Religious leaders in Texas joined together last week to emphasize that women’s health is a religious issue. Jewish and Christian leaders prayed for increased access to preventative health services, like family planning programs and birth control, in a state that has become increasingly hostile to women’s health care:
Gathered in the rotunda of the Texas Capitol Extension, leaders from Christian and Jewish faiths voiced frustration with funding for women’s health care services. Their prayer included a plea to state lawmakers to restore the $73 million cut from family planning services during 2011 and to make contraception more readily available to low-income women.
“For us this is part of our faith commitment that cares for all of God’s creation, all of God’s people,” said Larry Bethune, pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin. “Particularly for the stability of families and for the care of women and their health.”
“We believe that women should have and families should have the opportunity to make choices about when they’re going to have children and how many children they’re going to have,” said Bethune. “Women need to have access to health care, to good counsel and to clinics that can provide that health care before, during and after pregnancy.”
The faith leaders criticized Texas officials for targeting Planned Parenthood in their ongoing crusade against abortion — a crusade that has had far-reaching implications for the poor women in the state who must now search for new doctors. Planned Parenthood is the state’s largest health care provider for low-income women, but Texas Republicans have been so focused on cutting ties with the national organization that they have forced the closure of dozens of unaffiliated health clinics and have ultimately eliminated $30 million in federal funding for women’s health services.
“I think the abortion issue, it’s just part of a continuing culture war,” Rabbi Neal Katz told a local ABC News affiliate. “But I do believe that it’s a distraction from the issue that we’re trying to focus on, which is women having access to good health care, to family planning, to birth control.”
Despite the Religious Right’s attempt to use abortion as a wedge issue, reproductive rights are not actually incompatible with faith communities. Most religious groups support women’s right to legal abortion services under Roe v. Wade, and many people of faith — including Catholics and evangelicals — support expanding women’s access to birth control.