By Rosalyn R. Nichols
I was 20 years old, scared, confused and overwhelmed. I was also unequivocally sure that I was in no way prepared to be pregnant nor to raise a child. Neither was the young man who would be an unintended father.
My decision would impact not one but three lives forever. That is the hard and harsh reality that I faced. It was not a decision I made hastily, casually nor unrepentantly. But regardless of the outcome, it was my decision and mine alone to make.
This is one woman’s story. It could be your story, or your mother’s, daughter’s or sister’s story. Their stories, like those of all women, are my story as well. As a seminary-trained, ordained clergywoman serving God’s people as pastor for almost 20 years, I am pro-faith, pro-family. I am pro-choice.
I believe that every woman has the divine right and ability to determine what is best for herself and her family. Every woman has the right to compassionate, confidential, nonjudgmental reproductive services that serve her and not the will of the state. Every woman has the right to make those decisions based upon the understanding of her faith and/or belief system.
It is our responsibility to support a woman’s rights by providing equal pay, a living wage and health care for her, her children and her family. It is our responsibility to support her by providing Head Start, affordable child care for working parents and quality public education for all children. Our responsibility is to make sure that those underserved, underemployed and poor parents receive necessary WIC payments and prenatal care for their children.
Each of these things, including a woman’s decision about when and whether to have a family, contributes to a healthy family and a bright future for families, communities and our nation.
The impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling has been widespread and opponents of the decision are gaining traction, creating laws across the country that erode a woman’s right to reproductive choice.
In Tennessee this November, a legislative initiative will be on the general election ballot that would move Tennessee another step closer to taking away a woman’s right to access safe and legal reproductive health care. If approved by voters, the measure would insert the following language into the Tennessee Constitution: Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.
The essential goal of this amendment is clear: to make abortion illegal and unavailable in Tennessee, regardless of a woman’s situation. This amendment constitutes reproductive injustice. It does not protect a woman’s ability and choice to access safe reproductive health care, including an abortion, in the case of rape, incest or even to save her own life. What it does do is protect legislators’ ability to make more laws dictating what a woman can or cannot do under those circumstances.
This constitutional amendment is not a vote for life; it is a vote for control over the bodies of all women who live in Tennessee. It is not our responsibility nor our right, as a community, to know the circumstances of a woman’s situation or to make decisions for her. Rather, we are to honor the intellectual ability of every woman to decide what is best for her and her family. We must recognize a woman’s right to choose how she will protect her gift as a woman. I therefore stand with every girl and woman, regardless of socioeconomics, ethnicity, religious practice or nonpractice, to be in self-possession of how she honors her body and all of its gifts.
As a member of the Tennessee Reproductive Justice Network — a group of clergy and community leaders that spans 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.
I hope other Tennesseans will join me in November by standing up for a woman’s right to privacy, respect and self-determination.
Rosalyn R. Nichols, M.Div., D.Min., is pastor of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church (DOC) in Memphis.
This op-ed appeared in The Commercial Appeal on May 6, 2014.