WLSU: Trust Women
We were still living in Virginia when my wife Krista got pregnant with our first child. I was just finishing up seminary and we were getting ready to move back to California, but we still had to have at least one prenatal appointment prior to our move. I remember the nurse asking her questions about her body and her health at that first appointment. Then, at one point the nurse asked if she was interested in amniocentesis. If you don’t know, though most of you probably do, amniocentesis is a prenatal test that takes a bit of the amniotic fluid and tests for certain health conditions. As it was explained to us, certain health conditions that could be detected early on might give my wife reason to terminate the pregnancy.
“We won’t be doing that,” I said, “because we’re planning to keep the baby no matter what.” I remember the nurse looking at me, as if to acknowledge the fact that I had spoken, and then turning deliberately to my wife and explaining the process of the amniocentesis and asking her directly if she was interested in the test. I sat silently for the rest of the appointment.
Back in the car I grumbled about that rude nurse who blew me off. Krista saw right through it. “She doesn’t know you,” she said, “She doesn’t know that we’ve talked through these things already. Her job is to make sure that I understand my options and that I get the care I need.”
“Oh,” I said, “Well, I guess that makes sense.” But it didn’t make sense to me. Krista and I, after all, were on the same page about these things. We had in fact talked through these things and, thankfully, felt the same about our options and our priorities. We were in this together. Couldn’t the nurse see that? I was secretly glad we would be moving soon, and I wouldn’t have to see her again.
Looking back, of course I felt threatened. And of course, I was in the wrong. I did not differentiate between my wife’s body and my own. I believed that I had an equal say, and equal voice, that I was as much the patient as Krista was in that office. But I was not pregnant. I did not have something growing inside of me that took over my life. I didn’t get gestational diabetes. I didn’t have to be poked and prodded for anything. They didn’t perform a cesarean section, cutting through my skin and muscle to pull a baby out of me after 32 hours of labor. I know that the Bible says in marriage the two become one flesh, but none of those things happened to my flesh. Not one of them.
And I believed I had an equal right to make decisions for her body.
In the coming week the people of the state of Ohio will be voting on a constitutional amendment that, if passed, will enshrine into our state constitution every single person’s right to manage their own reproductive care and make their own decisions for their body regarding pregnancy. This includes the right to terminate that pregnancy
I used to believe that I should have a say in what happens with a pregnant person’s body. I don’t think that anymore. I can’t fathom it. A person should have the ability, the right, the authority to make decisions for what is happening to and with and in their own body. Actually, I already have that right. I always have. And I could get in a time machine and go back to any time in the history of this country and have the same autonomy over my body that I have right now. The majority of this state – the majority of this country cannot not say the same. And in Ohio, women don’t need a time machine – they have fewer rights than I do right this moment. And if they are pregnant right now in Ohio, they have fewer rights than the life that is growing inside of them.
In the long history of our country, women have had fewer rights, less representation, less agency, and less autonomy over their own body. That’s not liberal propaganda. It’s not some ideology. It’s not even disputable. It’s a measurable reality. I am sitting here wondering what we think Jesus thinks about that.
The majority of Christians in America believe in the right to terminate a pregnancy. The majority of people who terminate pregnancies in America identify as Christian. Yet the popular narrative persists that Christianity is incompatible with abortion rights. My tradition, The Episcopal Church, has been openly and explicitly supportive of reproductive rights – including the right to an abortion – since 1967. Yet talking about it in church is still perceived as controversial.
Every time Jesus interacts with a woman in the Gospel narratives, she leaves with her humanity, her dignity affirmed. Every time. So, it makes sense that Christians should actively support the full humanity, dignity, and autonomy of women. This should not be controversial. Supporting abortion rights is not contrary to following Jesus. Supporting abortion rights, at its core, is about trusting people who are pregnant to make decisions for what is happening within their body. It is their body.
I used to think it was my job to protect the life that was growing inside other people. That belief was rooted in the idea that I knew what was right for others, for their bodies. I believed that I should have a say. I believed that it was a woman’s job to do whatever she had to do in order to protect that life no matter what, even if that meant being forced to do so. I believed I was standing up for the dignity of the unborn, but in doing so, I put myself in the position of undermining and even ignoring the dignity of the woman. I am short-circuiting her autonomy instead of affirming and supporting it. I can no longer do that. Jesus won’t let me.
There is a famous moment in the Gospel stories when Jesus calls out the religious leaders of his time, saying, “You are placing burdens on people they can never bear!” Jesus was talking to me. He was talking to all of us who believe we know what is right for others, and especially those of us who use laws to place unbearable burdens on others.
We were discussing this issue during one of our worship services on Sunday, and a congregant pointed out that God loves us regardless of how we vote on abortion. I believe unequivocally and unreservedly that this is true. God loves all of us no matter what. God loves us radically, extravagantly, beautifully. Today I wonder what we will do with that love. Will we love others the way we are loved? Will we trust them the way God trusts us? Will we honor them the way God honors us? My vote, my vote as a Christian, as a priest, as a man, as an American, my vote will be cast with a desire to love, honor, respect, and trust women enough to recognize their full humanity, their full dignity. It is my hope that this vote honors God.
Tags: Rector's Blog