Thistlethwaite: Why a pastor of my church is suing Florida

I was ordained to the Christian ministry by the United Church of Christ in 1974. I am often proud of my church, and this week I am especially proud because a UCC pastor is among seven Florida clergy members — two Christians, three Jews, one Unitarian Universalist and a Buddhist — who are suing Florida (in separate suits) because that state’s draconian abortion law (no exceptions for rape or incest) violates their religious freedom.

I am especially glad to see the religious freedom argument used to support reproductive freedom. That important amendment was discussed at a Vail Symposium that I chaired with two attorneys, Kelly Shackelford of the First Liberty Institute and Donald Clark, former General Counsel of the United Church of Christ.

From the refusal to bake wedding cakes for LGBTQ couples to firms refusing to provide full contraceptive health care coverage for women employees, the religious freedom argument has been trumpeted as a way for the religious right to void equal rights for all Americans.

Now we can see if the current Supreme Court will respect the religious freedom argument when it is about equality and not directed at cultural conservatism.

For too long, the radical Christian right has acted as though the only faith position on abortion was opposition. This is far from true. These lawsuits in Florida demonstrate what has been the case for decades. Many people of faith support reproductive choice and find forced pregnancy abhorrent.

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Rev. Laurie Hafner, a UCC clergyperson and one of the litigants, told The Washington Post, “I am pro-choice not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith.”

This is true for me as well. I have argued many times that it is my faith that drives me to support reproductive freedom, including here in the Vail Daily. Forced pregnancy is plainly immoral. How can you possibly argue that a 10-year-old child should carry a pregnancy caused by her rapist to term, risking her own life in the process?

The lives of women and girls are human lives and must be respected. A fetus is not a child. It is a fetus.

I joined the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in the early 1970s and, as a pastor and teacher of pastors, have consistently made the argument that reproductive choice can be a moral choice.

Jesus, for example, never condemns abortion, indeed, never mentions it, though abortion existed in the Mediterranean world of his time.

I am, as I have said, also vigorously pro contraception, pro pre-natal care, pro subsidized early child care, and pro free health care for all children.

If contraception was freely available and young people (and adults) were fully educated on reproduction, abortion could almost be eliminated. But that is not, in my view, the goal of the radical Christian right. The control of women’s reproduction and, indeed, their bodies is the goal. It is Margaret Atwood’s book “The Handmaid’s Tale” come to life.

Americans, by larger and larger majorities, do not want this dystopian future for their country. The vote in Kansas just showed that.

On Tuesday, Kansas voters roundly rejected (at this moment 60 to 40 percent) an effort to strip away their state’s abortion protections.

Instead of a group of right-wing, gerrymandered politicians making decisions about the bodies of women and girls, when Americans are actually asked, they want to keep abortion legal and safe.

Reproductive freedom is a religious value in my denomination. It is in others, and in faiths other than Christian.

We face a long struggle to protect the lives of women and girls from forced pregnancy, but in the end, I believe we will prevail as more and more Americans, as just happened in Kansas, reject the idea that the state should control women’s bodies.

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