Our Last Chance to Protect Women’s Health Coverage

Senate and House leaders are in the final stages of negotiating the content of the health care reform bill that could be voted on in both houses next week. A new article on UUA.org details the experiences of three Unitarian Universalist religious leaders as advocates for reproductive justice and abortion rights and describes the harmful provisions in the current reform bills:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House health care reform bill prevents women from using their own funds to purchase an insurance plan that includes abortion coverage in the new health insurance exchanges — taking away essential coverage that most insurance plans provide today.

Senator Ben Nelson’s addition to the Senate bill is an unworkable and unfair approach to abortion coverage by imposing arbitrary hurdles to secure coverage for abortion care. Under this provision, women would be forced to write two different checks to their insurance provider – one for abortion coverage and one for the rest of their insurance package.

Nelson’s provision makes it less likely for insurance companies to offer abortion coverage at all and presents a significant security risk to women purchasing this coverage. Both provisions would take away the coverage that most women have today and as such, they violate the very spirit of health care reform – extending comprehensive health insurance coverage to those who are most in need.

You can read the full article on UUA.org.

The UUA believes that we all have the right to make decisions about our own bodies based on our own values. Poor women, immigrant women and women of color are among those who are already disproportionately impacted by lack of access to safe and affordable contraception and abortion care, as well as by current laws restricting the use of public funds for abortion. If either of the current restrictions in the House and Senate bills pass with the final legislation, millions more women could lose the abortion coverage that they have today. Health care reform is about expanding coverage, not taking it away.

January 22nd is the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision, which will be commemorated in Washington, D.C. by a rally sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Find out how women’s organizations in your area are commemorating this day by searching online or contacting them.

No matter where you live there is still time to raise your voice as a person of faith who supports health care reform. Please call your members of Congress today and urge them to strike the Stupak-Pitts amendment and the Nelson check provision from the final bill.

Standing on the Side of Love & Dreams with Immigrant Families

by Bill Lace, Immigration Task Force Chair, Unitarian Universalist Church of Phoenix AZ

It seemed like a mid-January alignment of planets occurred in Phoenix, Arizona with immigration reform events, a human rights march protesting Sheriff Arpaio, and the “Dream Act” play coalescing over a period of a few days surrounding this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP) and fellow UU congregations from the Valley of the Sun and Tucson, Arizona were busy in planning, participating in, and hosting the activities, along with interfaith allies, immigrant rights groups, and advocacy partners.

The Social Action Committee of UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix commissioned New Carpa Theater Company, a Phoenix company focusing on Latino and multicultural theater works, to present the “Dream Act” play at UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ of Phoenix on January 15th and 17th. “Dream Act,” written by James E. Garcia, tells the story of undocumented student Victoria Nava and her dreams of practicing medicine. In the face of anti-immigrant sentiment, she feels her dreams may be slipping away. The play is based on an National Public Radio interview of an undocumented student in Southern California and brings to life the plight faced by the 65,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school each year.

“Dream Act” was well attended by people from inside and outside the congregations including administrators, teachers, and students from several schools that teach many undocumented youth. Immigration reform activist groups CADENA – DREAM Act Arizona and Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) handed out information at booths. Each performance was followed by an interactive discussion session led by Mr. Garcia with experts on the proposed DREAM Act legislation and members of the cast.

On January 16th, thousands of people, including immigrants and immigrant rights organizations, church groups, advocates and anarchists, filled the streets outside Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail for the March for Human Rights. The march focused attention to stop human rights violations, racial profiling and use of 287(g) by Sheriff Arpaio and other entities in the State of Arizona. UUCP Minister Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray, several UUCP members and other UU’s from the Phoenix and Tucson area congregations rallied and marched with UU banners and Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts in prominent display. Rev. Frederick-Gray spoke at the rally calling for all to “Stand on the side of love with immigrant families.” Members of UUCP and others worked with local Latino and Indigenous Peoples activist group Puente Arizona in the planning of the march. Marchers can assure you that despite some media stories you may have seen, the vast majority of people involved were peaceful and respectful of police monitoring the march.

UUCP’s Immigration Task Force has partnered with the Arizona Advocacy Network (AAN) and RIFA Arizona in ramping up attention on comprehensive immigration reform and has crafted a presentation to be taken throughout Arizona. The presentation is based on recommendations from RIFA and explains that many present immigration practices are unrealistic—we cannot deport 12 million people even if we wanted to(!) and that through our shared values we can work together to protect and value ALL families, including immigrant families. The task force also participated in a RIFA press conference outside Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office on January 14th calling upon McCain to continue his support of immigration reform. RIFA Arizona is holding a Town Hall on immigration on January 19th focusing on the faith and business communities. Members of the task force will participate and some are scheduled to speak. I feel proud to stand up with my faith and interfaith community in partnership with immigrant organizations for human rights and justice. Si Se Puede!

