Four UCC clergy among 13 faith leaders challenging Missouri abortion bans
The Rev. Traci Blackmon is speaking out and taking action against the abortion ban in her home state of Missouri. The UCC Associate General Minister is one of 13 clergy from six faith traditions challenging the abortion bans in Missouri, saying that laws based on one religious doctrine cannot be imposed on everyone.
Four of the 13 plaintiffs serve the United Church of Christ. The group filed a lawsuit Jan. 19 in St. Louis Circuit Court to overturn the ban, contending that Missouri’s abortion restrictions violate the separation of church and state protected in the state’s constitution.
“Our elected officials have violated their oath to uphold that Constitution by weaponizing their religious beliefs to deny abortion access in a state where studies prove these actions are not the will of the majority,” said Blackmon, a long-time resident of St. Louis County. She and other religious leaders representing the Episcopalian, Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalism and United Methodist traditions spoke at a press conference in Christ Church Cathedral’s sanctuary as the suit was filed.
The lawsuit, Rev. Traci Blackmon v. State of Missouri, states that Gov. Michael Parson and the Missouri Legislature violated the state constitution by using their personal religious beliefs about abortion to enact law, incorporating several abortion bans as part of House Bill No. 126, and criminalizing abortion access in the state.
“I am not here to debate the morality of abortion with anyone,” Blackmon said. “I’m here to defend women and birthing people’s right not to have to. And to expose the hypocrisy of legislators who hide behind a feigned pro-life agenda in a pro-death penalty state.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the law firm Arnold & Porter represent the plaintiffs, who say they are compelled by their faiths to support abortion access because of the critical importance it holds for the health, autonomy, economic security and equality of women and all who can become pregnant.
In addition to Blackmon, the other plaintiffs are:
- Rabbi Doug Alpert, Congregation Kol Ami, Kansas City
- The Rev. Jan Barnes, United Church of Christ, Webster Groves, Mo. (retired)
- Rabbi Jim Bennett, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Creve Coeur, Mo.
- The Rev. Cindy Bumb, United Church of Christ, St. Louis (retired)
- Rabbi Andrea Goldstein, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Creve Coeur, Mo.
- The Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, Mo.
- The Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson, 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri
- The Rev. Holly McKissick, Peace Christian Church United Church of Christ, Kansas City
- The Rev. Barbara Phifer, retired United Methodist minister and State Representative in District 90
- Rabbi Susan Talve, Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis
- The Rev. Krista Taves, Eliot Unitarian Chapel, Kirkwood, Mo., and First Unitarian Church, Alton, Ill.
- Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, Executive Director, Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis
Missouri is one of more than a dozen states that have denied or severely restricted abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In the suit filed Thursday ahead of Sunday’s 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the faith leaders are urging the Circuit Court to issue a permanent injunction striking down the abortion bans.
“Missouri’s abortion bans legislate a religious view of abortion that is entirely at odds with my religious beliefs and the reproductive counseling I’ve offered as a United Church of Christ minister,” said Barnes. ”I believe that God wants health and well-being for all people, which includes the ability for people to make the reproductive decisions that are best for them.”
“My belief that abortion is essential health care is grounded in my faith and its foundational principles of love for God and one’s neighbor. Legislators have no right to ban abortion based on their personal religious views of when life begins — that is a religious question for which people of many faiths and no faith hold different views,” said Bumb. “I joined this lawsuit because I want to ensure that Missouri legislators uphold their duty to abide by the Missouri Constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state.”
“My tradition believes in freedom of conscience balanced by commitment to community, and this specifically includes making the decision to terminate a pregnancy,” said McKissick. “Faced with challenging situations, people must be free to make decisions based on both reason and their own conception of faith. These abortion bans marginalize the most disadvantaged members of society. They directly conflict with my faith-based understanding of human life.”
“Missouri’s abortion bans are an unconscionable abuse of religion to oppress all Missourians,” Blackmon said. “Legislators do not have the right to impose their faith on me or anyone else. They’re betraying the separation of church and state that has enabled the religious plurality we enjoy in our state and in our country.”
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