Reproductive Justice Updates

Last week, the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS) released their monthly policy updates for sexuality educators and advocates.

Included in the May 2010 policy updates are the results of a new study from the Guttmacher Institute showing that rates of unintended pregnancy among teen women in the US may have been previously underestimated. Previous studies have counted the unintended pregnancy rate per 1,000 women in each age group surveyed without accounting for the rates among women who identify themselves as being sexually active versus those who do not. The new study shows significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancy for sexually active women than for women in general nationwide, particularly among women between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.

There’s also good news for comprehensive sexuality education advocates in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. House Education Committees in both states have just voted for legislation that would allow more comprehensive sexuality education curricula in public schools and provide guidelines for what that would look like.

If passed, both new laws require schools in each state to provide sexuality education that teaches about abstinence and contraception in ways that are medically accurate. While the Pennsylvania law leaves the specifics of curriculum development up to individual school boards, it also calls on the state department of health to create a list of guidelines that programs must follow to comply with the new legislation.

In Louisiana, sexuality education curricula must provide “information about human sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development” in order to conform with this proposed legislation.

Both states have been previous recipients of Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage federal grants, but if these new laws pass, they will no longer be eligible to receive those funds. Federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs was eliminated from the 2010 federal budget by Congress and President Obama, but the funding stream was reinstated in health care reform legislation that became law this spring.

New funds available to states and community-based organizations from the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative could help states like Pennsylvania and Louisiana implement the new laws if they pass. These programs could also provide young people nationwide with the comprehensive, medically accurate sex education they need to make healthy decisions.

You can advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in your own state by researching your state’s laws and supporting legislation similar to the Louisiana and Pennsylvania bills. Consider organizing your youth group or congregation to write letters to your governor or state legislators encouraging them to reject Title V abstinence-only grants and create policies that support comprehensive sexuality education in local school districts. For the basic information on your state’s sex education policies and funding, see the SIECUS State Profiles. For resources on how to get started as an advocate, check out the Future of Sex Education website.

Sex Ed Training Pays Off!

A small group on the steps of the Religious Action of Reform Judaism during an exercise on storytelling/messaging

As far as we know, our Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) is the only national, multigenerational interfaith advocacy training focused on supporting comprehensive sexuality education. It started in 2006 as a partnership between the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and Advocates for Youth. Currently the United Church of Christ, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice are also cosponsors. The great news is that SEAT is paying off! Here are some highlights:

First, many of the Congressional Offices visited by 2010 participants remembered SEAT visits from previous years—and had positive things to say about them. This recognition is incredibly important, because even if they don’t agree with our position they know who we are, and that we’re strong advocates for what we believe. Thanks to our SEAT lobby visits–and there were over 60 this year alone–not a single one of those offices can say that they “never hear from religious people who support comprehensive sexuality education.”

Second, one office reported that their boss—a member of the House—decided to become a REAL Act cosponsor as a direct result of last year’s SEAT lobby visit. Even better, I just heard—literally as I was writing this blog—that another Representative decided to cosponsor as a result of this year’s visit!

Third, more than one lobby team reported that, as they were sitting an office lobby waiting for their visit, calls were coming from folks back home participating in the Sex Ed Call-in Day! This combination of in-person and grassroots action is exactly what we hope for, so many, many thanks to everyone who made a call!

We usually stop at three in stories like this, but one more point is necessary. For SEAT to be properly called a success, it must also help participants spread the word outside of Washington, DC. Hence this final highlight:

Fourth, during an expected (and quite long) layover in Denver, a SEAT team from the Seattle area shared their stories and passion with other passengers in the waiting area! Amy talked to a young mother of three who had never heard of comprehensive sexuality education but liked it so much that she immediately started tweeting about it. Sierra, Carolyn, and Sam struck up conversations with nearby passengers and informed them of the whole experience, including—get this—giving out the handouts from their packets! Nice work y’all!

