Faith Leaders in the Reproductive Rights Movement
By Anna Spitz, Senior Marketing Manager | May 5, 2023, midnight
Category: Abortion, Abortion Access, Activism, Social Justice
Faith leaders are pillars in their communities. They offer guidance, support, and compassion to their congregations and create a space for people of all backgrounds to come together and share their beliefs.
Some of them are also steadfast in their belief that every individual should have the right to make decisions about their own body, including the decision to get an abortion.
We were able to connect with a number of leaders from local congregations who have been straightforward in sharing their beliefs on abortion as it relates to their faith.
Each leader that we spoke to feels that their religious beliefs directly impact their view on abortion as a human right, and as a normal and necessary part of reproductive health care.
These leaders are Rabbi Hillel Cohn of Congregation Emanu El Redlands, Rabbi Scott Fox of Temple Israel Long Beach, and Reverend Sarah Halverson-Cano of Irvine United Congressional Church.
How Faith Shapes Political Ideology
Speaking to how their faith influenced their stance on abortion, Rabbi Cohn said, “One of the most significant ethical values that flows out of Jewish tradition is an extension of the biblical command: ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’ The pursuit of justice leads me to be a passionate defender of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy for all.”
Similarly, Rabbi Fox said, “Specifically when it comes to reproductive rights, our [Jewish] tradition is very clear about the right and need to protect the body of a person giving birth. When learning about the deeper messages in our tradition you can’t ignore the right of individuals to choose what happens to their own bodies.”
Rev. Halverson-Cano, who preaches progressive Christianity said, “God gives each of us a mind to care for our bodies and the earth…With that comes a choice in how we live and love.” She sees Jesus as someone who empowered the disempowered, and so feels that as a Christian, it is her job to empower others to make their own choices.
Breaking Stigma at the Pulpit
One of the best ways to break the stigma surrounding abortion is to speak about it openly and honestly. While these conversations can be difficult, the faith leaders we spoke with agree that the topic of abortion should not be shied away, even in sermons.
“I recognize this can be a difficult topic and for that reason I think it's important to address it from the pulpit,” said Rev. Halverson-Cano. “Avoiding [difficult topics] makes them feel dirty and secretive rather than normalizing things like abortion as an important healthcare option.”
Rabbi Fox said, “I take the space very importantly, it’s essential that the words shared from the pulpit are offered responsibly, that means both with respect and not shying away from topics that need to be discussed but might be uncomfortable. Reproductive rights, especially in 2023, is an issue in the hearts of the community.”
“A sermon is a significant teaching moment. The attacks on reproductive rights, especially abortion, demand a thoughtful response. That response should not only take into account the classic Jewish literature, much of which is legally-based, but should take into account newer understandings of human behavior.”
Religion as Social Justice
An important aspect of religions that are practiced around the world is a sense of belonging and community. This is also apparent in social justice spaces. That’s why for Rabbi Cohn, Rabbi Fox, and Rev. Halverson-Cano, the two go hand in hand.
“Because I feel that engaging in acts promoting social justice is a religious imperative and that there are limitations on what an one individual can do, I encourage people to ally themselves with and support organizations that are strong and effective advocates for social justice,” said Rabbi Cohn.
When asked about why social justice is an important part of his faith, Rabbi Fox said, “This is what we do as Jews. We live in a world that will only change if we nurture and activate ourselves to make that change.”
In addition to supporting and advocating for reproductive rights, Rev. Halverson-Cano fights for the rights of transgender and non-binary folks sharing, “As a pastor, I know open conversations can be life saving for individuals who feel like they just can't be themselves because they feel like God or others won't love them. So we should be talking about all these difficult topics because that disarms the power that makes them difficult.”
At Planned Parenthood, we are grateful to all that support high-quality, compassionate reproductive health care, including abortion care. And, we are especially grateful to Rabbi Cohn, Rabbi Fox, and Rev. Halverson-Cano for their continued support.
To learn more about how you can help break the stigma surrounding abortion, visit BansOffAbortion.org.