Photo: Dave Bledsoe
When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed a bill earlier this month stripping federal funding from any group in the state which performs abortions, many religious leaders saw it as a victory.
The air is crisp and the atmosphere charged Ashley Holmes climbs the Indiana Statehouse steps to a podium. She’s speaking to about 500 supporters of Planned Parenthood at a rally to protest a bill which would defund the organization.
“I’ll be 25 in a month, and I’ve only had one routine pelvic that wasn’t provided at reduced cost by Planned Parenthoood,” Holmes said.
Just then, a male counter-protester yells out:
“How many abortions have you had?”
Holmes’ isn’t the only voice being heard. Around the edges of the crowd stand a dozen or so counter-protestors, carrying signs emblazoned with Bible quotes and graphic images of aborted late-term fetuses. Heated arguments spring up between the two groups, and neither seems willing to budge.
“They can’t be reconciled, but that’s okay that they can’t be reconciled, because I’m not here to tell them that they’re wrong, and they shouldn’t be here to tell me I’m wrong,” said Indianapolis Rabbi Jon Adland, who’s a member of Planned Parenthood’s National Clergy Advisory Committee, a group of religious leaders who counsel the organization on issues pertaining to faith. Adland said it’s helpful for Planned Parenthood, a secular organization, to engage people who understand the often heavily Scriptural attacks of the religious opposition.
Indianapolis Right to Life chapter president Marc Tuttle has a different take on the images. Tuttle says the signs represent a vocal minority outlier of a movement that he says is largely focused on “gentleness” and challenging the consequences and constitutionality of legalized abortion.
“When you take tax dollars and you’re giving them to an organization like Planned Parenthood you’re providing funds directly for the nation’s largest abortion provider, and in the process not only are you funding abortions, but you are funding the opposition to our whole movement, so there’s a free speech issue here, where you’re forcing us to fund the people on the other political side of the fence,” Tuttle said.
But there’s a group not affiliated with Planned Parenthood or Right to Life which straddles the two sides. The Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is pro-religion and pro-choice. Interim president Carolyn Meagher sees the protest signs as a scare tactic.
“I think those signs are there to shock and scare people, to make people feel shame and guilt about decisions they may make about their childbearing,” Meagher said. “And I think when the extreme faction wants to show pictorial images, I think they’re trying to shame and scare people and make people feel guilty, and like they’ve created a sin, and what they’re doing is wrong.”
Meagher said her group attempts to represent not a majority view, but that of several pluralities which she thinks aren’t as incompatible as some may think.
“Most of the religious organizations that are part of the IRCRC also take into account not just the potential of human life, but also the people who are alive and also involved in the equation of a family. There’s children involved, and there’s parents involved, and what are their situations. It’s just not a yes or no situation, it’s just not ‘will I carry this pregnancy or not carry this pregnancy?’ What else is involved? Who will be impacted? And I think the justice- that’s what reproductive justice means- is the justice around the rest of the people involved in this situation are just as important as the unborn,” she said.
But Right to Life’s Marc Tuttle said members of his group believe the potential of a single life cannot be devalued by the possible consequences for those around it.
“Religious people come to this because they’re motivated out of a sense of social justice. I think their faith brings to them ‘yeah, okay, human life begins at conception, this is destroying human life, therefore my religious convictions tell me I need to do something to stop this.’ And you don’t have to be religious to have that sense of social justice by any stretch, there’s obviously non-religious people who are compassionate, they feel called to do something to come to the defense of innocent human life,” he said.
Meagher said 40 theological organizations and nine religious denominations ally themselves with her group, representing a broad swath of faiths which see no disconnect between faith and abortion. Planned Parenthood leaders say when Governor Mitch Daniels signs the bill nixing federal funding to Indiana clinics, the group will mount a challenge – not on religious or moral grounds, but on legal ones.