39 Faith Based Groups Urge Action to Address Public Health Emergency
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States
The Honorable Xavier Becerra
Secretary, United States Department of Health & Human Services
August 9, 2022
Dear Mr. President and Mr. Secretary:
The undersigned 39 faith-based organizations represent a broad range of religious traditions and faiths. We join concerned lawmakers and citizens urging you to take immediate action to protect bodily autonomy and access to reproductive health care in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (hereafter, “Dobbs”). Dobbs eliminated not only the constitutional right to abortion, but with it, the ability of millions of people to exercise their moral prerogatives about whether, in accordance with their faiths and beliefs, to terminate a pregnancy. This result is antithetical to the concept of religious freedom and an urgent, grave danger to public health nationwide, especially in states that already have banned or severely restricted abortion access. The organizations listed below therefore implore you to exercise your respective authorities to declare a public health emergency pursuant to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (“PREP”) Act in order to protect access to medication abortion for women residing in those states.
Numerous religions teach that it is a woman’s moral prerogative to determine whether and under what circumstances to terminate a pregnancy. For example, various Protestant denominations affirm that a woman’s choice to have an abortion is hers to make as a moral agent with the capacity for self-determination. The Presbyterian Church teaches that “[h]umans are empowered by the spirit prayerfully to make significant moral choices, including the choice to continue or end a pregnancy.” The United Church of Christ also takes the view that “[e]very woman must have the freedom of choice to follow her personal religious and moral convictions concerning the completion or termination of her pregnancy.” The Episcopal Church of America, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, among other Protestant traditions, all teach that terminating a pregnancy is a deeply personal, individual, and moral choice. Still other Christian faiths, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, defer to women’s moral prerogatives in deciding to terminate a pregnancy. And while the Catholic Church takes the official stance that abortion is impermissible, a majority of Catholics in America believe that abortion can be a morally acceptable choice, and should remain legal.
Jewish law views abortion as not only permissible, but required when necessary, at any stage of pregnancy, to safeguard the wellbeing of a pregnant woman. Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative denominations of Judaism agree that “women are capable of making moral decisions, often in consultation with their clergy, families and physicians, on whether or not to have an abortion.” Hundreds of Jewish leaders have affirmed that ensuring women’s access to reproductive healthcare—including abortion—is essential to the exercise of religious freedom.
Other religious traditions similarly adopt the view that abortion can be a permissible moral choice. Islam permits abortion where the pregnant woman’s life or wellbeing is at risk. Majorities of Hindus and Buddhists in America also believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Dobbs allows states to prohibit people from exercising these moral prerogatives. Indeed, in contravention of the views and teachings of various faiths and religious traditions, several states already have enacted total or near-total abortion bans. These laws disproportionately affect those who lack resources to travel to states where abortion remains legal. Numerous faiths expressly affirm the importance of ensuring reproductive freedom for all people, including women who are poor or low-income, and who are from groups that have historically suffered disenfranchisement and discrimination.
Indeed, people hurt most by abortion restrictions are those already facing barriers to accessing health care and who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and economic crisis—particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color, women, and those working to make ends meet. Medication abortion must remain a safe, legal option. The Biden Administration should take immediate action to ensure appropriate access to medication abortion for people residing in states banning or restricting abortion access. Several states have explicitly restricted or banned access to medication abortion, and others have introduced similar legislation.
Emergency action to protect access to medication abortion would be an impactful way of curbing the dire reproductive health and maternal mortality and morbidity consequences of the abortion restrictions enacted by several states. Such action would reduce the number of people forced to give birth—an outcome with significantly greater risk to material health and mortality. Because “[m]edication abortion can be completed outside of a medical setting,” and “[p]ills can be . . . delivered directly to a patient through the mail,” expanding and protecting access to medication abortion is now “even more critical in the delivery of care to many people who may be unable to access care in a clinic.” Specifically, in recognition of the seriousness of such adverse health outcomes, we urge the Secretary of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency under the PREP Act. Such a declaration would act to preempt any state law that otherwise would restrict access to medication abortion.
Congress enacted the PREP Act to facilitate the administration of drugs that mitigate public health emergencies declared by the Secretary. Notably, the PREP Act includes a provision that expressly overrides any state law that otherwise would frustrate the administration of a drug as contemplated by a PREP Act declaration. Post-Dobbs, the surge in enforcement of abortion bans, coupled with existing restrictions and vigilante enforcement laws enacted in anticipation of the decision, has precipitated a public health emergency. Restoring access to medication abortion nationwide can mitigate this public health emergency because a declaration by the Secretary of a public health emergency under the PREP Act would prevent states from enforcing their medication abortion restrictions, and would help ensure that people have the ability to make the deeply personal, important decision about whether to terminate a pregnancy—if necessary to protect their own lives and health, and in other circumstances—consistent with their moral agency and religious beliefs.
Everyone in this country must have access to safe, reliable reproductive health care, regardless of the state in which they live. Dobbs already has denied, and will continue to deprive, millions of people of the freedom to exercise their moral agency to make reproductive health care decisions in accordance with their own beliefs. The Biden Administration has the power and the responsibility to utilize the PREP Act to declare a public health emergency and protect and expand access to medication abortion, especially for vulnerable women. Immediate action is necessary to restore the right to bodily autonomy and self-determination in keeping with individuals’ respective religious traditions and values.
National Council of Jewish Women
African American Ministers in Action
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
American Jewish World Service
Catholics for Choice
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Faith in Public Life
Global Justice Institute
Habonim Dror North America
Hadassh, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Emergent Network
Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance
Jewish Women International
Metropolitan Community Churches
Muslims for Progressive Values
Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Reproductive Justice Resilience Project (RJRP)
Society for Humanistic Judaism
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
The Shalom Center
The Workers Circle
Union for Reform Judaism
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER)
Women of Reform Judaism
Women’s Rabbinic Network