This was published in the Star-Ledger as a guest columnist opinion piece.
As an Episcopalian, I have long considered life to be a sacred and sanctified gift. Each new day, and in fact every breath we take, is a blessing to be savored and lived fully. I am a product of a church that “takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God.”
Abortion seems to defy the church’s teaching and position about the sanctity of life. And yet, the Episcopal Church also holds that life is sacred for all people and in all circumstances. Since 1967, the church has regarded the right to make and act upon informed decisions to be a fundamental necessity for women’s health. Abundant access to high-quality care should be a baseline for all people and most certainly women, including those considering pregnancy or already pregnant.
The choices made to end a pregnancy are personal, private, and particular to the circumstances an individual woman faces. An outsider entering such a private decision is as shocking as an intruder entering the inner sanctum of one’s home by force.
Still, the opinion offered by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — and then taken up by states emboldened to enact new laws in anticipation of the official Supreme Court action this summer — tramples and destroys all that is personal, private, and particular to women. Legislation written to create a large and all-encompassing boundary leaves no room to respond to many forms of unwanted pregnancy such as rape, incest, force and trafficking.
Suddenly courts, rather than skilled medical professionals are involved in determining if the health of a pregnant woman is in jeopardy. Fertility treatments have become suspect. Miscarriages are reviewed for wrongdoing and potential prosecution. A woman’s right to determine the course of her life and pregnancy has been unduly threatened and removed.
Not satisfied with restricting women involved in a healthcare decision, some laws are designed to prosecute anyone who assists a woman in finding reproductive care or an abortion in another state. The need to punish seems to be as important as the need to insert the court’s opinion into the private lives of women. It all seems to leap several steps beyond a right-to-life philosophy into a demand to control the reproductive lives of women.
I cannot help but wonder, where is this commitment to life in a nation awash in guns and gun violence? The last two weeks have been a horrific refusal to honor the lives of those going about the business of being alive. Grocery stores, churches, subways, schools — none of these places are safe anymore. It is strange and disturbing that no right-to-life decisions or legislation have been passed to demand control over guns or gun violence.
As a spiritual leader, I find myself in the difficult position of encouraging faithful people to pray and protest again. Difficult because there has been so much prayer and protest in the last few years and things seem worse, not better. Even the faithful are discouraged and uncertain about their ability to make an impact on women’s reproductive health, as it is yet another issue short-circuited by partisan politics. I understand their despair, and still we face complex issues that require us to press ahead to protect the rights of women. Further, we must protect the right to live free of the gun violence that has become normative.
The Supreme Court took up the personal, private, and particular needs of women’s reproductive health as a pressing matter and states have followed suit, yet Congress has refused to protect Americans from gun violence. We are left to ask ourselves, who will care for the rights of those already born to live, move, and have their place in the world? It seems that you and I have been designated for this work. Say a prayer and roll up your sleeves.