The Effect on Texas
By Daniel Kanter
A few weeks ago I was at my third PPFA national conference, representing Unitarian Universalism on the Clergy Advocacy Board. Our attempt to be the face of pro-reproductive rights and justice people of faith is an uphill climb. But we are a small board with mighty diversity, representing everything from mainline Christianity to Sufism to Reform Judaism and beyond.
One concern we had, among many, was what would happen with the Texas laws to restrict access to abortion. As a clergyperson in Texas, today I can say that Texans breathe a little easier after the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of striking down the restrictions put on clinics performing abortions in Texas. About the same size as France, Texas attempted to reduce the number of clinics to a handful scattered around the state. It accomplished creating a negative financial impact that will take years to recover from. I can tell you that this was never about safety and always about ideological wars on women, communities of color, and the poor.
I see the issue up close every week. I organize a group of multi-faith volunteer chaplains to do pastoral care in a clinic in Dallas that performs abortions. The waiting room is always full. The women who come through are disproportionately women of color without access to standard health care that the more privileged of us take for granted. They also often have traveled a long way, some as far as Arkansas and Oklahoma. If they live in West Texas some will travel over 300 miles to then spend two or three days in the process the state has set up for them. To put this in context, if you were in Washington D.C. and had to travel the kinds of distances these women must, it would mean you would have to drive to Ohio or Hartford, Connecticut. The barriers are immense. They frequently talk about how misinformed they have been by schools and churches about their bodies, choices, and rights. And they talk about how, without a good friend or family member, they might have been in a situation that would cycle them further into poverty if they gave birth at that moment.
They also talk about feeling shame. Like most clinics in the country, we have our standard anti-abortion activists. Although, in Texas, some of them are dangerous and have even served time for violence (one known protestor even served time for trying to blow up his own church). Shame is dished out on the street corner and through their religious communities where they are seen as damned and sinful if they don’t go to term. It is painful to hear the stories that point out the sad irony of a woman making a personal, private decision, the kind of action our faith upholds, and being attacked for exercising her moral agency, something she should be proud of. Many families are kept from the secret of these procedures because the real implications include excommunication from church and being kicked out onto the street. This is probably not so different than most places in the United States, but set in the context of a state that also tried to put restrictions on clinics, doctors, and institutions like Planned Parenthood, it feels lonelier and more difficult.
With the decision this week comes the long road back to opening clinics in remote towns and cities, recovering from undue burdens put on institutions that had to close in the interim, and finding ways to serve so many who can now get basic examinations and help closer to home. There is still a lot of work to do to combat shame and restore dignity, to stand up to forces that are as large as denominations and as virulent as the protestors out on the corner, and to continue to fight to preserve constitutional rights that give all people decision-making power over their bodies.
And as a person of faith, I believe in a God of love that, without exception, holds us in an embrace of acceptance and seeks the work of mutuality, dignity, and justice in all frames of society. Okay, I’m taking a deep breath, wiping away some tears of joy, and heading out to celebrate this victory for the women of my adopted state and all of us living in a country that does find a way forward to freedom and hope for all.