Connections: So Many Blessings

by Rev. Harry Knox
RCRC President/CEO

ImageSo many blessings to talk about this week, it’s hard to figure out where to start!

I flew back from seeing the good folks in Oklahoma on Monday, and was up bright and early on Tuesday for our biannual meeting of RCRC’s Board of Directors and Coalition Council. It really is a gift to be surrounded by such committed, smart, faithful friends who so deeply believe in RCRC’s mission. And it’s very much a blessing to see how each person grounds themselves in reproductive justice through their own faith tradition. 

On Wednesday evening, we had an intimate dinner to celebrate RCRC’s 40th Anniversary. Jessica González-Rojas, Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, spoke about how much our partnership means to them, and how important it is to have faith be part of reproductive justice. We were also honored to have the Very Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale – who served faithfully and long as RCRC’s board chair, and who is now President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School – prophetically root us in our history in a way that more clearly envisions our path ahead.  

One thing that really struck me is just how blessed I am to have the RCRC team we have. One of our board members mentioned how palpable the esprit de corps of our staff is; I’m glad it shows! I have never in my life worked with such a capable, smart, fun-to-be-with group of people. Know that RCRC is in very, very good hands with this staff and that they are all looking for ways to more effectively do the work of lifting up your voices in support of reproductive justice. 

I’m also pleased to announce that we have launched a new and improved rcrc.org! Take a look! We’ve already gotten fantastic feedback on how clean, fresh and accessible it is – which was our intention. We’ll be adding some really cool features in the coming weeks, so keep checking back. 

Also be on the lookout for changes to Connections. We are working to make it more useful, as well as to be… well, more “connecting.” We are heeding our call to elevate the voices of people of faith for reproductive justice in myriad ways, and are working on other innovative ways to engage people all around the country in the coming year.  

Friends, it doesn’t escape me that we could not do the work we do without your constant prayers, love and support. We are able to do the life-saving work we do because your gifts make it possible. I am so grateful for the shoulders of strong and faithful women and men on which we stand, and for the guiding hand of God in our work.

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Storytelling for Change in the Bible Belt

by Shayna Han
RCRC Intern­

When I reach out to you and you to me,
We become b’tzelem elohim
When we share our hopes and our dreams,
Each one of us b’tzelem elohim

These are some lyrics from one of my favorite Jewish summer camp songs. B’tzelem Elohim, the Hebrew phrase from Genesis 1:27, tells us that we are each uniquely yet equally made in the image of God. At RCRC’s first Leading Faithfully Institute in Columbia, South Carolina last weekend, this song kept running through my mind.

At the institute we learned to tell our stories – our experiences, hopes, dreams to build bridges of understanding with new peers in the struggle for reproductive justice – and how to take these personal, relatable experiences and use them to inspire our peers to action. Further, we refined our organizing skills and learned about creating power through our relationships, and how to turn our resources into the change we want to see.

In a group I helped lead, the participants made substantive plans to take these lessons back home to North Carolina. One of North Carolinians had recently gone to jail for participating in the “Moral Monday” protests outside the state legislature in Raleigh. She recalled sitting in jail with the other protesters, witnessing all the people around her opening up to one another and sharing their reasons why they opposed the legislature’s extreme policy initiatives. In our small group at the institute, she said that this – story telling – is the key to winning North Carolina.

On Sunday afternoon, our coalition partner Advocates for Youth presented about the “1 in 3” campaign with a series of personal video-testimonials of women who had sought abortion care. Prior to this session, one of our participants admitted to being conflicted about abortion. After hearing these women’s stories, however, she felt new compassion and understanding, and agreed that a woman should be able to access the reproductive healthcare she needs.

The cornerstone of organizing is giving to others what is inside ourselves. As famed storytelling instructor Robert McKee said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Thanks to this institute, I understand that more tangibly now.  Real, everlasting change comes from the stories we share that allow us to see the same inherent worth, dignity and uniqueness in others that we see in ourselves.

RCRC is holding another Leading Faithfully Institute this August 2-4, 2013, in Wisconsin. For more information, email us at institutes@rcrc.org.

Shayna is currently studying history at a college in the Northeast not far from where she was raised. She just completed an internship for RCRC this summer through the Machon Kaplan Program of the Religious Action Center.

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World Population Day: Let Faith Support Women

Rev. Dr. Cheryl Anderson
July 11, 2013

Today is the United Nations World Population Day and it focuses our attention on global population issues and the resources needed for all human beings to thrive. As an HIV/AIDS activist and progressive Christian, World Population Day is a perfect time for me to reflect on how to integrate the Christian tradition with the full needs of humans in the world today, especially the needs of women.

