On the same day that the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson was announced, the officers of the United Church of Christ (UCC), representing over 4,700 churches and 770,000 members in the United States, reaffirmed their Christian commitment to human justice and support of the right of bodily autonomy for women to make their own reproductive choices.
A commitment to human justice has had a long history in the UCC. Congregational Churches were some of the earliest to take a strong stand against slavery which removed all rights of a slave’s bodily autonomy including choices of reproduction and family separation.
At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, reproductive rights were governed by the common law which held that a woman could only be legally punished after quickening (about 15-16 weeks) when a baby first stirred in the womb. Indiana’s current law allows for reproductive choice up to 22 weeks. To the extent that current rights are removed, a woman’s bodily autonomy is diminished, and the power and intrusion of the state into these most personal decisions is increased. At its most extreme, the state will have the power to force the continuation of a pregnancy against the wishes of the mother, her doctor, and her loved ones.
The last time that the Indiana Legislature removed a right to bodily autonomy and reproductive rights was in 1907 when Indiana passed the first eugenics law in the United States. That law held that men and women could be sterilized if it was determined by the state that their heredity was inferior. 32 states followed Indiana in passing forced sterilization laws and over 60,000 men and women lost their right to reproduce. It was only after eugenics spread to Europe, and millions died that the full impact of this tragedy became known, and these laws were dropped and purposely unremembered.
The Dobbs decision was released on June 24, 2022. On June 24, 1700, the Congregational Judge and Minister Samuel Sewall published the first anti-slavery tract in North America. In the first line of the tract, he announced that “Forasmuch as Liberty is in real value unto Life: None ought to part with it themselves, or deprive others of it, but upon the most mature Consideration.”
It is time for churches to again work together to preserve the right of bodily autonomy and encourage the Indiana Legislature to approach the drafting of a new post-Dobbs law with “mature consideration” and do so with an awareness of the tragic history and unintended consequences of removing bodily autonomy from the most personal and important decisions of a mother and a father, of the impact of extending the power of the state to force the continuation of an unwanted pregnancy, and the long-term social consequences of such a policy. We ask that new legislation allow women to retain to the greatest extent their current right of bodily autonomy to make their own reproductive choices, and that provisions be included to protect the mother in the case of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.