Editor’s Note: Americans United, the National Women’s Law Center and the law firm of Arnold & Porter filed a lawsuit in Missouri courts Jan. 19 challenging Missouri’s abortion bans and several related abortion restrictions as unconstitutionally imposing one narrow religious doctrine on all state residents, thus violating the separation of church and state.
Thirteen members of the clergy representing Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist communities are serving as plaintiffs in the Rev. Traci Blackmon v. State of Missouri case. (For more on the lawsuit, see “Restoring Reproductive Rights” in the February 2023 issue of Church & State or visit www.au.org/missouri-abortion-lawsuit.)
Here are statements from the clergy members, explaining what motivated them to get involved.
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister of justice & local church ministries for the United Church of Christ, Florissant, Mo.
“My God is a God of choice. In the United Church of Christ, we believe that God intended people to have autonomy over their lives and bodies, and to have authority to make complex decisions, including whether to have an abortion. Missouri’s abortion bans are an unconscionable abuse of religion to oppress all Missourians. Legislators do not have the right to impose their faith on me or anyone else. They’re betraying the separation of church and state that has enabled the religious plurality we enjoy in our state and in our country.”
Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis
“Missouri’s abortion bans contradict, devalue and disrespect my religious beliefs that the life and health of a pregnant person take precedence over a fetus. Jewish law mandates the termination of a pregnancy if the life of the person carrying the fetus is in jeopardy. The claim that life begins at conception is a statement of theological belief, and that belief is explicitly not a Jewish one. Our Jewish community has not only survived but flourished in America because of the civil liberties we have been afforded in this country unlike most other countries in which we have lived, and the cornerstone of those liberties is the separation of church and state, including the right to abortion and access to comprehensive reproductive health care.”
The Right Rev. Deon K. Johnson, eleventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, Webster Groves, Mo.
“For decades, the Episcopal Church has affirmed that the decision to have an abortion is a personal one that should not be legislated away by the government. In 2018, the church’s General Convention declared that reproductive health care is integral to the struggle to assert women’s dignity and worth as human beings. I believe that abortion, which is based in reason and science, is not incompatible with scripture and is supported by my faith. The Missouri abortion bans are entirely at odds with my religious beliefs. Missouri legislators have enshrined in law a narrow religious view that does not reflect my own beliefs or the views of the Episcopal Church. That is a violation of my religious freedom and the separation of church and state.”
Rabbi Andrea Goldstein, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Olivette, Mo.
“In my faith, women are respected as autonomous individuals capable of making decisions that are right for themselves and their families. My faith demands safe, equitable access to all forms of reproductive care, including abortions. I am challenging Missouri’s abortion bans in court because they enforce religious views that are contrary to my faith, robbing me and my congregants of our religious freedom — a direct attack on the separation of church and state.”
The Rev. Barbara Phifer, Retired United Methodist minister and state representative for District 90
“The essence of my faith is that God created all human beings and that all humans have intrinsic, equal worth in the eyes of God. This necessitates that everyone’s health and well-being must be prioritized and their decisions regarding reproductive health care, including access to abortion, must be respected. By removing choice from reproductive care, Missouri’s abortion bans conflict with my faith.”
Rabbi Jim Bennett, senior rabbi at Congregation Shaare Emeth, Creve Coeur, Mo.
“Deeply rooted in Jewish scripture and tradition is the understanding that the life, safety, and well-being of a mother have priority over that of an unborn fetus. Missouri’s state-sponsored bans on abortion are based on one narrow Christian view of abortion, which is wholly inconsistent with Reform Judaism. These bans impose a religious doctrine on me and fellow Reform Jews that contradict our own beliefs.”
Rabbi Susan Talve, rabbi at Central Reform Congregation, Clayton, Mo.
“My passionate, lifelong advocacy for abortion rights is inextricably tied to my Jewish faith. Missouri legislators codified their personal religious beliefs about when life begins, depriving Missourians of critical reproductive health care and undermining the separation of church and state that is essential to religious freedom. Justice and equality are also core principles of my faith – which Missouri’s abortion bans disparage by creating inequities in abortion access. These bans will not end abortion. They only make it dangerous and life threatening for the poor and most vulnerable. These disparities also go against the core teachings of Jewish tradition.”
The Rev. Holly McKissick, lead pastor at Peace Church United Church of Christ, Kansas City, Mo.
“Missouri’s abortion bans do not align with my faith because they punish people who choose to terminate a pregnancy. My tradition believes in freedom of conscience balanced by commitment to community, and this specifically includes making the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Faced with challenging situations, people must be free to make decisions based on both reason and their own conception of faith. These abortion bans marginalize the most disadvantaged members of society. They directly conflict with my faith-based understanding of human life.”
The Rev. Krista Taves, minister of congregational life at Eliot Unitarian Chapel, Kirkwood, Mo.
“As a minister at two Unitarian Universalist churches, one in Kirkwood, Missouri, and one in Alton, Illinois, I see the unequal reproductive rights my two congregations have because of Missouri’s abortion bans. My faith places deep trust in the inherent goodness of humankind and the ability of individuals to make moral decisions regarding their own bodies. The Missouri Legislature is forcing Unitarian Universalists to conform to one religious view of conception, the beginning of life and abortion that do not align with our faith. The separation of church and state in Missouri’s Constitution does not allow for this infringement on our religious freedom.”
The Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, Mo.
“The inherent worth and dignity of every person, the interdependence of all life, and the reliability of deeply considered personal conscience are foundational in Unitarian Universalism. My faith requires that people have the bodily autonomy to make their own deeply personal decisions about abortion and reproductive health care. Missouri’s abortion bans are entirely at odds with my religious beliefs, practice, and ministry because they codify a single religious position that directly conflicts with my own religious beliefs and understanding of conscience, dignity, and bodily autonomy.”
The Rev. Cindy Bumb, retired United Church of Christ minister, St. Louis
“For more than 50 years the United Church of Christ has supported abortion access and reproductive justice. My belief that abortion is essential health care is grounded in my faith and its foundational principles of love for God and one’s neighbor. Legislators have no right to ban abortion based on their personal religious views of when life begins – that is a religious question for which people of many faiths and no faith hold different views. Missouri’s abortion bans are entirely at odds with my beliefs. I joined this lawsuit because I want to ensure that Missouri legislators uphold their duty to abide by the Missouri Constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state.”
Rabbi Doug Alpert, rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, Kansas City, Mo.
“My support for abortion rights stems from my Jewish faith. I believe that Judaism calls for a holistic approach when considering a pregnant person’s health and deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy, including challenges such as financial difficulties and protecting mental health. But I would never try to write my Jewish perspective into law or impose it on people of other faiths. And yet that’s exactly what the Missouri legislature has done with its abortion bans – eroding the separation of church and state and undermining religious freedom.”
The Rev. Jan Barnes, retired United Church of Christ minister, Webster Groves, Mo.
“Missouri’s abortion bans legislate a religious view of abortion that is entirely at odds with my religious beliefs and the reproductive counseling I’ve offered as a United Church of Christ minister. I believe that God wants health and well-being for all people, which includes the ability for people to make the reproductive decisions that are best for them. When I’ve ministered to people contemplating abortions, I’ve explained that God supports individuals in making decisions for themselves about whether to have an abortion, and that there is no biblical prohibition of abortion.”