by Anna Hurley
By now, most of us following the dialogue around reproductive justice – abortion access specifically – have probably read about the most recent “incident” in Philadelphia. State Representative Brian Sims recorded a video of himself speaking to protesters outside a Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania on Maundy Thursday, and then he took to Twitter.
“Push back against Planned Parenthood protesters, PLEASE! the state rep tweeted. “They prey on young women, they use white privilege, & shame. They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition. Push back, please!”
Years ago, when I was a clinic escort in Knoxville, Tennesse, I learned that engaging with protesters is not encouraged by most clinic staff. Interaction with protesters can escalate tension. Protesters carry gruesome images portraying inaccurate depictions of abortion. Patients walking from the car or bus to the clinic entrance have to navigate their way 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 healthcare and those attempting to prevent them from getting it.
But Sims was not an escort in this video. And while I will not get into the specifics of the incident because Sims has apologized for his aggressive behavior, I did watch the video and something Sims said 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 a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
He approached the protester and asked her 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?
And in the midst of such a heated conversation about reproductive justice, Sims’ questions about this woman’s faith have me wondering where my community is right now – specifically other people of faith.
Our bodies are rarely needed outside abortion clinics. Protesters already make patients anxious enough. People want to receive their healthcare in private, even and especially those seeking reproductive healthcare. So I understand why faith leaders often walk by clinics, praying silently for the people – both patients and employees – entering those sacred spaces where deep and personal decisions are made.
But what would it look like for people of faith to show up to the table 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 the authors 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. Connect with your local clinic and train to be one of their regular volunteers. Learn the differences in the types of abortions and the out-of-pocket costs for each. Help patients raise money to fund their abortion, because Medicaid does not pay for this procedure.
Call people in your faith community to babysit the already living 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 Pennsylvania laws keep abortion patients from having a partner, parent or support person present with them during the consultation or procedure.
And 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.
Anna Hurley is a single mother of two children and a queer seminarian attending United Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia and Gettysburg. She is a member of Proclaim, a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and a candidate seeking ordination to Word and Sacrament in the ELCA with a focus on mission development.