodies, sexuality, and reproduction. It encompasses not only abortion, but healthy pregnancies, parenting, and decisions as to when and if to have children. Reproductive rights overlap with economic issues, immigration, domestic violence, religion, and social barriers, making it essential that reproductive justice be multi-faceted and holistic.

Cavenaugh cited Biblical passages that exalt justice, such as Deuteronomy 16:20, Psalm 33:5, and Psalm 106:3. Justice also includes loving kindness toward others, which anti-choice protesters outside clinics do not demonstrate, he chided. Returning to scripture, Cavenaugh also demonstrated that the Bible does not give a fetus the same status as a baby person, citing Exodus 21:22-25. He criticized anti-choice advocates who engage in proof-texting, or the act of taking scriptural passages out of context and ignoring what they meant at the time and place in which they were written.

The Power Point presentation listed three pillars of a theology of reproductive justice: (1) valuing lives -- the plural being deliberate, as multiple lives are involved in reproductive issues, (2) sacred decision making that respects women as moral agents, and (3) a belief in sacred sexuality, coupled with appreciation and stewardship of sex. Reflecting on the parable of the sower, Cavenaugh reminder listeners that just as seeds require healthy ground to flourish, life requires healthy families to thrive. Reframing the pro-choice position as a pro-lives position, he stressed that many lives are improved through reproductive justice.

Cavenaugh reminded listeners that it was faith that brought them together that evening -- faith in women's right and ability to make choices. He encouraged the audience to take a sacred stand for reproductive justice through advocacy and public witness (i.e., letters to the editor, writing to public officials).

In a time of countless threats to reproductive rights in this country -- from LiveAction's recent smear videos, to legislation such as H.R. 3, to the most recent version of FY 2011 Continuing Resolution bill which would eliminate Title X funding for reproductive health services -- it is energizing to meet people who enthusiastically struggle to protect reproductive justice. James Cavenaugh reminded listeners that protecting reproductive rights is not just a political or medical issue, but a spiritual one as well.

* = The forerunner of today's Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

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