Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Noise Makers.

The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” – William James

I’ve been watching the news, much like we all have, with great intrigue of late. The Republican candidate for the office of President is being asked to provide copies of his tax refunds for a large number of fiscal years, and he has declined to offer any more than two years worth. He has stated staunchly that he will not release any more information on the topic, that the American people have all the information they need with regards to his financials, and that this is a matter of private information that need not be discussed further. I can’t help but laugh at this, especially when I consider that this candidate’s party has worked very hard to turn the personal matters of women across the country into a very public debate and yet, very few people are putting their foot down to say “Enough already – you don’t get to make decisions about our bodies any more – end of discussion!” This begs the question: why do Americans tolerate privacy when it comes to money but not to medicine? Why do Americans respect women so little that the privacy of a woman to make reproductive health choices with her doctor must also involve her senator and her senator’s priest? Why do Americans continue to allow the systematic shaming of 51% of the U.S. population?

I was once traveling on a plane from Orlando, Florida after a family vacation, where I found myself sitting next to a woman in her mid 40’s, who was just as chatty as I am. We found that we had plenty in common: she happened to be from Upstate New York, just like me, and she happened to be returning from the Virgin Islands because the beach is her favorite respite, just like me. I felt an instant connection to this woman. I felt she was a kind, compassionate, funny lady and I enjoyed her sense of humor, her stories, and indeed, her attitude in general. I felt safe talking with her about all sorts of things: my recent & tumultuous break up with a man I had felt I’d marry and start a family with, the miscarriage that occurred in the aftermath of that relationship’s demise, the challenges of being away from my family and closest friends during such a traumatic time. I shared intimate stories with this woman, whom I will call Annie, and I did so because my gut instinct told me that she was a safe person to talk with, to share with.

And yet, despite discussing the loss of a pregnancy, the ugliest of break ups, the intimate details of internet dating, and a plethora of other personal experiences, I had to think twice before I answered her seemingly harmless question: “So, what do you do for a living?”

At the time, I was a nurse in the recovery room of an abortion care facility. In addition to my duties as a nurse doing patient intake for procedures, medicating patients, caring for women during their procedures, and preparing women to go home after their procedure with the appropriate aftercare information, I had also begun training as a counselor at this facility. This role saw me talking with women about their choices and how they had come to the decision to terminate their pregnancy, being mindful to ensure that this was the woman’s choice, and not one as a result of coercion from her partner, her family, or any other force in her life. Every day that I came to work, I was forced to walk from my car to the front door of my job through a crowd of protesters, some of whom merely prayed quietly and offered me prayer cards, while others attempted to block my entrance into work while screaming and calling me hate filled names like “Baby Killer”. I knew firsthand how difficult it was to BE a nurse at an abortion care facility and so as a result, I also knew how difficult it was to TELL someone that I was a nurse at an abortion care facility. And so when Annie innocuously asked me what I did for a living, I hesitated with good reason. Here I was on a plane 30,000 feet in the air, and unsure of whether my seatmate would accept my answer with support or opposition. It was a familiar problem for me, because the fact is, it’s not easy to say you work in an abortion care facility and it’s even harder to say you’ve had an abortion in a culture that has turned a women’s intimate choices about her own personal healthcare into a national debate fit for all ears. But why is that?

1.37 million abortions happen in the United States every year, which is roughly 3, 700 abortions a day. 52% of those are performed for women under the age of 25. It is estimated that 43% of all women will have at least one abortion by the age of 45 and that 7 in 10 women of reproductive age are sexually active. 98% of women who have ever had sex report having used at least one form of birth control. 62% of women of reproductive age currently use contraception, which is double that of the 31% of women who don’t use contraception because of issues such as infertility; current pregnancy; post partum; sexually inactive; and those who are actively trying to become pregnant. This leaves 7% - that’s seven percent – of women of reproductive age at risk of unwanted pregnancies.** The numbers don’t lie, really – Women are having abortions. Women are using contraception. Women are having sex. And yet, I still worry about telling a relative stranger that for my job, I help women choose the appropriate birth control for their lifestyle, that I assist women in discussing the realities of their pregnancy & how they will move forward in managing either its continuance or termination, and that I hold women’s hands as they leave the recovery room of a facility safe in the knowledge that they have received quality, legal healthcare with dignity & respect. My voice is stifled because of fear, and its representative of what women who choose abortion must live with every day. And simply put, this is not fair and it must change.

