Abortion and religion

Well, if that isn’t a heavy title, I don’t know what is. As my mom would say, “Scares me, and I’m fearless.” And she would be scared of that title. She identifies as Christian and “pro-life”, and introduced me to the reproductive rights discussion by handing me a book about Jerry Falwell’s home for unwed mothers and a teen bible with an addendum about why abortion was wrong.

Many supporters of reproductive rights, like me, have been in a tizzy about Senator McCain’s use of “air quotes” when disdainfully discussing the “health” of the mother being a included as a clause in legislation restricting access to abortion. But, some people at Shakesville (and I am sure elsewhere) are also concerned with Senator Obama’s quote from the last debate, in which he says: “But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision”.

Thanks, Rachel at Women’s Health News for tipping me to this angle in the discussion. I have actually been thinking about this a lot recently.

I went to a Planned Parenthood Interfaith Council meeting this week. I went as a representative of our school’s chapter of Medical Students for Choice. The council meeting was hosted at a synagogue, and several ministers of different denominations attended. It was one of the best hour and a halfs I have ever spent. I knew there was a diversity of opinion among people of faith, and therefore leaders in faith, when it came to reproductive rights, but I just hadn’t had the chance to meet with any to listen to their points of view. It was really exciting to meet several allies at once.

I mentioned the same statistics that Rachel mentions in her post from the Guttmacher Institute (well, I read it in a slide in a powerpoint from them, but Rachel sites the original study on her post like a good librarian) how the majority of women seeking abortions, when surveyed, self identify as religious. 43% of them say they are Protestant, and 13% of those say they are evangelical. 27% identify as Catholic.

Most of the people in my medical school who struggle with where they stand on reproductive choice issues have religious reasons for thinking abortion is wrong. When I speak to most of them, however, they say that they do not want to perform abortions, and would not choose to get one if pregnant (if female) or would not want someone that they got pregnant to get one (if male), but do not support abortion being illegal.

Some classmates who are proudly pro choice are also proudly religious. Our school’s chapter of Medical Students for Choice has had membership that overlapped with the Christian Medical and Dental Association”. It bothers me whenever I hear people, either in the anti-choice movement, the pro-choice movement or in the medical profession, assume that religion, especially Christianity, is mutually exclusive with being pro-choice. It isn’t true at the level of the individual woman who makes the decision, the practitioner, the religious leaders, or the community.

I saw a woman who works in public policy for Planned Parenthood say a Sukkot prayer in Hebrew along with the Rabbi who hosted our breakfast. She knew every word. One of the Baptist ministers goes on outreach missions in the community every weekend sharing information about and samples of emergency contraception, and used to drive women from her dorm to New York to get safe terminations from an ob/gyn when the only other alternative was a back alley abortion, like the one that almost killed her aunt.

People of faith are our people. Our movement cannot survive if we rule them out.


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2 responses to “Abortion and religion

  1. Hi- I came here from a post on facebook by MS4C and was really pleased to hear about your positive multi-faith pro-choice experience. I am, in fact, jealous that such tolerance and inclusion exists at your medical school.

    Here at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), we have a MS4C chapter that can’t even identify as a MS4C because of lack of support and acceptance in the College and the community at large. We identify ourselves as a Reproductive Action Group. And, although the majority of my fellow classmates are stauchly pro-choice (whether they are anti-abortion or not, as you mentioned above) the faculty and our curriculum are strongly anti-choice. Our school’s Christian Medical and Dental Student’s Association led a march to Ottawa (our nation’s capital) last year to support one of our prime minister’s bills that protected the rights of the foetus. They are certainly not focused on women’s health.

    It sounds like your community is working together and moving towards looking at reproductive health as a whole, instead of focussing on false dichotomies that ignore the real issues at hand. That is really inspiring to read!

  2. MomTFH

    I am proud of you for being a member despite the opposition in your community.

    I may have painted an overly rosy picture of our relationship with CMDA. Officially, their national pledge or oath or whatever they do to become members involves an anti-choice plank. We had overlap with the students from the year before us with CMDA and MS4C, and some of their members were members of GLMA (our gay, lesbian, trans, queer, ally, etc. med school group.) Not any overlap that I know of in my year, but hey, I am happy for any!

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