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, www.religiousinstitute.org