As members of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City involved in social justice action, we urge our fellow citizens to consider with an open mind the morality of abortion.
Utah’s abortion ban criminalizes abortion except in a very limited set of circumstances: if a pregnancy threatens the life of a woman, fatal fetal abnormalities, or officially reported rape or incest. Such exemptions comport with the religious teaching of some denominations, but this law conflicts with the moral discernment of other religions, including ours. Even though Utah’s total abortion ban is currently blocked by the courts, and abortions are legal in Utah up to 18 weeks of gestation, we feel compelled to speak against it now.
Our national organization issued this Reproductive Justice Statement of Conscience in 2015: “As Unitarian Universalists, we embrace the reproductive justice framework, which espouses the human right to have children, not to have children, to parent the children one has in healthy environments and to safeguard bodily autonomy and to express one’s sexuality freely.” UU’s covenant upholds principles, which include “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations.”
We believe that access to all needed reproductive health care is necessary to respect the inherent worth and dignity of persons who can become pregnant and to respect equity in human relations. If individuals are forced to give birth against their will, their ability to participate in public and political life as equals will be severely limited.
We do not believe in “original sin” or that the pain of childbirth is imposed upon women because the biblical Eve sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge. Nor do we believe in a god who intervenes in the lives of people based upon their righteousness or sinfulness. We do not believe that a god decides when a woman should become pregnant or punishes a woman with pregnancy and childbirth because of sexual sin. Instead, we believe in the knowledge acquired through science. Sexual activity can result in pregnancy, but modern science has given us reproductive care (from contraception to abortion when necessary) to control pregnancy and avoid childbirth when desirable.
As a faith tradition, we agree with the original thinking behind Roe v. Wade that until a fetus reaches viability within the womb up to the second trimester of pregnancy, it is not protected by the laws that protect human life.
Unfortunately, some people consider laws prohibiting or limiting abortion as laws upholding their interpretation of “morality.” We object to this framing. In many instances the “moral” thing for a pregnant person to do is to terminate a pregnancy.
We believe that the decision to have children is a powerful responsibility. Because we respect the worth and dignity of every person, we believe bringing children into this world who cannot be adequately nurtured and loved is wrong. If a person becomes pregnant and cannot care for that child, we believe the decision of abortion may be the responsible one. In Utah and throughout the nation, at least half of women having abortions already have other children. They regularly cite their responsibilities to care for these children as the reason they seek to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. We regret that society does not always adequately support poor women who may want to give birth and raise a child. Nevertheless, we respect the decision of individuals to terminate their pregnancies as a moral decision, when they do so in order to adequately care for the family they already have.
Because morality is defined differently in each religion, and a woman may believe abortion is her own moral pathway, we urge voters to elect lawmakers who will support an individual’s right to choose abortion, adoption, or any other option. Our country is based on freedom of religion, and one religion cannot be allowed to choose the moral pathway for all.
Rev. Monica Dobbins is assistant minister of the First Unitarian Church, Salt Lake City.
Karin Baumgartner is chair for reproductive justice at the First Unitarian Church.
This commentary was also signed by 11 other members of the First Unitarian Church.