By Rev. Laura Bogle
This week marks 41 years since the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that recognized the right to safe and legal abortion. While that ruling still stands, access to safe and legal reproductive health care is shrinking nationwide and is under attack in Tennessee. In 2013, 14 states around the country passed major restrictions on abortion access.
In November 2014, a Tennessee ballot initiative would, if it passes, remove women’s privacy rights, giving carte blanche to legislators hoping to pass burdensome restrictions to safe, legal and accessible abortion services.
As a minister I am privileged to walk with people through all aspects of life, from birth to death, through joyful times and the most painful times. All of life is sacred, and it is full of making difficult ethical decisions, including whether to end an unintended pregnancy.
Almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. My support for a woman’s right to choose from a range of reproductive health options, including abortion, stems from my faith’s fundamental affirmation of the worth and dignity of every person. Women can and should be trusted to make deeply personal and important moral decisions about their lives and their bodies. Because life is so sacred, bringing a child into the world should be under free, intentional and thoughtful conditions.
My denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association, was the first religious organization to formally affirm a woman’s right to choose when we passed a national resolution in 1963. We continue to work for reproductive justice for all people. This means not only supporting access to abortion, but also working to reduce unwanted pregnancies by offering comprehensive sexuality education as well as supporting economic and social policies that ensure all families have the resources they need to care for their children.
Around the country, abortion restrictions in the past year included forced ultrasounds; bans on abortion after six, 12 and 20 weeks; bans on abortion coverage in comprehensive health care policies; requirements that doctors have hospital privileges to perform abortions; a 72-hour waiting period; and restricted days for abortion services.
The upcoming Tennessee ballot initiative is the Tennessee Legislature’s response to the September 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that several provisions of the Tennessee Abortion Statute were unconstitutional — including a three-day waiting period for abortions and mandated, doctor-only counseling. The court found that the Tennessee State Constitution afforded women a right to privacy regarding their right to seek an abortion. The decision was momentous because it was the first time the state Supreme Court issued a ruling on abortion rights and reaffirmed the right to privacy. Unfortunately, the November ballot initiative would roll back this critical privacy protection for Tennessee families.
The initiative is on the November 2014 gubernatorial election ballot, and would move Tennessee one step closer to taking away a woman’s right to access safe and legal reproductive health care, without exceptions for victims of rape or incest, or for the health of the pregnant woman.
Though the language of the ballot initiative is vague and misleading, the intention is clear: to ultimately make abortion illegal or unavailable in Tennessee.
The vote in November will determine if women have the right to make private medical decisions. If it passes, further legislative restrictions moving towards the closure of clinics are sure to follow.
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 access, including sex education, contraception and abortion services for all women and families.
Forty-one years after Roe v. Wade, instead of infringing on our fellow citizens’ private decisions, let us work together to make sure that all people have access to the information, resources and health care they need to lead healthy, whole and responsible lives.
The Rev. Laura Bogle is an ordained minister currently serving the Foothills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Maryville.