As it turns out, my gut told me that it would be safe to share with Annie what my real job was. So instead of saying to Annie, “Oh, I’m a nurse in women’s health care”, I told her, “I am a nurse in the recovery room of an abortion care facility. I help women before and after their procedures, and I also do some counseling for the facility, which is the first step in obtaining an abortion where I live.” Annie’s face was frozen in a half smile, and for a brief moment I feared that I’d made the wrong choice. And then, a tear rolled down Annie’s cheek. And she shared a story with me that I will never forget and one that I will share with you now:

Annie had a 17 year old daughter who was graduating high school that year. She was excited to be attending a respected state university and looking forward to a career in teaching. Her daughter had a long term boyfriend and it was just after Christmas at the end of the past year that Annie’s daughter & boyfriend came to her to tell her that she was pregnant. Annie shared with me the very raw emotions of learning of her daughter’s unplanned pregnancy: the anger, the sadness, the fear. She asked her daughter what she wanted to do and her daughter stated tearfully & with eyes full of fear and angst that she had talked to a few facilities on the phone about her options and that she believed an abortion was the best decision to secure the best life & future for all concerned parties. Annie did not agree with abortion, but she wanted to support her daughter the best she could and despite the conflict it presented to Annie spiritually, she admitted that it was a relief of sorts that this choice was available to her daughter, whose life seemed ready to crumble into pieces in front of her. Annie prayed for several days about this personal dilemma, and ultimately felt that God would always respect her and her daughter and that through these conversation s of prayer she was able to quiet the fear that society would judge her daughter & family without knowing the monstrous impact a pregnancy would have on her daughter’s young life. So Annie took her daughter to the clinic where she spoke with counselors and had ultrasounds and ultimately solidified her decision to terminate her pregnancy. Annie was, in her words, overwhelmed with a “guilty sense of relief”. And then, like 3,699 other women ever day, Annie’s daughter had an abortion. And Annie told no one. Not her daughter’s father, not her best friend whom she’d known for 20+ years, not the coworker whose sister had also had an abortion and spoke openly about amongst their colleagues. Annie kept her daughter’s abortion deep inside her and uttered nothing about it to anyone. She felt shame building within her spirit and she longed to discuss the situation with someone – anyone, in fact. And then she met me. Annie told me that the minute I told her that I was a nurse in an abortion care facility she knew that God was sending her the affirmation she needed to move forward knowing she had done the right thing for her daughter. She knew in her heart that God was saying to her that she could share this story, how it affected her & her family, and not feel ashamed. She told me, through tears, that when I proudly shared the work I do as a nurse in helping women, she felt a strong connection to not just me and my professional experience, but to her daughter as well. That there were people unafraid to lift their voices and share their stories, gave Annie hope and affirmation that she had nothing to be ashamed of and furthermore that she hoped her daughter was as proud of herself as Annie was for making the choice that was best for *her* and no one else. Annie eventually wiped her tears and thanked me, and we parted ways at the end of our flight with a hug. I will never forget Annie and I know she will never forget me.

But why is this story so unique? Why does it take an isolated place miles upon miles in the air with a stranger to talk about abortion and who or how it has affected your life and the life of those you love, positively? Why do we continue to perpetuate this climate of silence, of shame against those who exercise their freedom of choice? 43% of women will have had an abortion by the time they turn 45 years old. And that’s 43% of women who are being bullied into speechlessness. How will YOU help to remind those 43% that their voices matter? How can we all remind woman that they should not be ashamed for taking spiritual & physical control of their bodies? How will we change the negative culture of shaming women for not only answering God’s call to pray but for listening to his answers and applying that personal interaction as they see fit in their lives? It has been said that oppression can only survive through silence. So if you ask me, it’s time to make some noise.

~ Joey Bellerdine

**Statistics courtesy of The Guttmacher Institute. (

Friday, June 22, 2012

Republicans Regulating Vaginas

If that isn’t a title to catch your attention, I don’t know what is!  This past week the word “vagina” certainly caught the headlines of major newspapers across the United States.  Michigan House Representative Lisa Brown was silenced for saying the word “vagina” in the House.  She was attempting to speak against a host of restrictive pieces of legislation that will make abortion in Michigan almost completely inaccessible.  Since then, a lot of progressive women and men have been speaking in support of Rep. Brown and the many others who are challenging the legislation and the supposed moral values that have led to its creation.

