“I love Planned Parenthood.” Rev. Andrew Kukla, Presbyterian Church (USA)
“Abortion is a blessing.” Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, Episcopal priest
“The Hebrew midwives, however, feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.” Exodus 1:17
“God loves you and is with you no matter what you decide. You can find strength, understanding, and comfort in that love.” So reads the “Pastoral Letter to Patients” from the Clergy Advocacy Board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In the midst of recent allegations surrounding Planned Parenthood’s activities (see “Pieces of children” in this issue), it’s sobering to remember those denominational leaders who support the abortion industry.
Churches have supported the work of Planned Parenthood for years. In his Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances, Tom Davis, a United Church of Christ minister and past chair of Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board, details the role “mainline Protestant and Jewish clergy, in their alliance with Planned Parenthood, have played … in achieving respectability for birth control,” while working “below the public radar.”
Sometimes they work above the radar, too: Presbyterian Church (USA) minister Andrew Kukla took to his blog this spring to say, “I love Planned Parenthood. I love the people that are Planned Parenthood. I love their ministry. I love that they live resurrection in a way I only talk about it.”
Katherine Hancock Ragsdale—a lesbian Episcopal priest who infamously chanted “abortion is a blessing and our work is not done” in 2007—offered the following remarks before Congress in 2012: “I recall vividly one day when I left my home to pick up a 15-year-old girl and drive her to Boston for an 8 a.m. appointment for an abortion.” She continued, “I did not take her across state lines, nor did I, to my knowledge, break any laws. But if either of those things had been necessary to help that girl, I would have done them.”
Episcopalians aren’t alone. Earlier this year Bill Mefford, the Director of Civil and Human Rights for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society, jokingly tweeted he was inspired by the March for Life on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He held a sign saying, “I march for sandwiches,” prompting Matthew Schmitz, deputy editor of First Things, to tell him, “Part of the shock comes from your expressed indifference to abortion. Isn’t it a violation of human rights?”
In Sacred Work, Davis says, “Ultimately the conflict between the opponents of Planned Parenthood and its clergy defenders is a theological one.” He’s correct, but not for the reasons he suggests. It’s not that abortion advocates embrace “a form of humane theology.” It’s that they ignore a preeminent sacred work: the Bible.