Editorial: Women’s health and reproductive rights are Pagan rights

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The last few weeks have seen a landslide of laws passed that impact the health and reproductive rights of women and others who could become pregnant. Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Louisiana, along with eight other states, have passed laws focused on restricting abortion access, some all but outright banning abortion. These decisions have the potential to pave the way for other laws, ones that could impact the Pagan community negatively.

Supreme Court. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

U.S. Supreme Court  (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Supreme Court of United States recently issued a decision regarding an Indiana law regulating how fetal tissue resulting from an abortion is disposed of. The Supreme Court upheld the Indiana law (HEA 1337) requiring that fetal remains from an abortion be given a burial or cremated. This reversed the decision of the lower courts that the burial or cremation provision served no legitimate purpose. While the decision does not directly challenge the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, it does add another restriction for abortion providers, and continues to undermine abortion rights.

By imposing these kinds of restrictions on clinics that perform abortions, the Supreme Court has further limited access – not only by increasing costs, but by adding an extra psychological burden for those who seek to terminate a pregnancy. According to Planned Parenthood, this measure also has the potential “to shame and stigmatize women and families.”

“While this ruling is limited,” said Jennifer Dalven, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the law is part of a larger trend of state laws designed to stigmatize and drive abortion care out of reach. Whether it’s a total ban or a law designed to shut down clinics, politicians are lining up to decimate access to abortion.”

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have been on the front lines of fighting for women’s reproductive health for decades. In 2013, The Satanic Temple joined the fight and is one of the few Pagan-adjacent organizations that has been front and center in the fight for religious freedom and bodily autonomy. They issued a statement soon after the ruling was handed down, declaring immunity for their members from HEA 1337 by citing one of their core tenets being the inviolability of one’s body.

If there is a bright spot to be found in this most recent ruling, it is the Supreme Court’s refusal to consider reinstating Indiana’s ban on abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus.

Another positive outcome came today:  a judge in Missouri ruled against the state, issuing a temporary restraining order preventing the state of Missouri from forcing the closure of the last facility that performs abortions. The state had threatened to shut down Planned Parenthood by refusing to renew its license. Planned Parenthood will face off against the state again in court on Tuesday morning. What the outcome might be is anyone’s guess. If the clinic closes it will make Missouri the first state since 1974 to not have any facilities that offer abortion services.

The trend of the courts and the actions of many state legislatures should be a warning. Right now, their focus is on restricting reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights. The far-right conservatives are playing a long game, and have been for some time. They are chipping away, bit by at times seemingly insignificant bit, rights and protections for women and others who may become pregnant. Anyone who thinks they will stop there is clearly not paying attention.

The umbrella of Paganism and Pagan-adjacent beliefs offers shelter to those who are most at risk from the ire of far right. We represent every single thing they believe is wrong in the world — a woman’s right to choose, a person’s right to change their gender, marriage equality, and consent culture. Perhaps worst of all, most of us don’t recognize their god and savior beyond acknowledging that they have a right to worship whoever they please. Everything we collectively believe in and practice flies in the face of their own beliefs.

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

It is easy to believe that we are forever protected by the first amendment to believe and practice as we choose. And yet, we have seen in the last two decades more of these attempts at the chipping away of our fundamental rights, as we have seen with reproductive rights. There have been attacks on the free press, state legislatures restricting right to assembly laws, and perhaps most importantly, states promoting one religion over another by allowing monuments to Christianity to be placed government property.

If the progression of our state and federal government is allowed to continue on its current hard-right, conservative trajectory, sooner or later, we are going to wake up in a world where we can no longer practice our beliefs. While this may sound alarmist to some, we have no further to look than Missouri, a state where the single operating clinic that provides abortion services is facing being shut down by the state. Even if by some miracle the lone clinic survives, it still means that a pregnant rape survivor might have to travel the length or breadth of the state in order to exercise her right to make decisions about her own body.

If we want to continue to enjoy our freedoms, we need to be aware, and more importantly, be willing to stand up and fight for our fundamental rights. We need to vote. We need to speak out while we still can. Whether by signing a petition, attending a demonstration, or flooding our representatives’ offices with phone calls, emails, or letters, the time to silent and passive is past. Reproductive rights matter, if even to those who don’t have a uterus, because efforts to restrict those rights are like the proverbial canary in a toxic coalmine.