Monday, April 30, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
“Today we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices.”
“Today we pray for the men in our lives, that they may offer their loving kindness and support for women’s difficult decisions.”
“Today we pray for Christians everywhere to embrace the loving model of Jesus in the way he refused to shame women.”
Above are some of the individual components of the “40 Days of Prayer,” a series composed by the Rev. Rebecca Turner, a United Church of Christ minister, and the head of Faith Aloud, a pro-choice religious organization based in St. Louis, Missouri. Turner originally wrote these prayers to counter religious-based protests against women's rights to choose abortion. For some years, the “40 Days of Prayer” were used in various ways by clinics but ignored by the anti-choice movement. However, recently when a clinic in northern California reprinted the prayers in a brochure, the movement took notice, and Turner’s prayers—and by extension, the concept of a religiously-based prochoice group—drew much attention from the religious right, including interviews by Fox News and Focus on the Family, and follow up stories in various anti-choice publications.
Below is an interview I conducted with Rev. Turner about her organization, the 40 Days of Prayer, and the reactions of opponents of abortion when news of her activities went viral.
What is Faith Aloud?
Faith Aloud is an interfaith nonprofit organization with a history of 30 years of pro-choice activism. Our mission is to eliminate the religious stigma of abortion and sexuality. We train clergy to talk to women about their pregnancy choices and we receive calls from women all over the country as well as internationally. We also provide spiritual resources for abortion clinics to use to help their religious patients.
Most women in the US identify as religious, and those seeking abortion are no different. Our resources, created by clergy of several faith groups, offer support to women during times of distress.
Why did you write the 40 Days of Prayer?
I wrote some prayers and offered them to abortion providers to use whenever and however they wanted to. We've since made a full poster of the prayers that is on the walls in many clinics across the country. We were angered by the swarms of protesters that regularly took siege of abortion clinics and would hurl hateful remarks at the women arriving. As a Christian minister, I was especially angered that most of these protesters who were so hateful and judgmental actually call themselves Christian. I wanted women to know that many Christians are compassionate and supportive, and to help them find strength in their religious faith instead of condemnation.
I also wanted to give spiritual support to the other people [affected] by the daily barrage of hate -- the clinic staff and escorts. Few people know what they go through every day because of their dedication to women. And few people understand that many of them-doctors, counselors, administrators-are deeply religious people themselves who have often felt rejected by their faith communities. This is wrong. I feel that I am a pastor to many of the abortion providers who use our services. Religious faith should give us strength and confidence, not guilt and shame. I have never understood why anyone would support a religion that shames and judges and ridicules its own members. That is abusive behavior and should not be tolerated in any setting.
Tell more about your mindset as you wrote the prayers.
I wrote all of the prayers in one day. I thought about women's reproductive lives, the difficulties of being female, the choices we make, the relationships we have, the various people who work with pregnant women, and I prayed for them all. Many websites are claiming that we're praying for more abortions, which is silly. They can read the prayers and see that isn't the case. Most of the prayers are really all about women and their reproductive lives. We pray for gender discrimination to cease. We pray for women who are abused. We pray for women who are infertile. We pray for women to have confidence. How can they be upset by this? Really I think the only objection to these prayers comes from a deep misogyny that refuses to acknowledge women as autonomous beings with their own spiritual lives.
How would you characterize the main reactions you have received since this flurry of publicity?
The media to date has been from anti-choice groups, so most of the people calling and writing to us are their constituents. They are quite hostile, usually rambling, callers are often screaming. They accuse us of pretending to be ministers or Christians. They accuse us of baby-murdering. Emails quote a lot of scripture and tell us we're going to burn in hell. We have had some new supporters find us through this, though. And we've begun a campaign called "Hate-into-Love" which allows our supporters to pledge donations for each hostile contact we receive.
Why do you think the 40 Days of Prayer has hit such a nerve with the Right, once they became aware of it?
They claim they think it's a mockery of the 40 days for Life campaign, but I don't think there is any mockery in it. The prayers are quite sincere. Apparently the religious right does not believe that anyone is allowed to pray except those who believe as they do. This is not a biblical idea; it is pure arrogance. The Christian scriptures say "Judge not, lest you be judged" and yet these people want to judge us as "fake" or "delusional" or even "possessed." One person who called us after the news broke asked "Are you planning to get groups of people to rally at abortion clinics to pray your prayers?" My answer was "The people inside the clinics are praying every day." Prayer does not belong to one group of people. But this seems to be the source of the outrage, that we dare to pray. It is apparently a very scary proposition to them that women might hear a compassionate religious voice and feel strengthened instead of weakened.
What have reactions to this campaign been in the pro-choice community?
A few pro-choice [organizations] have helped to pass along the information about our "Hate-into-Love" campaign and have re-posted the stories. We're getting pledges from around the country. We've been gaining a lot of new Facebook friends [who] learned about us through the negative media.
Do you think this community is more open now than in the past to a religious presence, such as that offered by Faith Aloud?
