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Religion and Reproductive Justice

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February 22, 2016

I grew up in a family of Baptists, which in my experience meant gambling was wrong except for when my family did it. I heard a joke once about Baptists: that the only place they don’t recognize each other is in the liquor store. And in the case of birth control, that too came to be an odd beast in the home.

I know enough about my parents’ sex lives to fill a small, uncomfortable book. I know enough about other people’s sex lives to fill a weighty tome. And as far as I can tell, most of the people I know who have sex use birth control when they can get it, even when they claim to be against its use.

I have friends who choose not to buy birth control without insurance so their parents won’t find out about it. Not everyone has the ability to do that. Some of my sexually active friends are insured by Catholic health plans, yet their plans provide birth control despite the court debacle that sprang up under the Affordable Care Act a couple of years ago.

I have met people of all faiths and political leanings using birth control and many criticizing its use. I’ve met many who do both. Which is one reason that when I get asked by someone interested in reproductive justice what, exactly, we want, and sometimes struggle to provide an answer that fits within every worldview.

The simple answer I usually give is that people should be allowed to choose how and when to care for their reproductive lives, and ideally they should receive a level of healthcare that allows for the decisions necessary to be made.

But that’s a broad definition. Not all Catholics are anti-choice in the same way not all Baptists are anti-gambling. How does intersectionality play into discussions of reproductive justice? I understand well the middle class, white view on it, but what of Native Americans on reservations, where even the most basic of health care services make it almost impossible to consider decisions relating to reproductive health at all. What about people who define acceptable birth control methods differently from me? To what common goals can we all aspire to?

In general, I usually come to the conclusions “your body, your choice,” but you can’t simply draw the line there. Should Jewish people be allowed, for example, be allowed to perform circumcision on infants? It’s not their body to choose for. But then again, that’s the argument anti-choice people make about abortion, which brings up a millennia-old question of when a person is a person. And what about employers? If you run a “Christian” organization, should you be required to provide birth control for your employees? My answer is yes, but only if they want it. But again, that’s just me.

These are questions the reproductive justice movement has sought to address for a long time, and I don’t think there is ever an easy answer that works for everyone. I have my beliefs, but my beliefs are by no means the beliefs of every person involved in this movement. Which is why I think it is important that groups like URGE make an effort to include voices of the minority in their discussions. We want to create a world where everyone has access to good reproductive health and the right to make decisions about their bodies shame-free and without regard to socioeconomic or political status. Religion, and for that matter any ideology, may complicate things, but it is by no means incompatible with such a vision. If a person believes abortion is wrong, then they should be allowed to carry to term. That does not mean, however, that they should make abortion illegal for everyone else. Reproductive justice is about helping everyone, not a particular brand of ideology.