Interfaith Service Honors the Life of Dr. George Tiller

Reflections by Orelia Busch

Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is a matter of the heart: for until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.

– Dr. George Tiller
I learned more than I could have expected about Dr. George Tiller last night at his memorial service at the National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. From his eyes in the photo at the front of the sanctuary, I could tell that he lived as a shining light into a broken world and into the lives of women in the greatest need of compassion. His philosophy was governed by five words: kindness, courtesy, love, justice and respect, and he served as a fine example of a physician and a human being throughout his career. He trusted women and their moral authority to make choices about their reproductive health, and he cared for his patients as whole and sacred beings physically, emotionally and spiritually. He will be deeply missed by friends, family and colleagues.
The words “This Do in Remembrance of Me,” engraved on the table on which Dr. Tiller’s photo rested, seemed to hold so much meaning. I am privileged to be among those who honor Dr. Tiller’s life by working to ensure that every woman is free to make her own fully informed choices about her reproductive life and health. May his light shine on our continued struggle and may his contributions never be forgotten.

Many thanks to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice for organizing this beautiful service.

A Prayer in Memoriam of Dr George Tiller

Yesterday, Dr. George Tiller was brutally murdered in his house of worship, the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller was a person of conscience and faith who provided abortion services for women facing some of the most difficult medical circumstances imaginable. He continued to do so despite frequent threats, lawsuits and violence. He was one of the very few doctors providing medically indicated late-term abortion services, and he did not waver from the provision of this service, although he was well aware he was never far from danger.

Our thoughts and prayers of deepest sympathy and solidarity are with his family, friends, and co-workers. We offer this prayer, an excerpt from the resources of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. May peace be with all those who mourn his loss.

We pray for an end to the rhetoric and violent acts that target health care providers, and pray for the day when health care providers, women and their families, can exercise their rights to reproductive choice in security and peace. Let us pause now for a moment of silence to remember all who have lost their lives, and for those who have been injured in attacks all across our country.

Help us, Gracious God, to stand together with these courageous and caring people who continue to do your holy work.

Amen.

Advocacy and Witness Meets with White House

The day after the ruling upholding Proposition 8 came down from the California Supreme Court, I visited the White House for the first time since coming to UUA Washington Office over three years ago.  Rev. Meg Riley, Director of UUA’s Advocacy and Witness Programs (my boss) accompanied me.  We met with Paul Monteiro, the White House Office of Public Engagement’s Associate Director charged with creating partnerships with the faith community.  The meeting covered a lot of ground, but we began by clearly communicating our movement’s commitment to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights.  We spoke about the work of the UU state advocacy networks, the UUA office of BGLT concerns, and, most importantly, our many congregations.

I shared the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress and highlighted the report card we issued on the Administration’s first 100 days.  We also discussed the OWL curriculum and the advocacy work many UUs are doing to support comprehensive sex-ed.  I even brought my computer and

showed him the promotion video I made for the Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT).  I wanted him to see the faces and hear the voices of the young people who come all the way to  D.C. to lobby for comprehensive sex-ed.
We then discussed the role that Unitarian Universalism can play in the many important challenges our country is facing. We spoke of Van Jones’ Ware Lecture, and how it sparked a realization that Unitarian Universalism needs to shift from a movement focused on protesting to taking up the hard work of governing. Monteiro appreciated this shift and was clear that he felt religious groups were most powerful when we use our religious voice and moral authority.  Monteiro also lifted up the power of unlikely groups coming together to create change in their communities and said he is constantly searching for such stories.  So if you have any let me know (agerhardstein@uua.org).

Monteiro was already very familiar with Unitarian Universalism, having worked closely with many UU volunteers in Iowa during the campaign.  He was receptive to our legislative objectives and our commitment to work in community partnerships and we are in the process of scheduling further meetings and sharing more information. This meeting felt like a genuine  step forward in addressing the many issues Unitarian Universalists work and pray for every day.  While the UUA will not always walk side-by-side with the White House, I am convinced that we are both committed to sharing our respective directions and understanding what drives us forward.

Pro-Faith, Pro-Choice

On May 13th through 15th, I attended the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) Spring Convening. About 30 organizational representatives, religious professionals and lay leaders came together as members of this pro-faith, pro-family, pro-choice coalition.

