This year marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in the United States. On Jan. 22, thousands of proponents of a woman's right to choose, along with opponents of abortion, gathered in Washington, D.C., to advocate for their respective positions on Roe v. Wade. The issue remains one of the most divisive of our time.
On both sides, passionate people of faith share a belief in the sanctity of life, but differ in identifying the options which are morally, ethically and theologically consistent with holding life to be sacred and good. Some deeply religious believers contend that abortion is akin to murder while other equally devout believers contend that women must be able to make this very personal decision without interference from the state. In the 1973 Roe decision, the Supreme Court recognized that diverse religious and theological perspectives exist and that the basic constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion must remain intact.
This anniversary year offers an opportunity to reflect carefully on the issues at stake if we can move beyond the rhetoric and confront reality.
Reality is this: Whether or not abortion is legal, women will seek to terminate unwanted pregnancies. If they do not have access to medically safe and legal services, women will die from back alley abortions.
Reality is this: Poor women and women of color are disproportionately affected by cuts in federal and state funding for family planning programs.
Reality is this: Our young people live in a culture which has been "sexualized" by media, music, movies, and advertising while efforts to provide lifesaving, life-affirming comprehensive sexuality education have been rebuffed by those who promote the use of tax dollars for fear-based, often medically inaccurate "abstinence only" programs.
Reality is this: A majority of Americans of all religious beliefs and of all races believe that abortion should be legal and that a woman should have the right to determine the number and spacing of her children.
This year, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice celebrates its 30th anniversary as an interfaith organization dedicated to "bringing the moral power of religious communities to ensure reproductive choice through education and advocacy," as stated in its mission statement. Furthermore, the Coalition "seeks to give clear voice to the reproductive issues of people of color, those living in poverty, and other underserved populations."
If the current Congress has its way, women's access to full reproductive health services will be threatened and efforts to establish sound human sexuality programs for our young people will be set back.
Reality is this: We cannot let this happen.
The Rev. Lois M. Powell and Ann L. Hanson serve in the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries office in Cleveland.