UCC Fellow Essence Ellis Plays Key Role in New Reproductive Justice Toolkits to be Released Next Month
Part of UCC Fellow Essence Ellis’ work includes participation in the UCC Justice and Local Church Ministries (JLCM) Washington office’s Reproductive Justice Working Group. And her main focus in that group has been helping to develop a set of state-specific toolkits, which are slated to be released next month on the heels of the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade.
“When the Reproductive Justice Working Group started meeting, we knew there needed to be a proactive approach to Roe v. Wade being contested,” said Ellis. “Of course, we were prepared to write a theological response that parallels the General Synod resolutions the UCC already has in place around women’s rights and reproductive rights, but we also needed to address how we got to this place, which all has to do with legislature and policy.”
Ellis spearheaded the effort to create four toolkits for Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Missouri. The kits are uniquely created to meet the needs of each state’s policies. The states were chosen based on trends that D.C. staff members saw in existing reproductive policies in those states.
“Each toolkit follows the same format, but the details are specific to each state,” Ellis added. “Most of these states have ‘trigger laws’ in place, which basically means if the Supreme Court rules against Roe v. Wade, they will automatically criminalize abortion in particular.”
“But reproductive justice isn’t just about abortion, so there’s also content about contraception, organizations on the ground, and more to help people become aware of who’s doing what in their state,” she said.
“Essence has shown extraordinary leadership as the primary author of the toolkits for states where women’s reproductive rights are already under intense attack,” said the Rev. George Graham, CHHSM vice president. “The leak in early May of the Supreme Court decision, which will spell the end of protections in place since Roe v. Wade, reveals in starkest terms the urgency of Essence’s efforts as well as those of the Reproductive Justice Working Group.”
In addition to Ellis, working group members include Sandy Sorensen, Katie Adams, and Jessi Quinn from the UCC D.C. office; the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry from CHHSM; and UCC staffers Amy Johnson, Connie Larkman, Chante Jones, Laurel Steinetz, and the Rev. Traci Blackmon.
“Working with Essence this year has been a true gift for me, and for our JLCM/CHHSM policy advocacy partnership,” said Sorensen, director of the Washington office. “I am grateful for her energy, faith-rooted spirit, passion, keen insights and fresh perspective on faith-based justice advocacy. Essence has helped us build a stronger connection between our UCC ministry in direct service contexts, and our UCC Washington, D.C., office policy advocacy.”
Sorensen also noted the strong connections Ellis has made with regional and local leaders. “She built valuable connections with UCC advocates and reproductive justice allies in those states, and helped us begin to create a blueprint for advocacy in other states in this critical time,” Sorensen added. “It has been an invaluable opportunity for us to explore ways that we might link federal and state policy advocacy, even with limited resources and capacity.”
Creating a network of people doing reproductive justice work was one of the goals in creating the toolkits. “Often in advocacy efforts, individuals and institutions tend to reinvent the wheel to put out their own content to say they did something helpful,” said Ellis. “But when that happens, they overstep organizers and organizations that have already been doing the work with efficient plans in place, and we wanted to avoid that. So our vetting process was to be diligent about uplifting the work already being done while adding theological components.”
Ellis said that working with UCC staff members from different ministries — including CHHSM and JLCM — “has been incredibly affirming. Jessi, Katie, and Sandy in JLCM have been so helpful with bringing the toolkits to life by answering my questions and giving guidance on content.”
The entire process has “really been a team effort,” said Ellis. “We’ve collaborated on being proactive leading up to the Supreme Court decision while honoring the various other advocacy commitments we have in motion throughout the UCC. But having everyone come together and make time to deliberate on how we can be present in this conversation, honoring the General Synod resolutions we already have in place, has been amazing!”
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