Those attending the conference represented some of the 14 religious denominations and 40 organizations that make up RCRC, including the Presbyterian Church, the Unitarian Univesalist Association, the United Church of Christ, Catholics for Choice, the Union for Reform Judaism, and many others. Unitarian Universalists shared our thoughts and values over the course of three days as small and large groups worked to help each other understand and shape the coalition’s strategies and working relationships.

One message I took home from the convening was that we need to be more visible as people of faith who support reproductive rights and justice. This includes not only advocating for all people’s access to safe and affordable reproductive health care, contraception and abortion, but also for the right to comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education that equips everyone to make healthy sexual and reproductive choices throughout their lifetimes.

I hear from too many Congressional offices, even those that support comprehensive sex education and reproductive choice, that they receive an overwhelming number of calls from anti-choice religious people and groups and almost none from people of faith on the other side. It only takes a moment to look up the phone numbers for your own elected officials in the House and Senate and call to register your opinion on these issues or to thank them for supporting your values. Please do so, they need to know that you are out there. Check our website for tips and talking points if you need them.

After the conference, I had an appointment for an annual check-up at Planned Parenthood. When I told the midwife who was examining me that I had just come from conference of people who are pro choice because of our faiths, and not despite them, she was surprised to know that we exist. She said that she often imagines that the religious protesters, who show up outside of her clinic on days when they provide abortion services, are praying for the safety and well-being of the patients. What a great idea. Wouldn’t it be a change to see religious messages of love and compassion for all outside of a Women’s clinic rather than those of death and blame and hopelessness that seem to prevail in the public debate on these issues?

We encourage those of you who want to work for reproductive health, choice and justice to learn more about RCRC and how you can get involved.

Prayer for Wholeness

by Rev. Meg Riley. Inspired by the participants at the Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT), 2009. For more information about SEAT, see the SEAT FAQ.

Sweet source of hope and healing, longing and life,

We know our first responsibility is to create a world which supports the growth of our world’s children

A world safe for them to explore, and to learn and grow, without being judged or punished.

A world safe for them to make mistakes, knowing there is nothing they can do to lose our love.
May we provide them with tools to protect themselves and those they love from decisions which hurt—information about the physical, spiritual, emotional aspects of sexuality.

May they know it is safe for them to come to us always, and we won’t make it worse.

We wish that life were simple.
We wish that unwanted pregnancies never occurred,

That no one engaged in any kind of sexual activity without protection and real choice, real response-ability,

That all people were equally valued.

We wish that every person knew his or her own beauty and worth, and thus that of the others with whom she or he interacted.

A child I love dearly, aged ten, was struggling with gender identity.

“Do you ever feel,” I prodded gently, trying to understand, “as if you were born into the wrong body?”

The young one paused for a moment of silence, and responded, “Nope, this is my body all right. I feel like I was born into the wrong world!”

We pray that we can make this wrong world a little bit more right for our children.

May they know and cherish their own bodies as sacred, beautiful, true.
May we create a world which reflects this back to them.

May we demand schools, governments, communities, which honor them

And in so doing, be worthy of this gift of life, this beautiful broken world.

Amen.

Message from Amnesty International: End sexual violence against Native American women

This afternoon I got the following alert from Amnesty International. Please take a moment to look over the facts below and call your Senator. If you can’t do it today, then make a call tomorrow or Friday. Senators need to hear from as many people as possible on this important issue.

FROM AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL:

Native American and Alaska Native women face a 1 in 3 chance of being raped in their lifetime.
Call your Senators today to support the Tribal Law and Order Act.The numbers are shocking.

In our report, Maze of Injustice, we uncovered the staggering statistic that Native American and Native women are more than two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general.

Thankfully, our insiders on Capitol Hill say the Senate is considering re-introducing the Tribal Law and Order Act, a bill that would help fix this broken system of justice.

That’s why we’ve made this week the national call-in week for women’s rights. Call your Senators today and ask them to support the Tribal Law and Order Act.

Our call-in page will give you phone numbers, detailed talking points and a sample script. If passed, the Tribal Law and Order Act would do two critical things:

  • Clarify jurisdiction between federal, state, tribal and local governments, and
  • Increase coordination between their law enforcement agencies for responding to violent crime against American Indians.

