A Choice Conversation: New Campaign Highlights Intersection of Faith, Women’s Rights

Launched yesterday at the National Press Club, “It’s Time” counters the notion that people of faith uniformly oppose choice.

The idea of legalized abortion has polarized Americans ever since Roe v. Wade.

By now, the slogans are quite familiar: Those who support abortion rights say it’s her body, her choice. Those who don’t say abortion is child murder. And according to the Religious Right, even access to contraception is a violation of some divine precept.

But a new campaign by an Americans United ally, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), aims to set aside the slogans and reclaim the conversation on faith and women’s health. Launched yesterday at the National Press Club, “It’s Time” counters the notion that people of faith uniformly oppose choice.

“We all need to be reminded that many, many people of deep faith across this country are pro-faith, pro-family and pro-choice, and we fervently believe that it’s time to change the conversation,” Rev. Dr. Alethea Smith-Withers, chair of RCRC’s Board of Directors, told reporters.

Her sentiments were echoed by Rabbi Jessica Kirschner. In her remarks, Kirschner built a compelling argument that for many people of faith, religion is no barrier to support for choice.

“There is no monolithic religious opinion about contraception, abortion or sex education,” she said. “There are many religious opinions, and many religious people, and for far too long, the many have been shouted down by strident voices who leave no space for nuance, difference or conversation.”

Dr. Willie Parker, who provides abortions and contraceptives to women in Chicago, explained the practical consequences created by the Religious Right’s shrill rhetoric.

“I am often reviled and excommunicated from a faith identity by our religious brothers and sisters who wax extreme on the abortion issue,” he said.

And according to Parker, those consequences extend to his patients: “I am a witness to the torment of my patients by the conflict created when they make a decision to have an abortion, as one in three women do in this country by the age of 45, but are told that doing so is mutually exclusive with the faith identity they hold.”

That conflict, so often erased from the abortion debate, is at the center of RCRC’s new campaign. Speakers emphasized the need to focus on the experiences of women themselves, particularly women from marginalized communities disproportionately affected by the Religious Right’s anti-choice campaigns.

“Women of color and allies, it’s time to elevate our own experiences as we lead, organize, and advocate,” said LaTasha Mayes, executive director of reproductive rights group New Voices Pittsburgh.

Mayes further pointed out that support for legal abortion and contraceptive access is consistently high among religious African Americans — a fact notably absent from dogmatic rhetoric on the subject.

Ultimately, the campaign and its backers seek to remind observers of an important truth: that women’s health is a non-sectarian issue, despite how it’s been framed by extremists. RCRC’s campaign to reclaim the conversation on choice stands to benefit everyone, regardless of their faith identity — or even their lack thereof.

Aimee Thorne-Thompson of Advocates for Youth told the press that she supports RCRC and its work, even though she identifies as a secular Catholic. “I can and do stand alongside RCRC to serve as a bridge between secular people and people of faith, and engage us in conversations about how faith can be a tool for justice,” she said.

I asked RCRC’s president, the Rev. Harry Knox, what he’d say to his fundamentalist brothers and sisters given the chance.

“I want them to see me listen,” he said simply. “I want to give the impression that I understand their values — then I’d share a story, or a fact, or a statistic, to push them forward one step toward reproductive justice.”

That give and take, he said, is what religion looks like when it’s done well.

That mentality is antithetical to the Religious Right, but we at Americans United agree with Knox: It’s time to set aside extremism and let people make their own decisions about their own health.

For more information about “It’s Time,” including resources for activists and clergypeople, visit RCRC’s website.