At this point, we’re hoping to have a 7th annual SEAT next year. Look for an announcement in the fall!

Speaking out Against Stupak – Important Vote Today in the Senate

Author and sociology professor Carol Joffe’s blog post on Beacon Broadside shares the stories of three women who found out, late in their pregnancies, that their babies were unlikely to live past birth. Joffe poignantly illustrates the complexities surrounding a woman’s decision to have an abortion. These stories show one more reason why the UUA opposes the Stupak Amendment, and the similar Nelson-Hatch Amendment in the Senate, which could take that decision away from millions of women and their physicians.

The UUA is among 13 religious organizations calling on the Senate to preserve the insurance coverage that most women have today by placing NO further restrictions on abortion coverage in health care reform legislation. You can read the full story and the letter that was sent to all 100 U.S. Senators on the RH RealityCheck blog.
The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the Nelson-Hatch Amendment today. Please contact your Senators and ask them to defeat this amendment. Learn more here.

Pass Health Care and Stop Stupak!

Over 500 people from 30 states attended yesterday’s rally on Capitol Hill, which was planned by the Coalition to Pass Health Care and Stop Stupak. Speakers from national women’s health and reproductive rights organizations, Members of Congress, and religious leaders took the podium to stand up for reproductive justice. All day long, delegations visited their House Representatives and Senators asking them to ensure that the language of the Stupak Amendment is not included in the final health care reform bill.

Read Rev. Meg Riley’s statement from the rally and her call to action on
And check out to learn how you and others in your community can get involved.

STOP STUPAK! National Day of Action

If you have heard about the Stupak Amendment, which would ban coverage of abortion services for millions of women under health care reform, you might be wondering what else you can do to keep such sweeping restrictions on reproductive health and abortion coverage out of a final health care reform bill. (To learn more, see my blog post from November 12th)
Here’s what you can do:
For those of you within easy traveling distance, please join Rev. Meg Riley, UUA Director of Advocacy and Witness, and I for the National Day of Action in Washington, D.C. on December 2nd. There will be lobby training and a briefing starting at 9:30 AM, a mid-day rally on Capitol Hill, and lobby visits throughout the afternoon. We are coordinating our actions with our friends and colleagues of many faiths from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), and if you would like to participate in a lobby visit or would like more information about the day’s activities, please contact Ellen Battistelli at RCRC (ebattistelli [at] rcrc [dot] org).
If you’re too far away to come to Washington, D.C, please sign the online petition. We will be delivering the signatures on December 2nd, so we need as many as possible!
December 3rd is National Senate Call-In Day. Call 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator by name. Please take a few minutes to call both of your Senators. Here’s a sample call script:

“I’m calling as your constituent and a Unitarian Universalist religious person. I believe strongly that all people have the right to comprehensive, high quality health care and that women should be able to make reproductive health decisions based on their own values. Please oppose any amendments to health care reform legislation that would limit a woman’s right to purchase private or public health insurance offering comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care. Thank you.”

You can find more information and talking points in the RCRC toolkit or at the Planned Parenthood Action Center. I hope to see you on Capitol Hill on December 2nd. Please call me with any questions 202-393-2255 x12 or email