Non-Native men who rape Native American and Alaska Native women can often do so with impunity, because of a lack of tribal authority to prosecute non-Native people who commit crimes of sexual violence on tribal lands. Most perpetrators are never punished because of a complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions that is so confusing that officials are often not clear on who is responsible for responding. This maze of injustice is exactly what the Tribal Law and Order Act would help fix.

Pick up the phone now and call your Senators to support and cosponsor legislation for Native American and Alaska Native women after it is introduced in the Senate.

We promise it will take you less than two minutes. Our call-in page has everything you need, including phone numbers, talking points and even a sample script.Without your phone call the Tribal Law and Order Act may never see the light of day. Thank you for joining the hundreds of others who will call this week to support women’s rights.

Sincerely,

Meredith Larson
Director, Stop Violence Against Women Campaign
Amnesty International, USA

Take Action

Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Where the Money Is Going

President Obama signed the $787 Billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law earlier this week. The law marks a monumental shift in how we choose to allocate our resources. We saw the Bush administration pass emergency spending measures to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghansitan time and time again. Then, in the face of the economic crisis, President Bush chose to bailout banks, financial institutions, and insurers. One month into the Obama Administration, his first emergency supplemental will save our schools, environment, and infrastructure, things that benefit every American. Here we take a look at how the bill impacts the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress. While it advanced many of our objectives, it must be noted that on some issues (immigration and reproductive health), we took some steps backwards. But on the whole, given our objectives, this law is cause for celebration!

Environmental Justice

In 2007, both the Green Jobs Act and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant were made law, but the necessary funding was not appropriated. Times have quickly changed and we see an unprecedented commitment towards green jobs and energy efficiency. The Economic Recovery bill invests $500 million in the Green Jobs Act, an increase of 400% of the original allocation. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant is getting $3.2 billion, an increase of over 50%. And the Weatherization Assistance Program is getting $5 billion. These investments will create green jobs, creating employment opportunities for unemployed and under-employed workers, as well as reduce the energy costs of low-income families.

Peace

Peacemaking means creating safe places for children everywhere – including the United States.

$54 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid to school districts, with up to $10 billion for school repair will allow children in the US to learn and grow in healthy and comfortable environments.

Gulf Coast Recovery

$375 million is going to the Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen Mississippi River levees.
$500,000 is going to create an ombudsman for FEMA to arbitrate Rita and Katrina related damages
$100,000 is going to support volunteer efforts for Gulf Coast Recovery through Dept of Labor (Americorps)

Violence Against Womens

The Economic Recovery bill includes $325 million in critical funding for the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act. This money will provide states with grants for doing work to combat domestic violence and help fund transitional housing for survivors of violence. $100 million of this money dedicated to the Victims of Crime Act will create and sustain thousands of jobs for victim advocates and specialized law enforcement officers.

Reproductive Health

However, funding that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to allow more women and families to obtain contraception and family planning services was one of the first things to be cut from the original stimulus package. Women living in poverty are four times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times more likely to have an unintended birth than women who live above the poverty line. The family planning funding in the stimulus plan would have increased the reproductive freedom of thousands of women and saved money on health services due to the consequences of unintended pregnancy in the long run. (From the Claremont Port Side magazine). $87 billion over the course of two years was provided that will protect people who are currently eligible to receive family planning services through Medicaid comprehensive coverage.


Immigration

$720 million is going towards improving security at the border and ports of entry. A significant proportion of that money is going towards the continued construction on the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. This wall is opposed by a broad coalition of immigration activists, environmentalists, ranchers and other property owners, and local governments. Not only does it increase misery and risk of death for undocumented workers, but also for endangered wildlife. The wall should be torn down, not further funded.

For more information on the Recovery and Reinvestment Act and its impact, see the White House’s new website devoted to providing full transparency on the recovery process: recovery.gov.

Thank You, President Obama

Following yesterday’s anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, President Barack Obama prepares today to rescind what has been known as the “global gag rule.” The regulation, in place for 17 of the past 25 years, prohibits health organizations receiving US foreign aid dollars from discussing abortion in any way. In an article on British news website guardian.co.uk, Dr. Gill Greer, director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation affirms:

The gag rule has done immense harm and caused untold suffering to millions around the world …. It has undermined health systems and endangered the lives and health of the poorest and most vulnerable women on the planet by denying access to life saving family planning, sexual and reproductive health and HIV services and exposing them to the dangers of unsafe abortion.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

I hope that this victory is the first of many that women all over the world can expect in the coming weeks, months and years of the Obama administration. For easy and effective ways that you can get involved in working for reproductive choice and justice, take a moment to visit the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Action Center. A letter or phone call to your representative could make a difference in passing important legislation that supports reproductive health and education.

