September 29, 2014

by the Rev. Judy Cummings

As a minister, I often counsel members of my congregation as they walk through any number of difficult circumstances, from job loss to the death of a loved one, from sexual assault to health crises. In times of uncertainty, families need to be able to make their own difficult, private decisions in conversation with their faith leaders, doctors and those closest to them. Amendment 1, a measure on the ballot this Nov. 4, threatens to insert politicians into these private family conversations.

Amendment 1’s goal is clear: to make abortion illegal or unavailable in Tennessee. Make no mistake, Amendment 1 is about power.

If Amendment 1 is passes in November, every woman in Tennessee will lose her power to make personal, private decisions for herself. Instead, her power will be handed off to politicians, strangers who will never meet the woman whose autonomy they just seized.

Politicians won’t think about the reasons why a woman may decide to end a pregnancy. Regardless of her situation, she will be powerless to access the reproductive health care she needs, even if she was raped, is the victim of incest or is so sick that ending her pregnancy is the only way to save her life. Politicians won’t need to know her reasons — they won’t even need to know her name — to control her life, her body and her family.

Abortion is already regulated in Tennessee, as it should be. Amendment 1 is not asking Tennesseans for input on what those regulations should be. Amendment 1 asks us to give away the privacy protections our state constitution already provides. Amendment 1 asks us to just give up our power, to hand it over to politicians.

As a parent and grandparent, I do not believe that politicians should be given the power to strip our daughters, sisters and wives of their autonomy. We must not bolster politicians’ power to interfere in our personal, private decisions when we vote this November.

As a community member, I oppose any legislation that targets the most vulnerable among us. Amendment 1 would do just that, allowing politicians to implement greater and greater restrictions on current safe and legal abortion access, and pushing toward their stated goal of legislating abortion out of existence altogether. Such laws disproportionately impact limited-income women and their families, and women of color and their families. I will not stand silent and allow these rights to be stripped away.

As a pastor, I do not believe the government is more fit than a woman to decide what is best for her relationship with her body, her family and her God. We should be free to make decisions for our lives based on the determination of our will and through the strength we receive from the counsel of those who love and know us most deeply. Government should not blindly legislate a decision that is best made by a woman with the careful guidance of her doctor, her family and her faith.

There are a many reasons a woman chooses to walk into an abortion clinic and end her pregnancy — all of them tragic, all of them considered carefully and decided upon with a heavy heart. No matter a woman’s story, what happens to her body should be her decision to make, not that of a politician.

There’s only one reason for taking away a woman’s ability to make her own decisions: power. This coming election, we must act, or that’s exactly what the women of Tennessee are in danger of losing. Voting NO on Amendment 1 is a vote for privacy rights, a vote for women and families, and a vote to keep politicians out of already difficult family decisions.

The Rev. Dr. Judy D. Cummings is senior pastor of New Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville, president of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship and a member of the Tennessee Reproductive Justice Network.

This op-ed appeared in The Tennessean on September 29, 2014.