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Reproductive Justice Is a Just Peace Issue by Alice Rutherford

I was a lucky one. When Jim and I got married we wanted two kids – a boy and a girl, in that order – and at the right time for us. As it all turned out, we got just what we wanted. I never had to experience the heartache of either a miscarriage or an unwanted pregnancy. I was indeed lucky – and blessed.

In order to achieve something close to the timing we wanted (2-3 years between kids), I took contraception seriously and opted for one of the most effective forms – an intrauterine device (IUD) – following our son’s birth. After our daughter was born I again used an IUD, since at that point our family was complete. Because contraception allowed me to embark on my career as a school counselor with confidence that it wouldn’t be unexpectedly interrupted, I utilized a succession of IUDs as the effectiveness of each wore thin.

But my serious and timely use of contraception didn’t keep me from having vivid nightmares in which I was pregnant again. Many nights I awakened in the proverbial “cold sweat”, fully convinced that my life would be derailed with a third pregnancy and child. How could I cope with pregnancy and an infant while I was working each day and taking graduate courses at night? How would our finances be impacted by having another child? Would I be able to again become a stay-at-home mom, as I was with my son and daughter? Would I want to? Would we have to move into a bigger house to make room for another family member? How could I manage to give my two beloved children the attention they needed and deserved while consumed with an infant’s needs? All these thoughts were accompanied by the desire to avoid another pregnancy with its attendant nausea, fatigue, emotional roller coaster, and general discomfort. When the time came that my doctor had to prescribe a different course than another IUD, I was sure I wanted no more children. The nightmares ended when I underwent a tubal ligation. My life was back on track, and I knew that my two kids were beneficiaries of that reality.

As miserable as those nightmares were, throughout the years of cold-sweat mornings I knew that there was always an option available if an unwanted pregnancy really did occur. I thank God I never had to make that decision, because I’m not sure I could have personally undergone an abortion. But in any case, the choice would have been mine to make. Today I’m heartbroken and fearful that my daughter, daughter-in-law, and/or granddaughter may not be so lucky. They, along with millions of women and girls (cis, trans, bi) in this country, may one day be subjected to a forced birth (and possibly be denied access to contraception), simply because those who view life through a different religious lens now have the power to make that coercion a reality. Of course, those who will suffer most will be those who lack the resources to travel long distances to access reproductive health care. I’m deeply aware that I was one of the privileged ones with the required resources, had they been needed.

Reproductive justice is a Just Peace issue. There’s no justice (or peace) in forcing women – whatever their age or circumstance – to bear a child against their will. It’s clearly unjust to force a sexually abused child to experience childbirth, and I cannot imagine the ongoing trauma of being forced to bear a child conceived through the trauma of rape. Yet these are circumstances that may not matter to those who are eager to foist their religious views on those around them.

The Bible is filled with references to caring for “widows and children.” Clearly, the safety and comfort of women and children were held in high regard by our faith ancestors. According to the gospel stories, Jesus went out of his way to comfort women and children, and he exhorted his disciples and others to do the same. It would seem that such cruelty as coercing birth from an unwanted pregnancy – especially among the most vulnerable – would be anathema to the One we consider our Redeemer.

Equally unjust is forced abortion, which certainly does occur. No one who wants to carry a pregnancy to term – no matter the reason or circumstances – should be required or expected to end that pregnancy. I have no say whatsoever in another pregnant person’s desires or decisions.

Clearly, the solution to meet the needs of all pregnant people is the freedom to make those individual choices for themselves and their families. After almost 50 years of the availability of that freedom, the Supreme Court of the United States has now seen fit to deny it, and states such as Indiana are poised to pass legislation codifying the withdrawal of our freedom of reproductive choice. I am as angry as I have ever been at government officials who seek to insert themselves into our private lives, especially when those officials are acting out of religious views that are not mine.

I’m hopeful that we at First Congregational will join together in living out our Christian commitment to care for “the least of these” by finding ways to assist those most impacted by cruel and oppressive legislation. Letter writing to government officials is always an available avenue to speak our faith. There may be other ways we can discern to support people experiencing a traumatic pregnancy, such as rides to distant abortion care clinics, housing for those traveling long distances, and donating to abortion clinics in other states that are likely to be inundated with abortion seekers. One of the most effective ways to live our progressive Christian faith and proclaim the love of God is to cast our votes for officials who commit to reinstating our freedom of reproductive choice. I invite all to carefully discern who those candidates are before this November’s Election Day.

Reproductive justice is a Just Peace issue – an issue about which the United Church of Christ cares deeply. As a UCC Just Peace Church may we be committed to doing what we can to promote the peace that our loving God intends for us through reproductive justice for all.

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