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In response to Supreme Court’s decision, some Kansas City faith groups question what’s next

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
The New Reform Temple sits on the corner of Main Street and West Gregory Boulevard in Kansas City. Rabbi Alan Londy said the Supreme Court's decision was an affront to religious freedom.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the nearly 50-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade, the response among religious organizations varied widely. But some Kansas City faith groups are urging their congregations to vote in support of bodily autonomy.

As some Kansas City religious groups rejoiced at the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, other faith groups were left reeling by the decision.

Rabbi Alan Londy from The New Reform Temple in Kansas City, Missouri, spoke to his members at Friday night’s Shabbat service, saying the decision was more than just political and a direct affront to religious freedom. On Saturday, he said he was still in shock.

“The Jewish community, especially the Reform Jewish community, has certain fundamental beliefs about what it wants a society to look like. And when it comes to the abortion issue, we believe in the right of a woman to choose,” Londy said. “So this idea of putting restrictions on abortion really are infringement upon our right as Jews to exercise our religion. And I'm fearful that one view of religion is being imposed on us politically where our country is not uniform on those issues.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Rabbi Alan Londy stands in The New Reform Temple synagogue. He spoke during the Friday evening Shabbat service about the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

A trigger law enacted Friday moments after Roe v. Wade fell made almost all abortions in Missouri illegal, without exceptions for rape or incest. In Kansas, abortion rights are still protected by its state’s constitution, but a constitutional amendment to remove that protection dubbed as the Value Them Both Amendment is on the ballot for Aug. 2. Several local religious institutions are pouring efforts into campaigning for – or against – this measure.

“Today’s decision restores the power of citizens, through their duly elected members of State legislatures, to determine public policy regarding the protection of human life,” the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas said in a statement Friday.

“For Kansans,” the statement continued, “the decision underscores the urgency and necessity of passing the Value Them Both Amendment on August 2 that will allow the people of Kansas to better protect women and preborn babies from the predatory abortion industry.”

Grandview Park Presbyterian Church, a predominately Hispanic church in Kansas City, Kansas, however, is urging its members to vote no on the amendment. Rev. Rick Behrens said he is extremely disappointed in the ruling. To him, it feels like the country is taking a major step back.

“Our denomination since 1970 has affirmed the rights of women to have control of their bodies' reproductive rights,” said Behrens. “It's been a foundational principle for us because we believe God is the Lord of the conscience.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Rev. Rick Behrens stands near Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kansas. He's urging his congregation to get out and vote in support of abortion rights.

On Sunday, Behrens talked to his congregation about the upcoming primary in Kansas. He said his main goal now is to mobilize voters.

“Today really what I'm hoping to do more than anything else is to engage people in, ‘What do we do now?’” said Behrens. “In Kansas, we have this constitutional amendment that's coming up for a vote on August second and we need to do everything we can to stop that from happening. So we need to organize voters. We need to get voters out.”

He won’t need to convince Martha Richards, who was at Grandview Park’s service Sunday.

“I feel betrayed. I feel that our government has acted as tricksters rather than an honest broker of what the people want,” said Richards, a mother of two daughters and former high school teacher.

Pastor Darron Lamonte Edwards of the United Believers Community Church, a predominantly Black church in Kansas City, Missouri, said while he personally opposes abortion, he believes people should have the right to choice.

And he’s worried about what could come next. Edwards said if the Supreme Court can take down a 50-year old ruling, what is stopping it from going back even further and challenging civil rights.

“Playfully we used to say, you know, ‘Man, there's no way in the world that I could live in the day that my ancestors did. Cause I would've done this and I would've done that. I would've said this. I would've said that,’” said Edwards. “And now when I walk in my pulpit, I say, ‘Well, welcome to grandmama's day because we're on our way back.”

Courtesy Photo
Darron Lamonte Edwards
Pastor Darron Lamonte Edwards from the United Believers Community Church in Kansas City said he's concerned that there's little to stop the U.S. Supreme Court from rolling back civil rights next.

Edwards said he thinks the church should have a place in every part of society, like in politics and social justice. He said he wants to encourage discussion and unity – across all religions – on important issues like abortion.

“I would say we need to have critical conversations. I think it's time to come behind our pretty walls and sit down together, understand what you believe and why you believe it,” Edwards said.

Yet even within churches and faith groups, opinions often differ. Edward J. Newsome, chairman of beacons for United Believers Community Church, said he supported the Supreme Court’s decision, as he’s personally a staunch opponent of abortion. Still, he shares some of Pastor Edwards’ concerns that the court could peel back other rights.

“On the one hand, I support the Supreme Court's decision as it relates to abortion, but I have concerns that it may impact other areas with regards to contraception,” he said.

For Deedee King, a member at The New Reform Temple, her focus will remain on fighting for reproductive rights. She said she lobbied and spoke in support of abortion rights decades ago and is scared for people who will not be able to have a choice to abort.

“Once I get over today, I will be back in the fight that I really thought we had put aside,” King said. “I think this will be an opportunity for younger women who've never had to face what it's like not to have that choice, and my hope is that those people will become active, that they will insist on their state becoming a provider.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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