McALLEN — Faith leaders from as far as Arizona gathered at the Whole Woman’s Health clinic here Wednesday morning to clarify and demonstrate their support for a woman’s right to choose.
The group of clinic employees and representatives of Just Texas, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) and Catholics of Choice took part in a private blessing of the facility that provides abortions. They walked from room to room, blessing the building, and then went outside for a series of speeches.
At the back parking lot of the clinic, while speakers took the podium, purple-clad participants held posters that asserted their support: “God bless safe abortion access,” “Mi cuerpo, mi vida (My body, my life)” and “Pro-choice is pro-life.”
Everyone had a stole draped over their shoulders to show honor for the sacredness of the event, and most of the stoles were purple, a color that symbolizes women’s empowerment. But one stole stood out — Rev. Cari Jackson’s stole was made of a glittering purple material, which had a homemade patch that showed a woman surrounded by many religious symbols, breaking chains.
“I am not here in spite of my faith, but because of my faith,” said Jackson, a minister and clergy in residence with RCRC and flew here from Arizona on Tuesday to speak at the demonstration. “It is very clear in my understanding of God, that God calls each of us to be in unique relationship with him, and make decisions that honor our own lives best.”
This event was held after a year of unprecedented change of abortion laws across the nation, which are under the jurisdiction of state governments. This year, nine states passed legislation that limits abortion access and restricts them to only be performed early in pregnancy.
Though abortion rights are constitutionally protected, states can impose regulations. Abortions are banned 20 weeks after pregnancy in Texas, unless a woman has a life-threatening medical condition or the fetus has a severe abnormality.
Rev. Erika Wilson, the faith and outreach coordinator of Just Texas, emphasized that though the forum of most anti-abortion politicians stand on religious perspectives, she said that they are not speaking for all of them.
“For too long now, we have seen too many people of this country use religion as a weapon to undermine the right of all women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health care — including whether or not to get an abortion,” Wilson, of San Antonio, said at the podium.
“I am a woman here who is clergy and who has had an abortion. It is critical that women have the opportunity to make their choices, and we are here to clearly say and reject the misuse of faith.”
As the conference carried on, Artemisa Cerda of San Juan stood on the sidewalk that curves around the clinic, distant from the crowd. Using an umbrella for shade, which had the words “faith” and “hope” painted on, along with drawings of fetuses with stages, she has a different take on what is ethical with regard to abortion laws.
“We are praying for the souls of the children, and for the souls of the mothers, and all who work here,” Cerda, who attends St. Jude Catholic Church in Pharr, said. “God loves them, he wants them all in heaven. So, that is why we are here to let them know, and so that they know clearly that what they do here is against the laws of God.”
She also asked: “If a child dies in an abortion, how can that be pro-life?”
Jackson believes otherwise.
“It is important for all of us across the U.S. to understand that life does not begin at conception,” Jackson said. “Religious leaders for centuries have said that when life begins is a mystery, and when life ends is a mystery, and it is. And for us to regulate that of which is a mystery is absolutely ludicrous.”
She then added that in observance of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she said “we are living in an era that I call legislative violence, because we are using legislation to act out violence against people’s lives — that is ungodly and unconstitutional and unacceptable.”
Veronica Granado, 20, was the youngest speaker that morning at the clinic. At the parking lot of the clinic where she was a patient two years ago, she testified about her own experiences of pursuing an abortion procedure.
Granado got pregnant when she was 17, and was sure that she wanted to get an abortion but needed to overcome the required parental consent requisite.
Through Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that ensures legal representation of pregnant minors, Granado approached a judge, who could dismiss parental consent in her case.
“I felt like I had to prove my reasoning for wanting it, which should have been my decision regardless,” Granado, who is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said. “Going in front of a judge to prove that I was mature enough was terrifying, because my future was in the hands of a stranger.”
Granado said that she is familiar with the sacrifices a young parent makes, because her mother also got pregnant when she was 17 years old. She said that her mother had to balance three jobs and took longer to finish school.
“I knew that that was not what I wanted for myself, I knew that I needed an education and that I just did not go through the same situation as her.”
After the conference, the group walked to the entrance of the clinic for a candlelight vigil and sang a variation of “This Little Light of Mine.”
At Whole Womans Health, I’m going to let it shine
Yes, at whole woman’s health, I’m going to let it shine
“We stand here today as a united front, committed to breaking the perception that religions are opposed to abortions,” Marva Sadler, the director of clinical services of Whole Woman’s Health, said. “Our blessing today is proof that our patients are surrounded by light, love and overwhelming support.”