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Letter 43 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 43

DAY 43

Jennifer L. Koosed

Professor of Religious Studies
Albright College
March 3, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

Reproductive justice is not a concept found in scripture. Yet, the basic principles of reproductive justice—the ability to decide if and when to have children, access to the information and technologies needed to actualize that decision, medical care for healthy pregnancies and births, the material support necessary to raise a family—are grounded in principles that are deeply biblical and profoundly religious.

In Judaism, the most fundamental of these principles is k’vod habriot, human dignity. Derived from the declaration that all people are created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and the idea that God’s own kavod (“glory”) fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3), the principle of human dignity is far-reaching and can take precedence over other biblical mandates. Bodily autonomy is central to human dignity. An embryo grows inside our innermost being; a fetus lodges right under our heart. To use our bodies to spark and grow life is powerful; to force a body to do so is a perversion of the divine image.

 “…true freedom of religion means allowing different people to make different decisions…”

Human dignity also entails provision and protection. The Bible is deeply concerned with providing what parents need to raise healthy, happy, and strong children. After Hagar and her son are driven out of their home and the boy nearly dies from lack of water, in the depths of her despair, Hagar cries out. God hears, God responds, and God saves Hagar and her son (Genesis 21:14-21). From this and other biblical stories we learn that reproductive justice means caring for our children: providing the clean water, abundant food, safe housing, and quality education that children need to thrive.

In my 2017 letter to the last administration, I argued that reproductive justice is a matter of religious freedom, and true freedom of religion means allowing different people to make different decisions in conversation with their own religious traditions. The government can and should provide access to medical care and build an infrastructure of support for families. Such governmental actions empower people to make their own decisions about what happens in and to their bodies. But government interference in more intimate matters violates the Constitution; even more, such interference violates human dignity and the glory of God.

Sincerely,

Jennifer L. Koosed

Dr. Jennifer L. Koosed
Professor of Religious Studies
Albright College

the author

Jennifer L. Koosed, Professor of Religious Studies at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, earned a M.St. degree from Oxford University, M.T.S. from Vanderbilt Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Hebrew Bible. Her publications include (Per)mutations of Qohelet: Reading the Body in the Book (2006), Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives (2011), and Reading the Bible as a Feminist (2017).  She has edited volumes on the Bible and posthumanism (2014), and the Bible and affect theory (2014 and 2019).