June 2022 Church & State Magazine

Protecting Abortion Rights Is Central To Church-State Separation

  Protecting Abortion Rights Is Central To Church-State Separation

Just in case anyone needs a reminder, Americans United has been involved in issues of reproductive freedom since the founding of the organization.

Americans United fought for birth control access against entrenched religious opposition in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Americans United supported Roe v. Wade when the ruling was handed down in 1973, pointing out that the nation’s abortion policy should be determined by health care professionals and scientists, not religious leaders.

Americans United has since then repeatedly told the Supreme Court that state laws curbing abortion that incorporate religious doctrine should be struck down as unconstitutional.

So, are abortion and reproductive freedom church-state issues? Absolutely. When conservative religious groups seek to use their theology to control personal issues such as when and if to have children, we must speak out – and AU has a long history of doing that.

In the 1950s, Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, one of our organization’s founders, blasted religious groups that pressured legislators to pass laws banning birth control. Oxnam was infuriated that millions of people in developing nations, especially Latin America, where the Catholic Church was politically powerful, were condemned to lives of poverty and despair because women had more children than they wanted or could care for.

Americans United came out in support of doctors who were being threatened with termination because they held factual conversations with their patients about birth control. Among them were four doctors who were fired from Farren Memorial Hospital in Greenfield, Mass., in 1949 because they refused to stop discussing birth control with patients who had requested the information.

In 1976, Church & State reprinted an essay by John D. Rockefeller III, a philanthropist and birth control advocate.

“Those opposed to abortion seek to ban it for everyone in society,” Rockefeller observed. “Their position is thus coercive in that it would restrict the religious freedom of others and their right to make a free moral choice. In contrast, the legalized abortion viewpoint is non-coercive. No one would think of forcing anyone to undergo an abortion or forcing doctors to perform the procedure when it violates their consciences. Where abortion is legal, everyone is free to live by her or his religious and moral principles.”

Will Americans United continue to advocate for the right of people to make health care decisions without religious interference? Count on it.

If the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that surfaced last month turns out to be accurate, it means the end of Roe v. Wade – and legal abortion in probably about half the states. It’s nothing short of a disaster.

Commentators have called this a seismic development – and it is. Equally seismic should be the response. All over America, people of varied faith backgrounds and those of no particular religious belief must join forces to call this decision what it is: Christian nationalism in action. This rollback of our rights is the result of a radicalized court brought to you, ironically, by a biblically illiterate president cheered on by a Christian nationalist base that is bound and determined to leave the wall of separation in rubble and use their narrow interpretation of religion as the standard for all to follow.

And don’t think they’ll stop here. Access to birth control, marriage equality, LGBTQ rights and a host of other rights could soon be on the chopping block.

This is the America Christian nationalists want. But it is not the America most of us want. We know from polls conducted by AU and others that the American people support church-state separation. They support keeping abortion legal. They support LGBTQ rights.

The country is changing, and the future does not belong to Christian nationalists. The future belongs to Americans who will stand up for a vision of religious liberty anchored in true freedom, where, as AU’s slogan puts it, we have freedom without favor and equality without exception. We’ll demand an America where religious freedom is a device to protect rights, not something that harms others or takes away their rights.

As daunting as it may seem, our task is to build that America. We must do it day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year – and brick by brick until that church-state wall is once again high and firm.

It won’t happen overnight, and it’s going to take a lot of work. Americans United is ready. We hope you are, too.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now