Stop using religion as a tool against reproductive justice

Vandalism to the Planned Parenthood clinic on South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis last month smashed more than windows. It threatened the sense of safety that women seeking health care should have. In the same way, Robert Dear’s armed attack on the clinic in Colorado Springs in November acts out the violent rhetoric that has come to dominate public conversation about women’s reproductive health.

Too often, anti-choice activism and violence like this is endorsed with religious language. It shouldn’t be. As Kurt Eichenwald said in the Newsweek cover story on the number of abortions in the U.S., “some massive religious revival will not change those numbers.”

In fact, reclaiming religion as a resource for women should be part of a holistic reproductive justice agenda.

This is because religious women use contraception and have abortions. The Guttmacher Institute reported in 2011 that “contraceptive use by Catholics and Evangelicals is the norm.” More specifically, “among all women who have had sex, 99 percent have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98 percent).” In addition, their 2008 report on U.S. women who have had an abortion indicated that 73 percent were religiously affiliated.

As defined by organizations like SisterSong, the Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, reproductive justice is a holistic set of conditions that make it possible for women to have access to reproductive health care throughout their lives. This includes economic justice, racial justice, immigrant rights, marriage equality, violence prevention, access to quality education and health care, and many other things.

A more just and inclusive use of religion is one of these conditions. Yet, religion is too often coupled with conservative political ideology in the United States and weaponized in service of patriarchal control of women.

Anti-choice organizations like Operation Rescue, consultants for the undercover-video-making Center for Medical Progress, refers to themselves as “Christian pro-life activist organizations.” The New York Times reported that Robert Dear saw the Army of God as heroes in anti-abortion activism before he killed three people inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs this fall. That organization has claimed responsibility for past clinic bombings and other acts of violence against abortion providers, while describing itself as the “anti-abortion Christian pro-life Army of God.”

Even among leading political voices in conservatism today, Christianity is invoked unapologetically as the source for opposing women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and candidate for president, mentions abortion under the “family values” section of his website, not “health care,” and he uses the word “Biblical” twice in support of his political views and proposed policies.

In contrast, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice points out that dozens of Christian denominations and other religious traditions “support reproductive choice as the most responsible position a religious institution can take on this issue.”

Because progressive religious voices are not heard enough, a significant disjuncture between women’s experiences with contraception and abortion and the way their religious traditions are used by conservative politicians and violent extremists remains.

As we work on state and federal policies that contribute to reproductive justice, religion should be considered as a factor in creating a safe and healthy environment for women to have children, not have children, and parent them well. People of faith should speak out in support of justice and religious leaders in traditions that support reproductive choice should make that known in our communities.

Anti-choice violence and rhetoric should no longer have religious sanction.

Caryn D. Riswold is a professor of religion at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill.

Originally published at