To take action in support of Congressman Gutierrez’s Bill for comprehensive immigration reform, go to Reform Immigration for America. (The UUA is a member.)

For more information:

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The Advocacy and Witness Team has taken a few minutes to reflect on the highlights of this past year and what we are looking forward to in the year ahead. A number of successes have marked this past year and it is exciting to see what the new year holds. Here are our reflections:

Meg Riley
When I think about high points from 2009, the Inauguration glows in my mind. Yes we did! Elect our first African American president. So much hope, so much energy, a real sense of kinship. When I look forward, I commit myself to creating and sustaining more energy like that. It’s so easy to get cynical watching the sausage-making of change. I have to remember to celebrate the positive, as imperfect as it is, and to keep hope alive!

Eric Cherry
While the international office’s 2009 was full of exciting and inspiring moments, the highlight of the year for me was welcoming a large and multiculturally diverse group of Unitarian, Universalist, and/or Unitarian Universalist leaders from around the world to General Assembly in Salt Lake City. The participation of leaders from Nigeria, Romania, India and Uganda in the Opening Worship service at GA was especially meaningful and symbolic of our faith tradition’s future. And, in 2010, I’m looking forward to the increasing collaboration of UU groups focused on international work, particularly promoting “community capacity building” and leadership-training in multiple locations around the world.

Rob Keithan
My highlight from this past year was establishing a partnership between UU Ministry for Earth and the UUA that resulted in a staffperson dedicated to promoting environmental justice. Looking forward, I am excited about working with a huge, diverse assortment of religious and secular groups to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Orelia Busch
The biggest highlight of the past year for me was attending the signing of the bill legalizing same sex marriage in the District of Columbia, which was held at All Souls Church, Unitarian. In 2010, I am looking forward to organizing clergy and religious leaders to help pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and leading youth, young adults and allies in their efforts to advocate for federal support and funding of comprehensive sex education programs in schools.

Rowan Van Ness
Looking back at this past year, one of my highlights was the International Day of Climate Action. It was really inspiring to see how many UUs were involved in the more than 5200 events worldwide. In this year ahead, I am hopeful that we may pass a major piece of climate legislation. The US is still a major emitter and the effects of climate change are global, so changes here could make a positive impact all over the world. I am also excited that more and more people are thinking about the impacts of their food choices and are keeping justice and the environment in mind!

Adam Gerhardstein
The Standing on the Side of Love campaign was born in June of 2009. It has been an exciting journey that has led us through a visceral health care debate, an inspiring march for BGLT equality, successfully booting Lou Dobbs off CNN, marriage equality sorrows in Maine and joys in the District of Columbia. Local communities are where the campaign has really been brought to life. In the year ahead we will celebrate the first National Standing on the Side of Love Day, where we will re-imagine Valentine’s Day. Because this campaign is in the hands of the people who bring it down to earth on the local level, we will pursue new tactics and new partnerships, and do everything we can to support congregations who boldly stand on the side of love.

Marriage Equality Day in D.C.!

This morning, I watched with about 300 other people as Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. I watched from the pews of my own church, All Souls Church, Unitarian, as D.C. City Council members called the bill a victory for civil rights, human rights, and religious freedom. The ceremony made it abundantly clear that people of faith stand overwhelmingly for marriage equality. This bill does not in any way impede those whose faiths do not solemnize same-sex marriages from practicing their religion, and it allows clergy all over the District of Columbia to solemnize unions for their congregants of all sexual orientations.

For Unitarian Universalists and many others, marriage equality is an expression of our deepest values of fairness and justice for all. Although I have celebrated other victories for equality in the past year, I wasn’t prepared for my own emotional reaction to the council’s vote and today’s bill signing. Something shifted inside of me, and I was in tears. I realized that until this week, I didn’t truly believe that I would ever live in a place where I could marry another woman. I had taken for granted that I was in a fight that I could never win. It feels so much more urgent for me now to work for a day when I don’t have to worry about losing my rights if and when I move to another city. It seems even more ludicrous to me than it did before that some people have the right to marry and others are still waiting.

