Reproductive Choice: The Mother of All Rights


If a woman is denied the right to choose for herself whether or not to complete a pregnancy, in what sense can she, or any of us, claim rights of any kind?  The right to have an abortion is the mother of all others.  Denying a woman’s sovereignty over what goes on inside her body is an extreme attack not only on her freedom and God-given dignity, it is an attack against freedom itself.

In case anyone doubted that the minority group in control of our government is serious about outlawing abortion, current events should be convincing.  And if anyone doubted that this campaign is an effort to impose the religious beliefs of a minority onto everyone else, they need to know what the governor of Alabama said when she signed that state’s draconian abortion ban:  “… this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”  Of course every life is a sacred gift from God – but that has nothing to do with the subject of abortion rights.  And to imply that it does is to misread the Judeo-Christian tradition.  The Bible as a whole, and Jesus in particular, had nothing to say about abortion.  Fundamentalists quote scripture supporting their anti-choice views, but not one of the passages they cite has anything to do with the subject.  They are reading their beliefs into texts where they don’t appear.

So if we are to preserve our freedom, including freedom of religious choice, we must rise up in defense of reproductive choice.  And we who are Christians must speak up, in the name of our faith, or the public will presume that we are anti-choice.  Here are some talking points for us:

“We speak of Esau and others in the Bible as having a birthright, not a conception-right.  After a strong religious experience we might say we’ve been ‘born again,’ but not ‘conceived again’…   …fetus as ‘person’ or ‘human being’ has never been a settled question within Christianity nor Judaism. There are large segments of the Judeo-Christian world that, historically and currently see the embryo or fetus as potential human life, but not as fully human until birth or until some stage in fetal development well past conception.”   — Rev. Scotty McLennan, former Dean of Religious Life, Stanford University, in his book, Jesus Was a Liberal, 2009.

“I was taught that it is more important to be on God’s side than to have God on your side. God’s side is mercy, love, justice and compassion. It is time… to start the conversation in the faith community that will let us pursue these with regard to reproduction and sexuality so that jubilee will come to the captives of reproductive and sexual oppression.” — Dr Willie J. Parker, doctor who performs abortions.

If abortion is outlawed anywhere in this country, the backlash against Christians will be fierce.  We’ll all be painted with one brush.  Whether before or after the fact, we Christians who support freedom will have a lot of explaining to do.  So we might as well get busy with it now.

To see what happens to religion when religion is imposed on people by the government, check out Iran, where millions of people have turned away from Islam because of its ties to the theocratic government there.  Check out what is happening in Russia, where the government uses Orthodox Christianity as a tool for its totalitarian agenda: the churches are empty.  Have a look at the legacies of European state-sponsored churches that have become little more than museums.

Banning abortion will be bad for women.  And it will be terrible for Christianity.  So for everyone’s sake, we progressive Christians must be “out”, loud and clear, in support of reproductive choice.

Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, USC
Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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