The convergence of faith and reproductive rights

By Nancy Litz and Glenn Northern

In the emotionally charged discussions around reproductive freedom, it can seem that people of faith universally support extreme, restrictive proposals like those currently before the Missouri Legislature.  As people deeply committed to our respective faith traditions, we represent a broad chorus of voices whose faith compels them to support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. 

We are deeply troubled by efforts to restrict women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health-care options, including abortion, contraception and other essential health services. Proposals currently being considered by the Missouri Legislature—House Bill 126 and Senate Bill 279—would ban abortions after just six weeks—before most women realize they are pregnant.  These proposals allow no exceptions, even for women impregnated against their will in cases of rape or incest, forcing them, regardless of age, to carry a pregnancy to term. 

Issues surrounding women’s reproductive choices—abortion in particular—are complex, but we agree that restricting access to the full range of reproductive healthcare would have devastating consequences for the physical and emotional wellbeing of women and their families.  

As people of faith, common principles compel us to speak out together against restrictive policies and to support women’s right to reproductive choice: 

• Respecting women’s moral agency: Women are moral agents with the capacity, the right and the responsibility to make their own decisions about sexuality, reproduction, and their families. Legislation that limits the availability of reproductive health care services severely limits a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own health and how best to care for her family, guided by her own conscience, personal circumstances and moral or faith tradition. 

• Demonstrating compassion for marginalized women:  As faith centered organizations, we are committed to the welfare of society’s most vulnerable. Severe restrictions and bans have the most negative impact on women without geographical access or financial resources to obtain safe care.  We oppose policies that compound the difficulties of families already struggling to meet basic needs.  Reducing health-care options for some, based on economic strata or geographic location, is profoundly unjust. 

• Striving for social justice and equal rights to health care:  Efforts to de-fund organizations on the public health front lines—organizations like Planned Parenthood —would deprive low-income populations of the care they need to prevent unintended pregnancies, to treat and prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, to access life-saving cancer screenings and to obtain medically accurate information about sexual health. Such providers ensure that women who want to have children get the information and care necessary to promote a safe pregnancy and delivery. Missouri currently ranks high in maternal death and infant mortality compared to other states, and those rates are rising, especially among underserved populations. 

• Recognizing the obligation to protect every woman’s life and health: We oppose any proposals that allow hospitals and entire health systems to refuse to provide services necessary to save a woman’s life. Our faith supports the belief that a health worker’s right to object must be balanced with a woman’s right to the care she needs. Health professionals and their organizations have an obligation to ensure access to necessary services, whether directly or by referral to an alternative provider. 

• Safeguarding religious liberty: We believe that one person’s religious viewpoint must not be imposed on others. Different faiths, and even groups within a single faith community, hold varying views about issues of sexuality and reproduction. Time and again our nation has addressed this diversity of opinions by upholding the founding principle of religious freedom. Reproductive freedoms are integrally bound with religious freedoms — a connection recognized by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. Each woman has a right to make reproductive health choices based on her own morals and faith tradition, free from constraints imposed by legislating one religious viewpoint over another. We oppose any legislation that erodes Americans’ constitutionally protected right to freedom from state-sanctioned religion. 

As people of faith, we believe in compassion, justice and the dignity of all women. Those who would restrict women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care are often motivated by religious views that they then seek to impose on others. However, freedom of religion means that every person is valued as a moral decision maker, free to make deeply personal choices based on their own beliefs and consciences. Legislators should not presume to tell others how best to decide when and whether to have children or how best to care for their families. 

We ask our fellow Missourians of all faith traditions to speak up for women’s health and reproductive choice—and to urge their elected representatives to defeat HB 126 and SB 279.

Nancy Litz (left)  is Vice President Advocacy for National Council of Jewish Women.  Glenn Northern (right)  is Domestic Program Director for Catholics for Choice.