I left the ceremony with renewed hope and a renewed commitment to full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people. Of course, equality encompasses so much more than the right to marry – it includes things that many of us take for granted – like being able to use the bathroom safely, the right to comprehensive healthcare, inclusive sexuality education, safe schools, the right to do meaningful work, and so much more. The road ahead of me seems long and full of twists and turns, but if it is paved with victories like today’s, I will be blessed indeed. If you are as grateful for this day as I am, please take a moment to send a thank-you note to the D.C. City Council members whose support made this day possible.

(Rev. Rob Hardies holding one of the pens Mayor Fenty used to sign the bill.)

On the eve of the final day of the Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen, I share with you some reflections from Unitarian Universalist Pam Sparr on significant events from the first week and on what the religious community can do.

I attended the first week of the COP-15 events in a professional capacity as a consultant with another religious organization and have just returned home. As I read accounts of what is happening in week #2, I think my reflections on that first intense week of activities still hold. Here are some of my impressions….

Several events in the first week stand out in my mind as significant:

  • The rock concert-like climate justice rally in Town Hall Square with the ever-charismatic Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This was the most upbeat of all events I attended. He presented more than a half million signatures from people in two dozen nations (including the U.S.) to the head of the UNFCCC – the man whose job it is to keep the negotiations going. These signatures supported a strong binding agreement. This was a wonderful example of how the religious community can use its moral authority well. It was also a reminder of how well respected and beloved a religious leader can be – even by people who do not consider themselves “religious” – if they are courageous in their faith and take a public stance on justice issues.
  • The international ecumenical worship service in Copenhagen’s Lutheran cathedral where religious leaders from around the world processed in with poignant, silent symbols of the destruction climate change is already wreaking – bleached coral from the Pacific, shriveled cobs of maize from Africa, stones laid bare from the melting of glaciers in Greenland. A reminder that ritual can be very powerful.
  • The demonstration last Saturday with 100,000 people in the streets all concerned over the lack of progress in reaching a strong, just, and binding international agreement – the largest such gathering to date on this issue. A peaceful show of concern and an unexpectedly large size group which the Danish police didn’t know how to handle well.
  • A seminar on the rights of Mother Earth sponsored by the Government of Bolivia – an example of how smaller nations are finding their voice and political strength in interesting ways with respect to climate change. This is also one of the cutting-edge initiatives that UUs interested in rights-based or Earth-care advocacy should investigate.
  • Two official US government briefings for non-governmental organizations, where, by luck, and possibly by virtue of wearing a highly visible red turtleneck sweater, I had the privilege of asking the first question of the week to our #1 negotiator.

While I am not a regular at major international meetings, I have participated in several historic conferences, including the infamous World Trade Organization ministerial in Seattle. The increasing frustration expressed by delegates from Southern nations in Copenhagen, including tears, tempers flying and threatened walk-outs seems to be much higher here than at any of the other meetings I have attended in the past 17 years. While some of this may be posturing, my sense is that most of the anguish is a legitimate reaction to the fact that the U.S. and other wealthy countries are dragging their feet while the clock is ticking. On the one hand, this first week showed signs that the South is holding together and taking a stronger stand. For me, this was one of the few beams of hope in the proceedings. On the other, the lack of progress left me gloomy about prospects on the official level.

I am most immediately concerned that we have a long way to go before we get international agreement to set a sufficiently strong, binding target to limit greenhouse gas emissions. At this time, the U.S. government is not willing to do what we must to meet our moral and legal responsibilities in this regard. Our government is the biggest stumbling block at this time. There are several policy components to this emissions cap hurdle. The most pressing one now concerns targets for 2020. We need to cut emissions dramatically and fast if we are to have a good chance of preventing a dangerous tipping point – and averting tremendous suffering and hardship on the part of people living in poverty in developing countries.

We have a very intelligent, skillful negotiating team representing the U.S. I would not want to sit across from them at the table in Copenhagen. From my personal advocacy experience, I have come to see more clearly the limits of intellectual engagement with our officials, and even limits to moral or ethical arguments. In a few areas, I have seen humanitarian and faith-based NGOs make a positive impact on the U.S. position on international climate change policy. In those cases, it is apparent that the more technical knowledge one has and the more organizing resources you have, the more effective the organization can be.

Certainly, most NGOs were using a combination of political organizing and intellectual engagement – an “inside” the Bella Center [formal location for the meetings] and an “outside” strategy. Some faith-based groups were using both strategies while others felt an inside strategy was useless.

