Faithful Rebel: Emma Akpan on Women’s Health and Voting for the Lesser of Evils

560991_10101809071213603_93586176_n (1)As a Christian feminist, one of the thorniest topics to weigh in on is the politics of abortion. (I felt an imaginary ulcer coming on  just  preparing this post.) For starters, it often blows up more bridges than it builds – and exposes the ugliest of trolls. Further, as a pro-life woman who votes pro-choice, I’m sure to alienate someone by putting words to my beliefs. The categories themselves prime us for division.

So, is Christianity categorically incompatible with voting pro-choice? Meet Emma Akpan, a reproductive justice advocate, who sits on the board with me of a local nonprofit called the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South. Emma recently appeared in a nationally-sponsored ad campaign by Planned Parenthood that targets “anti-women’s health candidates” for limiting access to affordable birth control, preventative cancer screenings, and safe, legal abortions. As a fellow Duke Divinity graduate and member of the African Methodist Episcopal church, Emma isn’t afraid to let her faith shape her politics, even as she is resolute that “your personal beliefs shouldn’t infiltrate the lives of other women.” In our brief interview, I asked Emma more about this distinction and why sometimes you have to vote for the “candidate that’s not going to do the worst.”

I don’t take it lightly when I vote for pro-choice candidates. But I do so when I believe their comprehensive platform on topics such as women’s health, the environment, military spending, and immigration reform is, in my estimation, more “pro-life” than their opposition. While I shared with Emma my hope that the number of abortions would decrease, I also wondered if it was idealistic to think that reversing Roe v. Wade would make this so. Research is complicated on the matter; a representative for the World Health Organization explained, “What we see is that the law does not influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy, it does not matter if the law is restrictive or liberal.” What does matter is decreasing both the number of unwanted pregnancies and the number of unsafe abortions through provisions for better access to contraceptives, qualified medical providers, and financial and social resources for women. The catch is such provisions are most often found in countries with more liberal legal protections. As Emma clarified for me after our interview, “If you’re not supporting legal abortion, then you’re definitely supporting unsafe abortion.”

My biggest “aha” moment of our time together came when Emma lifted up the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11) as a provocative example of how Jesus condemns not the actions of the woman but the community leaders who were so quick to judge her. Many women, especially black women, Emma noted off-air, don’t even have access to healthy choices when it comes to health and community services. Individual choices are always informed by the political systems that structure such choices; wherever we fall on the political spectrum, we would do well to consider how Jesus calls to account a broken system (and its leaders) rather than shaming the individual who finds herself a part of it.

*For a more philosophical debate on abortion and legislating “the most pragmatic view of the society we live in” see my friend Jonalyn Fincher’s recent interview with Emily Heist Moss over at Soulation.

Voting in this year’s mid-term elections? Official Election Day is Tuesday, November 4th. Emma offers her advice:

1. Take as many people with you as you can.

2. Look at your judges. (For instance, in North Carolina it was judges who rejected the challenge to the voter I.D. bill and overturned the ban on same sex marriage.)

3. Make sure you vote for somebody.

4. Seek out trusted friends for advice on who to support.

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One response to “Faithful Rebel: Emma Akpan on Women’s Health and Voting for the Lesser of Evils

  1. In John 8:1-11 we just don’t see Jesus condemning the community leader, but he addressed her situation squarely telling her, “…go and leave your life of sin.” (NIV) and with that he settled the shameful adultery part of the issue. We don’t all see the abortion issue through a political filter. It’s about life, period.

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