President Obama’s statement from yesterday. I feel proud and blessed that he is the leader of my country.

The 36th Anniversary of Roe v Wade

Today marks the anniversary of the historic supreme court decision that allowed women access to safe and legal abortion. It is a day to celebrate the success of women such as Dottie Doyle, a former state representative from Maine and a Unitarian Universalist who worked with so many others to help decriminalize abortion in the United States. Read her story here on the UUA website. After learning about Dorothy and her compatriots, I was struck but not surprised to learn that activism surrounding a woman’s right to choose was spurred on and supported by a resolution adopted at the 1968 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly to repeal laws restricting or criminalizing abortion. UUs all over the U.S. and Canada acted on this resolution. In Michigan, for example, many women worked tirelessly circulating petitions and collecting signatures in the face of threats, verbal abuse and ostracism. Without a doubt, Unitarian Universalist efforts contributed to the right to choose when to bear children being upheld as a constitutional right of women in the United States of America.

If a resolution adopted at General Assembly can make such a contribution, I have no doubt in my mind that, with the inauguration of a new administration and a new day dawning in Washinton, our voices as people of faith can and will be heard. As the new Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues at the Washington Office for Advocacy I am grateful to those who have worked for justice before me. Together we can have faith that we can help to change the laws of our country so that they reflect our values to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. I can have faith that I will see such changes not in some far-off dreamed future, but in the next year or two. I draw joy and strength and courage from that faith.

While celebrating and anticipating successes, however, I remain cautious, and I feel compelled to point out that Roe v Wade still needs our support and protection on all fronts. In most states, access to abortion is still restricted by mandates for parental notification and/or consent. In many states, women can barely seek information about abortion due to legal bans on counseling, biased counseling, and mandatory delays for abortion care. In all but the three states of Alabama, New Hampshire, and Vermont, health care providers can refuse care entirely to a woman seeking an abortion (see naral.org). These barriers to access continue to disproportionately affect poor women and women of color who have long struggled not only to gain access to quality and affordable health care but to be allowed to make informed choices about their own fertility. A woman living in a rural, northern county of my home state of Wisconsin would probably have to pay for her own abortion as well as travel for 6 to 8 hours, if she had access to a car and could drive, in order to reach a clinic that would perform the procedure.

In short, we still have a lot of work to do. True reproductive justice means that our societies protect girls and women from rape and sexual assault by teaching all children and adults that each person the right to make decisions about the sacred boundaries of their bodies. Reproductive justice means that no woman anywhere in the world is forced or coerced into bearing children when she does not choose to do so. Reproductive justice means that all women have access to safe and legal means of birth control and accurate information about possible side-effects and how to use them. Reproductive justice means that women and men undergo medical procedures that may affect their ability to have children only after giving their full and informed consent. Reproductive justice means that poor women and women of color are not denied or restricted from accessing any form of reproductive health care, nor from making an informed decision about any medication or procedure.

Access to safe, legal, confidential and affordable abortion is a right and a milestone along to path to achieving Reproductive Justice for all. I am proud to be part of an organization that has been working to this end for over 40 years, and I hope to do my best to continue in the footsteps of those who have walked this path before me.

Resolve to make a difference this New Year, or, "Hey, that’s my elbow!"

Many of us are excited about changes to come in the New Year, including new opportunities presented by the incoming administration and Congress.

In anticipation, the Unitarian Universalist Association is asking individual Unitarian Universalists to choose one of fourteen Legislative Objectives and pledge their support to take action on that issue.

Click here to see the list of Legislative Objectives for 2009 – 20010 and pledge your support for the upcoming year. When you do, note the photograph on the right-hand side of the page, which is captioned, “Before you get buried in new year’s activities, resolve to make a difference.” That’s my elbow sticking out as I’m slowly crushed by the weight of hundreds of balloons. (Remember when we welcomed Adam as Acting Director by filling his office with balloons?)

Please, don’t be like me: Resolve to support a Legislative Objective now.