Although women are clearly members of the global population, their needs are often ignored and go unmet.  The statistics concerning women of childbearing age are tragic. According to the United Nations Population Fund, about 800 women die each day from pregnancy and childbirth complications globablly.  When a woman delays pregnancy at least two years after the birth of her previous child, she is more likely to have a healthy pregnancy and birth.  Over 200 million women who would like to avoid pregnancy lack access to family planning methods.  As a result, there are 80 million unplanned pregnancies each year and more than half of those pregnancies are terminated, many of them under illegal and unsafe conditions. Similarly, women are half of all people who are living with HIV and their numbers are growing—but these infections are preventable if men and women had access to condoms.

These statistics are the natural byproduct of cultural and economic patterns that value women primarily for their ability to produce children, regardless of the consequences to their health or the livelihood of their families.  However, these cultural and economic patterns are not the only factors.  Christian stances that forbid or restrict the use of contraceptives contribute to the valuing of women primarily, if not only, for their ability to procreate.

World Population Day is a time for us, as members of faith traditions, to ponder why we fail to consider the harmful impact of our beliefs and practices. We fail to consider the impact of restricting access to contraceptives in the same way that we fail to consider the consequences of massive deforestation.  Why do we ignore the consequences of our traditional perspectives, whether those consequences fall on other human beings or on our natural world?   In both cases, our ability to thrive as human beings is jeopardized.  We should no longer ignore the consequences that result from such policies: women dying in childbirth, increasing HIV statistics, and the earth being harmed by short-sighted and exploitive practices that contaminate our air and water resources.

As a biblical scholar and seminary professor, I know that we can read the Bible differently and in ways that value women for their wisdom, leadership capabilities, and community contributions.  As I study the Bible, I see example after example of women who are valued for things other than procreation.  Deborah is a leader in her time (Judges 4), the woman at the well asks Jesus profound questions (John 4) and the hemorrhaging woman is affirmed for seeking her own healing (Mark 5 and Luke 8), just to name a few examples. Furthermore, I see a pattern in which both Jesus and Paul considered the harmful consequences of practices of their day and worked to include those groups that had been excluded and marginalized.

So there is another way to read the Bible: we can turn to the traditions within the Bible that promote equality between men and women and encourage concern for each other and our environment because they are all of God (Genesis 1). Providing for the needs of human beings and of the earth would create a virtuous cycle that would truly serve to heal our world. Our faith tradition should help to transform the world into one in which men and women have dignity, women are trusted to make decisions about their lives, the healthy development of children and youth is supported, and the sustainability of the planet is promoted.

Given the tragic consequences of ignoring the needs of women, change is needed. Fortunately, that change has been underway for decades in some denominations.  The Christian tradition is a living tradition and all living things change.  As we gain an understanding of the harmful consequences of current practices, we should discern a call to turn away from harsh policies and to become more aware of God’s eternal presence in our midst.

Rev. Dr. Cheryl B. Anderson is Professor of the Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.  Prof. Anderson is also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church (Baltimore-Washington Conference).  Her more recent book is Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation (Oxford University Press, 2009) and her current research involves reading the Bible in the context of HIV and AIDS. 

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Helping Pregnant and Parenting High School Students Succeed

by Shayna Han
RCRC Intern­

The things that tie us together are our stories. It’s how we hold ourselves up each morning, how we face the day, how we vocalize our hopes and dreams,  how we tuck our children in at night. Shared stories define our religious beliefs.  Stories make us feel alive when the world around us is uninspiring and draining.

Last week I attended a Congressional briefing on “Title IX, Pregnant and Parenting Students, and ESEA: Supporting Young Parents to Achieve Their Educational Goals.” A panel of speakers, including experts, advocates, and young mothers spoke in support of the Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act (S.870/H.R.1845). This act seeks to provide consistent grant funding for support services in school districts that will remove many of the barriers pregnant and parenting students face while striving to stay in school and to earn their diplomas.

The most intriguing voices in that room during the briefing were those of the teen mothers. Unlike the stereotypes society allows us to believe, a pregnant high school student has not reached “the end of the road” and is neither an “afterthought” nor a “failure.” One young woman talked about having everyone in her corner one day as a high school student with a 4.0 GPA, but after finding out she was pregnant, she lost all that support. Another talked about the Parent Education and Responsive Life Skills program (PEARLS), a program that enables pregnant students to continue their education and raise their children by providing them with the practical guidance so necessary to navigating family health care, food and housing assistance, child care, family planning and other community resources for new parents.

