Pro-choice faith communities and clergy have a unique opportunity to lead

Dan Fink
Dan Fink Idaho Statesman

As has been oft-noted, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation from the Supreme Court leaves a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy in grave danger. President Trump is committed to overturning Roe v. Wade, and his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill Kennedy’s seat could be the final step in that direction.

If a future court does, indeed, strike down the Roe decision, then the legality of abortion will depend upon the state in which one lives. This means that those of us in the pro-choice majority here in Idaho have a great deal of work to do — and pro-choice faith communities and clergy have a unique opportunity to lead.

Since the 1973 Roe decision, the loudest faith-based voices weighing in on the abortion debate have overwhelmingly come from anti-choice religious conservatives. Their passion has dominated the political scene and their stridency has been effective. Americans of all political persuasions have too often come to view the struggle for women’s reproductive rights as a battle between secular pro-choice activists and religious abortion foes. Pious faith is frequently seen as synonymous with opposition to abortion rights.

This is most unfortunate, as a large percentage of us in the pro-choice majority also come to our position out of deep-seated religious conviction. Our faith obligates and inspires us to work for reproductive freedom for all women, rich and poor. Our churches and synagogues and other houses of worship call us to embrace a system of family values in which every child born is wanted and loved by those who freely choose to bring a new life into this world. We, too, ground our political work in an ethics that comes from God. We, too, value life — and that value compels us to respect the real lives and decisions of women who face difficult reproductive choices. Now, as we consider the scary possibility of Roe’s reversal, the time has come for the pro-choice majority of the faithful to make our own voices heard. We can no longer afford to let the religious right dominate the public discourse. We must speak proudly out of our own faith traditions, proclaiming that the moral choices that arise from an unwanted pregnancy are best made by the woman, in consultation with her loved ones, the teachings of her faith community, and her God, rather than the government.

In the dark days before Roe, a group of devout rabbis and Protestant ministers founded the first safe and organized underground abortion clinic in New York City. They took this step because they had come to know, all too well, the tragic cost of abortion bans: countless women left dead, maimed, and infertile after botched attempts to end unwanted pregnancies. These clergy acted out of their faiths’ theology, which taught that the life of the mother takes precedence over the potential life of the fetus. This is the view of both my Jewish tradition and most of the mainstream Protestant denominations.

Alas, in recent decades, we whose faith moves us to support a woman’s right to choose have been complacent while our anti-choice colleagues have been zealous. The time has come for religious supporters of abortion rights to rise up with the same passion and piety that animates our opponents. We owe it to ourselves, our wives and sisters and daughters — and our God.

Dan Fink is the rabbi for the Ahavath Beth Israel congregation.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.