Amid post-Roe restrictions on abortion, church webinar highlights faith-based advocacy for reproductive rights

By David Paulsen
Posted Jan 20, 2023
Post-Roe webinar

Clockwise from top left, Rushad Thomas of The Episcopal Church’s Office Government Relations moderates a Jan. 20 webinar with Glenn Northern of the National Council of Jewish Women and the Rev. Carolyn Davis, a consultant with CJD Strategies.

[Episcopal News Service] As Americans prepare to mark 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973, this will be the first such anniversary since that landmark decision was overturned by a June 2022 ruling eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion.

On Jan. 20, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations welcomed two prominent advocates for reproductive rights in an hourlong webinar that summarized the state of abortion access in post-Roe America, including how people of faith are working to preserve and expand access through federal, state and local advocacy.

“It’s important to remember, Roe was the floor and not the ceiling. It was critical, but it has never been enough,” said Glenn Northern, abortion access campaign co-director with the National Council of Jewish Women. Even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, “access has always been a huge problem.”

He and the Rev. Carolyn Davis, a deacon in the United Methodist Church and founder of CJD Strategies, detailed some of the challenges faced by Americans seeking to end their pregnancies since the June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling in that case, which originated four years earlier in Mississippi, effectively returned the matter of abortion’s legality to the states.

At least 13 states now have abortion bans in place, and bans are pending in other states. In some cases, state abortion restrictions will depend on the resolution of pending legal challenges.

In the states where abortion is banned, the number of abortions is down 90%, Davis said. Some patients who would have gotten abortions have been forced to carry their pregnancies to term, while others have traveled across state lines to obtain abortions in places where it is still legal, often overwhelming abortion providers there. Proponents of full access to reproductive care, including communities of faith, have been active in supporting those clinics and the patients who struggle to secure appointments, Davis said.

“Every day since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, many people are being denied care,” she said. Even so, Davis takes hope from the results of several states’ elections, in which ballot initiatives protecting abortion access have tended to succeed while restrictions have failed.

“Where abortion gets on the ballot, we win,” she said, citing Kansas and Kentucky as examples.

The U.S. Constitution supersedes state law, however, “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Roe that the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment prohibited states from denying women access to abortion.

Last June, however, the court upheld a law enacted in 2018 by the Republican-dominated Mississippi Legislature that banned abortions if “the probable gestational age of the unborn human” was determined to be more than 15 weeks. The 6-3 majority in the Dobbs case chose not to issue a narrow ruling on the Mississippi law, instead effectively overruling Roe’s constitutional protections for abortion access.

The Episcopal Church’s positions on abortion generally have sought to balance a pastoral approach to supporting women who face unwanted pregnancies with the church’s stance on political responses — that governments must ensure women have control over their medical care and are free to make decisions based on their own consciences.

In 1976, General Convention passed a resolution expressing its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter and to act upon them.”

It later declared in 1988 that “all human life is sacred, it is sacred from its inception until death,” in a resolution that described abortion as “having a tragic dimension, calling for the concern and compassion of all the Christian community.” That resolution, however, concluded by questioning the effectiveness of legislative solutions and calling on state and federal governments to “take special care to see that individual conscience is respected.”

Last year, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry released a statement saying he was “deeply grieved” by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. “We as a church have tried carefully to be responsive both to the moral value of women having the right to determine their healthcare choices as well as the moral value of all life. Today’s decision institutionalizes inequality because women with access to resources will be able to exercise their moral judgment in ways that women without the same resources will not.”

At the 80th General Convention, which met the following month in Baltimore, Maryland, the House of Deputies spent more than an hour discussing how to plan future General Conventions in light of the Dobbs decision, focusing particularly on whether The Episcopal Church should avoid meeting in states where abortion now is illegal, including Kentucky, where Louisville is set to host the 81st General Convention in 2024.

Several deputies argued that laws outlawing abortion don’t just go against The Episcopal Church’s policies toward this issue. They also could put bishops and deputies in real harm, because the laws could apply to be interpreted to apply to some emergency medical procedures. Other deputies, however, warned that moving the convention could set an unwanted precedent of basing meeting locations on how governmental policies align with the church’s stances on political issues. The deputies ultimately rejected a proposal to consider a different location in 2024.

Since the Dobbs decision, the church’s Episcopal Public Policy Network has encouraged Episcopalians to contact their members of Congress to support federal legislation that would protect access to abortion.

“We in The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations are committed to continuing our advocacy in support of reproductive rights and justice for all in fulfillment of our mandate from General Convention,” Rushad Thomas, a policy adviser in the church’s Washington-based office, said during the Jan. 20 webinar, which he moderated.

And in Missouri, Bishop Deon Johnson is one of 13 clergy members from six faith traditions who announced Jan. 19 that they are suing the state over its abortion bans. “This is ultimately about restoring the dignity of being able to walk humbly with your God,” Johnson said, quoting the Old Testament prophet Micah.

The Office of Government Relations also has complied an online overview of resolutions passed by General Convention over the years that pertain to abortion and women’s reproductive health.

Public opinion on abortion has been narrowly divided for years, though a consistent majority of American have said they do not support the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, according to Gallup, and in a poll from May 2022, after a leak of the draft Dobbs decision, 55% of respondents described themselves as “pro-choice.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at