The Columbus Dispatch

Religious abortion rights supporters fight for access

- Holly Meyer

On the day the Supreme Court hears arguments in a Mississipp­i abortion ban case, Sheila Katz plans to be at a nearby church.

It is where the Jewish organizati­on she leads is helping to host a morning interfaith service in support of abortion rights. That gathering, and a planned rally outside the court, are among the ways the National Council of Jewish Women and like-minded faith groups are challengin­g the erosion of abortion access in the U.S.

“We’re going to start together as diverse groups of faith, to pray and learn and sing together,” Katz said. “That feels like the right way to send the message that we are doing this work because of our faith and not in spite of it.”

Faith groups with progressiv­e views on abortion rights say access is at a precarious point as the conservati­vemajority Supreme Court considers challenges to two state laws, including a unique Texas measure that prohibits abortions before some even know they are pregnant. The Dec. 1 arguments in the Mississipp­i case will be closely watched as the state’s 15-week ban – and possibly abortion rights nationwide – hang in the balance.

“Things are dire,” said Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice. “We’re really at the precipice of losing a constituti­onal right that we thought would be guaranteed to us for forever.”

Beyond rallies and religious services, faith groups backing access have filed briefs that include religious freedom defenses in the Mississipp­i case – Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizati­on. They also have launched advocacy campaigns, called on believers to speak out, contacted lawmakers and published opinion columns.

Those on the other side of the fight, including the religious, also are mobilizing. The anti-abortion movement counts Catholic bishops and evangelica­l pastors among its prominent leaders.

But Katz and her allies say it’s a misconcept­ion that religious Americans in general are anti-abortion. People of faith are among those who support access and get abortions, Katz said.

“For too long, we’ve allowed a small but loud group from the religious right to dominate the narrative, and it’s time we reclaim it,” Katz said.

A majority of Buddhist, Hindu, historical­ly Black Protestant, Jewish, mainline Protestant, Muslim and Orthodox Christian adults support legal abortion in all or most cases, according to Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study.

According to the study, Catholics are split while most evangelica­l Protestant­s, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say abortion should be illegal.

“I believe that the God of our understand­ing is on the side of a woman’s right to autonomy and agency and thriving, and so that means that God is on a woman’s side to choose,” said the Rev. Erika Forbes, an outreach and

faith manager with the Texas Freedom Network, a progressiv­e nonprofit that supports abortion access.

Forbes isn’t fighting for herself– she has already benefited from the reproducti­ve-rights advocacy of others. Forbes said she has had two abortions and went on to get an education and eventually become the parent she wanted to be.

Forbes has organized clergy in Texas to march, testify and write opinion columns as well as activities like escorting people into clinics. Through her private practice, Forbes, who received her ordination as an interfaith minister from One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York, also has provided spiritual counsel to those considerin­g their reproducti­ve options.

“It is about my children’s children – that they have the ability to create the lives that will allow them the freedom and the justice and the human thriving that is part of our humanity,” she said.

In August, the Texas Freedom Network launched a Reproducti­ve Freedom Congregati­on initiative. Interested congregati­ons are asked to publicly affirm three principles, including promising not to judge or shame attendees for their reproducti­ve choices. More than 30 churches have received the designatio­n and others are undertakin­g the process, Forbes said.

People of faith backing access to abortion is not new.

One example is the Religious Coalition for Reproducti­ve Choice. The organizati­on has roots in the Clergy Consultati­on Service that connected women to safe abortion providers before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing the procedure.

Today, one of their biggest hurdles is conveying the diversity of theologica­l views on when life begins in the face of decades of messaging from well-funded abortion opponents, said the Rev. Katey Zeh, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproducti­ve Choice.

“The idea that a particular theologica­l viewpoint would be imposed on everybody is a religious liberty issue,” said Zeh, a minister affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, formed by progressiv­e Baptists who broke from the Southern Baptist Convention during its conservati­ve turn.

Rabbi Joshua Fixler, associate rabbi at Congregati­on Emanu El in Houston, said his Jewish faith has a different view of when life begins than some Christian traditions, and it has been distressin­g to see Christian beliefs enshrined in law.

 ?? JACQUELYN MARTIN/AP FILE ?? Faith groups with progressiv­e views on abortion rights say access is at a precarious point as the conservati­ve-majority U.S. Supreme Court considers challenges to two state laws.
JACQUELYN MARTIN/AP FILE Faith groups with progressiv­e views on abortion rights say access is at a precarious point as the conservati­ve-majority U.S. Supreme Court considers challenges to two state laws.

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