REMARKS FROM MEMBERS OF THE RI RELIGIOUS COALITION FOR REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM

Wednesday, March 27th the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom held a press conference at 2pm at the State House library.

The Rev. Eugene Dyszlewski, Co-Chair, Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom

The Religious Coalition reflects the diversity of religious tradition that is 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. 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.

Rabbi Barry Dolinger, Congregation Beth Sholom

I’m here today as an Orthodox Rabbi to stand in favor of pluralism and broad defense of religious freedom as an imperative in today’s divided society. Take the case of Orthodox Jewish law. Unequivocally, it makes the value judgement that abortions are required when there is sufficient risk to a woman’s life. After that, broad debate. Two great rabbinic judges came to nearly opposite conclusions on the question. Rabbi Moses Feinstein ruled that abortion was otherwise akin to murder in Judaism, while Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg felt it was often allowed to protect the physical or emotional health of a mother as a decision to be made holistically by the family, doctors, clergy, and others. And that’s just my one small sect. 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. 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.

Camille Brousseau and Sabrina Goncalves, Temple Habonim youth and high school students

Camille Brousseau

Hello my name is Camille Brousseau, and this is Sabrina Goncalves. We are both students at Barrington High School. Thank you very much for taking the time to listen to what we have to say today. We are here because we are two young women, living in Rhode Island, who think the issue of Reproductive Rights is one of great importance to our state. In 1973, the Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade gave every woman in America the constitutional right to have reproductive choice. Recently, there has been a strong objection to legalized abortion and a movement wanting to overturn Roe, subsequent Supreme Court decisions upholding a woman’s right to choose and restrict reproductive rights on a national level. If Roe vs. Wade were to be overturned or restricted, the women of Rhode Island would be left without any protection or legal rights to make their own reproductive decisions, as there are no protections for safe and legal abortion in RI State law. Currently, the Rhode Island House of Representatives has already passed the Reproductive Privacy Act (H5125). We are now asking for the Rhode Island Senate to support the Reproductive Health Care Act (S152). 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 vs. Wade, subsequent Supreme Court decisions, and Rhode Island law. 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.

Sabrina Goncalves

As young women living in Rhode Island, we acknowledge that there is a chance that we could end up in a situation where we have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. We both want the opportunity to make an educated and meaningful decision regarding our futures. 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.

Thank you to all of the Representatives who have signed on the Reproductive Privacy Act (H5125). We highly encourage our Rhode Island Senators to support and sign on to S152, which is a very important piece of legislation.

Kat Kerwin, Catholics for Choice

Jeffery Sathyadev Branch, Karma Yogi (Hindu)

I offer my humble salutations and gratitude to everyone gathered here today. Community members, activists, legislators, and press: thank you so much for the opportunity to speak on behalf of reproductive freedom from the perspective of a religious minority here in Rhode Island. My name is Jeffery Branch. I am a practicing Hindu and Karma Yogi who sits on the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. As you can see today, we are a multi-faith coalition that advocates for Reproductive Freedom here in Rhode Island. In a time when factions of our government seek to divide us along lines of race, gender, socioeconomic background and identity, it has become more important than ever that we stand strong against that tide — That we stand strong in the convictions that founded us, both as a nation, but more importantly, as a state. 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. “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 come before you today to lend my privilege and my voice to support the passing of the Reproductive Healthcare Act here in Rhode Island. We are a state of freedom. Of choice. Overwhelmingly, Rhode Islanders support protections for a women’s right to choose, and access to reproductive healthcare. According to Pew research, 71% of all Rhode Island citizens support legal and safe abortion. And according to a poll conducted just last October by the Providence Journal, The Public’s Radio, and ABC6, 60% of all Catholics in the state support legislative action to keep abortion legal in the case that Roe v. Wade is overturned. This is not a niche political opinion, this is liberty, and it’s a liberty some would like to see stripped away from over half of our people. We’ve heard it said that: “The Reproductive Healthcare Act doesn’t change anything,” that’s true. It does however ensure our state laws reflect the findings of Roe, subsequent court decisions, and current state law.

In Rhode Island, we have many vibrant faith traditions represented. As I said before, 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. We also uphold nonviolence as a central tenant of our faith. In all decisions, we strive to bring the least harm possible to the individual, the planet, and society. It is because of this that we recognize the suffering it would cause to see laws that protect women erased.

Something that sets Hinduism apart is the affirmation that divinity also takes the form of a woman. Female deities, and in fact, Divine Femininity as a concept, are central to the understanding and practice of Hinduism. Women, by their very nature, are divine. They hold within themselves not just the power to create their own destinies, but the power to shape society with their choices. There have been many religious voices speaking loudly in opposition to women’s choice and their healthcare rights. I stand with my brothers and sisters today to firmly remind our opposition that we are all God’s children, and we have all been endowed by the Creator with rights that cannot be stripped away by the institutions of man. Women innately are and have always been powerful. You only need to look at the opposition of their liberty to see that. Today, and every day going forward, we must affirm that power. We must demand our legislators pass into law the Reproductive Healthcare Act, not only to reinforce the stronghold of freedom we always intended to be, but to ensure that women of our state, and of our country, have a light in this present darkness. I would like to thank all those involved in organizing and rallying around these efforts to pass the RHA here in Rhode Island. I would also like to thank the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, for allowing my voice to be a part of the discussion. To all the Women who’ve raised their stories, their struggles, their pain, and their hands to this work, I bow down to you. Om ParaShaktyai Namah

The Rev. Jennifer Geary, serving with the RI Conference of the United Church of Christ

Women deserve easily accessible, safe, professionally performed abortions. This has been US law for over 40 years, but not Rhode Island law. It’s time for Rhode Island to join the 21st century and pass legislation that guarantees safe, accessible abortions for all women who seek one, regardless of their social strata.