This morning I attended a press conference at the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis.  This Jewish synagogue has been at the forefront in witnessing to progressive moral values since it was founded under the leadership of Rabbi Susan Talve.  The press conference was hosted by State Rep. Stacey Newman (D) for the purposes of pressuring Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) to veto S.B.749, which attempts to supersede federal law and deny access to birth control and sterilization for women that work for an employer that has a “moral” objection to birth control.  The Governor has until July 14 to veto the bill or allow it to become law.
Thousands of us have been signing petitions to pressure the governor to veto this horrible bill, that allows an employer to decide whether the insurance provided to his/her employees will cover birth control.  This legislation will take what should be a private decision and makes it an employer’s prerogative.
I think it’s absolutely shameful that in the 21st century we still need to fight this battle.  Honestly, any church can proclaim whatever values they want.   I don’t care if a church says that birth control is a sin.  It’s their right.  That’s what freedom of conscience is about.  That’s what being in a democracy is about.  But no person should be able to force their religious values on another person.  That’s also what democracy is about.
Nothing has supported women’s equality more than access to birth control.  It has been one of the most important steps our society has taken to give women control over their lives.  It allows women to pursue higher education, career development, and to plan the spacing of children.  And, studies show that affordable access to birth control is the most effective way of decreasing the number of unplanned pregnancies and the number of abortions.   It seems pretty logical, doesn’t it?  But somehow, I don’t believe logic has anything to do with what the Republicans are doing now.
If this was about logic, this legislation would not exist.  The term “war on women” has become very prevalent in the news.  There have been many attempts to discredit this term from the Republican side.  But, given that the pursuit of their “moral values” is clearly irrational, then I think this is absolutely a war on women.  I think that what is being uncovered is the strong underbelly of sexism that never disappeared with the advent of the women’s movement.  It went underground, and is now reappearing, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  There are still strong pockets, mostly men and some women, who are deeply uncomfortable with women who are not under the control of men.  That’s it, pure and simple.  Somehow our equality, our ability to make decisions about our lives, our bodies, outside of the influence of men, is still deeply disturbing and it’s becoming more acceptable to express this discomfort in American culture and have it taken seriously.
One of the ways we take this culture back is by telling our stories.  How has birth control changed our lives?  How has it allowed us to make the decisions we needed to make?  It is time for millions of women to tell their stories.  And I’m gonna start by telling mine.  I know I’m a minister and that some of my parishioners are going to read this. I also know that some of my family may read this.  This may be a TMI (too much information) for some of you.  But really, all of us, every woman who wants for her daughters and grand daughters a world that will honor and respect them, needs to tell her story.   The culture that would say this is a TMI is the culture that silences us, that keeps our daughters and granddaughters from getting the information they deserve, it keeps the secrecy and the shame alive and leaves women vulnerable.   This is the same culture that is shaming Rep. Brown for saying “vagina” in the Michigan House of Representatives and that denied Rep. Stacey the right to speak on this legislation in the House.
So, I’m telling a bit of my story.  This is how we reclaim our place, a place that is being threatened by legislation like SB749.
Here goes.
I became sexually active at 16.   I was, admittedly, too young.  I should have waited, but hindsight is 20/20.   Fortunately, I had some sex education in the public school system between the ages of 10 and 16. It wasn’t the best education. It was age appropriate and very technical.  In high school, mostly it consisted of slide presentations of what happens to a body ravaged by different sexually transmitted diseases.  Our teachers emphasized the importance of using a condom to protect against these STDs.  I didn’t get any education about self-respect, how to say yes, how to say no, and how to know when it’s the right time.  But I did know that I sure didn’t want any of those diseases!  And I knew I did not want to become pregnant.  I wanted to go to university and be a career woman.  My plan was to finish my education and have my career going by the age of 28-30. I wanted two children in my 30s, while building my career.  I never planned to stop working.
When I made the decision to become sexually active, I may not have been emotionally mature enough, but I was intellectually smart enough to do my homework and make sure I had the form of birth control that I thought would work best for me.  The sex education I received may have been technical, but it gave me the information I needed.
At first I used condoms because I was afraid to go to our family doctor and get birth control pills.  I think that part of my reasoning included that I could tell myself that I wasn’t really fully sexually active.  I had condoms in case it happened.   Using the birth control pills meant that I expected it to happen and that I was a fully sexually active person.  I wasn’t ready to see myself that way.  I think deep down I was ashamed of being sexually active, and using condoms allowed me to see myself as only partly sexually active, and thus, more moral.
I am amazed now when I look back at myself in that time.  Self-perception is so important and we make all kinds of decisions not even aware of how our unconscious feelings and beliefs shape our lives
That lasted about two years, and I became more comfortable seeing myself as a sexually active person.  I wanted to be even more safe.  I decided I wanted to go on the birth control pill.  I made a visit to see my family doctor, the same doctor that cared for our whole family – my mother, father, three brothers and myself.  I was scared to see him.  I’d never had an internal exam and I didn’t know if he would feel obliged to tell my family.  I had the courage to ask the secretary when I called about confidentiality and she assured me that my doctor would not tell my parents unless I wanted him to.
