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.

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.

Obama Ensures Equal Pay for Equal Work

In a solid victory for workers in the United States, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law yesterday. After winning enough votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate to be passed on to the President’s desk, it became the first piece of legislation to bear his signature. Civil rights movements, the Unitarian Universalist denomination, and countless dedicated individuals have been fighting wage discrimination for decades.

The Fair Pay Restoration Act removes restrictions on the length of time a worker has to file a wage discrimination lawsuit against an employer. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the new law is named, had worked at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama for 20 years before she realized that although she had the same skills and training, she was being paid up to 40% less than her male colleagues. Many employees don’t learn about pay disparities and their rights to claim equal pay for the work that they have done until well into their careers. The Lilly Ledbetter Act makes it possible for those who may have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to wage discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, religion or disability to seek and win legal recourse no matter how much time has gone by.

Seventy-year-old Lilly Ledbetter has been working selflessly towards the passage of this law since the Supreme Court ruling two years ago that denied her rights to the money she lost. Speaking to First Lady Michelle Obama Lilly says, “I will never see a cent from my case. But with the passage and the president’s signature today, I have an even richer reward. I know my daughters and granddaughters and your daughters and your granddaughters will have a better deal.”

The First Lady’s comments at the reception she held for Ms Ledbetter expressed her solidarity with “women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, older women, younger women, women with disabilities and their families” by recognizing the new law as a “cornerstone of a broader commitment to address the needs of working women who are looking to … not only ensure that they’re treated fairly, but also to ensure that there are policies in place that help women and men balance their work and family obligations without putting their jobs or their economic security at risk”. The President stated, “Signing this bill today is sending a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.”

On a personal level, I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t agree more. I think I’ll take a walk by the White House this evening in a silent expression of gratitude.

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 Bush Administration and Birth Control

The Bush administration has just drafted a set of regulations which would widen the definition of abortion to include various types of contraceptives, including birth control pills. In the administration’s proposed definition, abortion would include, “any of the various procedures — including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

The regulation would deny federal funding to any health center, hospital or clinic that does not allow health care employees to opt out of providing services that would violate the employee’s moral beliefs. This would include the dissemination of birth control.

As reported by The Washington Post, the regulation also mentions that “many states have recently passed laws requiring health plans to pay for contraception, pharmacists to fill prescriptions for birth control, and hospitals to offer Plan B to women who have been raped.” The administrations inclusion of these facts indicates a belief that health care for women, including survivors of rape is something that is wrong with the current health care system.

States requiring health plans to cover contraceptives is a big step for feminism and reproductive health activists, but now we have an administration that wants to limit these plans. By not funding health care that dispenses contraceptives, the Bush administration is putting thousands of women, specifically low-income women, at risk.

Allowing members of the medical community to decide when or if they should give women reproductive health treatment puts women at risk of STIs, unwanted pregnancy and psychological harm.

This is not only an issue of reproductive choice, it is also an issue of the rights of women in general, and even how we respond to domestic violence.

You can protect a woman’s access to birth control by telling Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to reject this harmful regulation.

Ratatouille: Another Film That Fails the Feminist Film Rule

Ratatouille: Another Film That Fails the Feminist Film Rule

When we want to be amused and entertained without having to put forth much effort, my partner and I often turn to animated films. A viewing of The Incredibles does wonders for getting my mind to let go of stress from life and work.

In that spirit, we sat down last night to see Ratatouille, a Disney-Pixar release (from Incredibles Director Brad Bird) about a rat who pursues his dream of being a chef in Paris. It won an Oscar in 2008 for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. It was creative, fun, & funny—we both enjoyed it.

And yet, like so many other “good” movies, Ratatouille fails the very low bar set by what can be called the “feminist film rule.”

As near as I can tell, the test can be traced to a 1985 comic strip entitled The Rule, from the series “Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel credits Liz Wallace for introducing her to the rule. In order for a movie to pass muster, it’s got to have three things:

1. There have to be at least two women in it.
2. The two women must talk to each other.
3. The two women must talk to each other about something other than a man.

It’s a low bar. And yet I’m consistently disappointed by how many films don’t pass, because it means that millions of viewers are consistently ingesting inexcusably narrow and sexist portrayals of women. Ratatouille, for example, has only one female with enough screen time to be called a character. For some hard data, see the 2007 Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, which references two studies of the 101 top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2004. Of the over 4,000 characters in these films, 75% overall were male, 83% of characters in crowds were male, 83% of narrators were male, and 72% of speaking characters were male. In addition, there was little change from 1990 to 2004.

Why is it so hard to portray more women in more roles?

The answer, I think, is that it’s not. It’s not hard to portray more women in more roles; filmmakers simply must want to do it. There needs to be an understanding that more and diverse roles for women are important; that’s it something the viewing public demands—or at least expects.

Applying the feminist film test has been an important consciousness-raising discipline for me; I encourage you to give it a try. Next step: figuring out what meaningful action to take. http://www.mediaandwomen.org/whatcani.html seems like a great place to start.