A Victory for Marriage

Below are the reflections of Orelia Busch, outgoing Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues / UUWF Clara Barton Intern, on the Proposition 8 court decision.  You can also read UUA President Rev. Peter Morales’ statement on the ruling at UUA.org.

Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, released on Wednesday, August 4, was a resounding victory for supporters of same sex marriage.  I can honestly say that I was surprised.  In the 24 hours between the announcement that the ruling would be handed down and its actual release, both sides were preparing their appeals, and it seemed like no one could even speculate on what the judge would say.


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.

International Women’s Day 2010 – Ending Discrimination Against Women

On March 8th, thousands of events in countries all over the world will mark International Women’s Day and call for full equality for women in every nation.  International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time at a 1909 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark – its creation largely inspired by the courageous actions of women who worked in deplorable conditions in garment factories in New York.

Today’s  “Democracy Now!” news report details the irony that although women from the U.S. helped to shape what we know as International Women’s Day, the day passes unnoticed in many parts of this country.  The United States also remains among the seven UN countries, including Iran, Somalia and Sudan, that have not ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women, officially known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

CEDAW was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and has since been ratified by 186 countries around the world.  The Unitarian Universalist Association supports CEDAW as “essential to a claim by the U.S. of moral leadership in human rights,” and asserts that its ratification would “deter discrimination against women and advance their political and economic equality.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have all voiced their support for US ratification of CEDAW, but Congress and the Obama Administration have made no moves yet to ratify this important treaty.

Celebrate International Women’s Day by learning more about this issue from the advocacy group Citizens for Global Solutions and taking action to support CEDAW.

UUs Advocate, DADT Repeal Moves Forward in Senate

Beth Coye
UU advocate Beth Coye

In news reports from February 22, Senator Joseph Lieberman announced that he will be introduce a bill next week in the Senate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.   Since early February, efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) the policy of forced discrimination against bisexuals, gays, and lesbians in the military, have met with approval and support from President Obama and the Pentagon, but Congress must pass legislation before the policy can be ended for good.

The time is ripe to repeal DADT. A new report by the Palm Center on the experiences of foreign militaries finds that a swift and decisive policy change allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly could be accomplished with little or no disruption to the armed services. These findings echo the results of a 1993 RAND Corporation study that discouraged the gradual implementation of such a change, as proposed by the Pentagon.

As Unitarian Universalists and allies, we can help end discrimination in the military by sharing our stories and values with members of Congress and in the public square.   Outspoken and courageous UU veterans such as Beth Coye,  a member of the Rogue Valley UU Fellowship, have shared their experiences serving as gay and lesbian service members.  You can read Beth’s op-ed in the Oregonian and check out the links in this article for an interview,  including Beth’s perspectives on how working to repeal DADT puts her UU values into action.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is among the top priorities of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy.   Since last month, over 1,000 Unitarian Universalists and friends have responded to calls to action by writing letters and sending emails to their Senators and Representatives urging support for DADT repeal as soon as possible.  If you haven’t already, contact your member of Congress today.

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.

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!

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.


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.

La Journee Internationale de La Femme (International Women’s Day)

Until a couple of years ago, I was virtually unaware of the fact that March 8th marked the celebration of International Women’s Day in many countries around the world. The holiday reminded me of learning about women in history classes during “Women’s History Month” every March in school. I didn’t really see how women being featured but not integrated into the fabric of the stories in my textbook was going to change the world. I still don’t think that celebrations such as Women’s Day are sufficient to bring about social change on their own, but after participating in a festival during my Peace Corps service in West Africa, I see how they might help advance the work of those who are already struggling to improve women’s lives

International Women’s Day has roots in the struggles for fair pay and humane working hours for women who worked in factories and the movements for women’s suffrage in the U.S. and Europe. Marches, momentum and labor organizing worldwide between the 1850s and 1908 led to the first International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910. The widespread celebration of International Women’s Day emerged from this conference, and the date of March 8th was set in 1914 as women around the world rallied for peace on the eve of the First World War. Today, International Women’s Day is recognized as an official state holiday in 30 countries, including Burkina Faso.

From 2006 to 2008, I lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Diapangou in the Eastern Region of Burkina Faso. I had the privilege of working with many talented and charismatic community leaders. In 2007, my community was among those selected to receive government funding for its Women’s Day celebrations, and I offered my help in organizing a short play about girls’ education. The celebrations that day included a bicycle race for women at dawn, parades, speeches, and our theater piece about a girl who has trouble succeeding in school because she has too many chores at home and whose parents would rather marry her off than keep spending money on her schooling. We presented our skit to over 300 villagers that had come from the 30 or so surrounding villages. My Peace Corps colleagues held similar events in their own communities, taught high school girls about the community and political leadership of West African women, and one dressed in a women’s wrap skirt and pumped water for women in his village all day. A teacher at my village high school made a point of cooking for his wife all day – no small feat when cooking involves tending an outdoor fire for hours, preparing ingredients from the market, and cleaning a freshly killed chicken. People ranging from dignitaries to village elders had outfits or shirts made from the special print of fabric that commemorates the 8th of March each year.

Many people question the effectiveness of International Women’s Day Celebrations. Devoting one day a year to awareness of women’s work, health, and struggles for equality in cultures where gender-based violence and oppression is widespread (including the U.S.A) is clearly not enough to change structures of power and privilege. However, I found that after the theater production, people in my village understood better why I was there. Villagers continued to talk about the event for months afterwards, always thanking me for my involvement in helping to start converstaions about girls’ education. These conversations were an important part of how the community came to trust me and my counterparts. The celebration opened doors for discussions about women’s roles in our community, education, health and nutrition, and as a result, I was able to educate girls and women about reproductive health and family planning and help form a grassroots organization to support widows and orphans in my village. International Women’s Day won’t change the world, but it offers many of us a place from which to start.