Tag Archives: reproductive health

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.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Emergency Contraception: A Victory for Women and Religious Freedom

We don’t typically share press releases on the RCRC blog, but we’re making an exception because we’re so excited about today’s ruling by a Federal Court which requires that emergency contraception be made available over the counter.

The case, which has been going on for many years, was brought by our friends at the Center for Reproductive Rights. The ruling requires that emergency contraception be made available over the counter within 30 days. Reproductive justice calls us work to create an environment where all people have access to everything they need to make decisions about their reproductive and sexual lives according to their own conscience and faith. This ruling is a huge step forward in recognizing the moral agency of women and couples to decide whether and/or when to have children.

It’s about time.


April 4, 2013 — The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) applauds today’s Federal Court decision to increase access to emergency contraception. The ruling gives every woman and couple easier access to one more safe and effective birth control option. It also represents a clear—albeit long-delayed—triumph of science and public health over politics and moral policing.    

“This ruling is both a victory for women and a victory for religious freedom,” said RCRC Director of Public Policy Rev. Rob Keithan.  “The government’s role in reproductive healthcare should be to respect religious differences and protect access to options, not to impose one particular religious viewpoint and limit opportunities because of it. Every person should be able to make healthcare decisions according to their own beliefs and values.”

The ruling, from a case brought against the federal government by the Center for Reproductive Rights, improves access to safe, reliable contraception, which is an essential part of basic reproductive healthcare for women.

“Our commitment to reproductive justice calls us to ensure that a woman has access to  all the resources she needs to take care of herself and her family, including emergency contraception. RCRC views access to emergency contraception—and to contraception generally—as a moral imperative that benefits women, families, and society overall.” said Keithan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bans on Insurance for Abortion – Misguided & Harmful

By Reverend Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, RCRC President and CEO

Legislation to ban or restrict insurance    coverage for abortion is sweeping through the states. Other than a Supreme Court case, these state bills may be more devastating to women’s access to reproductive health care than anything else. That is precisely why there is a huge national drive by Religious Right and anti-choice organizations to introduce and pass them.

By one estimate, 14.5 million women will lose the coverage they already have. That is in addition to women whose coverage for abortion is already restricted to the narrow cases of incest, rape or life endangerment: women who receive Medicaid, federal workers, the military, the American Indian health service, women in federal prisons and even Peace Corps volunteers.

Some background: the reason this is happening is anti-choice state legislators and governors are introducing bills or amendments to ban or limit coverage of abortion on the state insurance exchanges, which are in effect marketplaces. State insurance exchanges do not exist at this time. Most states are setting them up as a part of health care reform legislation (the Affordable Care Act) and they will go into effect in 2014. Many people who are underinsured or non-insured or want to change insurers will purchase insurance on the exchanges. So whatever happens to an exchange will affect many people.

By federal law, states do not have to offer coverage for abortion. That’s where opponents of comprehensive health care have found an opportunity to do even more damage to women’s health coverage. Five states have already passed bills to limit or ban insurance coverage of abortion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-two more are considering bills. Just yesterday (3/31/11), Gov.  Robert McDonnell of Virginia added an amendment to a bill setting up an insurance exchange in Virginia that will forbid coverage for abortion except in the very limited cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the woman. That amendment is actually telling women what coverage they can buy with their own insurance dolalrs and telling insurers what services they can cover!

This is a dangerous situation – but it also offers a chance to explain why access to abortion is so critical to women’s lives.  As I wrote on Religion Dispatches:

Narrow attacks on abortion, whether from the Catholic or Protestant right, ignore the full range of issues that are  involved in an unintentional pregnancy, including poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence, lack of jobs and health care, and – underlying it all – the effects of racism and sexism.  They ignore the serious health issues that can affect a pregnancy and a woman’s life. They ignore the realities of young women and men who have no information or inaccurate information about sexuality, poor role models, and limited options for the future. They target abortion rather than the conditions that lead to unintended pregnancies.

We want to change that mindset. While opponents of comprehensive reproductive health care want to control women’s decision-making, we talk about the importance of options and resources in the lives of women, families and communities. While they demand “no taxpayer funding for abortion,” we explain that ample funding restrictions are already in place. While they stigmatize women who seek to end a pregnancy, we assert that abortion is an integral part of comprehensive reproductive health care and that one in three women will have an abortion procedure at some point in her life. While they demean women who choose abortion, we make it clear that forcing women to continue an unwanted pregnancy is wrong. While they rail against abortion, we elevate the discussion to consider the moral complexities of decisions about bearing children.

Insurance coverage for pregnancy termination has had a low profile until now because it was not threatened. Now that it is, it is critical to understand that insurance helps to guarantee access to reproductive health care services and – from a moral perspective – enables a woman to make a decision about childbearing according to her conscience, not what the government says is acceptable.

Progress in expanding health care coverage to millions of Americans and doing away with injustices in the system is long overdue and should be celebrated. But victory at the expense of women’s comprehensive reproductive health care is no victory at all.

1 Comment

Filed under abortion, reproductive health, religion, insurance, women's health