Abortion Rights: It’s All in the Moral Framing

My mom, Wendy Goldberg, is a fiercely devoted pro-choice activist. When I was 8 years old, she arranged for the national President of Planned Parenthood to speak at the Jewish Community Center in my hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. On the day of the conference, anti-choice advocates protested in our yard. These picketers held massive photographs of bloody fetuses and signs that read, “Wendy Goldberg is a murderer.”

As I witnessed at the tender age of 8, the anti-choice movement has mastered a tool on its side that proponents of women’s choice appear to lack: the rhetoric of morality. Andrew Rosenthal examines this dynamic in his New York Times opinion piece concerning today’s record-low number of pro-choice Americans. According to Rosenthal, the “pro-life” folk are winning the hearts and minds of American people because they use moral lingo, while the pro-choice camp is losing supporters because we opt for stale, legal arguments.

But the abortion fight need not be a run-off between the “moral right” and the “legal left.” Pro-choice organizations can incorporate morality into our messaging by:

1. Appealing to religious values and faith-based constituencies.

As members of the Reform Movement, we cannot allow the Religious Right to monopolize conversations about faith and abortion. The Reform Movement has long recognized the need for a strong, moral voice in support of women’s reproductive freedom, dating back to the 1930s, when the Women of Reform Judaism called for the decriminalization of disseminating information about birth control and the 1960s, when the Union for Reform Judaism called for the liberalization of abortion restrictions years before the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion. Today, the RAC reinforces that decades-long commitment by fighting back against federal and state restrictions on reproductive choice and equipping Reform Jews in their congregations to do the same.

Fortunately, we are not the only faith denomination speaking out. This week, hundreds of Unitarian Universalist congregational leaders at a national conference in Arizona chose to adopt reproductive justice as their primary study issue and policy priority for the next four years, thus deepening their denomination’s commitment to reproductive choice—a commitment that also dates back to the 1960s. My work at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice has taught me that we can partner with other like-minded faith-based groups, such as the Unitarian Universalist faith community, and use our common moral values to preserve women’s reproductive choice.

The above table (click to enlarge) explains the differences between reproductive health, reproductive rights and reproductive justice frameworks. Of course, it is necessary that organizations using each type of framework all play a role in the abortion rights conversation.

2. Adopting a reproductive justice framework.

In addition to crafting interfaith partnerships and pulling from religious texts, pro-choice organizations must adopt a reproductive justice framework. A conceptual rubric rooted in reproductive justice acknowledges that women’s issues are not merely matters of health or rights, but rather they are also matters of morality, oppression and barriers to access. Further, abortion cannot be viewed independent of the social factors that influence a woman’s access to medical and family planning services, such as her race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and geographic location.

The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is months away; that said, abortion remains a politically fraught issue today. As pro-choice activists, let’s carefully plan our strategy to counter the moral arguments of the anti-choice movement and to prove the true moral integrity of our ranks.

Molly Goldberg is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. She is interning at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

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Machon Kaplan Participant

About Machon Kaplan Participant

Machon Kaplan is the Religious Action Center's work/study internship program for undergraduate students interested in Judaism and social justice. Learn more at www.rac.org/mk. The views expressed in these posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reform Movement.


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