Throughout my 30 years in ministry, I’ve sat with women and their families as they faced difficult decisions about their pregnancies. I’ve been invited into tender conversations about trauma, abuse, assault, the health of the mother, viability, quality of life. Hard stuff. Holy stuff.
In those moments, you do not take sides, or take a stand, as a pastor. You lean in. You listen. You love. You hold space for discernment and prayer and decision-making. These are sacred moments.
The Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson this week has subverted this tender and deeply personal process. It deprives women and their families of their personal liberty to make decisions. It gives states legal authority to determine what is best for them, for their families, and for their futures.
Some of us are fortunate to live in states that currently will not revoke a woman’s right to make decisions about her reproductive health, but many Americans in other states will be denied this fundamental right.
It’s a fallacy to believe that you cannot advocate for life and advocate for a woman’s right to choose. I have done both as a pastor—honoring the sanctity of human life while supporting a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. These are not incompatible values or irreconcilable ethical standards. But our national debate has made them so.
It’s also a fallacy to hold that we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights in the US, among them “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This, sadly, is not true for all of us, as evidenced in Friday’s Supreme Court decision. A woman’s liberty and right to self-determination has been diminished; her pursuit of happiness has been impaired. And while this decision will impact all women, it will most acutely impact women of color, and women who are poor.
The abortion debate is usually framed in the context of a “life-based” ethics versus a “choice-based” ethics, but this framework fails to address the deeper implications of a post-Roe world in which “life-based” ethics are now legislated and imposed by some states rather than freely and willingly practiced by individuals.
What is the work of ethics?
The work of ethics is to prescribe the good we ought to do, rather than the good we must do, in contributing to the greater good.
In my theological and biblical view, the greatest good to which God always calls us is only achieved by the power of God’s persuasion, a divine beckoning or calling or wooing toward life and love. The greatest good is never achieved by coercion or control or compulsion that limits our freedom or agency to respond to, or to resist, that divine calling.
In this way, “life-based” ethics and “choice-based” ethics are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, inseparable. A truly “life-based” ethic must always be grounded in choice.
This is not just a vague biblical concept. It’s the very glue that holds together the entire biblical story of God’s loving, redemptive action in the world.
God never coerces us or compels us to do anything against our will. God, out of great love for us, always persuades us to make the best choice possible among all the choices before us in any given present moment. This is why we can faithfully and reasonably affirm both the sanctity of life and a woman’s sovereignty over her body.
So what can we do now?
We can stand with women and girls until all of them are fully endowed with “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
We can stand with women and girls until they are seen and valued and empowered and entrusted to exercise fully sovereignty over their bodies, minds and spirits.
We can stand with women and girls until we arrive at the day when reason, not power, when love, not legislated patriarchy, will lead us to a more equitable society.
And we can stand with children, until not one child is unwanted, neglected, voiceless, powerless, or imperiled by violence, abuse, disease, and poverty.
We can stand with children by feeding them, mentoring them, caring for them, seeing them, befriending, and loving them.
Today, we can stand for women and girls and our nation’s children.
We can walk with them, march for them, advocate for them, until they are most fully free and most fully alive.
This is our choice. This is our call to action. This is our prayer.
And the good things we pray for, may God give us the strength to work for.