By now, most of us in the Philly area following the dialogue around reproductive justice — abortion access specifically — have probably read about the most recent “incident” downtown. State Rep. Brian Sims recorded a video of himself speaking to protesters outside a Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania on Holy Thursday, recorded another video in early May, and later took to Twitter.
“Push back against Planned Parenthood protesters, PLEASE! They prey on young women, they use white privilege & shame. They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition. Push back, please!" the state rep tweeted.
Years ago, when I was a clinic escort in Knoxville, Tenn., I learned that engaging with pro-life protesters is not encouraged by most clinic staff. Interaction can escalate tension. Protesters carry gruesome images portraying inaccurate depictions of abortion. Patients walking from the car or bus to the clinic have to navigate through this crowd of people shouting hateful comments. Many in these crowds identify as Christian. My job as an escort was to put my body between the people seeking health care and those attempting to prevent them from doing so.
Sims was not an escort in his video, and he has since acknowledged his wrongful behavior on Twitter, pledging to “do better.” But something Sims said particularly sparked my interest both as an abortion doula — someone who supports pregnant people before, during, and after the decision and process to terminate a pregnancy — and as a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
He asked one protester about her faith. Why was she in front of Planned Parenthood and not praying at home? Why was she not somewhere feeding children who were hungry?
In the midst of such a heated national conversation about reproductive justice, Sims’ questions have me wondering where the other people of faith might be. Those who support abortion access in my faith community and in other faith communities need to become more involved.
Our bodies are rarely needed outside abortion clinics. Protesters already make patients anxious enough. People want to receive their health care in private, especially those seeking reproductive health care. So I understand why pro-choice faith leaders often choose to help by showing up at clinics and praying silently for the people — both patients and employees — entering those sacred spaces where deep and personal decisions are made.
But what are other ways people of faith can show up in support of those seeking reproductive justice?
When I met the authors of The Doulas: Radical Care for Pregnant People, I told them I was a doula who planned to attend seminary very soon. One of them said: “Wow, this is necessary work. People frequently ask for chaplains during surgical abortions.”
People of faith, this is how we show up. We are called to be in community with those on the margins, including those seeking abortions. Connect with your local clinic to volunteer. Learn the differences among types of abortions and the out-of-pocket costs for each. Help patients raise money to fund their abortion where Medicaid does not pay for this procedure. Call people in your faith community to babysit the children of those who are going to the clinic for the second time because they had to wait 24 hours to get their medication or have their procedure. Offer to drive someone to their appointment and sit in the waiting room, because often times partners, spouses, or other support people cannot take off work for multiple appointments.
Most importantly, faith leaders must open dialogue in their communities. We have to network with other people of faith who are already doing this work, and we have to educate our communities together. It’s time to not only teach compassion but also model it.