Religious leaders across the country joined together this weekend to guide their congregation’s prayers toward one subject often avoided in conventional faith services: a woman’s right to access an abortion. Their timing, just days before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments regarding a Texas law that sharply restricts this access, was intentional — but their positive reception across denominations was entirely organic.
“I know my church is liberal, but you never know,” said Rev. Jim Mitulski, head of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado. “Abortion is one of those delicate topics. I’ve learned you can’t make assumptions.”
More than 80 leaders from 20 denominations participated in the unified weekend of prayer, which was organized by the Religious Institute, an organization that advocates for reproductive health in faith communities. The institute was also responsible for drafting a legal brief signed by 1,300 religious leaders who oppose the Texas law currently facing the Supreme Court.
Texas’ law, which will be argued in the nation’s highest court on Wednesday, relies on a strategy called “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers,” or TRAP, that limits access to reproductive health care by imposing costly and unnecessary restrictions on clinics in an attempt to shut them down. TRAP laws are in place in many other states — and depending how the Supreme Court rules on the Texas case, it could uphold these harmful laws across the rest of the country.
Debra Haffner, president of the Religious Institute, said that this weekend’s show of religious support is vital in altering the skewed public belief about how religious groups view abortion.
“I fear that once again the media stories will leave the impression that those who would deny women access to abortion services have a monopoly on faith; nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Haffner in a recent Huffington Post op-ed.
Instead, she said, the majority of religious Americans support abortion rights, a fact drowned out by the growing attacks on women’s health led by a handful of radical religious groups. Leaders involved in the weekend prayer said it’s their duty to shatter this belief.
“There’s a few reasons this is important to me,” said Leanne Gale, who led Shabbat services at a National Council of Jewish Women retreat this weekend. “But a big one is that lawmakers need to know that we exist. We are a majority.”
Gale said her focus on abortion access received the loudest prayers from those participating in the service, and many women thanked her afterward. But, she said, she knows her work is only a piece of the larger movement that connects her with strong, multi-denominational communities.
“For communities of faith, we come to this issue from a commitment to justice,” said Gale. “The fact that restrictions on abortion access disproportionately impact women struggling to make ends meet, women of color, and immigrant women flies in the face of what we understand as justice.”
Not all people of faith see it this way.
“In some instances, religious people are so adamant that they know what’s right and what’s wrong that they become authoritarian,” said Imam Daayiee Abdullah, leader of the Light of Reform mosque in Washington, D.C. “But in reality, the only true authority is the creator. If someone doesn’t agree with an idea, they have to take it up with God. It’s not their call.”
Abdullah said his sermon focused on the differences between religious beliefs and laws. The issue of abortion should not be a deeply religious one.
“This is more about individuality and the respect of other’s free will than religious belief,” he said. “It’s not a decision taken lightly, which we must respect.”
For Denver’s Rev. Mitulski, religion was the main thread backing his pro-choice Sunday sermon.
“We’re religious people, we’re not allowed to surrender our religion to take away women’s rights,” he said. “Religion is the heart of the issue.”
Mitulski, who leads a congregation with a high percentage of gay men, used a pivotal piece of history to inspire solidarity in a demographic he said doesn’t always feel affected by reproductive health laws.
“I reminded them how women were here for them during the AIDS epidemic, how they prayed and fought for them when they needed it the most,” he said. “Now it’s time for them to help women in a time of crisis.”
To bring this lofty federal case a bit closer to home, Mitulski referenced a slew of proposed state bills in Colorado that mimic Texas’ TRAP laws, and detailed how the Supreme Court case could trickle down to their community. Making it personal, he said, was key to fully understanding the looming case’s potential impact.
“We know it’s important for women to tell their stories about abortion, but it shouldn’t stop there,” Mitulski said. “Allies also need to tell their stories of solidarity. I wish it wasn’t needed, but women shouldn’t have to face this alone.”