I really did not want my parents to know, so I asked to borrow the car to go to school that day, saying I had some kind of meeting after school.  I really hoped that would work.  Unfortunately, my mother said she needed the car, and she would be happy to pick me up from school.  So now I was in a dilemma.  Was I going to lie to my mother or tell her the truth?  I decided to tell her.  I think she went as white as a sheet.  I was so very afraid of her judgment.  She was quiet for a while, and then she swallowed hard, and said to me, “Well, I raised you to be responsible and to be independent.  And you’re obviously being independent in a responsible way, so I will take you to the doctor.”
Bless my mother.  Honestly, I was relieved she knew.  I felt like I was carrying a big bad secret, and deep down, truth be told, there was in me the deep conditioning that “good girls” didn’t do this.  ”Good girls” didn’t have sex before marriage. Having her know, and tell me I was responsible, was a big deal.  I don’t think she knew what a big deal it was, but I have never forgotten it.
There is one thing I do regret, however, and that is that I did not tell my father.  I wish I had but I was too scared to.    I wish I had trusted him enough to share with him.  Not telling him was more about me than about him.  But, it was also my right to make that decision. Luckily there was no law that would force me, a minor, to get my father’s consent to get the birth control pill.
So I went on the pill.   I was on the pill from 17 to 21, four years.  In high school, I paid for my birth control out of pocket from money I earned during the summer.  I think it was about $20 a month.  (Prescription meds are much cheaper in Canada than the U.S.)  Then I went to university.  Both universities I attended offered birth control free to all their female students.  This was great because of course, as a student, I was on a limited income, and even the $20 a month would have been hard.  My parents were not in a position to help us pay for university so I was on my own.  I always worked full time in the summer, often had a part time job during the school year, got a whole series of paid internships, and took out student loans.  Getting my birth control for free was a god send.  It meant I had more money for groceries.
And I never got pregnant.  Not even one scare.   I could focus on my education, and I could have relatively stress free intimacy.
I think it’s also important to say that I had a lot of trouble with the birth control pill.  Some women have absolutely no problem with it.  I was not one of those women.  My hormones were all over the place.  I gained a lot of weight.  I got sick with a lot of feminine issues.  I finally spoke to my doctor about using a different form of birth control.  The doctor was resistant, with good reason.  Young women who are not on birth control have a much higher rate of unplanned pregnancies and abortions.  She did not want me to face that possibility. But in the end, we explored other ways for me to have safer sex.  I went off the birth control pill and decided to use condoms and a diaphragm with spermicide jelly.
Now I debated whether to include this because I am afraid that anti-choice forces will use this to bolster their case that birth control pills are dangerous for women.  But I’m not going to sugar coat the truth.  Birth control works for a lot of women with relatively few side effects.  It didn’t work so well in my body.  I also believe that it was my choice and my call to make decisions about my health.  My decision was between me and my doctor and no politician had any place in that process.  I had the right to try birth control pills and the right to make the decision to use another form of birth control.  There is nothing that needs to be legislated in that process.
I used the diaphragm and spermicide jelly for the next several years.  I had some scares, when I’d had none with the pill.  The diaphragm is a much more risky form of birth control.  But luckily I never got pregnant.  Then it became apparent that I was allergic to the jelly.  I went back to only condoms.  Then I decided to come out and by the age of 31 I was no longer engaged in intimate relationships with men.  At this time birth control was no longer necessary for me.  However, safer sex was necessary because you still have to protect yourself from STDs, and that became my priority.  Luckily I was in Toronto, a very cosmopolitan liberal city, and the women’s community had many resources to help me understand and practice safer sex, which I did until I entered into a monogamous relationship with my partner of 10 years, who I am now married to.
From the age of 16, I had doctors who listened to me, advised and counseled me, who treated me with respect and worked with me to ensure that I was fully informed and able to make decisions about my own reproductive health.  I had a university system that ensured I had access to birth control so that I could fully devote myself to my education.  I learned to trust myself and my ability to make those decisions.  I had a larger community and family that also supported me.   All of this became an interdependent web that helped me to make wise decisions about my reproductive health.
And in the meantime, I was able to explore, with relative safety, who I was as a sexual being.  This journey is already so scary and such a vulnerable thing.  Birth control gave me some safety so I could explore who I was, who I wanted to love and who I wanted to have love me back.  It allowed me the safety to learn boundaries, how to say yes and how to say no, all without the threat of having to put everything I wanted on the back burner because I got pregnant.  It saved me from the possibility of having to make the difficult decision of whether to carry a pregnancy to term or to end it.  I never had to make that heart wrenching decision, thank God.
I was valued as a woman and as a human being.  This is the most spiritual thing of all.  In my opinion, God appears in those places of respect and worth, whether in our own hearts or between people.  This is where God happens, and God happened in the whole series of institutional and personal support that I received as a young woman making decisions about my reproductive health.
This is what women are still asking for today.  This is what so many conservatives are trying to take away from us, the worth and dignity that is inherently ours, that is a god given beautiful thing.
Governor Nixon, veto the damn bill.  Every woman in Missouri needs you to do that.  I’m really sorry you’ve been put in this place because this issue should never be thrown in a politician’s lap.  It doesn’t belong there.   But, this is where we are, and where you are, so you’ve got a job to do.  I suggest you do it.  We are counting on you.
-Rev. Krista Taves