The independent abortion provider community has always been very welcoming of spirituality, seeing it as an important part of a woman's life and her decisions. But there is an element of the pro-choice community that is less supportive, seeing religion as the problem rather than a part of the solution, and really I can't blame them for feeling that way. They've been threatened and attacked and shamed by religious zealots. But, as I mentioned, most of the women in the United States call themselves religious or spiritual, and so we need to help them use their faith for strength during difficulty. It shouldn't be about we need, but what women need making difficult decisions.
In the several days that news of the “40 Days of Prayer” has gone viral, you have received much hate mail. Have you received anything from any anti-choice individual or group that suggests some common ground?
No. The hate mail tends to fall into these camps "You have no right to call yourself a Christian or pray" or "I'm praying for God's vengeance on you." We're getting some love mail, too, with people finding us for the first time and saying thank you for being a religious voice of compassion and reason.
Friday, April 6, 2012
For the past two months, the news, both local and national, has been full of stories of insults and discrimination toward women. There is a pattern developing that cannot be denied; the gains that women have made in their personal lives and careers are under threat. There are many men in positions of great power in the media and in politics who want to turn back the clocks on women's pay, women's autonomy, and women's healthcare. They show blatant disrespect for women.
Missouri law has required health insurers to cover birth control since 2001, but the Missouri House and Senate have voted to overturn that law by passing SB749. This bill allows employers to discriminate against women by refusing to provide insurance to cover contraceptives and sterilization.
When 60 year old Rush Limbaugh called 30 year old law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and demanded she post online videos of herself having sex, it wasn't personal. He didn't even know her, nor did his words have any relationship to her actual testimony. He was insulting every woman who uses or has used modern forms of contraception (99% of us). He equated the use of contraception with sexual addiction and prostitution.
Some have argued that he is just a shock jock entertainer not be taken seriously. But his tactic of making sexual insults against a woman because he disagrees with her policy on public health should be examined carefully. This barbaric rhetoric sinks into the public consciousness and does real damage to women and to our society. These very public messages work on women's psyches to produce shame and silence about their health care needs.
The reality is that the advent of the birth control pill has been exceptionally good for women. Researchers at the University of Virginia recently released a report (March 2012) showing that women who go on the pill between ages 18-21 have an 8% higher income by age 50. These are the exact ages that most unplanned pregnancies happen, so preventing those pregnancies, which often interrupt higher education, gives women a real advantage toward ultimate career and financial success. It is no accident that women began working outside the home in greater numbers in exactly the same decade that the birth control became available.
A career not only produces financial stability, but also generates personal autonomy and sense of accomplishment. How many of those reading this journal would be where they are without access to the pill? Perhaps in this recession this is exactly what some men fear-that women are becoming too talented, too great a presence in the marketplace.
The current backlash against women is falling under the creative new smokescreen of "religious liberty". We have heard the religious arguments against contraception for 50 years, but women, public health officials, and legislators generally favored common sense and personal choice over ideology from an earlier century. But in this election year, common sense seems a distant memory as religious zealots seek to control whether a woman can access affordable contraception, whether she has a choice in which contraception to use, and whether she has to disclose her prescriptions and medical conditions to her employer.
Some of these zealots argue that pregnancy is not a disease and therefore preventing pregnancy is not healthcare. But pregnancy does have real health implications, both simple and complicated. A pregnancy can be life-threatening, but even a routine pregnancy causes bodily changes that may call for medical remedies. Women younger than 21 and older than 35 face the possibilities of more medical complications due to pregnancy. Childbirth itself can be a difficult medical procedure, and a woman with a new baby has lower immunities due to lack of sleep and changes in her hormones. Women are healthier if they space their pregnancies in such a way that allows the body to regain its full strength between nursing one child and conceiving another. A study by the American Association for the Achievement of Science (February 2012) showed that taking hormonal birth control, even with all of its publicized side effects, is medically safer than pregnancy.
Some employers may be excited about the chance to reduce their insurance costs by refusing to cover contraception, but if so, they aren't thinking ahead. Contraception is far cheaper than maternity care. And it is far cheaper than child care and maternity leave. Contraception is good for business. It allows female employees to carefully plan their children in such a way that it does not disrupt their careers. It keeps them on the job longer between pregnancies so that they develop stronger job skills and make long-term contributions to the stability of their company.
Contraception is also good for the state and federal budgets. The Guttmacher Institute reports that the United States has the highest rate of unplanned pregnancy (49%) among the industrialized nations and that we spend over $11 billion dollars in government money on those pregnancies. How much higher will these numbers soar if contraception costs are not covered by insurance?
Limiting access to contraception and publicly shaming women who use contraception is, quite simply, bad policy. It's bad for the government, bad for business, and bad for women. We cannot be persuaded that the medical needs of a woman in any way restrict the religious freedom of her employer. Nor can we be persuaded that the religious preference of the employer should in any way interfere in the private medical affairs of the female employee.
We have come too far in our advancements toward equality to allow this backward motion.
-Rev. Rebecca Turner
Wednesday, April 4, 2012