How the Right to Abortion Transforms

Photo by Sarah Whiting

I believe that a person’s lived experience should enable them to make a decision about whether to continue a pregnancy. This is not the role of a government, a judge, or a politically conservative person who does not know the person making the decision.

A study by Guttmacher Institute found that many people want to delay or end childbearing simply because they could not afford a baby (73 percent). A similar number indicated it would interfere with their ability to get an education, to work, and to care for existing dependents (74 percent). Others were in an unstable relationship or wanted to avoid becoming a single parent (48 percent). Whatever a person’s reason for seeking an abortion, they are best suited to make this most intimate and profound decision.

Guttmacher Institute research found that six in 10 people who have an abortion are already a parent and do not want an unintended pregnancy to impact their existing family.

In my case, I was in my early 20s, and an active alcoholic, when I became pregnant. I was a mess, and was in no way ready to be the kind of parent I intuited that I wanted to be. Later in life, in my sobriety, I became the daughter, wife, mother, minister, and citizen I wanted to be. I was able to make the choice to parent after I got help to make my life better.

For more than 25 years I have been involved in protecting reproductive rights at rallies and marches. In fact, I met my husband of 26 years at a pro-choice rally. I have the child I have now because of my sobriety and my union with my partner. Why is this life not as worthy as what I would otherwise have been required to have in my early 20s?

The reason I am part of the UnRestrict MN campaign — and a lawsuit against the unconstitutional state restrictions that have been passed — is because without exception, I believe people have the right and the authority to choose their life paths. 

Shifting Public Dialogue

When we talk about the bans now being implemented in places like Alabama, we sometimes lift up the fact that it’s not allowed “even in cases of rape or incest.” If we buy into this narrative, it says some abortions are okay and others are not. Abortion should be available to anyone who needs it, for whatever reason. Children should not be a punishment for someone who doesn’t meet an arbitrary bar for how the pregnancy occurred. Abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a right.

Anti-abortion efforts are about controlling people, not health. If it is about protecting people and children with sound public policy, we would not be attempting to go back to a time when people were dying from illegal abortions. In 1965, for example, illegal abortion accounted for an estimated 17 percent of officially reported pregnancy-related deaths — and that only includes those whose cause of death was not protectively attributed to other causes.

If reducing the number of abortions was truly the goal, affordable birth control would be accessible to everyone — including those with low income and those who are under 18 — in order to significantly reduce unintended pregnancies. In addition, comprehensive sexuality education would be required for youth. These are proven ways to reduce pregnancy.

Data shows that the U.S. abortion rate has dropped dramatically because of improved contraceptive use and birth control education.

According to Guttmacher research, in 2013 the number of abortions in the United States dropped under one million for the first time since 1975. The abortion rate fell to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 people aged 15–44, the lowest rate ever recorded.

If anti-abortion advocates weren’t biased in their reasoning, options like Planned Parenthood for education and birth control would not be targeted. If people with the most limited access to contraception are struggling financially, it makes logical sense that they should most be able to access abortion care. Yet these growing bans across the country — and in our own state — make it clear that these people are targeted to have least accessibility to preventative care.

In Minnesota, people who decide to have an abortion must schedule a medically unnecessary appointment to hear a state-mandated script 24 hours before receiving care. This especially impacts people in rural areas who have limited access to clinic care.

People need safe, legal access to reproductive health services, no matter their income level or what zip code they live in. There is no reason doctors should be required to say certain things to a patient that are not medically relevant. The rules in Minnesota, and elsewhere, are about control. They are about ignoring the fact that life happens in nuance, and we make choices all the time about what we can do next to improve our situation, become better human beings, and live more fully.

Removing Stigma

I never thought I would have to talk about my abortion. It is a private decision. Why would this right to reproductive decision-making be someone else’s business?

The anti-abortion activists count on the stigma and shame about abortion to keep us silent. I am not ashamed. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to access excellent, compassionate care when I needed it. The Texas clinic I went to is now closed, because of egregious mandates in state law.

In Minnesota, we have strong protections for abortion access. The current mandates are an affront to our state constitution, and they must end.

Rev. Kelli Clement is the Social Justice minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis.

Clergy’s History of Support

Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, women relied on inexperienced medical providers who were willing to perform abortions. The procedure was risky. A network of clergy emerged to help connect women seeking an abortion with doctors who could safely provide them. 

Made up of Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, and dissident Catholic nuns and priests, the Clergy Consultation Service announced their services in 1967 on the front page of The New York Times. The group of almost 2,000 religious leaders lobbied for the repeal of abortion laws, challenged Catholic antiabortion activists, and helped women obtain safe abortions in the United States and abroad. It was the largest abortion service in the country before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal six years later. 

In 2017, religious leaders and people of faith came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service. “My faith really loves it when women have more power than less,” said the Rev. Donna Schaper, of Judson Memorial Church in New York City, where the clergy movement began in 1967. “I think Jesus was all about women having more agency and being moral choice makers as much as men. I don’t think there’s anything in Jesus that was anti-woman.” 

Source: “A clergy network facilitated safe abortions years before Roe v. Wade,” United Church of Christ, 

An Abortion Rights Lawsuit Filed in Minnesota 

On May 29, 2019, Gender Justice, in partnership with the Lawyering Project, filed a complaint in the Second Judicial District of Minnesota on behalf of two healthcare providers and the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. The lawsuit challenges multiple restrictions on abortion that serve no medical purpose, on the grounds that they violate the Minnesota State Constitution. 

In part the complaint says: “Deciding whether or when to become a parent is about freedom and control over our lives at our most basic level: our bodies, our families, our life’s path. Minnesotans respect each other’s rights, freedoms, and the independence to make our own decisions without the state government or politicians trying to sway us.”