Reproductive Rights: Here are the Churches

Posted on October 15, 2010. Filed under: reproductive rights, Women's history, women's health, Women's Studies |

via RHReality Check, where Trusting Women asks, “On Health and Rights, What Happened to the Churches?”  TW writes about growing up in a liberal church that offered sex education classes.  She writes:

“Church was the place I first heard the word feminism.  Church was the place I first practiced putting a condom on a banana.  It was the place where I had openly gay and lesbian adult mentors and ministers.  The congregation my father grew up in gave the local Planned Parenthood their first home.  My first minister was a member of the Clergy Consultation Service, a network of liberal clergy that referred women to safe abortion providers in the days before Roe versus Wade.”

She then asks, “What happened to the churches?”   Here’s her answer:

“Liberal religions (particularly Protestants) feel guilty and ashamed on an institutional and cultural level.  Between the mid 19th and mid 20th century, liberal religion was at its apex. It lauded the possibility of human potential, placed science and empirical method right next to (if not above) Scripture, believed that human civilization was evolving morally and civically. Advances in science and medicine fueled and confirmed this hope and hubris.  Then the World Wars happened. The Holocaust happened, aided and abetted by liberal institutions, included liberal churches in Europe, governments, and academia.  Maybe evil really did exist in this world, maybe human beings were not so great after all.  Maybe the growth of liberal thought not only coincided with great democratic and medical advances, but also with brutal colonial and imperial endeavors; brutal injustices like Tuskegee Experiments and the recently revealed syphilis experiments in Guatemala. Maybe liberalism was not as perfect and wonderful as we thought…..”

My reply was:

Overall this is a thoughtful post but seriously — liberal protestant churches were solely to blame for the Holocaust?  What about the Pope? Or  Father Coughlin who blamed the Depression on an international Jewish conspiracy?

Also, what about the liberal church members, white and black, who participated in the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, and other movements for social justice in the 1960s?  Liberal clergy were also active in reproductive rights:  see Tom Davis’ book _Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and its Clergy Alliances_.”

Furthermore, look at the extensive history of reproductive rights activism outlined by the group Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  Their most recent work includes counter-protests against Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue) , a strong presence at the March for Women’s Lives, opposition to the nominations of Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Allito, and the “Lift Every Voice for Reproductive Justice” program for voter empowerment during the 2008 election.

In other words, the activism of liberal churches on behalf of reproductive rights and other areas of social justice has not gone away.  It’s the media that has turned their back on the work of liberal churches.

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    Heather Munro Prescott

    Heather Munro Prescott

    Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT.

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