People of faith are obliged to wrestle with thorny contemporary problems; it’s in our job description. The issues that affect people in this country, in Vermont, and in our families, are ones of moral, ethical and religious significance. The conversation will only be enhanced by varied perspectives, and our own faith deepened by our questioning.
If you’ve been following the news of the Vermont legislature, you know that one issue sparking contentious debate these days is abortion. This is a sensitive and very personal subject that evokes deep feelings for both women and men. I encourage all concerned to continue the conversation with their faith leaders, their loved ones, and health care providers.
The fate of Roe v. Wade which, since 1973 has allowed women the right to choose an abortion, is uncertain and many suspect that it may be significantly weakened or overturned. What may happen is that decisions about abortion will be remanded to individual states. States are therefore seeking to pass laws that codify and clarify their position on this issue.
In the Vermont legislature, the abortion rights bill (H. 57) was introduced. H.57 will ensure that Vermonters have access to safe, legal abortion, making no changes to the current policies affecting abortion access in Vermont. It simply codifies into law the abortion rights that Vermonters have had for 46 years. H.57 has passed in the House and is now in the Senate. The Senate recently overwhelmingly passed Proposition 5, a proposed amendment to the Vermont Constitution that would guarantee reproductive liberty to all Vermonters.
What I have found inescapable in the discussion about abortion is the inherent subjugation of women. The underlying assumption seems to be that women aren’t capable of making such deeply important decisions for themselves, that society must step in and direct women who, for whatever reason, are deemed unable to follow a morally acceptable path.
Because reproduction is tangled with sexuality, an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy bears shadows of unchained lust and desire. This, of course, has been true for millennia and though we may consider ourselves staunch supporters of equal rights for women, we are not, I think, aware of the insidious ways the view of women as less than men has pervaded our culture and understanding.
Sadly, our starting point seems to be that women aren’t trustworthy. We can go back to the Garden of Eden to see the church’s interpretation of Eve’s fallibility. In cultural, religious and state realms, women have been perceived as needing the restrictions of ruling authorities—that were historically male—to coerce their compliance in many areas. The underlying assumption has been that women cannot know what is best for their families, their children, their lives and their communities.
There are women and men among us who have weathered the deeply personal storm of abortion. For some it was a thunderstorm, for others a hurricane. All have been whipped and blown by the particularities of their own experiences. My guess is that whatever they decided, their engagement with God was tested.
This isn’t an easy discussion. As many of us have been awakening to the idea of white privilege, so too must we examine our deep roots in patriarchy. We need to question our entrenched cultural distrust of women and summon the courage to face the answers and commit to change. My hope is that everyone will hold the questions in one hand and God’s hand in the other.
Rev. Susan Cooke Kittredge, of Shelburne, is Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church. She first shared this commentary with VPR earlier this month.