After the act, SB 20: Reflections on North Carolina’s new abortion ban
Photo: Getty Images/ericsphotography
After the sun set on May 16, 2023, the North Carolina General Assembly completed their override of the Governor’s veto of a bill that will now dramatically restrict reproductive rights in our state. Before all that happened, the Council and our allies co-authored a letter to every member of the General Assembly asking them to sustain the veto and work with us to craft legislation that would actually support Women, Children, and Families. Our letter was signed by over 1200 religious people in North Carolina, with more coming online every minute when we finally stopped counting and printed the letter for our lawmakers.
The letter was polite and reasonable. We spoke as a plethora of religious communities across the state asking for due process, the chance for public comment, and the advice of the medical community—who had already expressed their own dismay over this particular bill. We did not accuse the legislators of fostering the return of back-alley abortions, though this law will likely do that. We did not remind them of the toxic and horrible deaths, so called “coat hanger abortions,” that result when pregnant people are denied access to the means to terminate unwanted pregnancies. We did not quote scripture, eisegeted to support a partisan view, because the signers do not share a common scripture. We did not question the sincerity of their religious beliefs, nor did we employ intentionally inflammatory language in presenting our case.
In response, from some elected leaders, we received comments along the lines of, “I have a hard time believing that Jesus would support tearing unborn babies apart limb from limb and then sucking them out of the mothers [sic] body.” This shows a profound misunderstanding of gestation, pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, and, yes, abortion. It is also rude and intentionally antagonizing, something we strove to avoid.
Other comments pursued this line of thought: “you did not study the same version of the Holy Bible that I did this morning.” This speaks to the very issue of religious freedom. In truth, my interlocutor and I probably do read the same Bible each morning, if perhaps different translations, but we interpret scripture differently. I can’t find the word, “abortion,” in either the original Hebrew or Greek of my holy scriptures. I can find a lot of instructions about creating a safety net for the well-being of all God’s people, including the care for women and children from words composed during a historical era when neither of them had any legal standing.
And what about all the other religious people in our state whose holy scriptures are Torah and Talmud or Quran or Tipitaka or Bhagavad Gita? Must they subscribe to a circumscribed interpretation of Christian scriptures? Do they have the freedom to make reproductive decisions on the basis of their holy scriptures and religious traditions? Yes, they do, enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The right to have a baby and the right not to have a baby is a moral decision. It is not a legal decision. I, and those who signed the letter, will be the first to respect any person’s right to say “no” to an abortion. We would like the same level of respect for the right to say “yes.”
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Rev. Jennifer Copeland