By the Rev. Adam Kelchner
Abortion is one of the most contentiously debated issues in the current American political climate. Today marks the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We should pause and examine the ways in which reproductive health rights and justice are progressing, or, more accurately, are at risk of regressing in Tennessee.
In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the Tennessee State Constitution affords women the right to privacy in regard to accessing safe and legal abortion services. Now, as a result of legislative action in the 106th and 107th Tennessee General Assemblies, a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to dismantle fundamental privacy rights will be voted on in November. At the heart of this initiative is the intent to undermine safe and legal access to reproductive health care, thereby gravely jeopardizing women’s health in our state.
As a minister of the gospel, I believe that justice, dignity and compassion are the most important virtues in shaping public policy, particularly on issues of reproductive health. In my ministry, I counsel current and would-be mothers whose lives are at risk due to pregnancy complications, times when legal access to safe and compassionate abortion care is critically needed for their long-term healing.
Sadly, too, there are young women whose lives are traumatized every day by rape, incest and abuse; in these situations I am particularly called to compassion — obstructing access to reproductive health care services only exacerbates shame and traumatizes women again. In these times, the community’s commitment to reproductive health and justice is a needed demonstration of compassion and mercy.
In the conversation about reproductive justice, we cannot ignore that as a community we fail to provide comprehensive sex education to our young people. As a result, undesired pregnancies, sexual disease and high-risk sexual behavior are prominent among teenagers and young adults. In addition, gaps in preventative reproductive health care are exacerbated in low-income families in metropolitan and rural areas.
As a member of the Tennessee Reproductive Justice Network, a loosely knit group of clergy and community leaders throughout the state and spanning the religious and denominational spectrum — organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee — I believe in access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including sex education, contraception and abortion services for all women.
We should turn our hearts and our resources to empowering young people with the education and tools necessary to experience the sacred gift of sexuality with health and wholeness. We should value the rights of women and families to follow their conscience when making important decisions about reproductive health care with health-care professionals. We should work to ensure greater dignity and equity for all Tennesseans.
The ballot initiative in November rejects a compassionate and just approach to abortion care and reproductive health. That is why I’ll be voting no on the initiative.
The Rev. Adam Kelchner is pastor of mission and outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church.
This op-ed appeared in The Tennessean on January 21, 2014.