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Bible Says So

As a female in her thirties, I've been witness to the evolution of shaming and oppressing women in America, and indeed the world round, for years. I have also watched the act of shaming women become exponentially more toxic and vicious throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I have seen women blamed for their own rapes because the clothing they chose to wear was "too provocative." I have witnessed the assignment of blame to women who, fearing for the safety and security of themselves and their children, didn't leave the spouse or partner at whose hands they suffered brutal beatings and painful verbal attacks. I've read of women persecuted by their contemporaries for having children and then making the choice to return to the workplace instead of staying at home. 

Indeed, shaming women has become what some might call The Great American Pastime. In 2011, American women saw over 1,100 pieces of state legislation introduced that would have restricted the right to an abortion, and before the ball dropped to ring in the new year on January 1, 2012, 135 of them had been enacted. In addition to the staggering number of bills regarding abortion care that were introduced, in the last year women in at least seven states witnessed the defunding of Planned Parenthood affiliates, effectively removing access to valuable, life saving health care such as pap smears, breast exams, and STI testing.  Women in at least 12 states were faced with the passing, or attempt at passing, legislation that would require transvaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving abortion care, despite the stark absence of medical evidence suggesting that such procedures provide any improvement in the quality of care a woman receives before terminating a pregnancy. And perhaps the most egregious development, a national debate about mandated insurance coverage for contraception was spawned when conservatives, religious leaders, and even radio talk show hosts asserted that access to contraception was a matter of morality and not medical necessity, and further, that contraception use was the hallmark of sluts and whores. So yes, you might say that I've seen my fair share of the shaming of women – and my guess is that you have too.

Considering these developments, it probably shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that when Faith Aloud's 40 Days of Prayer—a campaign of prayers meant to lift up the voices, hearts, and spirits of all people through peaceful prayers acknowledging God's love for women, men, their families, and their choices—caught the attention of the anti-choice community, the shaming would begin once more. This time though, women were being shamed and judged for praying. Irrelevant, apparently, is the fact that prayer is what some clergy call a biblical promise from God. No matter that prayer is a fundamental principle in the Christian faith that scripture repeatedly touts as an imperative component to living in a way congruent with God's love and direction, and that which believers should turn to in times of great difficulty and in times of great joy. 

No, according to the anti-choice community, women who pray for safe abortion care, women who pray for the strength to make the best possible choices for themselves and their families, women who pray that violence against medical professionals committed to serving reproductive health needs will end, these prayerful women are apparently becoming a threat to Christian America by “praying for abortion.” And as has become the hallmark of the anti- choice community, they will resort to shaming women in any way possible in order to stop them from praying for their physical and emotional health. And so these anti-choice organizations and leaders have written blogs and filmed interviews alleging that the women who support 40 Days of Prayer are mocking the Christian faith. They call women and their supporters nasty and inflammatory names like "murderer" and accuse the groups, such as Faith Aloud, who actively support women and women's health, of being “propaganda machines” aiming to "trick" women into believing that abortion is an “easy” decision. In the most basic of interpretations, the anti-choice community has turned prayer into a weapon against those who mean to use it in the peaceful way that the Bible teaches us to.

In my experience studying and exploring both religion and theology from both an academic and personal perspective, I have learned that there are a great number of differences among the various sects of Christian faith, but that there are a great many similarities as well. That Christians share similar values across the board sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, and with it, the idea that there are important theological concepts that help people choose how they will personally worship and praise God. Some Christians, for instance, believe that we must grow humility in our hearts as a part of developing our faith in the Lord; some believe that we are called to make sacrifices to God and for God, by way of acts such as tithing philanthropic endeavors; many Christians accept the Bible and its teachings as God’s guide for making spiritually inspired moral decisions when faced with dilemma, specifically looking to scripture for words of comfort and direction; and indeed, many Christians believe that an important (if not imperative) part of cultivating spiritual faith and trust is the use of prayer to create a meaningful dialogue between oneself and God. 

It is the Bible’s emphasis on prayer and its powerful role and impact on the relationship between a worshiper and God throughout scripture passages that seems to leave little ambiguity, regardless of what sect of Christian faith one identifies with, about how important the act of praying truly is in the Christian faith. The Bible’s scriptures, in fact, go beyond just soliciting the faithful to pray but also offer directives on how to do so. Consider Corinthians 14:15, for instance, which instructs the faithful, “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” This scripture seems to leave no question about two things: First, that prayer can take on many forms, whether it is spoken, written, in our hearts and minds, or through song. Second, and perhaps most importantly, prayer is meant to be a dialogue with God that comes from the spirit and also our mind. God demands that we influence our spiritual dialogue with our intellectual one, clearly demonstrating that God trusts us to make moral decisions and impart our needs and desires to him through prayer. 

And so, I have to wonder what it is about a woman praying and following this biblical directive to pray with her spirit and mind that threatens the anti-choice community so much so that it will go to such great lengths to rain untruths and a hateful campaign of rhetoric down upon an organization like Faith Aloud and the women and men who support it. What is it about the prayers of a woman like myself that attracts such negative and aggressively hateful attention from a community that claims over and over to be living and carrying out the word of God, often using the Bible as evidence of their mission?

