OPINION: Gov. Ricketts continues anti-choice rhetoric with Jan. 22 “Day of Prayer to end abortion”


Kamrin Baker 

On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Gov. Pete Ricketts proclaimed a statewide day of prayer to end abortion. Photo by Mars Nevada/the Gateway

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts calls himself pro-life, but after analyzing his work as governor since 2015, I would use some other adjectives to describe him.

Pro-forced birth. Pro-death penalty. Anti-woman. Anti-healthcare. Anti-choice.

Ricketts’ stances on abortion, Medicaid expansion, the death penalty and practice of devout “religious freedom” are not breaking news, but in a recent proclamation, the governor further alienated a large group of his constituency by declaring Jan. 22—the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—a statewide day of prayer to end abortion.

The governor’s official proclamation reads as follows:

Photo courtesy of Nebraska.gov

“Whereas, on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in all 50 states; and whereas since Roe V. Wade, over 50 million unborn children have been killed by abortion in the United States; and whereas, Nebraska state law states that it is “the will of the people of the State of Nebraska and the members of the Legislature to provide protection for the life of the unborn child whenever possible…” and whereas, Nebraska is a pro-life state that respects the dignity of human life, no matter how small; and whereas, Nebraskans display our pro-life values in a multitude of ways from the crisis pregnancy centers that provide free care for expecting parents to the prayer vigils held across the state every year; and whereas it seems right and fitting that the citizens of the State of Nebraska are urged to pray for an end to abortion and for our fellow citizens who need our love and support. Now, therefore, I, Pete Ricketts, Governor of the State of Nebraska, do hereby proclaim the 22nd of January, 2020 as a statewide day of prayer in Nebraska, and I do hereby urge all individuals to pray on their own or with others, according to their faith, for an end to abortion. Be it further resolved that the citizens of the Great States of Nebraska are encouraged to take direct action to aid mothers, fathers and families in need, especially those expecting a child who cannot provide for themselves. In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and cause the Great Seal of the State of Nebraska to be affixed this Eighth day of January, in the year of our Lord Two Thousand Twenty.”

It’s quite overwhelming to unpack the entirety of Ricketts’ proclamation, but as a pro-choice woman, here is how I break it down:

This is a clear overstep of the separation of church and state—and it is a clear threat to reproductive healthcare.

While the wording itself in Ricketts’ proclamation is technically inclusive of other religious traditions and is not legally discriminatory, it’s important to note that according to the Pew Research Center, Christians are the largest group to be in favor of criminalizing abortion, making this an issue of religious beliefs.

While 82% of Buddhists and 55% of Muslims believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the numbers dwindle for Christian denominations. 18% of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 27% of Mormons and 33% of Evangelical Protestants think abortion should be legal. Things get more complicated when looking at Catholic and Orthodox Christian faiths, as the line between legal and criminal abortions is split almost precisely in half, according to this study.

Furthermore, prayer is not policy, and infiltrating our governed spaces with prayer automatically knocks down the socially acceptable wall between church and state in a country where folks of other religious traditions are often discriminated against for publicly practicing their faith, according to the Pew Research Center.

Senator Megan Hunt of Omaha tweeted about the proclamation, adding: “For Nebraskans, ‘separation of church and state’ depends on whose church and whose state.”

Lily Gilliand, President of Maverick Students For Life, a pro-life student organization on campus, said she finds the day of prayer to be “healing.”

“For many people of all faiths, prayer is a healing and meditative process. Abortion breaks the hearts of so many, and weights on their faith in humanity. I feel that many pro life citizens of Nebraska including myself find comfort in prayer knowing that the dignity of those human lives lost to abortion are not in vain and abortion will soon end,” Gilliland said. “Prayer can be a deeply reflective and motivating process, and I think when an individual of any faith prays, they are often inspired to take peaceful and intentional action to provide support within the pro life movement, which in turn contributes greatly to ending abortion.”

While religious views on abortion are extremely valid, and some folks may morally be pro-life, or pro-birth, our politics do not have to reflect those specific morals, which often differ between religious denominations, and more importantly, often put women of color and women of low-income backgrounds in dangerous positions.

In fact, criminalizing abortion does not end abortion. In an article by Amnesty International, the human rights organization states that abortion ban laws “do not stop or reduce abortions, but they do make them dangerous. When carried out with the assistance of a trained health-care provider in sanitary conditions, abortions are one of the safest medical procedures available. But when abortions are restricted or criminalized, people are forced to seek unsafe ways to end pregnancies.”

On a page on the NARAL Pro-Choice America website, Nebraska is listed as a state with “severely restricted” reproductive rights access, as 41% of women live in a county with no access to an abortion clinic. This means those unsafe abortions are most likely taking place in our own backyards, harming—and even potentially killing—our neighbors.

Pete Ricketts is not saving lives with his anti-choice rhetoric.

Sam Petto, Director of Communications at the ACLU of Nebraska said in regards to Ricketts’ proclamation: “These proclamations don’t carry the force of law so there’s no legal issue here. What we’re focused on is this: The governor’s position is out of step with the law and what Nebraskans want. A growing majority of Nebraskans believe women should have access to safe, legal abortion care.”

Gov. Ricketts’ proclamation is not an isolated instance of anti-choice rhetoric coming from the state level. On the first day of the 2020 Legislative session, Senator Suzanne Geist introduced a bill banning abortion, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

The ACLU of Nebraska quickly issued a statement after learning of the proposed bill, calling it “an attack on reproductive rights.”

“The ACLU of Nebraska and other advocates are working to make sure every state senator understands that the proposed method ban would push abortion out of reach for many women and also take away from doctors’ ability to use their best medical judgment,” Petto said to the Gateway in an email. “The decision about whether to keep or end a pregnancy is deeply personal and we can’t know everyone’s individual circumstances. That’s why personal medical decisions should always belong to a patient, her family and her doctor, not politicians.”

The ACLU’s sentiments echo Senator Elizabeth Warren’s messaging on abortion legislation and the importance of Roe v. Wade.

On a recent campaign stop in Iowa, Warren said the following: “Here’s what I’m certain about: a woman who’s in the position of trying to decide what she’s going to do about a pregnancy that she not have planned for, may not have hoped for, may have been forced upon her, is a woman who should be able to call on anyone for help. She should be able to call on her partner, she should be able to call on her mom, or her priest, or her rabbi, or her pastor. But the one entity that should not be at the center of that very hard decision is the federal government.”

At the end of the day, Nebraskans—regardless of religious affiliation—must have the respect of one another to believe that their fellow citizens can make their own choices and decisions regarding their bodies—and have the access to do such.

So, on Gov. Rickett’s day of prayer, I will be offering all of my positive, grateful energy and feminine spirituality to all the activists who have defended abortion since 1973. I will be celebrating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by donating to Planned Parenthood and contacting my representatives to ensure that the freedom of choice is commonplace in a state where our motto is “equality above the law.”