Faith-based Support for Abortion Rights

The Gallup poll is showing abortion as the #1 voting issue for women in key swing states, with the economy second. Though the pollster didn’t indicate whether the female registered voters polled were pro or anti choice, it’s clear there is a heightened awareness of the consequences of a Romney/Ryan presidency as well as the crushing (to use one of Romney’s favorite words) assault on women’s rights to reproductive self-determination at the state level.

I’m guessing this spike in prioritizing reproductive issues represents an awakened sleeping giant of pro-choice women who typically put other issues and causes first.

This data is a positive sign, not because the economy isn’t important, but because women, owing to the predominant media narrative marginalizing reproductive rights, health, and justice, have not always understood that the abortion wars have never been about abortion but are the tip of a much larger cultural and political iceberg of self-interested resistance to women’s full equality.

Today I’m pleased to share with you a second post by award-winning filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman, in which she explores an often overlooked aspect of support for abortion rights: faith-based affirmations that have always existed but rarely been reported.

Documentary Filmmaker Celebrates the Pro-faith/Pro-choice Connection

For 35 years, I’ve been putting a human face on controversial subjects, from contraception for women in the poorest villages of India to the vulnerability of women to infection with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.

One of the most controversial subjects is the current challenge to legal abortion in the United States. The Concentric Media team worked with me to put together a Choice at Risk screening tour, based on clips from our PBS trilogy on abortion rights.

We’ve mounted a fact-based challenge to counter the common belief that most religions are basically anti-abortion. While some anti-abortion picketers claim that “God Hates Abortion,” other religious traditions hold pro-choice positions. This tour brings together stories ranging from the back alley days to dangers faced by abortion providers today.

Pivotal interviews include clergy from different faiths who worked together to help women find safe, illegal abortions.

In the words of the founder, Rev. Howard Moody, an American Baptist minister:

We did this at a time in which it is illegal to counsel a woman about abortion. A $1,000 fine and a year in jail! But as religious people, as people who cared about people’s spirits, there was no way that you could do that without caring about their bodies.”

We meet courageous clergy from many faiths:

  • Rabbi Ticktin,arrested by a plainclothes policewoman posing as a pregnant woman;
  • Presbyterian Minister Peg Beissert, the first woman to join the service;
  • United Methodist Pastor Cornish Rogers, who served African American communities in South Central Los Angeles.

Why did they do this? When abortion was illegal, women were dying in the back alleys–especially the poor and the young. As Dr. Huw Anwyl of the United Church of Christ says:

“You don’t see something like this and then say ‘…it doesn’t concern me any more’.”

This tour was launched Sept. 27 by Pennsylvanians for Choice and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The evening was led by  Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale, aka “Rev Bev,” a progressive pro-choice minister, an ordained clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), co-founder and co-convener of the PA Clergy for Choice and the Pennsylvania Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice. She advocated for justice in many forms during her twenty-one years as a campus minister at University of Pennsylvania. She wrote a pro-faith/pro-choice liturgy that celebrated the work of the underground Clergy Counseling Service and invited the audience to “honor their courage…. the battles they fought and continue to fight on behalf of the moral good. We honor those who live their religious beliefs by creating justice for women”.

In the responsive readings she noted that we must also honor ourselves, each other and the holy work we do on behalf of women:

“We are the hope when choices must be made, the hope that women’s lives will be saved and that adequate accessible medical services will be available when needed. May we be ever vigilant, and ever faithful to protect all women’s lives ….”

Rev Bev’s open inclusivity connects this tour to my first film Radiance,  about the Light of Spirit in us all and in every faith.

The Unitarian Universalist Association recently re-affirmed the rights of all people and communities to sexual and reproductive autonomy and wholeness. In 1963, they became the first religion to make a public statement in affirmation of a woman’s right to choose contraception and abortion. In 2012, they expanded their advocacy on these issues with the election of reproductive justice as a major commitment, becoming the first religion to affirm reproductive justice (distinct from reproductive ‘choice’).

At the launch event, Rev Bev underscored the importance of taking a stand:

“We vow to reduce the risk for women by standing firm in our support and clear in our resolve that in our State and in our nation all women, regardless of income, status, race, ethnicity or age, will have their reproductive choices for their lives honored, protected, and supported.”

All the media on this tour is available online at www/, free to download or embed. To learn more about pro-faith, pro-choice groups, visit The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Religious Institute.

Dorothy Fadiman has been producing award-winning documentary media with an emphasis on human rights and social justice since 1976. Honors include an Oscar nomination and an Emmy. Subjects range widely from threats to fair elections to progressive approaches in education to a woman’s remarkable healing from a spinal cord injury.

She is the author of PRODUCING with PASSION: Making Films that Heal the World. Films related to women’s reproductive rights include:

  • CHOICE: Then and Now: From the Back-Alleys to the Supreme Court & Beyond;
  • WOMAN by WOMAN: New Hope for the Villages of India and
  • FROM RISK to ACTION: Women and HIV/AIDS In Ethiopia.

GLORIA FELDT is the bestselling author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the honors she has been given, Vanity Fair named her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” she was named Glamour’s “Woman of the Year,” a She Knows Media Inspiring Woman, and a Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st century.

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, she has created the most comprehensive initiative to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025. The women’s leadership nonprofit offers a variety of training programs and workshops including the 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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