Women of all religions and no religion have been having abortions for 1000’s of years. And they will continue regardless of what happens with this current legislation. It is misguided to think that voting against this bill will stop abortions. This bill protects a woman’s right to make reproductive choices for herself AND it protects the state’s right to have abortion as an accepted medical procedure reviewed and monitored. This bill is about protecting the rights and health of over 50% of our population. Having abortion go back underground hurts everyone.

I’ve heard some say a woman’s body belongs to God. 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.

I call on the Rhode Island Senate to pass the Reproductive Health Care bill without amendments so it can go the Governor’s desk for signing. It’s time for Rhode Island law to put the power of healthcare decisions where they belong – with each woman and her personal physician.

Glenn Northern, Catholics for Choice

March 27, 2019 – Remarks by Glenn Northern, domestic program director, Catholics for Choice, as part of the event sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom in Providence, RI.

Catholics for Choice works across the US and around the world to represent and lift up the voices of the majority of Catholics who disagree with the bishops on issues related to sex, sexuality and reproductive healthcare. It is an honor to be here in Providence today standing with faith and community leaders and the women of Rhode Island in support of legislation that will protect their right to make conscience based decisions about their reproductive healthcare.

I am a parent. I am Catholic. From late night feedings to scraped knees to establishing limits on screen time and setting them on course for a loving, successful life, I know intimately that parenthood is one the most rewarding and challenging callings in my life. It is both too demanding and too sacred to be compelled on those who are unready or unwilling. No one should be forced to become a parent who does not want to be.

As Catholics, we are called to lives of compassion just as we are called to use God’s gift of free will to make the best choices we can in service of God’s love.

It is important to remember that the Catholic hierarchy does not speak for the majority of Catholics in Rhode Island—more than 620,000 Catholics from Woonsocket to Providence to Narragansett—when the bishop speaks about issues of reproductive health. Time and time again, the Catholic hierarchy here in Rhode Island and its antichoice allies try to tell elected officials that the views of the bishops represent the beliefs of all Catholics. This is simply not true. Though the bishops are a part of our church, they are not the whole church. It is the everyday Catholics, the 620,000 in Rhode Island and the 70 million across the US—WE are the church. T

he role of individual conscience is at the core of our faith. Every Catholic has an obligation to follow their conscience in moral decision making. As Catholics we honor the sacred duty of each individual to listen to their conscience, and we regard it as both an incredible gift and profound responsibility. This is why the majority of Catholics support policies that enable each individual to follow their conscience and protect access to the reproductive healthcare they need, including abortion. We also deeply respect the right of others, Catholic or non-Catholic, to follow their consciences in these same matters. Catholics do not believe it is right to dictate how everyone should live their lives. Our faith also charges us to respect religious pluralism and religious freedom.

In a religiously plural society, no one has the right to impose their views on another. Religious freedom is an expansive rather than restrictive idea, encompassing both the freedom of and freedom from religion. It is not about telling people what they can and cannot believe or practice, but rather about respecting each person’s right to live according to their own values and precepts. And no state is more anchored in those foundational freedoms than Rhode Island; here where religious liberty was first defined before there even was a United States. It is anathema to us as Americans, and as Catholics, when the Bishops and their allies seek to distort that essential freedom by pushing to enshrine into law one set of religious beliefs.

That is why Catholics for Choice is here today: to ensure that the voices of prochoice Catholics are heard.

Many Catholics, including many elected officials, are called to public service out of core Catholic values. When policymakers support legislation that protects women’s moral agency and consciences, they are doing their duty as public servants. Catholic legislators do the same when they follow their consciences to ensure that everyone has those same rights, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Few decisions are more personal than choosing whether and when to become a parent. We urge legislators to resist the pressure of a vocal minority—be it the Rhode Island Catholic Conference or antichoice groups who seek help in restricting the moral autonomy of their neighbors. They do not speak for all Catholics nor all people of faith.

Equality, fairness, compassion, social justice—these values are by no means exclusive to Catholics, but we certainly hold them dear. We all must fight to protect these principles and the right of each individual to follow their conscience in making critical healthcare decisions whether we are private citizens or public servants. The proper role of government is not to privilege one set of religious views over others, even when—or perhaps especially when—one religion is a majority. The proper role of government is to protect each person’s right to make decisions according to their own beliefs and values, not just the vocal and powerful.

The fact is that the majority of Catholics, in Rhode Island and across the United States, supports healthcare policies that take care of the whole person and oppose policies that restrict access to those services, including abortion. The Catholic bishops’ views are not reflective of all, or even the majority, of Rhode Island Catholics.

Catholics for Choice is here in Providence today to make sure your state legislators know it, too. We are here to tell your Rhode Island lawmakers to listen to the majority of Catholics—and indeed ALL Rhode Island people of faith—who believe that these shared values of equality, fairness, compassion, social justice must be upheld for everyone. Thank you.

Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men