In the cases of the young women who spoke, their courage, diligence and strength of character increased because of their pregnancies –  their children became a motivation to do better not only for themselves, but in order to ensure their kids would succeed as well. Thanks to programs like those supported under the Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act, these young women graduated from high school and are now seeking higher learning. They dream of great accomplishments in their lives and demonstrate stories of a successful life beyond a teen pregnancy. If passed, this legislation would help even more students accomplish their dreams and raise well-supported, well-grounded families.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice proudly supports the Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act. Please contact your elected officials and  encourage them to support this family-positive legislation.  

FYI: The US Dept. of Education just released a new resource called “Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students.” Please share this with any teachers and school officials you know. Young mothers deserve compassion and support and this is a great starting place!

Shayna is currently studying history at a college in the Northeast not far from where she was raised. She is interning for RCRC this summer through the Machon Kaplan Program of the Religious Action Center.

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The Hypocrisy of a 20 Week Ban

by Joanna Blotner
RCRC Public Policy Manager

I am proud of the rich theology of my Jewish faith which has for millennia firmly stood in solidarity with a woman who faces a problem pregnancy, valuing her health, inherent dignity, and physical and mental well being above all else. Like most Americans, I believe that it is critically important for a woman to have access to safe, legal, affordable and compassionate abortion care. I further believe that my faith requires me to work to preserve and expand access to this care, standing in solidarity with all women and families facing difficult emotional and economic circumstances surrounding a pregnancy at any stage.

This is why I am so deeply disturbed by the actions of so many Members of Congress seeking to ban access to abortion care and services after 20 weeks gestation – a time at which no woman makes the decision to end a pregnancy lightly.

Proponents of H.R.1797, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” prioritize the potential life of a fetus over that of a woman, a position almost always in in conflict with centuries of established Jewish law. No woman should be forced to give birth against her will. This is an unconscionable burden to ask of a woman – particularly if she has been informed late in her pregnancy that the fetus she carries is not viable and that continuing the pregnancy will pose a risk to her health, as was the case of a dear friend of mine a few years ago.

It is telling that Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) did not make even a single reference to a woman, her family, or her situation in a press release announcing that he would be expanding the focus of H.R.1797 from the District of Columbia to a nationwide ban. It is also deeply ironic that of the 185 cosponsors of this legislation, only 56 voted to alleviate harm and pain to women and families by helping pass the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year. In 2009, when presented with the opportunity to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program and support children experiencing pain due to illness or injury, of those cosponsors in Congress at the time, 81% chose to DENY protection and care to those children in need. VAWA and CHIP are the types of policies that affirm, value, protect and support healthy families; these are the types of policies rejected by H.R.1797’s supporters. The hypocrisy is glaring – and shameful.

Congressman Franks and his allies supporting this bill, like all Americans, are free to have and share their own religious beliefs about issues related to pregnancy and parenting. Liberty is an American value. However, we must not fool ourselves into thinking this bill seeks to protect women, children or families, as its supporters claim. H.R. 1797 is a clear attempt to impose one extreme and uncompromising religious belief about abortion on the whole nation, without taking into consideration the often complex circumstances in which the decision to end a pregnancy is being made. It is a gross violation of Constitutionally protected liberties and religious freedom.

H.R. 1797 privileges the pain that a fetus might feel over the physical pain and mental anguish a woman has in making the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. That decision, no matter the stage of the pregnancy, should be left to a woman in consultation with her family, her doctor, and her faith – not politicians bent on forcing a narrow religious view on all Americans.

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Emergency Contraception Ruling: Justice Over Politics

Nicole Miller
RCRC Intern

As a young person just starting to explore my own role in the political process, I can tell you that most of what I see regarding my own rights as a women is completely disheartening. I want to vote for and support the people that I think will be good for the economy and advocate for the issues I care about, yet again and again the challenge I confront is a candidate’s stance on my rights as a woman to control decisions regarding my body. Frankly, this shouldn’t have to be a concern for me.  It should be a given that, as a citizen and as a human being, my right to privately make decisions that are best for me, my body and my family are protected. I want to see this issue move out of the ‘political wrestling ring’ and be placed where it belongs: with the individual.

This is why I’m so excited to finally see justice and reason winning out over politics, religious extremism and partisanship as access to emergency contraception is finally – and rightfully – being granted. Thanks to a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, the two-pill version of emergency contraception will be available to individuals without proof of age requirements or a prescription. In doing so, the Court of Appeals sided with the historic ruling of US District Court Judge Korman, who ruled that the Administration’s opposition to emergency contraception was “politically motivated and scientifically unjust.” The Court of Appeals unfortunately agreed to the Administration’s request to continue blocking availability of the one-pill version of emergency contraception.

