By Lily Barnette and Ülvi Gitaliyev
On June 24th, 2022, Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that made abortion a constitutional right, was overturned by the current Supreme Court Justices. Almost immediately, a 2019 trigger law went into effect, banning abortion in the Commonwealth of Kentucky from conception, with few exceptions. While some religious organizations celebrated the overturn, one group has been fighting to make abortion a right to all once again.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), formed in 1973, states that it is possible to be both religious and support abortion rights. The organization’s roots are in the Clergy Consultation Service, comprised of Priests, Rabbis, Catholic nuns, laypeople, and other people of faith in 1967 who saw abortion as compatible with their religious beliefs.
Rev. Dr Cari Jackson, Director of Spiritual Care and Activism of the RCRC, shed some light on the group’s history. “They came together as a network to ensure pregnant individuals could make decisions right for their own lives. And so, they had an underground network to help women access safe, affordable abortion care, and they engaged in legislative advocacy.” But in 1973, after the Roe decision, the RCRC was created to “safeguard the newly won constitutional right to privacy in abortion decisions,” as stated on their website.
Rev. Dr Elizabeth Freese, Associate Director of the Religion and Repro Learning Center of the RCRC, commented on the importance of having different groups for abortion funds, helping people get to destinations where they can get an abortion, and education and advocacy. “I just want to say that there’s an important distinction in terms of the evolution of different groups and what they do… RCRC is now not involved in that kind of underground help. RCRC now is much more focused on empowering and equipping leaders who are professional religious leaders, lay leaders in religious organizations, academics, and youth leaders.”
Now, the group is expanding its reach in Kentucky and is coming to Berea College soon. The Berea Torch was able to speak with Margaret Velto, Outreach Coordinator and local leader of the RCRC located in Louisville, and hear what she had to say on the topic of her faith, reproductive rights, and her work within the RCRC.
“My mom went into the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination, and my father became a Quaker. My dad is a Quaker clerk, and my mom is a UCC Reverend. So, both of them are critical members, so I grew up with a very progressive faith background in the house… They are also both teachers, so sex education was always comprehensive in my life. Paired with that, it always made sense to me to have this [abortion] as an option. To me, it never made sense for people not to have a right to their own bodies. Consent was something I was taught as a young child, so that made a lot of sense that it’s my body,” Velto expressed when asked about why she was in the RCRC and her faith.
A topic during the interview was the upcoming referendum during the November elections this year in the state of Kentucky. Velto urged all Kentuckians to vote against bill HB 91, which would add the line “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” to the Kentucky state constitution, effectively banning any laws or court decisions guaranteeing abortion rights.
Velto also gave some background on her role as an Outreach Coordinator in the RCRC. Her work involves reaching out to community members and students across Kentucky. “My job coming in is to give an eye of support to make sure that there’s curriculum and tangible things that students can do, as well as the education with the vote coming up. But also, I’m going to be working in the Berea community as well, connecting some of the clergy folks and community organizers outside of the college to try and bring these two groups together and make sure that we have a solid ground.” A student Velto will work with at Berea College is A-Nya Badger.
A-Nya Badger, also known as Thena, is a Berea College senior and Student Chaplin who has been making herself busy by organizing a local chapter of Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom (SYRF), a program in the RCRC for college students and other youth.
“The God that I believe in wants people to be happy, healthy, to be able to make the best life for themselves and to not put anyone in any unnecessary torment. So, I see forced birth as an unnecessary torment and the freedom to position yourself however you feel and believe is really important to me. I’m not advocating for everyone to have an abortion… But taking away that choice is a violation of the free will that God gave us from our inception,” Badger expressed concerning her faith. This ties into why she joined the RCRC and decided to help create the Berea College SYRF Chapter because she believes in the reproductive rights of all whilst being dedicated to her faith.
Badger learned about the RCRC because of her work with the Youth Abortion Support Collective through the Advocates for Youth Collective. After researching their organization, Badger joined the RCRC, and they have since provided her with funding opportunities, networking, media awareness and other resources. She plans to start up SYRF, where she is excited to host speakers educated on reproductive rights, roundtable discussions, and to give a space for religious individuals to support the right to an abortion.
“I really want to emphasize that you don’t have to be Christian to be a part of the Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom; this is to give those people who have spiritual convictions and spiritual beliefs of any faith that are also pro-choice a home, community, and make them feel welcome just like everyone else is welcomed… The major goal by the end of the semester is to set up a recurring SYRF Chapter and have monthly or weekly meetings!”
As the 2022 U.S midterm elections approach, it becomes even more important to fight for our rights by both voting and organizing in Berea and beyond. The Berea Torch will cover more abortion and election related events as the semester goes on, so stay up to do date!