Faith in choice: Pa. Clergy talk about the intersection of abortion rights and faith | Amanda Berg
When does life begin? Why do we assume believers are anti-abortion? What can God teach us about the issue?
(Capital-Star photo by Amanda Berg)
(Capital-Star photo by Amanda Berg)
Levers is a video series created by Rolling Lemon, published in partnership with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. It consists of short, first-person stories that explore opinions at the intersection of people, power, and public policy.
This first installment introduces three, pro-abortion rights religious leaders from Central Pennsylvania – Dr. Revered Ann Ard, the Rev. John J. Ward-Diorio, and Rabbi David Ostrich. Each narrator explains what their faith teaches them about a person’s right to choose an abortion.
In doing so, they dispel the preconceived notion that very religious people typically don’t support abortion rights.
Rabbi David Ostrich, Congregation Brit Shalom, State College, Pa.:
There is a kind of an assumption that religious people are anti-abortion. We’re religious. We believe in God. We practice our religions. We’re pious people. And we’re pro-choice. We base our religious sensibilities on ancient texts. But not every modern concern is addressed in the ancient texts. We try to find precedents or principles that we can apply to modernity. Sometimes this means aggregating the ancient texts or reversing them.
It’s like, the principles are there, even though the practice may not be. And sometimes it takes a while for an institution or society to work its way up to fulfilling its goals. The basic teaching of the Torah is that there is one God who chose us for a life of holiness and has given us a variety of different commandments, some ritual, some ethical. And we’re supposed to follow those.
It starts at the top and says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” And then for the next 17-18, verses they go through a whole list of very specific details in terms of religious propriety, charity for the poor, honesty in business dealings, [and] fairness in judgment.
And it concludes with verse 18, “You should love your neighbor as yourself.” In addition to taking care of other people you’re also supposed to take care of yourself. The famous line goes, “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?” Suggesting you take care of yourself. “But, if I’m only for myself, what am I?” Suggesting you need to take care of other people.
Self-care is important. And women who get abortions are taking care of themselves.
The Dr. Rev. Anne Ard, formerly of Centre Safe, State College, Pa.:
The conversations have tended to focus on, when does life begin? Right? Well, the reality is that none of us know that. We don’t know that. When does the soul enter the body? Well, beats me. I don’t know. What I do know is that, that, a woman who may be pregnant, or any pregnant person, they already have a soul that will allow them to think deeply and make the right decision for themselves.
There is a saying in the in the Presbyterian Church that comes right out of our our book of Confessions. “God alone is the Lord of conscience.”
Meaning that, we are fundamentally and most powerfully accountable to God. And that God is the one who implants in us that spark that is our conscience. For someone else to tell me as a woman or anybody else what I should and should not do, as I am making some of the most profound decisions of my life, decisions that affect my whole self, my body, my spirit, my psyche.
For somebody else to think that they should be telling me and making those decisions for me, really violates the whole idea of “I am accountable to God for the decisions that I make.”
I think we have to reframe the conversation so that it’s not about when life begins because reasonable people are allowed to disagree about that.
It’s about who decides.
The Rev. John J. Ward-Diorio, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Mechanicsburg, Pa.:
Within the United Church of Christ we understand scripture to be written by people, primarily men, but not entirely, who were interpreting what they understood God was asking them to do and be. Adam and Eve and the temptation in the garden, that’s a story about how human beings are inherently sinful, and cannot make the right choices on their own.
A lot of people have heard that and it’s been hammered in there pretty good. Now I just I think that that’s a horrible reading and it’s had horrible, horrible impacts on believers down through time. My understanding of humanity is that God created humanity and gave us free choice.
One of the significant differences between human beings and other beings that God made was human beings ability to think and make decisions.
That’s our biggest gift. It’s also our biggest responsibility.
When it comes to the question of abortion, I think that it comes down to a personal choice. To take that ability away I really think is antithetical to our faith.
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