Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court stay on a Texas law that would shutter all but a handful of abortion clinics statewide means women needing the procedure get a break, at least in the near future. Whatever the Court decides, however, we can all agree that Texas is the testing ground for new abortion laws in the United States. And we who live here aren’t proud of it.
As a Unitarian Universalist clergyman serving the people of Texas in Dallas, I want it known that religious abortion opponents do not speak for me. I understand both freedom and dignity to be essential to all lives. My church acted on those values in 1969, when our women’s group studying reproductive rights met Norma McCorvey—also known as Jane Roe—and helped her get counsel with Sarah Weddington. At that time members of my church, like Louise Raggio, were also fighting for a woman’s right to shop in department stores in Dallas without her husband’s consent. As Unitarians, these fights for justice were religious actions as well as civil ones, because they were centered on women’s freedom and dignity.
So I bristle at these political strategies and blatant attacks on women today, many done in the name of God, whose followers have historically concerned themselves with the poor and challenging the oppressive status quo. My religion says we must protect our neighbors and do everything we can to fight the spread of oppression of women as the rule of the day. Texas’ restrictions on abortion go against these matters of faith that understand God is loving and just.
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American notions about freedom should start with our bodies without interference from politicians. Somehow we are blurring this in the Texas state legislature: Anti-abortion activists have found a proving ground in the state’s conservative political climate to see how far they can get with their strategies. They are systematically trying to dismantle every piece of law that allows for a woman to procure an abortion.
As the Supreme Court decides what will happen with HB 2, only a few dozen clinics are still limping along to serve the thousands of women who need attention over the immense landscape of Texas. Anti-choice advocates are describing their regulations as “concern for women’s health,” though the restrictions largely add up to sneaky ways to put well-functioning and safe facilities out of business. The new laws tested in our state put an undue burden on clinics and on the women they serve.
And beyond those burdens comes the bottom line: Pregnancy will happen, some women will not be prepared to deliver a newborn into the world, and they will seek alternatives to end those pregnancies that will be hazardous and, in some cases, life-threatening. A clinic nurse working in South Texas told me months ago that her facility was already seeing dangerous homemade attempts at ending pregnancies. These were acts of desperation because the women who resort to trying to abort a fetus in the confines of their homes can’t afford to pay for the procedure or the time it takes to make the long journey to a clinic. Missed work, care for existing children, or cost of travel can become such big obstacles that a do-it-yourself attempt at an abortion becomes appealing, even while threatening the life of the woman making those hard choices.
This isn’t just about abortion either. The Texas legislature has managed to defund Planned Parenthood of money being used to do breast cancer screenings, leaving hundreds of women out in the cold for affordable preventive testing. The women who will be most affected by these laws are the poorest women in our state, and a large number of them will be women of color. These anti-choice factions have created ways to take decision-making power from the most vulnerable among us over the one thing these women can control: their bodies.
This goes directly against holy scripture. The Bible makes frequent reference to protecting the poor, from Deuteronomy 10:18, which claims, “God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing,” to Luke 4:18, in which Jesus famously says, “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” God’s defense was directed toward those who found themselves disadvantaged by power and money in the ancient world as a way to remind leaders to attend to their people. To preach good news was not meant to mean to preach at the poor about their souls, but rather to live among them, serve them, and protect them. Christians have built-in rules and guidelines of service and working for justice. These dictates always claim that first priorities include compassion for the most vulnerable people in our midst, not self-promotion and policymaking that puts neighbors in jeopardy—something many of our lawmakers would do well to remember.
While white male Christian candidates for office parade around the country proclaiming their good works for the benefit of Texas, proud of their refusal to take money from the government to address health issues, the truth should be told: The income gap between the rich and the poor has never been larger, Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the country, and turning women’s health into a political hammer to prop up male domination over women and put reproductive care providers out of business is bad for us all.
People of faith, and all reasonable compassionate people, know that our first calling is to care for our neighbors, those who are living real lives in our midst, and not turn our backs on them. We are called especially to help those who are struggling to make ends meet and retain dignity over their lives. Let’s pray that in its wide-scale disregard for its most vulnerable populations, Texas doesn’t lead the way for the rest of the nation.