I am 34 years old and was raised a Roman Catholic by two loving and devoutly Catholic parents who emphasized compassion, charity, goodness, and faith my entire life. I received the sacraments of baptism, penance, Eucharist, and confirmation as a child and adolescent in accordance with my Catholic education; I once received the Anointing of the Sick along with penance and Eucharist the night before a surgery to remove a tumor on my spine that was believed to be filled with cancer and that was suspected to likely lead to my early death. I taught the CCD/Catechism, to children in my church during my middle and high school years. I was surrounded by faithful and spiritual family and friends my entire life and I was encouraged to pray, ask God for guidance, and extend my love to those around me the way Jesus did in the Bible. I did all of that and yet, I still struggle with my spiritual faith and question the presence of God almost daily. My battle over my spirituality intensified last year when I endured a terrible trauma that robbed me of my closest friend to an unexpected illness. 

Interestingly, however, in my darkest moments, I have turned to prayer and, at times, the church itself. I have found comfort in believing that there’s something more to all of this and beyond. I have found peace in entrusting my pain and anger to something greater than me. I have even enjoyed a calming energy in participating in mass. And, as we near the one year anniversary of my loss, I have found great joy and equanimity in the 40 Days of Prayer written and inspired by Rev Rebecca Turner and Faith Aloud. I find myself turning to prayer daily thanks to these devotions, and I feel a growing strength of spirit that has little to do with abortion or birth control and everything to do with being a proud woman looking for a solid foundation for my spiritual health in a time of great struggle. That I happen to also be a former abortion care nurse and that I happen to be pro-choice does not define me, the prayers shared by Faith Aloud, or my faith – it does, however, define those who seek to shame and disgrace me for using them. The definition of morality is a collection of principles offering distinction between good and bad behavior. Is it immoral to pray for the future of my family, or the safety of my countless health caregiver colleagues, or the strength of my friends faced with choosing what’s best for themselves and their families? No, simply stated, it is not. Not in my eyes and not in the eyes of my God.

In Matthew 5:43-44, we read, “You have heard that it was said, Love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I tell you: Love thy enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And so, in response to the hateful speech and negativity of anti-choice organizations and leaders who fear my prayers, my vigor, and my commitment to both God and reproductive healthcare rights, I say this: In addition to these 40 Days of Prayer devotions, I will pray for YOU. I will pray that you come to know the God I know, the God who embraces us all and invites our prayers even when we know not what we should pray for. I will pray that you find compassion in your heart for all women, and especially for the women in your own life that may have already, or may in the future, be faced with a painful decision about pregnancy. I will pray that you begin to use prayer as an expression of thanks or in solemn requests to God rather than a weapon to humiliate and disgrace those who don’t share your “values.” I will ask my contemporaries and colleagues to pray for you too. So, right after I pray for abortion to remain safe and legal, right after I pray for the safety and wellness of the nurses and doctors who legally provide abortion care, right after I pray for the women who terminate pregnancies they desperately want but can’t keep because the pregnancy is causing life threatening/ending issues….  After all my prayers for compassionate and loving acceptance of all people, I will pray for YOU. I will pray for you because even those who insist on twisting God’s word and intentions deserve our prayer and compassion.

The Bible says so.


Monday, April 16, 2012

From Hate to Love: Why "40 Days of Prayer" is Under Attack by the Christian Right

Below is a an interview with Reverend Rebecca Turner of Faith Aloud, conducted by Carole Joffe. Faith Aloud is a pro-choice religious organization which seeks to eliminate the stigma associated with abortion and sexuality, and to provide support to both women and providers.

“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

Backward Motion

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

Inbox debate

(The following blog is composed from an email exchange this morning between a relative and me. It has been edited/editorialized for readership.)

2:06 a.m. - I receive an email with an attached article from a very pro-life website. Article is about a baby who was "killed" by "Chinese government officials" after it had already been born. Article pushes for an American reaction against "after birth abortion." You read that correctly. Infanticide is now called "after birth abortion" by the pro-lifers. (Cue initial thoughts of "South Park" clips where a character's mother appeals to Bill Clinton to grant her an abortion of her 8-year-old son.)

8:43 a.m. - I respond and tell her that, actually, infanticide is not the same thing as an abortion, and that for once, we agree on something in that infanticide is wrong. Further explain that the photo from the article was either a sex-selective infanticide or a miscarriage (as are most pro-life pictures), and that "after birth abortion" is a political tactic to mislead and confuse. Apparently, mission accomplished.

8:53 a.m. - Response from relative - "However, infanticide is no different than after birth abortions." Duh. Isn't this what I just said?

8:57 a.m. - I further explain that "abortion" implies that birth has yet to occur. Neither side actually believes that killing birthed babies is okay. That's murder, that is wrong. "If birth has happened, abortion has not." - my words

(There. I thought the issue was resolved. Boy, was I wrong! Made the mistake of opening my inbox during class. Chaos ensues.)

11:07 a.m. - I receive an email of an article titled "Ethicists propose after-birth abortion." Immediate reaction - DUH! Infanticide is already illegal, why do we need to add more laws into the mix. Then I remembered...they renamed it to support the pro-life agenda.

