Achieving Reproductive Justice Requires Both Urgency and Patience

Achieving Reproductive Justice Requires Both Urgency and Patience

Responding to the effects of the June ruling that voided key elements of Roe v Wade requires us to build a lasting movement focused on cultural transformation and justice.

Jeff Milchen
a group with signs protests the SCOTUS ruling about abortion

A rally in defence of reproductive freedom in downtown Portland, Oregon, June 24, 2022, was attended by Unitarian Universalists in town for the UUA General Assembly.

© 2022 Nancy Pierce/UUA


As we reach the fiftieth anniversary of the Roe v Wade ruling this week, Rev. Rob Keithan hopes we’ll recognize a hard truth: the June Dobbs v Jackson ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, voiding key elements of Roe, was not just the result of a court stacked with regressive justices, but the culmination of fifty years of patient, strategic, and multifaceted organizing work by anti-abortion forces.

“The situation at hand will not be solved by rapid response.”

—Rev. Rob Keithan

“The situation at hand will not be solved by rapid response,” says Keithan, who serves as minister of social justice with All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., and co-chairs the Spiritual Alliance of Communities for Reproductive Dignity ( SACReD), a multifaith coalition advancing reproductive justice. I spoke recently with Keithan and Rev. Ranwa Hammamy, congregational justice organizer with the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Organizing Strategy Team, to glean their thoughts and advice on how to respond to the Dobbs decision.

Much of our conversation concerned how to balance fulfilling the immediate needs of people who lack access to abortion care (due to legal, geographic, or economic challenges) with developing longer-term strategies to win back lost legal rights. Hammamy also stressed the need to understand the connection between the revocation of reproductive rights and the escalating attacks against gender and LGBTQIA+ rights. “As a queer person, telling that complete story is deeply personal,” said Hammamy.

The UUA has advocated for reproductive rights for more than five decades through public education, legal struggles, and providing direct support for people needing abortion care.

In the latter realm, many UUs assisted the Clergy Consultation Service, a clandestine interfaith network from 1967–1973 that helped people seeking abortion care. Many UUs and the UUA itself are actively engaged in identifying ways to help people isolated from needed health services today to prevent revisiting the era when thousands of people—disproportionately poor women of color—were forced to risk abortions under unsafe conditions. Fifty years later, the same groups are those most harmed by current state anti-abortion laws.

Hammamy emphasizes that many people in the United States have never enjoyed adequate access to care due to barriers arising from race, location, gender identification, financial status, and more. Those inequities are one reason the UUA and its associated organizations address abortion through a broader lens of Reproductive Justice, which UUs committed to through a Statement of Conscience in 2015, rather than focusing narrowly on whether people can legally choose whether or not to bear a child.

That framework underlies an array of resources, such as the UUA’s Reproductive Justice Curriculum for Congregations, UPLIFT Action’s Congregational Reproductive Justice Action Guide, and SACReD’s congregational education program.

“As people of faith, it’s vital for us not only to be vocal advocates of reproductive justice but invested collaborators within our communities making it happen.”

—Rev. Ranwa Hammamy

Keithan and Hammamy both stress the importance of building a lasting movement focused on cultural transformation, not just passing laws or winning court cases. Similarly, Keithan urges patience in our personal interactions if we wish to persuade others, cautioning “no one wants to listen to someone hurl talking points at them.” Toward that end, Keithan crafted Tips on Conversations for Long-Term Change (PDF), a single-page guide to engaging in constructive dialogue that serves as a great foundation for issue-specific guidance, like the National Network of Abortion Funds’ (NNAF) Heart to Heart Abortion Conversations (PDF) primer.

While we develop work to win back lost rights at the state and federal level, NNAF is a gateway to provide direct assistance to those needing help to cover medical costs and expenses involved in leaving home to seek reproductive advice and compassionate care. NNAF’s website provides a state-by-state directory of groups providing such essential support. Apiary Collective is a related fund that focuses on providing logistical assistance to people getting abortions, such as funding for travel, lodging, medication, and child care.

Keithan notes, “We’ve already seen a dramatic increase in people traveling to high access states like Illinois and Minnesota, and to Washington, D.C.,” many of whom need assistance to travel several hundred miles to reach legal care.

Hammamy and Keithan say UUs are positioned to play a crucial role to counter the cooptation of values-based dialogue by regressive religious voices and expressed the need to frame the Dobbs ruling as a violation of our religious liberty. They cited examples of many UU congregations engaging with the issue, such as:

  • Main Line Church in Devon, Pennsylvania, which has convened conversations on reproductive rights with congregations of other faiths and hosted a statewide forum.
  • UU Church of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, which has mapped clinics across the state and offers practical support as Illinois has become the closest haven for residents of many states in the South and Midwest.
  • First Unitarian Dallas, which has generated national attention for its ongoing work, including lawsuits to stop Texas laws criminalizing abortion and helping arrange transport to safe states for people needing abortion care.
  • First Unitarian Portland, Oregon, which is collaborating with UUs and others in Boise, Idaho, where abortion is banned, to work toward opening a clinic in Eastern Oregon.

Beginning Sunday, January 29, Hammamy and Organizing Strategy Team Reproductive Justice Intern Charity Howard will be co-presenting a three-part Reproductive Justice Organizing Series for Congregations, which will provide essential frameworks, tools, and community for UU congregations organizing to support reproductive justice in their communities.

“As people of faith, it’s vital for us not only to be vocal advocates of reproductive justice but invested collaborators within our communities making it happen,” said Hammamy. “Understanding our responsibility and power to take collective action in our congregations is essential for living out our faith's call to revere the interdependence of our lives and the dignity of all human beings.”

Additional UUA Resources

  • Our Whole Lives (OWL) is a comprehensive sexuality education program developed jointly with the United Church of Christ. The OWL curricula—segmented for people of all ages—is widely recognized as the gold standard in sex-ed in both secular and progressive religious circles. As more states banish science-based, gender-inclusive sex education programs from public schools OWL’s youth curricula are an increasingly important resource.
  • UPLIFT Action’s Congregational Action Guide provides a deep dive into issue framing, movement-building, and action possibilities around Reproductive Justice.
  • The Reproductive Justice overview page on offers more UUA history, programs, and resource links.
  • Reproductive Justice Worship Resources Hub offers ideas and templates for local congregation leaders and members.

UUA Justice Communications Associate Jeff Milchen welcomes your comments or questions. Tweet @JMilchen