By Rev. Jill Sizemore
Here we are, 41 years after the controversial Roe v. Wade decision. Even if I never read a newspaper, turned on the evening news or read any number of online news sources, I would still be aware of the tension between advocates on both sides of the reproductive freedom issue. All I see is tension, unrest and, sometimes, utter hatred.
The confrontations and gun violence at reproductive rights centers and clinics, and the harassment of doctors, clinic employees and their families, are all too ugly. This is what needs to be discussed — not abortion and people’s strong personal opinions about it, but the ugly confrontations.
What needs to be discussed is how hostile we, as supposedly God-fearing, God-following human beings and believers, are to each other. What we need to do is talk about how utterly dismissive we are to each other and what God would say about that.
Until this divide between us is closed and respectful dialogue happens, we will always be grappling with an unavoidable tension. We will always be putting lives at stake.
And we will always be wrong.
At the heart of the debate over reproductive justice is the situation of an individual woman. If we view God as loving, life-affirming and good, then turning our backs on a woman in trouble and closing doors to her needs and her feelings is wrong.
The problem is that we’ve complicated the entire issue. We teach our young adults about responsible relationships and assume sex is simply not a part of the conversation. We deny their healthy and ultimately unavoidable sexual development when we fail to talk frankly with them about safer sex practices and contraceptives, silently implying that “waiting for marriage” is a given. We take the human condition out of consideration.
Advocates on both sides of this issue share values around the importance of caring for the well-being of our families, ourselves and members of our community. These shared values can lead us to common ground where we can work together to support a woman, regardless of her choice whether or not to bear the lifelong responsibility of motherhood. To give her options instead of recrimination.
A woman deserves the right to make her own personal decisions, and I believe she deserves the right to hear facts about the options available to her regarding pregnancy in a safe and compassionate environment from both sides. Pro-choice advocates do care about both mother and child, so the violence and harassment from anti-abortion advocates must stop. There must be a willingness to cross the divide without allowing conflicting ideologies to break down meaningful communication.
Women and their families deserve this effort and respect. Better education and access to safe medical practices is a must. Acceptance into the creator’s family, as taught to us in our churches, temples, shrines, synagogues and mosques, regardless of any decision or stance on abortion, is a must. Forgiveness and the offering of new hope is a must.
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 comprehensive reproductive health care access, including sex education, contraception and abortion services for all women.
Abortions will not stop. Human beings are not perfect. But if we are willing to put aside ideology and sit down at the table together, perhaps we can rally for the safety and support of all human life, including the woman whose body has become politic instead of sacred.
The Rev. Jill Sizemore is senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Knoxville.