By the end of the week, I was feeling like the most productive contribution the U.S. religious community could make would be to try to break through to an emotional and spiritual plane with our negotiators in some form of public witness. This is the realm where the religious community has particular expertise and responsibility.

Eco-psychologist Bill Plotkin describes our nation as in an adolescent stage of emotional and spiritual development. This felt true for the U.S. position in Copenhagen, despite the sophisticated economic and political rationale for the official stance. Most of us in the U.S. are comfortable in our privileges and ignorant of the consequences our policies and lifestyles have on the lives of people living in poverty in developing nations. As a nation, we are addicted to fossil fuels, privilege and power. The world sees us as digging in our heels to defend “The American Dream” which is a dream only for some in the U.S. and increasingly becoming a nightmare for many others around the globe.

In his sermon in Copenhagen, the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected that government negotiators from the North and South were operating out of fear. Some of that fear is rational and some of it is not selfish. Nonetheless, he urged the negotiators to detach from the fear and forge an agreement out of love. Certainly this is the mandate for the U.S. religious community — to shift public attitudes and re-set the tone of Congressional debate on climate change policy. This is a long-term challenge that will remain with us well after the conference ends. UUs have practiced Standing on the Side of Love before. Now we must do it again.

Youth and the Future of Climate Change: Notes from Copenhagen

Lynn Dash, UU-UNO Special Correspondent, has shared more notes with us from her experiences at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. These notes are from side events she attended on Thursday, 12/10, and illustrate both the ways that youth are affected by climate change and what they’re already doing to take action.

Youth have an incredible stake in the negotiations going on right now. Today I attended two “side events” organized by youth (defined as those under 25). Both had a sea of bright orange T-shirts, printed in front with “ How old will YOU be in 2050?” and on the back with “Don’t bracket our future.” Today I learned there are about 2000 youth here. Like the CAN—Climate Action Network—they are asking for an agreement that is FAIR—AMBITIOUS—BINDING. Yes, this sounds pretty elementary but it is very complicated, deciding on “Differentiated responsibility,” whether carbon off-sets should be counted, and a myriad of other technical details. The youth point out that in the end, it is their lives that are being affected more than the present negotiators.
In the workshop “Youth and Student Movements Leading the Way,” we heard about use of social networking technology to bring youth together from all over the world. They are reaching out to younger students, inspiring local actions, and creating innovative energy-saving devices. They are promoting intergenerational and inter-institutional cooperation. They are presenting their concerns to the powers that be in their towns, countries, and at the UN. Their careful study results in articulate presentations whether to peers, at a plenary session here with thousands of observers, or at a special briefing. Two young women, one from San Francisco and one from India, joined the environmental writer Bill McKibben to co-found the 350.org movement. Scientists say we need to reduce our greenhouse gases to 350 parts per million from our present 389 ppm to maintain our environment as we know it.
Another workshop focused on “Intergenerational Equity” and noted the growing number of young people around the world who are working on climate change. I am bringing back a little book entitled Climate Legacy Initiative: A New Legal Perspective on an Unprecedented Crisis, by one of the speakers, Tracy Bach from Vermont Law School. The responsibility the older generations have, to pass on a world as intact as the one they received, may be codified into law in some ways, but we know it is already a moral and ethical obligation. This reflects the wisdom of the Iroquois Nation Seventh Generation—whatever we do, let us think how it will affect our progeny unto the seventh generation.
Some interesting web sites:
www.350.org This past weekend some activities are being planned such as candlelight vigils to encourage an equitable Copenhagen agreement—the heads of state are coming this week)
www.studentsummit2010 world student summit for sustainability tomorrow—looking into Climate Action Network
Cheers to you all Stateside,

Notes from COP 15 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

After much preparation and anticipation, the COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference began on Monday, December 7th. Several congregations, including The First Unitarian Society of Schenectady in NY and the UU Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News, VA, are planning candlelight vigils around climate justice, to show their support halfway through the climate negotiations. More information is available on the UU Ministry for Earth website.

Lynn Dash, a special correspondent for the UU-United Nations Office, is currently in Copenhagen and has kindly shared some of her reflections with us.

Dec. 8, 2009, Copenhagen

If you’ve been to General Assembly you know how intense the experience can be. The Copenhagen conference has the flavor of a giant GA with several times the number of participants. As of this writing, about 15,000 people from 200 countries are here. It is wonderful to see the faces of so many different people from around the world.

The logo is a sphere with thickly interconnecting lines, a web held together in a big blue ball. What a graphic reminder that we are all in this together, in our interconnected web on our one precious planet. So among the multiple offerings on many topics at any given hour, I am reminded that it is all about environmental and social justice for all of us on Earth.

