When Reverend Laura Young sees women entering an abortion clinic, she sees misguided faith. But it’s not of the women who are actually trying to access care. It’s the faith of the protesters who’ve become a staple outside many clinics in her home state of Ohio.
“Christianity, like most faiths, is founded on love. Watching protesters shouting judgment and hate based on what they call religion is horrible,” Young said. “Is that loving God? Is that loving your neighbor as yourself?”
On Thursday, Rev. Young and other religious leaders plan on blessing Preterm, a local abortion clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. While many states face contentious anti-abortion legislation, Ohio is especially threatened by measures that could shutter clinics and essentially “regulate abortion out of existence,” according to local reproductive rights advocates.
The group hopes their blessing will protect the facility against the kind of abuse stemming from preachy protesters, as well as encourage the strength and bravery of those providing and relying on its services. If it’s a success, Young said the group will go on to bless other state clinics.
“Women are being attacked at a moral level by the radical Religious Right. They’ve hijacked the political discussion,” she said. “This event is an opportunity for progressive religious leaders to stop the silence. We need to be in the conversation.”
CREDIT: Janine Dunmyre
In the ongoing fight over reproductive rights, Christianity has been predominantly used as a tool to discredit pro-choice arguments. From the outside, it might seem like religion is synonymous with opposition to abortion. However, a growing number of religious leaders and organizations have been diligently advocating for women’s health care — especially when it comes to access to abortion.
After Planned Parenthood met Congressional outrage stemming from the release of a series of videos accusing the nonprofit of profiting off the sale of fetal tissue, for instance, more than 50 faith-based organizations signed a letter urging the Senate to preserve Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. One group of Catholics even baked them a cake. And it’s no different at the state level. Faith leaders in states like New Mexico and Tennessee have joined together to fight proposed abortion restrictions.
In Ohio, where Young serves as the Director of the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, progressive clergy are doing similar work. Young also spends her time answering calls on an “all-options” counseling hotline run by clergy members. Unlike other religious organizations that use the guise of counseling to discourage women from getting an abortion, this line is judgement-free. Women can call looking for spiritual counseling before and after they get an abortion (if they decide to) and will find general support — something often missing in a church setting.
“It breaks my heart to know women are sitting in pews across the country feeling shamed, believing that they’re cursed for making this decision,” Young said. “That’s a question I get a lot on the phone, ‘Am I going to hell?’ When God instead is there to support women through it all.”
Molly Marvar, one of the many women who has had an abortion at the Preterm clinic, has been asked to share her story with those who come to witness the Thursday blessing. She called her 2012 procedure a great, caring experience and a privilege.
“It was a defining moment for me. But it doesn’t define me,” Marvar said. “It’s really important to me that I speak up about my abortion to help other women.”
Her experience also inspired her to fight the stigma around abortion by creating shirts artfully screenprinted with a red “A,” something she describes as a “T-shirt campaign for abortion rights and awareness.” Marvar sees Thursday’s clinic blessing as another platform to help break the religious shame that’s so often paired with abortions.
“There is a reverence for life that happens in this clinic,” she said. “And the decision to get an abortion is often a really, really, spiritual decision. Even if someone personally wouldn’t get an abortion, they should at least understand this.”