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Reverend Erika Forbes’ pastoral calling brings her regularly to the Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic in Fort Worth. She blesses the clinic and escorts patients inside, sometimes in front of crowds of protesters.
The number of women entering the clinic has declined from Texas’ Senate Bill 8 entered into force on September 1, prohibiting abortion in cases of cardiac activity, except in a medical emergency. But the few Texans still eligible for abortion need spiritual support, Forbes said, as do those who are not. That’s why she regularly partners with Whole Woman’s Health to organize the clergy to support her work.
“I have made a sacred vow to help people live lives without shame, stigma and judgment,” said Forbes, an ordained interfaith minister in Dallas and head of faith and outreach for an advocacy organization. social justice. Just texas. Too often, she said, religion has made women feel exactly that way when it comes to abortion. The search for pastoral care may not even occur to them.
She and other progressive pastors in Texas and across the country are trying to change that. For four decades, the religious right has based its opposition to abortion on “the sanctity of life,” but these religious leaders say the physical, spiritual and emotional well-being of mothers is just as sacred.
While some may be surprised to find religious leaders advocating for the right to abortion and offering to help women seeking abortions, Forbes and others stressed that this is nothing new. In 1967, a minister of The United Methodist Church initiated the Clergy counseling service on abortion, and more than 1,000 pastors, priests and rabbis formed an interstate network to help women access abortion in pre-Roe v. Wade. Just Texas is part of this spiritual tradition of defending women’s rights, Forbes said.
“The clergy have been preparing and preparing to provide pastoral care to women since before SB 8 came into effect,” Forbes said. “While this was shocking and created a feeling of hostility and fear, it does not change what progressive believers have done.”
Sometimes Forbes’ job is to counsel those who have been humiliated by their family or community and sometimes she helps coordinate transportation to states with less restrictive laws. For her and other progressive pastors, it also meant speaking in public, letting people know they were there.
From the pulpit
Rabbi Mara Nathan heads the Beth-El Temple in San Antonio. During the Great Holy Days of September, she delivered a sermon on the Jewish value of choice. Reform Judaism teaches that life begins at birth, she said, and “also preserves the autonomy of women.”
She fears that narrow religious interests – namely conservative Christian interests – will be reflected in the new law, to the exclusion of teachings of other faiths, such as her own. Nathan wanted his congregation to be clear that they supported their reproductive rights and that their faith was too.
“I’ve always felt very pro-choice, but I’m also very confident that there are many teachings that date back hundreds of years that put the well-being of women first,” Nathan said.
Reverend Amy Meyer is the Chief Pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Elgin, about 35 miles northeast of Austin. In October, as the effects of the state’s new abortion law became clear, Meyer also felt compelled to address the issue with her church in a sermon and podcast, urging her congregation to be intellectual. honest about what the bible says and doesn’t say.
“I don’t think God is silent on the matter,” said Meyer, “But I think the Bible doesn’t explain things to us in meaningful terms about today’s issues.”
In her sermon she read the text of Professor Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College 2014 Political article, in which he refuted the current assumption that mid-century Christians were of the same opinion on abortion, which led to the rise of the moral majority after Roe v. Wade. In fact, Balmer wrote, in the early days after the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, churches were mostly silent on the issue, and prominent evangelical WA Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, has praised the decision, saying, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and So it always seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.
Evangelical opposition to abortion has become more rigid as conservative political strategists, writers and pastors linked it to Christian family values and sexual morality in the 1980s and 1990s. State coalitions and rights organizations supporting Texas’ new law ‘abortion – like Coalition for Life and Texas Alliance for Life – have mostly evangelical Christians and Catholics on their boards of directors.
Historically, however, within Christianity and Judaism, Meyer said, the conversation has always been nuanced. Religious teachers have debated the issue for centuries – taking into account different beliefs about the beginning of human life and balancing this with the need to consider a mother’s health and well-being.
“When we just focus on the beginning of life, we take women out of the equation and that has to be on top of the equation,” Meyer said.
Beyond the womb
Some theologically conservative religious leaders try to balance the two concerns – life in the womb and supporting the wearer. Many Catholics oppose abortion as part of a “cohesive life ethic” that includes more progressive social concerns such as support for welfare, opposition to capital punishment, and for some, pacifism.
Sister Norma Pimentel’s Catholic faith tells her to focus less on debates when life begins: “God already knew us before we were conceived. It’s not a question of when we become human life, ”she said – and more about God’s intentions for life. She is aligned with her church’s anti-abortion stance, but she says support for women is needed as well.
As the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Pimentel tries to alleviate the “stressors” that cause people to seek abortion.
“As a society, we have to help mothers,” Pimentel said. “We fail them when they see abortion as the only option. “
The Catholic Charities Pregnancy Center provides diapers, milk, and ongoing support and counseling. “We want to make sure that women don’t feel alone,” Pimentel said.
Such a serious effort is not reflected in SB 8, said Rev. Natalie Webb, senior pastor of the University of Austin Baptist Church. “People will say it’s an ethical issue, but it’s absolutely not an ethical issue. All of this legislation is aimed at suppressing women. “
If efforts to restrict abortion were rooted in biblical ethics, Webb said, they would include subsidized child care, social safety nets and accountability for the men involved. “We’re not talking about any of those things,” she said.
His congregation is one of the Congregations for Reproductive Freedom formed by Just Texas because she wants more churches to be a benchmark for spiritual and practical support when people decide whether or not to stay pregnant. “It’s an indictment against the church to let women think they have to do it alone. “
Over the course of her 28 years of ministry, Pastor Cheryl Kimble has counseled several women through dangerous and unsustainable pregnancies, some of which ended in interruption. As the pastor of The Church @ Highland Park in Austin, she has always supported families no matter what they decide, but now “by the time they come to see me there is no more option,” he said. she declared. “My hands are tied”.
Whatever shame, grief and guilt a person experiences after an abortion, Kimble said, “when the government tells you it should be illegal, that guilt will increase.”
Counseling for these heavy emotions, she said, is a pastoral area, and the law makes it more difficult.
In the first line
Forbes knows that many women don’t think they can seek support from a pastor or priest. As Just Texas tries to change that, she said, she is also adamant that part of pastoral care is directed to doctors, nurses and others working in abortion clinics – Those on the “front line” who will then provide mental and emotional care. to their patients.
“What churches should offer [clinic workers] are the ones offering that, ”Forbes said. “Our clinics are so vital. This is why we do blessings in the clinics. This is why we do pastoral care.
It was the women at the abortion clinic who helped her the most when she needed an abortion, said Forbes, who had two abortions during her teenage years. Her grandfather was a minister – and although she loved her grandparents, she knew they would not have supported her decision. It was the women at the clinic who made him feel understood, free from judgment and full of hope. They served her in a way that she wants to serve others.
“My abortion directly influenced not only my personal life, but also the calling I had as a member of the clergy,” said Forbes. Because she felt this relief firsthand – the most common emotion women report feeling after an abortion – she knows that shame and guilt don’t have to define the emotional experience.
“What they are ashamed of is that others judge their choices,” Forbes said. “The most liberating thing I can tell them is that the God of their understanding, not their religion, loves and accepts them as they are and wants them to prosper.”
Bekah McNeel is a freelance writer based in San Antonio. If you have any comments or a tip related to this story, send an email [email protected].
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