Wisconsin faith leaders respond to Supreme Court ruling on abortion
In a landmark decision on Friday, the Supreme Court effectively overruled Roe v. Wade, who established the right to abortion.
In Wisconsin, an 1849 law banning abortion in the state except when necessary to save the life of the mother came into effect.
The Journal Sentinel spoke with four faith-based advocates about their reaction to the decision and how it will affect their work on abortion.
From a rabbi who for decades advocated for abortion rights to a Lutheran pastor who oversees pregnancy resource centers, there is one common denominator: a commitment to continue their work undeterred.
After:Here’s how Wisconsin leaders, politicians and others are responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. wade
After:Overwhelmed and uncertain, Milwaukee abortion clinic providers prepare for a post-Roe world
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis: “We are back to square one”
Margulis is president of the Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. For nearly three decades, she has worked to organize religious leaders around abortion rights issues.
The coalition works to “counter the narrative that if you are a person of faith, you are by definition anti-choice,” Margulis said. It also provides tools for clergy to advocate on the issue.
Margulis said Friday she was horrified and shocked by the decision.
“People are going to die. This is a dark, dark, dark day for our country,” she said. “It’s a parody.”
Margulis and the other coalition members discussed how to revive a version of the Clergy Abortion Counseling Service, an underground 1960s clergy network that referred women to abortion providers they considered as safe.
With abortion set to be banned in Wisconsin under almost all circumstances, the coalition is exploring how it could help fund out-of-state travel costs for Wisconsin residents seeking abortions.
Between the cost of transportation, a hotel, the abortion itself, and even lost wages and childcare, traveling out of state for an abortion is “a massive undertaking,” Margulis said.
For Margulis, who has dedicated much of her career to advocating for abortion rights in religious circles, the Supreme Court ruling means her work will continue with renewed urgency.
“We’re back to square one,” she said. “It will be a tough battle. But we are ready for it. We will do it, because we have no choice.”
The decision also has implications for Margulis’ Jewish faith. Her faith teaches that life begins at birth, she says.
“It interferes with my religious freedom for the government to tell me that life begins at conception. That’s not what my faith teaches. And it’s not something the government should decide or tell me,” she said.
Reverend Cindy Crane: Overwhelming and ‘life threatening’ effects
Crane is the director of the Wisconsin Lutheran Office of Public Policy. The office is the advocacy arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, in the state.
The church teaches that abortion and contraception must be legally accessible.
“We have a kind of paradoxical position. On the one hand, we support life at all stages. And we also support reproductive rights. And we live with this creative tension,” Crane said.
On Friday, she said it was shocking “that they are reversing a decision that has benefited women’s health and our human rights for so many years.”
Crane also said the church will advocate for abortion rights at the state and federal levels.
Wisconsin’s political office does not generally advocate abortion, choosing instead a handful of other social issues to focus its efforts on. But the six ELCA Bishops of Wisconsin and Crane felt it necessary to speak out after the Supreme Court’s draft ruling leaked in early May.
They said the decision would have “crushing” and “in some cases life-threatening” effects. And they spoke out against violence against anti-abortion organizations and people seeking abortions.
Bishops and Crane said they “strongly condemn” the arson and vandalism at the Madison offices of anti-abortion lobby group Wisconsin Family Action last month.
“We have disagreements, but we cannot allow them to explode into acts of violence against each other,” they said in a statement.
Crane is particularly concerned about how Wisconsin’s abortion ban will affect the poor and people of color.
“What that means is that those who have the means can afford to travel, can afford to pay for an abortion somewhere else,” Crane said. “And those who probably need it the most will fall through the cracks.”
Crane thinks there should be more financial support for people seeking abortions and that the church should prepare its pastors to care for those suffering after the decision.
Reverend Robert Fleischmann: It’s time to ‘find ways to help single mothers’
Fleischmann is the national director of Christian Life Resources, an agency affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or WELS.
The church, headquartered in Waukesha, is opposed to abortion.
“We are happy for the lives that would be saved, but I think it is time for Christians and the pro-life community to step in now and show love and concern for mother and child.” , Fleischmann said on Friday. .
Christian Life Resources operates pregnancy resource centers across the country, including four in Wisconsin, as well as a home for single mothers and their children in Milwaukee.
“If you make the decision not to terminate a pregnancy, what can we do to help you live with that decision? Fleischmann typifies the agency’s approach.
Fleischmann tried to prepare staff at pregnancy centers for potential violence after the Supreme Court ruling, telling them to install security systems and surveillance cameras. One of the agency’s centers in Michigan was recently vandalized.
“There’s going to be a negative fallout, and I think it’s going to be serious,” he said. “But that doesn’t change our determination.”
Fleishmann sees himself as inhabiting a kind of realistic middle ground that is not represented by many of the most prominent abortion advocates.
Changing the law will not change the number of people who want abortions, he said. It will just change if they can access it.
“There will be many women who will want an abortion, who will not find it, who will be frustrated, who will be angry. Many will be deeply saddened. Many will be desperate,” he added. said.
He fears that women practice unsafe abortion methods.
“If I don’t want the unborn child to die, I don’t want the mother to die either,” he said.
Following the decision, Fleischmann expects “extreme reactions” from both sides of the issue. He also knows that not everyone will agree with WELS’ position on abortion.
But he hopes people will find common ground on the importance of helping women in places where abortion is restricted.
“We should pull our resources together, work across the aisle, to try to find ways to help single moms,” Fleischmann said.
Mary McClusky: “Delighted”, but the work continues
McClusky is the Associate Director of Ministry Development for The Rachel Project for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Rachel Project, a Catholic ministry for those struggling after an abortion, was started in Milwaukee in 1984. It now operates in dioceses across the country. The Catholic Church opposes abortion.
The ministry trains priests, mental health and health professionals to work with those affected by abortions. It also provides services such as pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats, and referrals to licensed mental health professionals.
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Those who work with Project Rachel strive to listen to people without judgment, McClusky said.
“Most of us do this work because we feel great compassion in our hearts for the women and men who suffer in this way,” she said.
Often, many of the strongest anti-abortion voices focus on impersonal issues of politics and theory, McClusky said.
By helping people process their personal experiences of abortion, the Rachel Project fills a gap in the movement, she said.
According to McClusky, staff often hear about older women who had abortions before it was legal and kept silent for decades.
On both sides, “the tough rhetoric often seems to be very much about ‘how do I convince others that I’m right,'” McClusky said.
“But instead, I think we need more – how do you acknowledge the mother and the loss of her child she’s mourning, and give her a place so she can be listened to?”
McClusky is “thrilled” the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but she said the Rachel Project work would continue to be needed.
“Now, those who are suffering from this grief and this trauma related to the abortion, the loss of this child, I hope now that they will see that the law of this country recognizes the humanity of the child”, she said on Friday.
She fears that with abortion in the news and in the public spotlight, some might struggle to remember their own abortions.
“But even sometimes the painful reminders can sometimes be the reason someone asks for help,” McClusky said.