The Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (Coalition) gathered in the State House Library on Wednesday in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) S0152A and the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) H5125A, which would affirm the right to abortion in the state of Rhode Island.
The Coalition represents the diversity of Rhode Island’s faith traditions, and affirmed that the time is now to act to protect safe, legal abortion. As leaders in the faith community, members spoke about their central belief that no particular religious tradition should dictate public policy, and that religious freedom means freedom to practice one’s own religion, as well as freedom from the constraints of any other religion. As a Coalition, members expressed their central focus in trusting the moral authority of women, and their strong belief in individual conscience guiding moral decision-making.
The Coalition believes that women should be able to manage their health, plan their families and control their futures, no matter what happens in the United States Supreme Court, without religious or political interference, and urge the Senate to join the House of Representatives in passing the RHCA without further amendments or delays.
The presentation in the State House Library was emceed by Nicole Jellinek, the co-chair of the Coalition.
“In this time of grave and growing threats to reproductive freedom at the federal level, Rhode Islanders are mobilizing like never before to defend our reproductive rights,” said Jellinek. “The group you’ll hear from today reflects the diverse and pluralistic faith community of Rhode Island.”
“We speak in favor of choice out of personal, moral and religious conviction, believing that the free exercise of conscience is a moral imperative,” said Reverend Eugene Dyszlewski, the other Co-Chair of the Coalition. “It is through conscience that we are connected with the divine and no authority is entitled to intrude in this sacred space. For me, as a Baptist pastor in the tradition of Roger Williams, this is personal. I firmly believe that conscience is an inalienable feature of our humanity and freedom from coercion is a human right. As fallible human beings, we are all better off when we allow each other to choose what seems best by our own choices than by compelling each other to live by what seems best to everybody else.
“We call upon our elected officials to respect the moral agency of women and to enact a law which allows women to make decisions based on their own conscience and not the moral or religious dictates of anyone else.”
“In a society that’s already diverse and becoming more so, wise policy on complex and hotly debated moral issues would allow for a pluralistic approach, rather than endorsing one view to the exclusion of all others,” said Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Congregation Beth Sholom. “This turns citizens against each other in enmity, and lures churches to legislate through the state. For the welfare of the government, discourse, and religions of all stripes, codifying broad protections for choice so that those facing immensely painful and difficult circumstances can consult their own traditions and choose their conscious is the imperative of the moment.”
High School students Camille Brousseau and Sabrina Goncalves spoke next. They both attend Temple Habonim.
“The Reproductive Health Care Act will ensure protection of the current legal framework protecting the right to safe, legal abortion as it exists today under Roe v Wade, subsequent Supreme Court decisions, and Rhode Island law,” said Brousseau. “Our state needs to act now because the women of Rhode Island deserve reproductive choice. This important piece of legislation will protect those freedoms across the state.”
“As young women, we want the opportunity to make an educated and meaningful decision regarding our futures,” said Goncalves. “We believe that women are capable of making the right decision and that politicians should not be making the decision for us. Women should make the decision in determining the proper time or whether to become parents. We have heard countless stories of women who did not have this choice and constantly deal with the negative repercussions. We fear for not only ourselves, but for our sisters and friends throughout this state and country, who may not have access to these life-changing decisions, especially women who come from marginalized communities.”
“As A Catholic, my faith has brought me to a lot of the beliefs that I hold today. I hold dearly,” said Providence City Councilor Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12). “Beliefs about justice. Beliefs about service. Beliefs about giving back to your community…
“But when we’re flooding the State House with people who talk about just this issue, we’re losing the power to continue the political discourse around so many important issues that impact marginalized communities… I’m hopeful that in the future we’ll be able to talk about other things – I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to address the minimum wage. I’m hoping we’ll be able to talk about the environment…”
“Outside these doors, emblazoned above the State House steps, is an inscription which reminds us of our roots:
“TO HOLD FORTH A LIVELY EXPERIMENT. THAT A MOST FLOURISHING CIVIL STATE MAY STAND AND BEST BE MAINTAINED WITH FULL LIBERTY IN RELIGIOUS CONCERNMENTS”
“This is the central philosophical question concerning reproductive rights in Rhode Island, ” said Jeffery Sathyadev Branch, a Karma Yogi. “Should the convictions of one faith tradition dictate law and policy for the reproductive health of everyone in our state? This question, when posed plainly seems easy to answer. We already answered it, and we carved our answer in stone: No.
“I am a practicing Hindu. Sanatana Dharma sees all faiths, and even a lack of faith, as valid and central to each individual’s identity. We understand that the complexities of circumstance and experience make it impossible for one religion to claim a monopoly on truth or moral conviction.”
“I’ve heard some say a woman’s body belongs to God,” said Reverend Jennifer Geary, who serves with the Rhode Island Conference of the United Church of Christ. “If so, then decisions about a woman’s body are between her and God – not her fellow parishioners, not her priest, pastor or other religious leader, not her neighbor or her elected official. Decisions about a woman’s body are hers to make. If she chooses to pray, seeking God’s guidance, that’s her choice.”
“The fact is that the majority of Catholics in Rhode Island – more than 620,000 from Woonsocket to Providence to Narragansett – and across the United States, support healthcare policies that take care of the whole person and oppose policies that restrict access to those services, including abortion,” said Glenn Northern from Catholics for Choice. “Catholics for Choice ensures that the voices of pro-choice Catholics are heard.”
“I’d like to reiterate the central message of our work,” said Jellinek, wrapping up. “Which is that we cannot wait to act. Our group, representing the diversity of Rhode Island’s faith traditions, affirms that the time to act is now.”
[From a press release]
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