A number of progressive Christian authors have come out in opposition to Planned Parenthood and abortion rights or they have wanted to give voice to the moral ambiguities involved in the issue. The latter I respect. But as a progressive Christian I wanted to offer an alternative position. One which affirms and supports the work of Planned Parenthood and the importance of access to reproductive health care.
I write this as a gay man. As someone who can never become pregnant. And as someone whose knowledge of women’s reproductive health needs are limited. And yet I find a continuity between LGBT equality and reproductive justice. Both relate to not just bodily autonomy but the ability to determine the shape of our lives. And it is not an accident that it is the same folks who are working to restrict both. A kind of violence against the integrity of the person is the necessary result.
When I used to volunteer as an escort at a clinic and the insults were hurled at women, at the volunteers and staff, one of the most common kind were anti gay slurs. And they were in particular directed against escorts. We were all “fags” and “dykes”. They were kind of right. Most of us volunteers were gay and lesbians. All of us recognized what was at stake in this debate and that it somehow involved us as well.
To talk about reproductive justice is not to solve the abortion debate and I don’t intend to in this essay. But one reason Planned Parenthood needs support is for the work it does for women’s health especially in rural and under served areas. “Only 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood performs are abortions. The bulk of the services — cancer screenings, pelvic exams, birth control — are provided to hundreds of thousands of women who would probably have a hard time affording them otherwise.’
“According to its own estimates, Planned Parenthood prevents more than half a million unintended pregnancies every year. You could say that makes it the nation’s biggest abortion foe.” Christianity Today is calling for progressive Christians to come out against Planned Parenthood. To do so would to not just come out against women getting access to health care but women getting access to contraception and other services that demonstrably reduces the rate of abortions in this country.
The ineffectiveness of laws against the stated goals of the pro-life movement makes one wonder why they keep proposing them. Since they include opposition to contraception many places saw their abortion and women’s mortality rate go up afterwards. Waiting periods, closing clinics, restrictions against crossing state lines, all have the effect of pushing the date of an abortion, increasing the likelihood of late term abortions that are morally problematic and more dangerous for health.
Rachel Held Evans wants us to acknowledge the moral ambiguities that many women experience after an abortion. Indeed we must. And the clinic I worked with had a counselor from Faith Aloud to help women negotiate these issues. But we can’t universalize that experience either. How do we in the church hold a space for those who find relief after having one? Who do not regret their choice? Who were able to have options in their life because of their abortion?
This flurry of posts on this issue came from a heavily edited video (8 minutes out of a 3 hour conversation) where a Planned Parenthood staff member was negotiating the transport of fetal tissue to be used for medical research. The decision of whether that should happen is made by the woman, not Planned Parenthood. And there is no profit made from this. Still, ethically, questions can be raised about this practice.
But opponents don’t seem to be seeking to limit such medical research. Instead they are wanting to close down Planned Parenthood. And with that the access to needed health care for millions of women. That is a position I consider morally indefensible. And it makes me think that this is not an ethical discussion but a political one.
The decision to post on the issue for me comes as I’m a new board member of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. The OCRJ has an inclusive vision of reproductive justice issues and I wanted to involved as a pastor. While the liberal church has been out in front on LGBT issues they have been relatively quiet on access to reproductive health care. That has not served the public discussion well.
Dwight Welch is the pastor at the United Church of Norman, Oklahoma