The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health  and Ethics
 


 revisiting the world's sacred traditions


RH Reality Check,
November 12, 2008

An Interfaith Call to Action on Reproductive Health

By Rev. Dr. Carlton W. Veazey

A broad array of religious groups and faith communities have come together to urge President-elect Barack Obama to make reproductive health a priority in the first months of his administration. Decisions about whether or when to have children are among the most sacred and monumental that people consider in their life. It is important that they have access to the reproductive health care information and services they need for such decisions. For many families across the globe, access to reproductive health care is the difference between being able to fulfill dreams and struggling to survive.

In this country, more than 17 million women cannot afford reproductive health care services.

Internationally, each year, half a million women die and 10-15 million women suffer chronic disability from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

In this country, one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted infection and nearly 60,000 new HIV infections occurred in 2006.

We have a moral responsibility to heal our ailing communities. A new administration and the 111th Congress will be sworn in to office in January. We are hopeful that the New Year will shine a light on the morality and value of addressing these issues and that the administration makes them an immediate priority.

Our letter to the new President:

Dear President-elect Obama,

Our faith communities, comprising millions of Americans, unite in a shared moral commitment to preserve the reproductive health of our nation. Though traditionally cast as a woman's issue, we maintain that prioritizing reproductive health and justice is an integral part of achieving greater social justice for all. The ability to plan and care for one's family is central to addressing the myriad social, political and economic concerns we face. Accessing comprehensive health care services safely and legally is inextricably linked to the ability of our country's citizens and families to thrive. This is why we urge you to make these issues a priority in your administration.

Reproductive health is critical at every stage of development: from routine gynecological exams, to comprehensive and accurate sex education and disease prevention information, to access to the full range of contraceptive options, to obtaining nondirective counseling and proper obstetrical services during pregnancy.

Furthermore, access to reproductive health information and services builds a foundation for healthier families and communities, reduces maternal and infant mortality and improves the health of women and their families. It allows women to continue their education, thereby improving their economic status and the well-being of their families and their communities. Additionally, it is critical in preventing unintended pregnancies and in ensuring the blessing that every child is a wanted child.

The following three issues are among the social justice priorities of our faith communities, access to: comprehensive sex education, abortion services and contraceptive information and options.

Access to Comprehensive Sex Education

As faith communities, we are committed to sex education in our public schools that empowers and protects young people, honors diverse values, and promotes the highest ethical standards. Religious Americans overwhelmingly favor responsible sex education that is complete, age appropriate and includes accurate information about abstinence and contraception.

Federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are often based on incomplete information, fear, shame and exclusivity, denying basic civil rights to young people. They withhold information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease and frequently distort other health information. There is also a growing body of evidence that shows abstinence-only programs do not impact teens' decisions to abstain from sexual activity, while comprehensive programs can effectively do this.

In addition to compromising ethical and public health standards, many abstinence-only programs currently funded by the federal government and taught in public schools use messages that are couched in religious rhetoric. As faith-based organizations committed to the separation of religion and state, we believe it is critical that public health and medically accurate methodology - not restrictive views or ideologies - inform the sex education that young people receive in our country's public schools.

Therefore, we urge you to:

Ensure that, as they grow, young people in public schools receive comprehensive, medically accurate, scientifically sound sex education that includes the unbiased health information about abstinence and contraception necessary to help them make responsible and safe life decisions.

Ensure that young people from other countries are not barred from accessing the full range of information because of restrictive, ineffective, ideologically motivated policies that put youth in HIV ravaged nations at higher risk. Remove funding requirements for dangerously ineffective abstinence-only programs in US global HIV/AIDS policy.

Access to Abortion Services

As faith communities, we believe that each individual is capable of making complex moral decisions. Our faith traditions and American law entrust patients with autonomy in making health care decisions, free from government interference. We assert that in a diverse democracy each person has the liberty to draw upon his or her own faith for guidance, and not be subject to a single religion's views.

The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade affirmed a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy. However, since then, many anti-choice, ideologically-driven organizations, religious groups and elected and appointed officials have tried to restrict, if not eliminate, the ability to exercise this right, effectively codifying their own beliefs. This infringes upon the entire country's guarantee of religious freedom and personal liberty. Furthermore, these efforts endanger women's health and lives and intrude upon a woman's right to decide what is right for her.

Therefore, we urge you to improve access to abortion services:

Support the Freedom of Choice Act, which reaffirms a woman's right to choose to bear a child or terminate a pregnancy, and urge its passage in Congress.

Repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services. Low-income women and women of color are disproportionately affected by this restrictive law. These women are not abstract entities, but members of our faiths, who often depend on the government for their health care. Restrictions on local and federal government funds force them to risk their health by delaying or even foregoing reproductive health care. Striking funding restrictions will help eliminate this unjust denial of vital care and the resulting disparity in access to care.

Access to Contraceptive Information and Options

As faith communities, we believe access to affordable and comprehensive contraceptive information and services is an essential part of basic health care. Restrictions to contraceptive access lead to more unintended pregnancies and significantly contribute to the alarming rates of sexually transmitted infections and disease, posing a serious threat to our nation's public health.

Access to family planning faces ongoing attacks by individuals and organizations attempting to impose their own political and ideological views, instead of respecting women's and families' reproductive health and religious freedom. We believe in the autonomy of women as moral decision makers. All women should be able to choose whether, when, or if they have children.

Therefore, we urge you to:

Ensure contraceptive access for all women and men by increasing support and funding for Title X family planning clinics and for voluntary international family planning assistance. All individuals, regardless of age, income, religion, race, or geographic location need access to the full range of contraceptive options.

Protect and strengthen access to birth control, including emergency contraception. Implement safeguards so that no one religious practice or belief denies women the freedom to make personal decisions about their own health.

Restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), so that the most vulnerable women and families around the world have access to vital reproductive health services. In addition, for many women, family planning clinics serve as the entry point to access health care services. Fully coordinate and integrate family planning with HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs.

Repeal the Global Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy), which withholds much needed aid from family planning agencies that even mention abortion. Allowing international health clinics to provide comprehensive services would enhance the efficacy and efficiency of their work, saving the lives of women around the world.

We welcome the opportunity to work together to preserve the reproductive health of our women and girls and strengthen our nation's families and communities.

Sincerely,

American Friends Service Committee

Catholics for Choice

Christian Lesbians Out

Disciples for Choice

Disciples Justice Action Network

Hadassah

Jewish Women International

Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Lutheran Women's Caucus

National Council of Jewish Women

NA'AMAT USA

Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

United Church of Christ

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society

Union for Reform Judaism

Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

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