The Year in Reproductive Justice: 2015 Summary

The words and deeds of those in the U.S. who oppose abortion have perhaps never been as fevered or their consequences as severe as they were in 2015. At the beginning of the year, the new Congress wasted no time at all introducing several abortion-restricting bills, including HR 7, which was aimed at banning all insurance coverage of abortion, and HR 36, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks and place special requirements on rape survivors.

This trend was also seen around the country at the state level. Before the first quarter of the year had ended, state legislators had introduced 332 bills targeting abortion. Many of these were targeted regulations on abortion providers, or TRAP laws. These TRAP laws are wrapped in the fluffy language of caring about women’s health, but the intended effect is to restrict abortion clinics and run them out of business.

“It would be easy to think that 2015 was a year of faith versus reproductive justice, but that is simply not true.”

Then, over the summer, the Center for Medical Ethics released a series of edited and highly contested videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials engaged in illegal activity. Despite the fact that every legal investigation into the alleged wrongdoing has cleared Planned Parenthood, opponents of reproductive justice continue to use the videos to target the country’s largest provider of health care to women and those with low income. The U.S. House of Representatives is set to have a Benghazi-style committee to investigate the already widely-debunked videos. These hearings are more about scoring political points in an election year than finding the truth, all on the backs of individuals with low income and women of color.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has taken up several cases, the outcomes of which could have devastating consequences. The first is Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, which originates from Texas, challenging a restrictive law enacted by state legislators in 2013. Two-thirds of Texas’ abortion clinics would close without intervention from the Supreme Court, leaving thousands of women and their families with nowhere to turn.

The other is a series of cases challenging contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The law allows for religious organizations to opt out of providing the otherwise required coverage, but also requires that they inform the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of their decision. The courts have ruled they could either fill out a form or send a letter, and the government will take care of the rest. These organizations claim that signing such a letter impinges on their religious freedom.

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and similar state-enacted RFRAs, also played a significant part in 2015. Spurred by the Supreme Court’s terrible 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, corporations now have the same religious freedoms that individuals enjoy. Emboldened by this decision, religious conservatives have perverted one of our fundamental liberties, which was once a shield to protect us against government intrusion, into a sword aimed at harming others.

It would be easy to think that 2015 was a year of faith versus reproductive justice, but that is simply not true. While conservative Christians might believe they have a monopoly on religion in America, justice-seeking people of faith, including many Christians, spent 2015 struggling for reproductive justice.

In July, I joined dozens of members of Congress at the introduction of the EACH Woman Act. For too long, the Hyde amendment has blocked many women with low income from having an abortion. This isn’t by accident. Rep. Henry Hyde, when he introduced the language for the provision, specifically said he was targeting low-income women. A woman should not be denied an abortion based on her economic status. The EACH Woman Act would ensure insurance coverage of abortion for every woman, no matter her income and however she is insured.

Called by my faith to acts of compassion, I stood with Jewish, Christian, and Unitarian clergy colleagues outside Preterm, a reproductive health care center in Cleveland, to bless it a sacred place of holy decision-making. As people of faith, we believe in the power of prayer to change hearts and minds. We prayed for the clinic’s workers and volunteers, we prayed for the women who go there and make difficult decisions, and we prayed for those who show up on the sidewalks every day to hurl hate and shame.

As I look back at the highs and lows of last year, I pray that we might see a resurgence of compassion in our politics. I pray that 2016 shall be the year that everyone sees, finally, that black lives matter and we shift away from the polices that ignore this fact. I pray that 2016 shall be the year that the war on poor people turns into a true campaign against poverty. And I pray that this shall be the year that freedom, liberty and justice reign throughout the world.

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