American women have fought for agency over our own bodies well throughout history. For more than a few decades here in the state of Texas, that fight has not been easy. Restrictive moves by political leaders aside, just having a coherent and productive conversation on reproductive health and abortion has become next to impossible. In a vicious and ongoing cycle, that absence of a healthy dialogue has brought us some of the most restrictive and offensive laws on reproductive health in the history of our great state.
One of those laws, Texas Senate Bill 8 will go into effect on September 1. The new law will outlaw abortion before most women know they’re pregnant, and place a $10,000 bounty on anyone who aids them in aborting. The number of freedoms this bill threatens —from bodily autonomy to the right to have a God’s-honest conversation about abortion—should scare every single person. As a clergy member who took a vow to listen and guide people on their spiritual and personal journeys, trust me when I tell you this law jeopardizes powerful and emotional conversations that take place between clergy members and their parishioners every single day.
I know the profound emotional work that the decision to get an abortion requires of women. I know because I’ve had two abortions myself.
I was 14 years old when I had my first abortion. I decided to do it so I could prioritize graduating high school, not starting a family before I was ready. Four years later when I got pregnant again—this time while on birth control—I made the same deeply personal decision not to bring my pregnancy to term. Those experiences showed me the strength I have to do what’s best for me, but they also showed me the strength of the people who spoke with me about my decision, offered a listening ear, and ultimately performed my abortions. As a result of SB 8, those conversations with friends, family, clergy members and confidants are now outlawed.
Because of my personal abortion journey, I can attest to the need for raw conversations about abortion within faith communities. I began volunteering to escort women into abortion clinics, an experience where I was often met with intense hatred and even physical assault. While seven months pregnant with my daughter, I was spat on by an incensed protester as I walked a woman into a clinic in Berkeley, California, no less. It’s those experiences—the good and the bad—that led me to attend ministerial school so that I could live out my aspiration of being an authentic and honest guide to others.
In Texas and around the country, there weren’t many clergy members available to guide women through open-minded conversations on reproductive health. I wanted to fill it. I knew that it was critical for people to hear a Black, LGBTQ+ woman speak with frankness and humility about abortion—to hear from someone who’s stood in their shoes.
As our leaders and lawmakers continue to pass law after law to restrict women’s access to abortion, it’s a moral imperative for communities of faith to show solidarity, and honestly have open conversations on a topic so-often considered taboo. That’s why I’m proud of my role in helping the Texas Freedom Network’s project Just Texas launch Reproductive Freedom Congregations —a faith initiative for places of worship that are putting in the work to advance a dialogue on abortion and reproductive health.
Legislation like SB 8 is the product of decades of stigmatized dialogue and shame—stigma that will require courageous conversations to tear through. Just Texas works with congregations to receive the designation of being a “RFC” to prove that there are congregations that believe a person’s decision to get an abortion should be free of stigma, shame or judgment.
Often, churches, synagogues and other places of worship come to us ready to learn and grow for the better. People don’t want to see a topic so deeply personal as abortion relegated to the background, especially within their place of worship. Still, serious cultural change requires a deep level of individual introspection. The strength in the RFCs is in the way that it educates and empowers entire congregations to feel comfortable having judgement-free discussions that were once in the shadows. We provide workshops as a part of the designation process, in which communities can embrace their own stories and the history of reproductive justice that has allowed us to even hold this space.
Congregations are proud to join this designation, not necessarily because everyone is an ardent supporter of abortion rights, but because we all appreciate the value of discussion, acceptance, and on a deeper level, women’s divine right to choose their own destiny.
One of the deepest and most personal connections many of us have in our lives is our connection to our faith. No matter the god we worship or the place we do it, people from all walks of life can appreciate the power of opening our heart to a higher power, of opening our minds to our fellow worshippers, and opening our eyes to a better future—a future where access to abortion and reproductive health services is seen as what it truly is: a moral and social good.
The Reverend Erika Forbes is the outreach and faith coordinator for Just Texas which supports reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality for all Texans.