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People of faith are turning out at this clinic in support of abortion rights


One medical clinic in Spokane, Wash., has become a destination for people seeking abortions, especially those from neighboring Idaho, a state where the procedure is now virtually illegal. The clinic is also a destination for those protesting abortion in the name of God. But as Katia Riddle reports, some of the clinic's allies are making a Christian argument in support of reproductive rights.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: When she was a young woman, Andy CastroLang learned firsthand about forbidden love.

ANDY CASTROLANG: I worked in tandem with this young priest.

RIDDLE: CastroLang was raised Roman Catholic. She met this priest in her first job working as a lay campus minister.

CASTROLANG: And we just - we fell totally for each other (laughter). It was a catastrophe.

RIDDLE: They struggled to let each other go before finally admitting they couldn't. Instead, they decided to get married and accept the repercussions.

CASTROLANG: Took us 3 1/2 years to get there.

RIDDLE: You traded your romance for the Catholic Church.

CASTROLANG: We did. We did. We had to.

RIDDLE: They both left the church and have now been married nearly 40 years. CastroLang draws a straight line between this formative experience with Catholicism and her unyielding support for reproductive rights.

CASTROLANG: There are so many ways that Christianity, our culture, in its patriarchy and in its misogyny, seek to control. And that includes the choice to end a pregnancy.

RIDDLE: Eventually, CastroLang found her way back to a vocation born of faith. She became a pastor in the United Church of Christ. When Planned Parenthood here in Spokane opened a new building several years ago, she performed a blessing for the space. She reads aloud the words she delivered that day.

CASTROLANG: (Reading) May the mighty power of love be found in this place.

RIDDLE: She wanted, she says, to recognize the clinic as a sanctuary.

CASTROLANG: (Reading) Among all who serve here and given freely to all who seek help and care in this place.

RIDDLE: Staff at the clinic say support from allies like CastroLang is especially important recently.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Sing a little louder.

RIDDLE: Since Roe was struck down, they say protesters have become more emboldened. Once a month, a group gathers across the street. They call themselves the Church at Planned Parenthood. On this evening, there are about 65 people. It's a relatively small number. Sometimes, there are hundreds.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Lord will arise.

RIDDLE: They describe this as a worship service at the gates of hell. Leaders of this effort have pledged recently to intensify these protests along the Idaho border in what they call abortion hot spots. John Repsold is a local evangelical pastor. He's preaching outside in the dwindling twilight.

JOHN REPSOLD: And this battle for life, is it almost over in America? We're just beginning. We've just logged the first 50 years.

RIDDLE: Repsold tells the crowd that part of their job is to teach their own children about the dangers abortion poses to society.

REPSOLD: I want to make sure my kids are passionate about this.

RIDDLE: Repsold says his God has no tolerance for a world in which abortion is legal.

REPSOLD: The right to life is the most fundamental right we have.

RIDDLE: So it's a non-negotiable.

REPSOLD: Yeah - because you take that right away and all other rights collapse.

DEB CONKLIN: The importance of clergy getting involved is to say the Church of Planned Parenthood is not representative of Christians in Spokane.

RIDDLE: Deb Conklin has worked much of her life as a Methodist minister here. She says the occupation chose her.

CONKLIN: God decides you're going to do it, and you don't get away with saying no (laughter). That kind of happened to me.

RIDDLE: As an ally for Planned Parenthood, Conklin has served as a clinic escort for patients in the past. In addition to being a minister, she's also an attorney.

CONKLIN: I've just always been really passionate about justice. And for me, that's a moral, ethical and faith-based stance.

RIDDLE: Now she's running for office for the position of county prosecutor in Spokane. She's pledged to protect reproductive rights if she wins. She describes running for office a bit like becoming a pastor - she feels called to do it. For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Spokane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katia Riddle
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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