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Online forum draws hundreds of faith leaders to counter religious opposition to abortion

'So many of the abortion restrictions we’re seeing come from a particular religious lens that doesn’t represent the majority of the country,' said a Presbyterian pastor.

Clergy members hold hands during the blessing of a Whole Woman's Health clinic in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Just Texas

(RNS) — A Presbyterian pastor, the Rev. Angela Williams, sees it as her calling to do ministry supporting reproductive justice — helping houses of worship break the stigma around “our sexualities and reproductive lives.” 

That stigma is often driven, she pointed out, by religious people. “So many of the abortion restrictions we’re seeing come from a particular religious lens that doesn’t represent the majority of the country,” Williams said.

That leaves Christians who support abortion rights with a job to do, she believes. “Christians have a particular responsibility to undo that harm, to take back the public narrative about faith in this country.”

With states across the country passing measures that ban abortions closer and closer to conception, American Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths say the restrictions violate their religious beliefs. 

RELATED: Comparing Texas’ abortion ban to Islamic law is inaccurate, perpetuates Islamophobia, experts say

These issues will take center stage Jan. 25-26, as more than 300 people from 40 states representing more than 30 religious traditions gather virtually to discuss religious support for abortion access and reproductive freedom. 

The “first-of-its-kind” convening is hosted by the national coalition Spiritual Alliance of Communities for Reproductive Dignity, which got its start as a subgroup of the organization Just Texas: Faith Voices for Justice.

The Rev. Angela Williams. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Angela Williams. Courtesy photo

SACReD aims to build a “multi-racial, multi-faith movement of congregations across the country that publicly proclaim their support for reproductive dignity,” and, at the online conference, it is launching a new training program that will allow houses of worship to achieve a designation affirming those values.

“Congregations are really good at working on justice issues, but that work has not extended into the realm of reproductive health care and justice,” said Williams, lead organizer for SACReD.

“The goal of this is to bring congregations through a designation process to look at their own identity and their values, look at their tradition … to dismantle the stigma that we have around abortion and sexuality and our bodies,” she said.

RELATED: In Texas, ‘Reproductive Freedom Congregations’ catch on as new abortion law looms

The two-day meeting will include sessions on creating a Jewish movement for abortion justice; reproductive justice for Black Christian women and for Muslim and Latino communities; and “exposing anti-abortion pregnancy centers in your community.”

Rabbi Kelly Levy of Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas, said the gathering “is an opportunity for communities of faith from around the country to create a network of support for all people who are looking for reproductive access.”

Levy, an organizer with SACReD, notes that Jewish tradition states “that the life of the mother, first and foremost, is the priority.”

“Our rabbis define life as beginning at first breath, which is different than what other faiths have defined life. They define it as conception, we define it as first breath,” Levy said.

The Rev. Daniel Kanter, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Dallas, who provides pastoral care and private counseling to women as they make decisions about abortions, will highlight what’s being done to help pregnant people access abortions after the Texas abortion law took effect.

First Unitarian Church of Dallas has a long history of advancing reproductive priorities. The church’s Women’s Alliance was an early supporter of Roe v. Wade as it went through the Texas court system. Cecile Richards, who was president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was raised in the church, Kanter said. 

Other speakers include Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice; Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, author and scholar-in-residence at the National Council of Jewish Women; the Rev. Jes Kast, pastor of Faith United Church of Christ in State College, Pennsylvania; the Rev. Rebecca Todd Peters, professor of religious studies and director of the poverty and social justice program at Elon University; and Toni M. Bond, a scholar and one of the founding mothers of the reproductive justice movement.

Williams, who will be speaking on abortion morality and biblical theology, said she turns to the Bible to guide her understanding of reproductive justice. She tells the story of Hagar and Ishmael and “the ways that God showed up when a reproductive injustice was happening.”

“God disrupts reproductive injustice,” Williams said. “If that’s the God that we follow, if these are the stories that are in our texts, how in the world can we place limits on what God can do?”

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