Never Go Back - Birth Control Edition

On Friday, October 13, 2017, I was the final speaker at a rally to preserve birth control coverage in front of the White House.  Here are the notes from my remarks!

Good afternoon!  I am Rev. Dr. Debra Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister, representing the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation and the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, Virginia.  I am also the co-founder and the President Emerita of the Religious Institute, an organization of over 8000 religious leaders from more than 50 faith traditions who support sexual justice, including reproductive justice, contraceptive availability, and safe, legal, and accessible abortion services.  On a personal note, forty years ago, as a 20-year-old in my first job at the Population Institute, I wrote a pamphlet called “Does Your Campus Offer Birth Control?” It is inconceivable to me, pun intended, that all these years later we are once again fighting for birth control access.

We are here today to protect women’s access to birth control.  We are here today to say that it is immoral as well as unethical to use religion as an excuse for denying access to birth control coverage.  It is also based on the lie that religious Americans oppose birth control coverage.  The facts are that almost nine in ten Americans believe that using contraceptives is morally acceptable or not a moral issue; that 99% of American women who have had heterosexual sex have ever used a birth control method other than natural family planning; that evangelical Protestant women are even more likely to use the most effective methods of birth control than mainline Protestants or Catholics.  More than a dozen religious denominations, from the most progressive like the UUA and the UCC to the most conservative, like the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Seventh Day Adventists, have all passed policies in support of family planning.  The moral controversy about contraceptives ended nearly 60 years ago.  For decades now, almost all faith traditions, with one major exception, accept modern methods of birth control, and support it as means of saving lives, improving reproductive and public health, enhancing sexuality, and encouraging intentional parenthood.

As a religious leader, I believe that every individual has the right to make their own moral decisions, including when and whether to have children. People of faith of every religion support the right of individuals to make their own moral decisions.  By privileging one very limited religious view of sexuality and conception, these new rules and yesterday’s Executive Order violate the religious freedom of millions of people who hold different religious views about family planning and harm those who need their health care to include this basic preventive health coverage.  Denying family planning coverage in health insurance effectively translates into coercive childbearing.

Let us be clear -- Contraceptive use is not a sin neither is its provision in a health care plan.  The sin is denying people contraception, reproductive healthcare, and sexuality education. The sin is denying poor women, women of color, women in rural communities the same access to safe, accessible contraceptives and other reproductive health care services  that more privileged women have.  The sins are poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. The sin is passing restrictions on reproductive health services while ignoring the lives and needs of children who are already born for food, clean water, housing, health care, good education, and for their parents, support and good paying jobs.  The sin is using religious beliefs as a smokescreen for discrimination and injustice. 

Other people have asked you to join them in chants.  As a clergy person, May I ask you to join me in prayer:

Spirit of Life and Love, we know you by many names or by no name at all. We give thanks for your gift of moral discernment. Today, in the spirit of reproductive justice and affirming the moral agency of all, we pray for contraceptive access for all people.  We especially hold in our hearts those who will be most harmed by these proposals: low income women, women of color, teenagers, LGBTQ people, immigrants and those without means.  Bless these people gathered today as we work to create a more just world for all people: where all people have the right and the ability to make their own moral decisions, where none can impose their will on others, where all children are loved and cared for, where all people have the right and ability to obtain safe, affordable, accessible, comprehensive and covered family planning services. 

And may the people say, Amen.

NOTE:  Sections of this testimony have been adapted from the Religious Institute’s publications, including the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning,


This is Us - High School Reunion Version

One of the things I love about the new NBC series, “This is Us”, is the seamless way it moves back and forth over the lifetime of the characters.  We see them at 8, 17, and 37, and we know the 37 year olds through the lens of their younger selves. 

That’s what it felt like this weekend to go back to my 45th high school reunion.  When I entered the opening cocktail party, the room at first appeared to me to be filled with white haired older people, looking like an ad for long term care insurance or Leisure World. Yet, as I looked at familiar names on their name tags, their visage changed.  I saw through the gray hair, the slight stoops, the wrinkles to the teenagers that I partied with, the elementary school children I played with in the fields and at recess.

Forty-five years since high school seemed both impossibly long ago and impossible to be that long ago.  These were the people who knew me before there was a me.  They knew me as Debbi: class flirt, yearbook editor, smart and boy crazy.  I knew them as unattainable football player, homecoming queen, class clown, early hippie, and troublemaker.

Here we were 45 years later, an entire middle adulthood behind us.  We had married, been divorced, some of us three or four times. We had been widowed; we had never found the right mate.  We had children, grandchildren, were infertile, and had had children die.  Nearly fifty of 410 classmates had died before we reached the age of sixty-three. In conversations, I learned you had spouses who had killed themselves, been alcoholics, and domestic abusers.  We have struggled with cancers, strokes, depression, addictions, and failed dreams. Some of us have succeeded professionally beyond anyone’s dreams for us, and some of us have struggled to eke out a living. 

For one weekend, forty-five years later, we reconnected with each other, our pasts, and our high school hopes. It no longer mattered who we had been in high school. The popular boy danced with women he probably didn’t notice as girls; the popular girls smiled and talked to men they would have not dated.  We were all kinder, more compassionate, more open than we were 45 years ago when cliques ruled. 

We know now what we didn’t know then: That life would challenge all of us.  That there would be suffering, heartbreak, grief and loss unimaginable to our 16-year-old selves. That love wasn’t passionate making out in the back seat of a car, but the day to day recommitment of long term marriages and raising children.  That real friendships would come and go, but that these high school and even elementary school connections would still matter. That success in a career was far less important than happiness.  That stature in high school didn’t tell us anything about success in life, but that an open heart did. 

That at age sixty-three, we have lived more life than we have ahead of us. We are the lucky ones who have made it this far; by the 50th and 60th reunions, there will be fewer of us still here. So, for one weekend, we danced, told stories, remembered, and reconnected – to each other and to ourselves.   This is US, class of 1972, and I am grateful to be among you. 

Here's my attempt at writing a Unitarian Universalist, inclusive, non-gendered version of the 23rd Psalm:

Spirit of all that is holy, help me let go of wanting.
Bring me to beautiful places to enjoy creation
Restore my sense of peace.
Guide me to know what is right for me.
Though I am aware of my mortality, I am not afraid,
For the Spirit of Life is with me.
comforting me, sharing my pain.
When people attack me or scare me, help me feel compassion for them.
My cup runs over, I am fulfilled.
This life is a good life
And I am grateful for this time. 

A Prayer for the Days of Awe

The Days of Awe begin with us.

May we learn from our Jewish neighbors to use these days to atone, to pray, to work for justice.
May we ask forgiveness to any we have hurt and may we forgive generously.

May these be days of reflection, introspection, and peace.

May we perform righteous deeds and give to charity. 
May we prepare ourselves for the changes in the year to come.
May it be a good year.
May it be a healthy year.
May it be a year of peace for all of us, all around the globe.
May it be a year of peace within ourselves.
May we live our lives with integrity, service, and love.
May we be blessed with the strength of this community, of our families, of our friends.
May we remember what is truly important in life and may we remember to be grateful every day.
May we be inscribed for another year in the Book of Life.
And so may it be.  La Shanah Tovah!