Originally published in the Minnesota Post (view original here)
Vacationing in my Texas hometown last week, I helped my folks clean out a storage closet. We went through boxes of photos, old journals, markers of times gone by. Reading one of my journals, I revisited the most challenging period of my life: I was barely scraping by, working two jobs, in the grip of substance abuse, and in an unhealthy relationship. The worn blue notebook contained the story of my abortion in Dallas some 30 years ago. In a single visit to an independent clinic, I was able to get the care I needed, from courageous and compassionate staff, but only after running a gantlet of shouting protesters telling me that I was going to hell.
It was a difficult experience, and my feelings in the days after the procedure yo-yoed back and forth between grief and relief. I have never regretted this most intimate health care decision, not then nor at any time since those bleak days. As a person of faith, I knew it was the right decision for me and my family, and I knew I was lucky. Even though I did not have health insurance, I had a safety net, and I was able to have the procedure early in my pregnancy, when it was safest and most affordable.
This is a story of privilege. Because of the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from being used for abortion care, women who receive their health care from Medicaid are not so lucky. Nearly 1 in 3 women who experience unintended pregnancy will have an abortion, and nearly 80 percent of them live at or below the poverty line. Most already have children; they know what it means to make difficult parenting decisions.
This issue speaks to the very heart of justice for us at the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. We represent a broad cross-section of faith communities who believe that a woman, no matter what her economic circumstances, should have access to safe and dignified reproductive health care. We believe that a woman facing an unintended pregnancy is best suited to make decisions for herself and her family, without political interference. We believe that God gives each of us, in consultation with our faith and with those who matter most to us, the ability to determine our capacity for parenting, for caring for others in our families, for serving our communities.
Scripture upon scripture in both the Hebrew and Christian books of the Bible call the faithful to care for those in poverty, those who struggle to make ends meet, the downtrodden and heavy laden. We know that a woman in Minnesota facing an unwanted pregnancy may miss paying her rent or buying groceries for her family in order to pay for the abortion she needs and wants.
People of faith may have different views on reproductive health, rights, and justice, but we should be able to agree that a woman facing a difficult situation deserves compassion and access to a full spectrum of reproductive health care, rather than judgment, shame and denial of basic services. At MNRCRC, we say the political gamesmanship in which low-income women are used as pawns is morally wrong.
We understand religious liberty to mean that each of us has the constitutionally protected right to make our own health care decisions according to our own faith and conscience.
There is no right to inflict spiritual or emotional harassment, no matter how strongly others feel about their own beliefs. Nor should there be a right to deny basic reproductive health care to any woman, regardless of whether her insurance is public or private. God calls us to address the racial and economic injustices of the Hyde Amendment: low-income women, women of color, young women, Native American women, and immigrant women are unfairly discriminated against by federal abortion funding bans. While abortion remains legal under Roe v. Wade, far too many women have no access because of funding bans and other intrusive and medically unnecessary restrictions.
Repeal Hyde Amendment
MNRCRC is proud to join with the All* Above All campaign to raise awareness and build support for the repeal of the punitive Hyde Amendment. When the Be Bold Road Tour pulled into the Twin Cities on Tuesday, we were there, as a faithful witness for reproductive justice. Check the website for more details.
The decision of when and whether to parent a child is complicated, one of the most crucial decisions any of us will ever make. I have always been grateful that I had the means and the access to follow my own conscience regarding the outcome of that pregnancy long ago. Today I am the mother, wife, daughter, friend, community member and clergy person God calls me to be, and my life is better because I had the access and means to have a safe, legal, affordable abortion. Every woman deserves the same, regardless of how she gets her insurance.
The Rev. Kelli Clement is a Unitarian Universalist Community minister in Minneapolis. She is a member of the Center for American Progress Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute. She serves as executive director of the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, now in its 25th year of service, education and advocacy.