Access is critical, because emergency contraception is most effective when used within 24 hours of birth control failure. Obstacles such as prescriptions and age-restrictions prevent women and their partners from getting emergency contraception in time for it to work best.  While the FDA attempted to compromise on age restrictions by lowering to 15, Judge Korman and the 2nd Circuit court’s ruling recognized that it is ridiculous to assume that most 15 year old women will have valid, legal forms of identification. Additionally, this measure fails to reconcile the issue of women of any age who don’t have identification cards, or who work difficult schedules and are unable to get to a doctor on short notice for a prescription and subsequently to a store during pharmacy hours.  Thankfully, the appeals court ruling recognizes that limiting access to a safe form of birth control that works within a short time limit simply makes no sense. and

This is a tremendous win for all who believe that the government’s role should be to increase—not block—access to safe and effective forms of birth control. Family planning is a moral good and fundamental right that every woman, no matter her age, should be able to control for herself.

Nicole Miller was an intern in our office this month. She attends university in North Carolina and is originally from the DC area.

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Frank’s Dangerous, Nationwide 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposal

Rev. Rob Keithan
RCRC Director of Public Policy

I’m currently sitting in a hearing called by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) for his H.R. 1797, the “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would expand nationwide his proposed 20-week abortion ban for the District of Columbia. I’m here on behalf of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, but also on behalf of the millions of women and families whose lives would be dramatically impacted by this terrible bill.

Rep. Franks, like many other arch-conservatives and religious extremists, have been using the grisly case of Kermit Gosnell to push for more restrictions to compassionate abortion care. Restricting access to abortion – in some cases, making it so difficult to access as to make it impossible to obtain – actually creates more Gosnell’s, not less. H.R. 1797 is a dangerous intrusion into the most personal of decisions that a woman can make, a decision that politicians towing a narrow, religiously- motivated line should not be making for them.

It is necessary as faith leaders to have the humility to see God’s hand at work in people’s lives, and to make sure that they have the resources they need to effectuate the decisions that are best for them and their families. Banning abortion outright at 20 weeks, with no exceptions, is a crass political move to control the lives of people who are making decisions in complex situations. Such a move chafes at our pastoral responsibilities and at our deep faith in our constitutionally-protected religious liberty.

RCRC wrote the letter below, signed by a broad list of religious organizations, and delivered it to members of the House Judiciary Committee. I hope you’ll strongly consider reaching out to your Member of Congress to oppose this oppressive measure.

___________ 

May 23, 2013

Dear Representative,

We, the undersigned national religious groups, urge you to oppose H.R.1797, the “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” sponsored by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ), which would create a nationwide ban on access to abortion care 20 weeks after fertilization, with no exceptions in cases of rape, incest or fetal anomalies. It explicitly bans later abortion care for a woman whose mental health would threaten her life or her health. We stand united across our faith traditions in opposing this extreme legislation.   

Proponents of this bill have cited the Kermit Gosnell case as a reason to push this intrusive policy, but the fact is that the lack of access to safe and affordable abortion care is precisely the circumstance that drove women to an unscrupulous person like Gosnell, as it did to so many women before Roe v. Wade.  The existence of his clinic is a ghastly warning sign of what happens when abortion is so restricted and expensive that a woman in need feels that she has nowhere else to turn.

A family with a wanted pregnancy that goes terribly wrong is confronted with awful decisions that none of us ever want to face.  Our religious values call us to offer compassion, support, and respect to a woman and her family facing these difficult circumstances. H.R.1797will only make a challenging situation worse.   When a woman needs an abortion, it is critically important that she have access to safe and legal care.

It is telling that Representative Franks, in a press release announcing that he would be expanding the focus of H.R.1797 from the District of Columbia to a nationwide ban, does not make even a single reference to a woman, her family, or her situation. 

Like all Americans, Rep. Franks is free to have and share his own religious beliefs about issues related to pregnancy and parenting. Liberty is an American value. However, H.R.1797 is a clear attempt to impose one particular religious belief on the whole nation, and thus represents a gross violation of the freedom to which every American is entitled by the Constitution. The proper role of government in the United States is not to impose one set of religious views on everyone, but to protect each person’s right and ability to make decisions according to their own beliefs and values. 

We believe—and Americans, including people of faith, overwhelmingly agree—that the decision to end a pregnancy is best left to a woman in consultation with her family, her doctor, and her faith. Our laws should support and safeguard a woman’s health – not deny access to care. Please show compassion for women and respect for religious liberty by opposing HR 1797.

In faith,  

Anti-Defamation League
Catholics for Choice
Disciples Justice Action Network
Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Methodist Federation for Social Action
Metropolitan Community Churches
Muslims for Progressive Values
National Council of Jewish Women
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Religious Institute
Union of Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

  

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