“I pumped my fist in the air a bunch of times and I got a big ‘Yes!’ pronounced, “said a radiant Alita Bryant as she recalled her reaction Friday when she heard the important news she had been waiting so long to hear. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to abortion and left it to states to decide whether to allow, restrict or prohibit the procedure, which has been legal nationwide for nearly 50 years.
Bryant spoke to VOA while attending a Sunday service at Lighthouse Christian Fellowship Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, comfortably dressed in jeans and an official black and white church T-shirt.
From the outside, the place of worship looks more like a business than a typical church, having been converted from a pharmacy. Inside, however, tangible excitement ran through the congregation of about 80 churchgoers. Almost everyone, like Bryant, was African-American. Many arrived early to worship before the service began.
“We are grateful – it’s a win for us,” Bryant said. “Innocent children will no longer be killed, at least not in Louisiana. We still have work to do before it becomes a national ban. “
Louisiana is one of several states with so-called trigger laws set up to ban abortion the moment Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized the procedure was reversed. Proponents of abortion rights say banning the procedure in entire parts of the United States will endanger the lives of women, especially those of poor and minority women.
An NPR / PBS / Marist poll released on Monday shows 56% are against the Supreme Court ruling on abortion, with 40% supporting it and 4% unsure. Other polls have shown similar numbers.
Lighthouse Christian Fellowship Church, like many socially conservative places of worship in America, is part of a coalition that has been working for decades to repeal abortion rights in America. Many in the congregation stood and cheered in response to Pastor Mike Wicker as he alternated between reading Bible verses projected on screens and talking at length about the evils of abortion.
“Every person in here,” the pastor’s voice rumbled and echoed from ceilings lower than you would expect in a place of worship, “thank God, your mother made the right decision and did not take you to the abortion clinic. “
“Now,” Bryant remarked after the service, “those clinics are closed.”
A personal history
Several members of Lighthouse Christian Fellowship visited a Baton Rouge abortion clinic on Monday and Tuesday of last week.
There they saw 40 women line up, many alone.
“And almost all of them were Black,” Bryant added, her voice cracking with emotion. “I felt angry because these children were going to be killed unnecessarily, sad because I do not think the mothers had all the information about their options, and desperate because I wanted to help.”
In the end, she said they persuaded two women to go home and reconsider aborting their pregnancies, an option that disappeared in Louisiana after the Supreme Court ruling as the state’s three clinics stopped performing abortions. feed. On Monday, a state judge temporarily barred Louisiana from enforcing the trigger law, which allowed clinics to resume, but the future availability of abortion services in the state remains bleak.
Tara Wicker is the pastor’s wife, also known as the first lady of Lighthouse Christian Fellowship. She also visited the clinic. For Wicker, who heads Louisiana Black Advocates for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy organization, the fight against abortion is very personal.
“I had an abortion myself when I was 16 years old,” she said after Sunday’s service to VOA. “I was just a child and we did not even talk about it. I was just kind of introduced to an abortion. I will never forget how I lay in bed with my aborted fetus in a bottle on the counter opposite the room. ”
“‘Mom’s sorry,’ I remember saying. ‘
Wicker said for 30 years and until recently she was trying to suppress her emotions about that day.
“It made me insecure as a mother of the six children I have now,” she said, her eyes looking serious and thoughtful. “When someone doubts me as a mother, I get angry and defensive because I think about how I failed that baby three decades ago.”
Proponents of abortion rights argue that women will continue to seek the procedure no matter what a state’s law says and may be forced to consider unsafe options to terminate a pregnancy. Wicker said that does not have to be the case
“I look at the women standing in line at the clinic and I remember how I was like them,” she said. “They do not have to kill those babies. They have so many options. As a sanctuary, we must help them understand those options, because the death of that baby will haunt the mother for the rest of her life. ”
Robert Sensley was also present Sunday. He is naughty, stands 1.7 meters tall with fashionable rectangular glasses and a warm smile.
He attended the service with his three young children and his wife. In addition to being a member of the church, Sensley is also the program assistant for Louisiana Black Advocates for Life.
“The last few days have certainly been joyful,” he told VOA. “Pastor Mike and Tara were so excited about the Supreme Court decision that they both called me at exactly the same time from the opposite sides of their house without realizing it.”
Sensley, however, stopped calling the atmosphere celebratory.
“We are excited, but we also know we have a long way to go,” he said. “There are many people in this country who do not agree with us.”
According to data compiled by the Pew Research Center, in cases of pregnancies caused by rape or incest, for example, 69% of Americans believe abortions should be legal.
A junior at Louisiana State University, Trinity Wicker, said she hears from many friends and classmates – especially on social media – who believe abortion rights should be protected.
“I understand where they come from. “Sexual assault is a horrible thing,” said Wicker. “The mother is a victim, but so is the baby; and that baby – with unlimited potential – does not deserve to die. ”
The younger Wicker, the pastor’s daughter and his wife, said she sees it as part of the church’s responsibility to help women in difficult situations understand their options.
“Adoption, of course, is always an option,” she said, before re-emphasizing that the death of the fetus should not be.
“I have noticed many women who say things like ‘My body, my choice’ as an excuse to have an abortion. But once your egg is fertilized, it is no longer your body. It’s a different body and you are the vessel. ”
Many members of Lighthouse Christian Fellowship do not believe that abortion should be banned in all circumstances, such as when the life of the mother is in danger.
“Everything must be done to save both the mother and the child, but of course I would like my wife to be saved if we have to make a choice,” Sensley explained.
Louisiana’s trigger law has no exceptions for rape or incest, but does allow the procedure to save a pregnant woman’s life. The law does not punish women who terminate pregnancies, but imposes criminal penalties on anyone who performs an abortion.
Punishing abortion providers is as it should be, according to Tara Wicker.
“I think we should be empathetic towards these women and try to help them,” she said, “but the medical professionals who complete the procedure should be tried for murder.”
Church leaders at Lighthouse Christian Fellowship say they are struggling with the fact that African-American women are disproportionately seeking abortions and will be disproportionately affected by the new legal landscape that governs the procedure.
A 2020 study by the Charlotte Lozier Institute found that black women experienced induced abortions at a rate that is about four times that of white women.
The solution, according to churchgoers, includes providing more access to work and adult education, as well as promoting health care and other services to help women end their pregnancies and help them care for their children. to make their care great. America does not have universal health care, nor does it guarantee access to child care for working parents.
“It’s something we spend a lot of time talking about,” Sensley said, recalling words from the service he had just attended. “If you just want to ban abortions without fighting to support that baby and his parents as soon as the birth takes place, then you are not pro-life … you are just pro-birth.”
“It’s all going hand in hand,” Tara Wicker agreed. “The role of our church is to support the whole life of the people who walk through our doors – from womb to grave. The whole thing. We need to be supportive enough to help people do the right thing, but also forgive them when they do not. ”