11:13 a.m. - This is where I should have just stopped. I'll admit it. But this was personal, and I don't quit things. One of my personal downfalls...I explain to my beloved relative (not sarcasm) that if you stick lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. As in, if you call infanticide something else, it's not this "new" thing - it's still infanticide. Again, briefly mention that this is an insult to her intelligence that she's buying into this, yadda yadda. Moving on.

11:28 a.m. - Apparently NOT moving on. Message received - " Your president supports after birth abortions." No citations, no sources. Really?

(Can no longer keep my mouth shut. A few boring exchanges, typical propaganda said relative is fed through misleading sensationalist news and then...she asks me how pro choicers can support the killing of babies.)

11:46 a.m. - I respond to every claim she makes with the follow (of which I am VERY proud):

"Pro choice doesn't mean anti-life, which is a HUGE misconception from your side's point of view. I love babies! My boss loves babies! She has three kids of her own. Most prochoice leaders have children. So we are in no way anti-child, anti-life, whatever picture that's been painted for you.

We merely hold the view that no government or outside source has the capacity to tell us how many children we must have and when we should have them. That is OUR choice. Just like it is my choice to be on birth control pills for controlling endometriosis and possible future fertility. Is my mom in the wrong for choosing to have her tubes tied after having Molly? That's a form of birth control, and she made a choice to control the amount of children she wanted. I'm honestly surprised that more conservatives/Republicans aren't on board with this. It's about personal liberties and freedoms.

Once your "side" can see past the idea that "prochoice" encompasses more than just abortion, then we can agree on more things! It's super frustrating from our point of view when we go to Planned Parenthood to get annual exams (and mammograms, in my case) and get called "babykillers." That's not at all what it's about. Personal liberties and being able to make decisions without the government telling you what to do."

2:34 p.m. - I can't believe the word vomit I just spewed from my mouth. I just used a very, very Republican/conservative form of logic...and kind of liked it. And I meant every word I said. Why DO Republicans disagree with the pro-choice movement so often? We're pretty much aiming for the same thing here - we both want to make our own life decisions without any government oversight into our personal lives. The same argument was made for interracial marriages in the 60s and gay couples are making it today - if you don't want something, then don't get it. No one is forcing you to do what you don't want to, so why should it be the other way around?

Present - Still pretty disgusted with myself for using Republican logic, but I'll get over it. This is why I'm in law school, right?


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One more day

Eight months and one day ago, my dearest and closest friend, a dynamic and phenomenal man with a spirit and intellect unparalleled, died tragically and unexpectedly. I still have no idea how he died, why he died, and what I should now do without him. I wake up every morning and somehow drag myself out of bed, more often than not excusing myself from showers and meals, and pleading with the universe for that reprieve from the sadness that has a depth so severe I can't blink without tears falling from my eyes. Ryan Christopher Goskie, RN, BSN was an advocate - for women, for men, for children. Ryan faced evil daily and even in his death, was the object of vile hatred that resulted in a memorial service attended by friends, family, and police officers charged with keeping protestors at bay. Because Ryan defended a woman's right to choose every day by entering an abortion clinic and providing the best nursing care a woman could ever hope for, he was made a victim of this brutal assault of hate even after closing his eyes one final time. And so, in the last eight months and one day, I have watched the fight for women's reproductive health freedoms wondering how he might have reacted to this vicious assault on, what most reasonable people consider, the inherent right a woman has to choose how her health should be managed from a reproductive health standpoint. Would he have marched on the state house in Missouri when Representatives began supporting laws that would have eliminated funding to Planned Parenthood? Would he have written letters and made phone calls of protest to lawmakers insistent that mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds without medical basis were in a patient's best interest? What would Ryan have said to us when the Susan G Komen Foundation voted to discontinue funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood? How would he have celebrated the decision of that same organization to overturn their vote in favor of popular opinion and common decency? And what would Ryan have said when Sandra Fluke was denied the opportunity to testify to Congress about her experiences regarding birth control or the subsequent personal and egregious attacks Sandra has endured from politicians, conservative political pundits, and the King of Cowardice himself, Rush Limbaugh?

We can't know for sure what Ryan would have said because we were robbed of our precious time with him too soon. But as one of his closest confidantes and friends, I believe in my heart that Ryan would look upon all of this turmoil in the fight to keep choice and reproductive health rights both relevant and legal, and calmly advise us by saying, "One more day. One more day to make your voices heard. One more day to defend, one more day to fight, one more day to remind America that choice is here to stay and so are the people willing to stand up for it. One more day, Joey."

