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A recent On Faith column, ‘A Prayer for Abortion?’, isn’t a full accounting of how people of faith consider women’s health issues.
As the chair of the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board, I work with faith leaders from all different traditions and backgrounds. We strongly believe that women and men are moral agents, able to make their own decisions about their reproductive needs.
I also understand that for many women, abortion is a deeply personal and complex decision, often influenced by their faith and background.
My faith plays an integral part in my own thoughts and feelings about abortion. Over time, these feelings have transformed from judgment to love as I matured in my spirituality.
My mother, a secretary in a maternity ward, used to tell me stories about women dying from complicated pregnancies because they were told that it was a sin to have an abortion, even if it meant saving their lives.
Our sacred texts and traditions teach us that women have the right to take care of their bodies. So when I graduated Yale Divinity School in 1991, I made the decision to support women as a core part of my ministry.
I took a job as a counselor in an independent clinic that performed abortions. I remember the daily protests outside my office window. For many women coming to the clinic, it was a difficult situation to face.
It pains me now to hear that many women across the country are facing similar situations when they need access to health care. It seems like every day lawmakers are trying to limit access to care, putting women’s health at risk.
Like in Virginia, where the governor recently signed a bill that mandates doctors perform pre-abortion ultrasound procedures that may not be medically necessary and could force a woman to make two trips if she needs an abortion.
Lawmakers should not try to play priest or doctor. Women don’t turn to politicians to help them make these decisions. They turn to their faith for moral guidance and their doctors for health care. Lawmakers shouldn’t be injecting government into this very private decision a woman makes.
The bottom line is that women must be treated with dignity and receive the best medical care possible.
As a pastor with years of both academic and supervised pastoral care experience, I’ve heard so many different stories from both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of the public abortion debate overlooks the fact that a woman is capable of making decisions for herself.
So I have a simple message for women who are considering an abortion or may have had an abortion: God loves you. No one should tell you any different.
And yes, I do pray for women and men to have harassment-free access to the health care they need. I remember what it was like to be a staff member at a health center and I remember what many women faced when they needed important health care.
That’s why, no matter what situation you may be faced with, we all need to remember that unconditional compassion is a great blessing to be able to offer.
Rev. Jane Emma Newall is the Chair of the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board. She is the founding pastor of the Rainbow Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church and lives in Connecticut.