One might think pastor and Planned Parenthood advocate don’t fit hand in hand. But that’s not the case for North Carolina African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister Emma Akpan.
Earlier this week, Akpan wrote a piece for Bustle describing why she believes her work with Planned Parenthood falls in line with the spiritual calling of serving her community.
Akpan began her essay by saying that she resented that fact that amidst all the incidents of racism, police brutality and even police killings, Congress seems to be singularly focused on defunding Planned Parenthood.
“I can no longer watch as the communities I love are threatened and harmed. As a clinic volunteer and reproductive justice advocate, I know how important clinics are to the women and men who rely on them for quality care and health information- including many Black women.”
Akpan said that Black women who may find themselves in more need of abortions because of low wage jobs and other financial hardships, many of which have roots in slavery.
“Black women have had very little reproductive choice. During slavery, we were forced into childbirth to produce more chattel. Then when our bodies were no longer profitable, the medical industry controlled our reproductive choice through forced hysterectomies, coercive birth control and other methods.”
And she mentioned the hypocrisy of society who wants so defund clinics that provide affordable, safe abortions while simultaneously pushing the narrative of the “welfare queen,” shaming single mothers or Black families who may find taking care of their children to be a financial challenge.
Akpan doesn’t appreciate the anti-abortion protestors, many of them Black, in Raleigh, North Carolina, who held up signs quoting that very controversial billboard that read, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” This year has shown us the womb might be in competition with “in the presence of law enforcement” or “attending a Black church” or “on the streets of America.” But Akpan is particularly troubled by what those signs suggest about Black women.
“They make it seem as if Black women do not make our own decisions, that we are simply pawns in America’s racist society. The appropriation of #BlackLivesMatter language to shame Black women seeking healthcare is divisive and insulting, but sadly unsurprising.”
But perhaps the most interesting part of her article came when Akpan said she works as a clinic greeter because of her faith.
“I am a clinic greeter because of my faith, which teaches me how important it is to provide care for my community. For me, that means ensuring that women have safe access to their health care facilities.”
She concluded the essay by saying:
“Black women and men are targeted in our clinics, churches, and while simply walking down the street, because White supremacy dictates that we shouldn’t be allowed to get health care, to worship, or even to leave our homes. In every instance, the intention is to intimidate us. These attacks are linked, and so we Black leaders in faith communities must be linked in our response. Protesting Planned Parenthood is a tool to intimidate, and we must stand against it. Black women should be able to make and act on our own decisions about abortion, without stigma or fear of violence. Rhetoric that says anything different ignores our history and our health.”
I’m not going to lie, this took me a minute to wrap my mind around. Christian or not, many of us have been told that abortion is wrong. Period. Then, thankfully, for some of us as we learn and get older, we realize that judging and condemning people because they’ve had to make another choice or sin differently than we do, is not the move. In fact, it too is a sin.
Plus, God has given us all free will.
Still, there is a difference between not judging or condemning someone for what we are taught is sin and cosigning that behavior. Which is how I initially perceived Akpan’s decision to work as a greeter.
So, I really had to weigh this one out, out loud, with both my coworkers and myself.
Morally, abortion feels wrong to me. It’s a decision I hope to never have to make for myself. So it baffled me that a faith leader would volunteer at Planned Parenthood when they perform these type of operations.
Planned Parenthood though, despite its reputation in society, is far more than the abortion spot. They give mammograms, provide testing for STDs, give pap smears, physical exams, offer sex education classes and so much more. If you’re a woman with a healthcare need, there’s a chance they’ll be able to help you. The fact that abortions make up just 3 percent of their annual activities is a fact that often goes underreported, if not dismissed altogether.
The thing is, no matter what you’re in need of when you walk into Planned Parenthood, you’ll be judged, likely by the group of protestors standing outside of the building.
And maybe this is where Akpan service comes in.
Let’s just be honest for a minute.
Women, particularly Black women, are often the disenfranchised, double minority in this country. And women who find themselves walking into this clinic for whatever reason, add ostracized to “disenfranchised” and “minority.”
Heaven only knows how these women are feeling when they come in. And then they see Akpan, the greeter, who withholds judgment and instead offers a smiling face and a kind word. As Christians we are commissioned to spread the love of Jesus Christ. And that command is not limited to people we like or agree with or people who don’t sin–because such a person doesn’t exist. We are called to come alongside the poor and discarded, as the women who utilize Planned Parenthood’s services may be.
So while it is a bit unorthodox, so was Jesus when he ran with prostitutes, had dinner with crooks and pardoned thieves as he was dying.
What do you think about Akpan’s work as a greeter at Planned Parenthood being a part of her faith-based work? Does it seem contradictory to you or right in line with what Christians have been commissioned to do.