A few days ago, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, decided to overturn Roe v. Wade, which removes federal protection of women who seek abortions, reverting the matter back to the states. As such, states are taking this unprecedented opportunity to limit or prohibit, and criminalize the seeking of or obtaining an abortion using a variety of methods that seek to control a woman's agency over her own body.
This decision overturns 50 years of precedent. For decades, it has been an agenda item for ultra-conservative Christians who argue they are pro-life and are protecting the unborn child. The continued push to re-make the Supreme Court into a body that would have the political will to overturn Roe v. Wade has been in the making since Roe v. Wade passed in 1973. While these individuals have a deep desire for our country to be a "Christian" nation, we are not just Christian, we are a melting pot of religious traditions and no tradition at all; thus the need for the concept: Separation of Church and State.
The issue that divides us so is reconciling one’s religious orientation with one’s scientific understanding of what we call life and when life actually begins. The foremost fundamental question is, "Does life begin at conception?" In order to answer this question, we must look at the science and understand the biology of cells and how cells come together to form the fetus that will then become life. What we know is that when the two cells—one from the female and one from the male—come together, what they form is the potential for life, not life itself. There are still many stages these cells must go through in order to actually produce life - a being that possess self-awareness or a consciousness of self.
In truth, we may never agree on a definition of what constitutes life. We may find ourselves forever at odds with each other if we continue to use the concept of life begins at conception when there is no scientific evidence to support this position. There is also little religious or scriptural evidence that life begins at conception. In the world of religion, life is associated with the breath of God and the ability for a person to breathe in the whole of God. That first breath a child takes after emerging from the mother's womb is a sure sign of life; the breathing in the whole of God.
As a person of faith, I have wrestled mightily with this issue. We like to think that it is a simple either/or proposition, but it isn’t. There are many nuances to the abortion issue, and it should be met with a more measured response. For those who have never been in a position where they’ve had to choose whether or not to have an abortion, there is no way for you to fully comprehend the weight of this decision. No one wakes up on a Monday morning and decides on a whim that they are going to abort their child. Women take seriously all of the ramifications of having an abortion, and what it means to bring a child into the world. Both have huge impacts on the well-being of the individual carrying the child and the child that is being brought into the world.
Why was Roe v. Wade so important?
It codified, at the federal level, the constitutional right for women to have full agency over their bodies, to include access to abortion and other reproductive health services without interference. By overturning Roe, these decisions will now be left to individual states, many of which have trigger laws that will go into effect in the next 30 days or less. Some of these laws are so invasive regarding the individual civil liberties of women that we have regressed more than the 50 years Roe has been in effect. Most of these laws do not have any provisions to safeguard children or women who are victims of incest or rape, to include rape within the marriage; ectopic pregnancies which place the mother in danger; miscarriages, which are not the same as abortions but are being treated as such; pregnancies that reveal severe mental or physical deformities, some of which can place the mother, the child, or both at risk of death and certainly means incredible hardship on the families of these children; women who are disproportionally low-income or who are already living in the margins of society; nor do these laws make provisions for any other eventuality where the mother’s life might be in danger. Some of these laws are also attempting to restrict access to methods of contraception and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). States like Missouri are also trying to ban women from traveling to other states to receive care or from receiving RU486, known as the morning after pill, even when receiving medication through the US Postal Service.
What does all this say about who we are as a people? Where is our compassion for the women who are being subjected to such draconian measures?
What my faith teaches me is that compassion is my highest calling. God calls us to be the very best versions of ourselves that we can be—this does not include telling other people what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. This does not include forcing my religious agenda onto someone else. Whatever it is you believe about God, God’s law, or religion in general is your choice alone. There isn’t a single right way of finding God, no matter how often you scream it from your pulpits and from the streets. There are many paths to God and God has many ways of interacting with all of creation. There is one thing that I can be certain of – if I walk a path of love and compassion, I will not walk a path of condemnation and division. I cannot do both at the same time.
No matter which side of this issue you are on, please take the time to listen to each other and to understand what is at stake for those who seek these services. Do not rush to any conclusions regarding the moral character of a woman who seeks abortion services. Most women are doing the absolute best they can with the resources available to them. Love them right where they are.
God of all creation, we call on people everywhere to stand alongside women, especially those living in the margins who occupy states where their rights have been stripped from them, and agency over their own bodies has been relegated to the government. Show us what we can do to ensure that women’s bodies are protected from draconian laws and practices. We also pray for our already over-burdened foster care system, for those who are living in poverty and cannot afford adequate medical care, and for those who may attempt to end a pregnancy without medical aid. God, in your mercy, show all children and women that they are loved. Give women the courage to tell men no and to demand their right to appropriate birth control. Show us how we can walk in solidarity with women, without judgment. In your many names we pray. Amen.