When Health Reform Hurts

From what I understand of legal and judicial precedent, the Federal government is not supposed to interfere with a woman’’s right to choose when, how and under what circumstances to have or not have a child. This includes the right to a safe and legal abortion as under the conditions of the Roe v. Wade United States Supreme Court decision of 1973.
Late last Saturday night, this right began unraveling in the House of Representatives. When the vote was over, the House had passed a comprehensive health care reform bill that essentially eliminates a woman’’s right to choose abortion. The Stupak-Pitts amendment, which was included in the House bill, makes it illegal for any provider in the proposed health care exchange, the marketplace created for individuals and businesses, or in any public option, to provide abortion coverage.
Women would instead be able to purchase an abortion “rider,” additional coverage for abortion services. Anti-choice groups would have us believe that this is a reasonable compromise, but who would choose to pay extra for a service that they don’’t ever expect to use? Women cannot anticipate unintended or untenable pregnancies. Furthermore, in the five states that have abortion rider requirements already, there is no evidence that such riders have ever been made available. Losing the right to purchase abortion coverage with their own funds puts women at risk. Low and middle income women who will need subsidies to purchase insurance, those who are in the greatest need of comprehensive and high quality health care, are left without options. The lives of women and their families literally hang in the balance.
The decision to have or not have an abortion should remain between a woman and her doctor; this amendment threatens to revoke the right to that decision and violates the very spirit of health care reform. Health care reform isn’t about promoting one ideology over another, it’s about the legal and moral rights of people to receive the comprehensive health care that they need and deserve – and not to be denied coverage of services that are currently covered by most insurance companies.
It’’s extremely difficult for me to be happy about reform that doesn’’t provide access to comprehensive reproductive health care for millions of women – so I’’m not going to be. A health system that doesn’t give us access to care we need is inherently unjust and unacceptable. So I’’m going to believe that it will not be codified. I’’m going to put my faith in the Unitarian Universalists and other champions of reproductive justice out there, and I’’m going to believe in the power of advocacy.
But I need your help. I can’’t do it without you. Please contact your Senators and the White House with a clear message telling them to enact health care reform that does not eliminate services that women already receive, including comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion.

Health Care Reform Restricts Abortion Coverage

The House of Representatives passed a comprehensive health care reform bill that takes unprecedented steps towards limiting reproductive health care for women and severely restricting coverage of abortion services.

Read Unitarian Universalist minister and Religious Institute director Rev. Debra Haffner’s reaction to Saturday night’s vote on her blog, Sexuality and Religion

October is National Sex Ed Month of Action!

Join our partners, including Advocates for Youth, SIECUS, and youth, young adults and their allies across the country this October for the Sex Ed Month of Action!

On Wednesday, September 30, the Senate Finance Committee passed Senator Orrin Hatch’s amendment to restore $50 million in title V funding for failed abstinence-only programs. Learn more about the amendment and what you can do to prevent it from becoming a law.
Take Action and tell your Senators that as a person of faith, you demand an end to abstinence-only programs. Our nation’s young people deserve comprehensive sex education that gives them all of the facts they need to make healthy decisions, including information about abstinence and contraception.
Stay tuned! This month, we’ll highlight different ways that you can support comprehensive sex education in your own communities and nationwide. Act Now!

Back to School for Comprehensive Sex Education Advocates

In his speech today, President Obama expressed these hopes for our nation’s young people:

Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn.

The President also said that he expects a lot from our nation’s youth, but one thing he can’t expect is for them to be able to make healthy and responsible decisions about their lives without all of the facts.
That’s why we are calling on Congress to support the President’s vision of teen pregnancy and disease prevention programs by funding comprehensive sex education in schools and communities around the country.
Take action today! Tell your Senators that you support eliminating funding for ineffective abstinence-only programs and dedicating federal funds to proven, comprehensive sex education that teaches our youth the facts they need and prepares them to put their own values into action.

Our Whole Lives Featured in "O, the Oprah Magazine"

Look for the July 2009 issue of “O, the Oprah Magazine” on newsstands now, which features a cover story on the Our Whole Lives (OWL) adult sex ed curriculum. Amanda Robb, who wrote the article, attended a session of the Adult OWL class at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, and interviewed participants as well as the course facilitator Barbara Tuttle. Also quoted are Unitarian Universalist OWL trainer Jane Detwiler, Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, who co-authored the OWL Young Adult curriculum, and UUA Public Relations Director Janet Hayes.

Comprehensive sex education is important and meaningful to people of all ages and must address the changing needs of participants from childhood into adulthood. That’s why OWL is designed not as one curriculum, but as several age appropriate programs based on the experiences and needs of young people and adults across the lifespan.

To learn more about “Our Whole Lives,” check out or visit your local Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ congregation.