LOS ANGELES (RNS) — Abortion rights was a main topic of discussion when Vice President Kamala Harris met with Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh leaders during her visit in Los Angeles this week.
The conversation took place Monday (June 6), at the beginning of a month when the United States Supreme Court is expected to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Gun violence and gun control legislation were also discussed. Harris is in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas, which brings together countries from across the hemisphere.
To Rabbi Dara Frimmer, of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, having the vice president gather with multifaith leaders was a crucial step in disrupting “what has been an otherwise religious right, evangelical dominant voice around abortion and when life begins.”
“The majority of congregations believe that abortion rights and abortion access are fundamental to our faith and to our practice,” said Frimmer, who participated in the discussion.
If Roe is overturned, Frimmer said the Supreme Court will be “ultimately denying minority faiths like Judaism and Jewish congregants the right to practice their faith and their traditions as commanded.” Abortion is a Jewish value, she said.
To Frimmer, it was important to make the White House aware that, through the advocacy of the National Council of Jewish Women, there are hundreds of rabbis of different denominations “who are preaching and teaching about reproductive rights and about the Jewish command to preserve those rights and access for everyone.”
“We forget that the majority of people of faith are represented by traditions like Reform Judaism. I think that’s important to shift the faith narrative,” she said.
Frimmer said the mother’s life needs to be considered, not just the fetus.
“What is the life of a mother and family as impacted, not only by choices around reproductive rights, but also around equal rights, and education, and gun violence, and the opportunity to live and thrive within the United States?” Frimmer said.
In Harris’ remarks before the discussion, she stressed that supporting Roe “does not mean giving up core beliefs.”
“It is simply about agreeing that a woman should be able to make that decision with her faith leader, with her family, with her physician — and that the government should not be making that decision for her,” Harris said.
Harris noted the urgency of the matter, highlighting a bill moving through the Louisiana Legislature that would ban most abortions and criminalize doctors who perform the procedure.
“The threat to all of these principles and priorities is very clear and imminent,” Harris said.
Among the Los Angeles faith leaders who participated in the roundtable were the Rev. Edgar Boyd, senior minister of First AME Church; Nitasha Kaur Sawhney, a Sikh civil rights advocate and lawyer; Edina Lekovic, a UCLA community scholar-in-residence for the Islamic Studies program; Jackie Dupont-Walker, director of the Social Action Commission at AME Church; the Rev. Young Lee Hertig, executive director at the Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity; and the Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard, assistant director of community and public engagement at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
Also in attendance were Claire Lipschultz, vice president of the board of directors for the National Council of Jewish Women in Sacramento; Demetries Edwards, pastor of 23rd Avenue Church of God in Oakland; and the Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco.
Smith-Pollard said all the faith leaders who were present felt that overturning Roe would be harmful to women across the nation.
“We all are there because we’re people of faith, and our faith traditions make space for women having autonomy over their bodies, and having choice,” Smith-Pollard said. “We all shared in our determination to be a voice around this issue.”
Smith-Pollard said the religious leaders had the same thoughts around believing in choice and in life.
“Life extending beyond a fetus and bringing the fetus to term,” she said. “If we’re talking about being ‘pro-life,’ we’re also talking about being ‘pro-life’ of mothers, and families that may be impacted,” Smith-Pollard said.
Smith-Pollard said there should be a mass mobilization of faith leaders and other advocates around abortion rights. After the discussion, Smith-Pollard said she followed up with another faith leader who participated in the roundtable to talk next steps.
On her end, Smith-Pollard said, she will continue having conversations with her congregation and through her sermons to help “people see the issue of safety, self-determination, autonomy.”
“We see stories of autonomy in the Bible. When Jesus relieves the woman from being stoned, he gives her back her physical autonomy of her body. For me, it’s helping people see the issue through a theological lens,” she said. ”Not so much abortion being the issue, but the issue of justice. The issue of rights over one’s body.”