Keeping the Faith in the Pro Choice Movement

This post is part of our week-long series on the personal impact of the current state of reproductive health, rights, and justice.

by Nicole Clark, MSW

Clark is a social worker, consultant, and activist who has worked in the reproductive rights, health, and justice fields for 9 years. Nicole lends her expertise to community organizations, nonprofits, and individuals seeking to improve the health and lives of women and girls of color through research, education, and advocacy.

Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that affirmed a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. As it was controversial then, the fight for abortion rights for women still remains under attack 40 years later.

As the movement for abortion rights has evolved, so has what it truly means to be pro choice. More Americans who consider themselves “pro life” are actually in favor of abortion rights; however, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently reported that just 44 percent of young people under 30 have no clue what Roe v. Wade represents. Even more interesting, Planned Parenthood Federation of America recently dropped the pro choice label, recognizing that “pro choice” is no longer resonating with Americans.

Whether a woman decides to become a mother or not, she is exercising her right to choose to make motherhood a reality for her. As a reproductive justice activist, I’ve always had a rather interesting time embracing the “pro choice” movement as I’ve always felt that the focus has always been on white, heterosexual, middle class women. When I was first introduced to the movement, I was a sophomore in college. I attended a discussion on Roe v. Wade, where I was bombarded with images of wire hangers and slogans like “Never Go Back”.

While that slogan and those images didn’t resonate with me, what did resonate was the belief that all women should have access to the reproductive services they need, including abortion. What resonates with me more is reproductive justice, the framework that champions the belief that when a woman has access to societal, political, and economic power and resources, she is able to make better decisions for her reproductive health.

Among all of the complexities of this movement for me, the biggest struggle that I’ve had has always been juggling my religious Southern upbringing with my activism around abortion rights.

Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, I was surrounded by members of my congregation who clapped, danced, raised their hands and faces to the ceiling in praise and worship, I would often wonder if these people in sync with the same God as I. Even as a young person, I often felt out of place because even though I believed in what most people who consider themselves religious would believe, I didn’t however agree with a lot of things.

I struggled with many questions: When does life truly begin?  Does life begin at conception or after we are born? The answer varies, depending on who you ask. Do we consider a fetus to be a living breathing person when we want the pregnancy to occur, or do we consider it null and void when the pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted?

While this movement was new and exciting to me in college, I began to have concerns about what my newfound beliefs would have on the religious foundation that I have grown up in. I started to define what about my faith had led me to being pro choice and started to find more people and organizations out there that echoed my beliefs such as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive ChoiceCatholics for Choice, and Faith Aloud, which has helped me greatly.

Even with that support, I realized more that southern states aren’t exactly the biggest supporters of abortion rights. The Guttmacher Institute reports that in 2012, 19 states introduced 43 provisions to restrict abortion access, and many of the states that introduced abortion restricting were in the south. It has been nearly 5 years since I have lived in the south, and at times I have wondered if my activism is needed more in the south compared to where I am now in New York City.

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I think more about the biggest challenges facing abortion rights right now. I think more about who truly benefits from Roe v. Wade and if this ruling really has women and girls of color and women in low-income communities in mind, all who continue to have inadequate access to all reproductive services, including abortion. I think more about the continued stigma surrounding getting an abortion, and how I need to do more organizing around that. I think more about, if more Americans are for abortion rights, why aren’t more lawmakers listening and creating laws that reflect that reality as opposed to introducing restrictive laws? I think of all the religious community members who are doing what they can to educate others on the importance of reproductive services in ways that support the movement while also being respectful of religious beliefs. I also think more about how we can help abortion rights activists in southern states.

I’m in this for the long haul, yet there are many days in which fighting this fight seems daunting. On a week like this, I am reminded that, despite all of the setbacks, that a country in which abortion is no longer stigmatized and is readily available without question is possible, and this allows me to keep the faith in the pro choice movement.

[Editor’s Note: more people than just cis women need and want access to affordable reproductive health care, including abortion.]

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