Montclair group focuses on religions, views on abortion rights
LUCY ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
To many Americans, religion is synonymous with the anti-abortion movement.
But at Wednesday’s Caffeinated Convo event, hosted at Temple Ner Tamid, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Part of an ongoing series run by Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey, the event invited people of all faiths to learn about abortion access in America—and about ways they can take action in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Addressing a group of 125 via video call, Rabbi Marc Katz acknowledged the fear that community members have felt since the decision.
“The truth is that the best way to deal with fear, the best way to engender hope is to find agency, to find something that you can do, even a small thing on a local level,” Katz said.
He also spoke about abortion rights and Judaism.
“In our traditions, at least Jewishly, abortion is a right,” Katz said. “A woman's choice is a right.”
The Rev. Ann Ralosky, from First Congregational Church, said she didn’t always believe in a woman’s right to choose. After growing up in a pro-life Roman Catholic tradition, her views on abortion evolved in response to life experiences—both from others’ experiences and her own.
Around 20 weeks into her second pregnancy, Ralosky learned that the fetus had developed abnormally and would die shortly after birth. Keeping the pregnancy, Ralosky said, could also have left her unable to have another child. She chose to get an abortion.
Ralosky said she saw abortion as a complex issue that can’t be reduced to black and white.
“It is always sad, it is always the end of something, but sometimes without the end of something there can’t be a future—for the woman, or for the next child that I had,” Ralosky said.
The Caffeinated Convo event was co-hosted by clergy from various local congregations, including First Lutheran Church and Bnai Keshet Reconstructionist Synagogue.
Larisa Mendez Downes, public affairs and advocacy manager at Planned Parenthood, led an information session early in the event. She described abortion-related organizations and resources, and explained how to contact legislators in support of Assembly Bill 4350 and Senate Bill 2918, which aim to improve abortion access in New Jersey.
Though the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act has codified abortion rights in New Jersey, Downes said, barriers to access remain—including transportation, childcare and the financial cost of the procedure.
She also spoke about the constantly changing state of abortion access in America, and listed the states that ban the procedure.
“It's a situation that has literally changed daily since the decision fell and it will continue to change daily,” Downes said, citing the implementation of Mississippi's near total ban.
After some audience questions, participants gathered at tables to discuss the issue. Over coffee and baked goods, the groups talked about two articles that touch on topics of religion and abortion rights. The groups were moderated by clergy and participants, and guided by discussion questions written by Downes.
Erin Chung, director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood, said the Caffeinated Convo events are centered on short-form media, like podcasts and articles.
After the discussion, Downes invited those in attendance to write their feelings on pieces of colorful paper. Individuals could then add their pieces of paper to a rainbow-colored sculpture depicting the Planned Parenthood logo.
“Storytelling is so vital to putting faces and names to the statistics that we’re hearing all the time,” Downes said. “And so we invite our patients—we invite people at events, at rallies—to share how they're feeling. To share what a world with full reproductive rights and justice looks like.”
Ralosky concluded the evening with a prayer: “We ask you to give us courage and our leaders courage to speak out for those who have been silenced by this ruling. Help us to be creative, to be compassionate, to think of ways in which our small sphere can ripple out to create a difference in this world.”