Interfaith coalition speaks out against proposed abortion restrictions: ‘We won’t go back’

Rev. Jennifer Kopacz, of Grace Lutheran Church in Tallahassee, speaks during an interfaith press conference in support of reproductive rights. At her left, in pink, is Kate Lannamann, president of the interfaith coalition, and, wearing a green stole, Rev. David Judd of St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Altamonte Springs. Credit: Laura Cassels

As a young nurse, Minerva Velez-Glidden’s first patient was a 14-year-old girl infected with sepsis following a botched attempt to terminate a pregnancy. The nurse learned that the girl had been raped by her uncle.

“At the age of 14, she had to have a hysterectomy,” Velez-Glidden said in Tallahassee Tuesday.

Minerva Velez-Glidden, a retired nurse, listens to Rev. Jennifer Kopacz and awaits her turn at the mic. Velez-Glidden said she treated many women sickened by botched abortions in the decades when abortion was illegal.

During her career, Velez-Glidden and her colleagues treated hundreds of women sickened by unsafe abortions, but kept quiet about them. Abortion was illegal in most states until the mid-1960s, and the sick women they were treating were, by definition, criminals.

“Unless we were going after a particularly dangerous abortionist, we didn’t report them,” Velez-Glidden said. “We knew these were desperate women.”

She recounted her story during an interview with the Florida Phoenix following a press conference in the Florida Capitol. The event was organized by a coalition representing more than 70 faith communities in Florida that support reproductive rights and oppose SB 404, legislation that would require a minor to secure parental consent before she could have an abortion. Florida law already requires parental notification.

Republicans are fast-tracking the bill through the 2020 legislative session over opposition from Democrats and women’s groups.

“No one of any age should be forced to bear a child against their will,” said Kate Lannamann, president of the Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health and Justice, opening the press conference that included speakers for Catholics for Choice and the National Organization for Women.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican and sponsor of SB 404, argues that parental notification for a minor seeking an abortion is not enough.

“I believe that having that parent consent requires a little bit more of a conversation between that parent and the child in trying to determine the best course of action for that child,” Stargel said on Jan. 15, when her bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Jan. 22, the bill passed in the Senate Rules Committee on a 9-7 partisan vote and will next be heard by the full Senate, with the initial debate scheduled for Wednesday. It has the support of Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican representing Manatee and Hillsborough counties.

Rev. David F. Judd, pastor of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Altamonte Springs, said people of faith do not speak with one voice on abortion, although conservative evangelicals who oppose abortion may seem to dominate public debate. He contended that the majority of American faith communities view reproductive rights within the lenses of religious liberty and freedom from religious oppression.

Judd said SB 404 and other bills to restrict abortion rights are inherently sexist and are designed to prompt court challenges that abortion foes hope will lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 1973 declaring that the U.S. Constitution protects women’s right to abortion. It made abortion legal throughout the nation.

Judd challenged conservatives of faith to focus more of their efforts on justice for vulnerable people, particularly forced separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, hostility toward immigrants in America, and religious obligations to tend to the poor.

“What values do evangelicals aspire to?” he asked, and paraphrased an expression he said he’d recently heard: If you’re not speaking for justice today, you have mouths full of privilege.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who helped arrange the press conference, argued  government should not dictate in private matters of conscience but should promote the health and well-being of families by supporting access to health care and child care.

On its website, the Interfaith Coalition describes itself as “a grassroots group of clergy, faith leaders and lay people committed to supporting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice for all Florida residents. Together, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all persons and the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. We believe that each person deserves the freedom to make reproductive health-care decisions in accordance with their own conscience and faith beliefs, without shame or stigma.”

Catholics for Choice, which helped organize the news conference, states on its website that it represents “a Catholic tradition [that] supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of reproductive health” and which promotes thoughtful planning of when to start families.

As for Velez-Glidden, now retired, she described herself as “a woman of deep faith” who wants abortion to remain legal so that it will be safe, without barriers to a woman’s right to decide for herself.

“We won’t go back,” she said.