Ryan was famous for his witty one liners, his love of the sarcastic. But when it came to choice, Ryan didn't joke. He had been the victim of harsh, hateful words from his "Christian" opponents. He had been forced to end leases and move to new homes thanks to protesters' harassment miles away from the clinics in which he worked. Ryan had suffered a stabbing and near suffocation, believed by law enforcement to have been at the hands of a protestor so protective of "life" that he followed Ryan home, waited for him to walk his precious dog, and then attacked him in the dark driveway behind his apartment, leaving him to die when Ryan fought back and broke free of his attackers grip. So Ryan knew the hate that lives amongst us. Ryan knew the depths of this fight and perhaps more than any of us, Ryan knew the cost. And so I have to believe that "One more day" would be his advice. Which is to say, we have been given one more day to show our adversaries compassion, one more day to defend choice, one more day to remind women that they are not alone, that their voices can be heard, that their bodies are not the property of a government desperate to stifle their needs. We must not look at this mission with tired, hopeless eyes but instead with the courage and strength to believe that it can, in fact, be won. Men like Rush Limbaugh are feeding off our fear that we might lose. They can see our desperation and sense that even we don't know how much hope to have about the success we will have in defending these rights. Otherwise, men like Rush Limbaugh wouldn't have the guts to call hard working, faithful women like Sandra Fluke "sluts". Men like Rush know that if they keep kicking us down, we will be afraid to get back up. And that is what Ryan would have hated the most about the last eight months and one day, I think. Not that our rights were systematically being attacked. Not that women were being crucified for demanding equality. And certainly not that choice was being attacked once more. Ryan would have hated all of that, mind you, but what he would have hated the most was the assault on our *conviction* to always defend choice and our *conviction* to always defend women. Because the fact is, Ryan didn't go to his clinic every day, walking through a crowd of God fearing "Christians" who attacked his sexuality and family and values, simply to see women lose faith and give up. No. Ryan walked through that blanket of putrid hate every day because he believed that by standing next to women when they needed support the most he was defending not only their rights but their voice and faith too. Ryan knew what it might take others a lifetime to discover - giving up is not an option. We have to say it over and over, day in and day out. We have to demand of our elected leaders equality in legislation every day. We have to denounce infectious hatred from people who have radio and television platforms like Rush Limbaugh every single day. We must bear witness to the years of work done by those before us every single DAY. This is no time to give up or give in. This is no time to allow name calling and ignorance to diminish our resolve. Each day we read of a new law being voted on or another woman being called a whore for no reason cannot be a reason to back off our commitment or passion for what seems a never ending fight for what we know to be right. One more day.

One of the last conversations I had with Ryan was about his health, ironically. We discussed the options he had in dealing with a (non life threatening) health problem he was facing. We talked about how each choice would affect his work, his relationships, his quality of life. At the end of that conversation, I jokingly said to Ryan, "Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could have discussions like this, even if it were about abortion?" And Ryan laughed and said, "But they can, Joey. They just don't know it yet. Which is why you and I are going to tell them, every day, until we're blue in the face."

Ryan knew all along what it seems America is learning the hard way - we CAN have those conversations. We just can't forget to have them. We can't forget to lift our voices. We can't forget to demand equality. We can't, simply put, give up on choice. We have to have the conversation every single day. We have to insist that people listen. We have to remind this country that attacking our liberties will not defeat or silence us. Because choice is more than abortion or birth control or mammograms. Choice is a human right to do what's best and the responsibility to never lose faith that our voices matter.

One more day.


What legacy are we promoting?

As a child I visited the Missouri capitol with my school classes. I visited many more times with my parents. As a parent I proudly took my own children to Jefferson City to help them understand our process of government. As a minister I have taken youth groups and concerned citizens to visit the capitol and to meet with our elected leaders. On every visit, I walked the hallowed hallways, admired the murals of Thomas Hart Benton, and studied the history of Missouri in the museum. I have always felt a spirit of reverence for our democratic process and for all of the people who walked those halls before me.

Now, Missouri House Speaker Rep. Steven Tilley has commissioned a sculptor to create a bust of Rush Limbaugh to install in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the State House in Jefferson City. Among the likenesses of Mark Twain, Stan Musial, Dred Scott, and Sacajawea, Missouri children will now learn about the hatred and bigotry promoted by Limbaugh, thanks to Speaker Tilley.

My prayer is that the great state of Missouri should promote a legacy of kindness and humanitarianism, which should be reflected in the Hall of Famous Missourians. By adding Limbaugh's bust to our Hall, we are acknowledging a history of hate. As Missourians, Midwesterners, and Americans, this is a public shame. We want our children to know of the great advances of Edwin Hubble, the journalistic achievements of Walter Cronkite, and the historic implications of Dred Scott and his famous lawsuits. These Missourians are famous for making our world a better place. Of every single person in the Hall of Famous Missourians, it can be said that they set an example of excellence. But Rush Limbaugh shows no excellence; his infamy is for vitriolic insults and drug scandals.

This is not the story I want to share with my grandchildren. It is a scar upon all our people that can only bring us ridicule.

We need to stand united against the Speaker's attempt to memorialize a dark, embarrassing piece of Missouri's history. Rush Limbaugh does not belong in the Hall of Famous Missourians. Our children deserve better. Please, let us promote a proud Missouri legacy of love, not a history of hate.

-The Reverend Rebecca Turner