COP is “Conference of Parties” and this is the 15th, and largest, such conference since international negotiations began in 1992 with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

There is an undercurrent of tension between the developed and the developing countries. The major issue seems to be that the developed countries have already put a disproportionate amount of Greenhouse gas Emissions into the atmosphere, while the developing countries have yet to develop infrastructure that would help lift them out of poverty. (The U.S., with 5% of the world’s population, emits 20% of GHG). The “Side Event” panel I attended on the first full day of the conference, “What the Copenhagen Conference must deliver for climate justice,” included speakers from Africa and the Philippines. It was pointed out that developing countries are already dealing with adverse effects of climate change.

“Climate injustice means ignoring that some people somewhere are exposed to danger and yoked to suffering due to climate change.”

There is some fear that the North-South divide that permeates the negotiations may threaten to retard the gains so far achieved ahead of COP15.
Let’s keep posted…and hopeful for a just solution.

And speaking of hope—there is a growing international youth climate movement. Over 1000 youth from 100 countries are here at COP 15 and I’ve been talking with some of them. A young Australian stated simply: “It’s our future.” The Australian Youth Climate coalition sent 20 youth through an application process. They raised their own funds to be able to come here, and to be able to support youth from developing nations. They are peer-organized and meet every morning for strategy sessions. Today they drew a large crowd around them as they sang “Give Peace a Chance” with some added lyrics about climate justice.

Youth from all across the U.S. have come together as SustainUS. They are under 25 years old and were chosen through a competitive application process. There are 1600 members of SustainUS in the US—and their chair is a UU, Kyle Gracey! They trained together in August on how to make presentations, take action, talk with the media and other ways to make a difference. They are expected to go back into their communities and raise awareness of climate change and encourage actions for sustainability. We will be hearing more from these inspiring young people.

If you’re interested in reading the Daily Programme, it’s available at http://unfccc.int/items.

We are grateful to be here at this exciting time.

Lynn Dash

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.

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. So it was fitting that I started off the day attending the first meeting of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), organized by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). As participants got to know each other, discussed legislative priorities, and talked about accessibility as a matter of human rights, I was thankful for this interfaith group, and thankful for the community of Unitarian Universalists – who I had the honor to represent – who are striving to make our congregations and communities ever more accessible to all. Having just visited one such congregation this weekend and seen first hand the love that went into making the sanctuary accessible to everyone, I am very pleased to present the following guest post:


Kevin McGown, a member of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland (in California), shares his perspective on his church’s commitment to accessibility.

I love my church, First Unitarian Church of Oakland. It is a community that encourages its members to grow in awareness, and as a community we work to lead by example. Right actions often teach more than good sermons. We just had a wonderful example of this.

For several months we have been moved out of our sanctuary, instead celebrating worship in the big adjoining social space. This was necessitated by the long-delayed earthquake retrofit of our lovely, but previously unreinforced, masonry sanctuary. The work was finished just before Thanksgiving and we moved back in. There were many reasons for gratitude. First, of course, was the simple fact of being back in our spiritual home. We were also very grateful that so much thought and effort went into making our space as accessible as it can be.

Although we had long had some ramp access and some improvised solutions to make almost all of our space accessible, the solutions weren’t all good ones and could sometimes be difficult to manage, or could make one feel like a limited participant. During the design phase interested persons, including wheelchair riders and other experts, were consulted in efforts to improve access. Ramps were redesigned, an entrance was completely redone with a lift installed, and lighting was added for those like me who have low vision issues. One of the last steps was that before the seats were reinstalled and bolted down, they were arranged and then one of our wheelchair riding members went all around the room, checking out all of the corners, the space between rows, and so on, to make sure that the room was all readily maneuverable.

For me the coolest part came from a change that wasn’t actually intended just as an access fix. Part of the floor in the front of the sanctuary was raised for several reasons. One effect was to decrease the grade of the aisle as it climbs toward the back of the room. As I walked it the first time I thought to myself how much easier it will now be for those with mobility limitations of any kind to move up and down that aisle. And the cool part is not just the fix, but the fact that I thought about that. By thinking and talking about access issues, my community instilled this thinking in me. Many of us have a new awareness of the importance of thinking about, and planning for, the details of access in a community and a facility that we want to be open and welcoming to everyone.


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 UUA.org.
And check out http://www.stopstupak.com to learn how you and others in your community can get involved.