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International Family Planning Saves Lives. So Why Is the GOP Cutting It?

7:57 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Rep. Nita Lowey for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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Cross-posted with permission from Impact, a magazine produced by Population Services International.

Few examples of U.S. foreign assistance provide benefits as tangible, cost-effective, life-saving and critical for both the United States and aid recipients as do international family planning and reproductive health services. Women and families across the developing world are healthier and stronger – and societies are more stable – as a result of access to basic health services.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, for every $10 million invested in international family planning and reproductive health:

➤ 610,000 women and couples receive contraceptive services and supplies;

➤ 190,000 fewer unintended pregnancies occur;

➤ 83,000 abortions are avoided;

➤ 500 maternal deaths are averted; and

➤ 2,300 fewer children lose their mothers.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, studies indicate that meeting the unmet need for family planning could reduce maternal deaths by approximately 35 percent, reduce abortion in developing countries by 70 percent and reduce infant mortality by 10 to 20 percent. Read the rest of this entry →

I Am the Population Problem

9:17 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lisa Hymas for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check and with Laurie Mazur as guest editor, to examine the causes and consequences of population and environmental change from various perspectives and the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, Lisa Hymas explains how for population and personal reasons she has decided not to have kids. All of the articles in this series can be found here.

Both local and broad scale environmental problems often are linked to population growth, which in turn tends to get blamed on other people: folks in Africa and Asia who have “more kids than they can feed,” immigrants in our own country with their “excessively large families,” even single mothers in the “inner city.”

But actually the population problem is all about me: white, middle-class, American me.

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Steer that blame right over here. Read the rest of this entry →

War, Death and Mamas

7:06 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lisa Russ for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This commentary is part of a Mama’s Day series by Strong Families, published in partnership with RH Reality Check in our Mother’s Day 2011 series.  Follow Strong Families on Facebook and Twitter.

I just walked by the USA Today front-page headline about Osama bin Laden’s death: Huge Boost for America. This is probably the last big media event my son Zach will miss. He is almost six years old, reading cereal boxes, street signs and simple books. With luck and off-switch on the NPR, he’s missed it entirely. Like most six-year-olds, little bits of information about the world leave him asking, “Why? And why not??” This was one conversation I didn’t want to have: “why are people celebrating the fact that this man is dead?”

Six year olds love right and wrong, and clear winners and losers.  We live in Oakland, and when Zach got wind of Johannes Mehserle’s verdict in the trial for the killing of Oscar Grant, that led to a whole string of questions: “Why was he afraid of Oscar Grant? Why would he pull the trigger? Do you think it was an accident?  Why would he lie?”

I heard President Obama’s press conference, and all through his confident words and measured celebration, I was thinking about Barack Obama the dad.  While politically the President hasn’t been all I had hoped (to say it mildly) I have never lost my connection with Obama the candidate, the senator, the regular guy who is the first president I know of who is a hands-on dad.

You probably know like I do that he eats dinner with family most nights, and makes it to all of his kids school conferences: parenting stats that put him well ahead of our family and most people that I know.  And I believe he is engaged with his daughters as growing individuals who are learning at a young age how to navigate their strange and complex world.

I wish I could have been at the table to hear how he answered his daughters’ “Why?”

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Control and Coercion: The Threats to Abortion Rights in Mexico

6:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marcy Bloom for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Sometimes the struggle for the reproductive justice and the dignity and freedom of women and girls takes on especially compelling and tragic dimensions. This is one of them.

Recently, the heart-rending case of a 10-year-old girl who became pregnant as a result of rape by her stepfather in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula (also home to the popular resort of Cancun) was made public by the media. According to GIRE-Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida, whose National Lawyers’ Network for the Defense of Reproductive Choice contacted the girl and her mother, it emerged that they had apparently received biased information from authorities about their rights and access to abortion.

Abortion is highly restricted in all of Mexico (except for Mexico City), but it is supposed to be available in cases of certain situations such as rape. However, it is very common for state health and legal officials to blatantly ignore the law, lie to women, and deny women and girls their rights. This latest shocking but tragically frequent outcome in Quintana Roo has brought to public attention the outrageous incidents of sexual violence that shape the lives of young girls in that state: in fact, 881 girls became pregnant as a result of rape in that state alone in 2009.

These are not isolated incidents. As it stands now, this girl and her mother have decided to continue the pregnancy, even after receiving objective information from GIRE, and the case has become a symbol of the violent context and denial of women’s and girls’ rights that exist in Quintana Roo and throughout Mexico. The girl’s stepfather has been arrested, the child is in the custody of child protective services, and she is now close to 19 weeks pregnant (her pregnancy was not discovered and diagnosed until a month ago).

In a report from Fox News, which refers to the girl as now being 11 years old, anti-choice activists claim that women’s groups have shown up at the girls’ home with plane tickets to take her out of the state in attempts to pressure her to have an abortion. This is, of course, a typical and standard anti-choice tactic; an attempt to stigmatize the choice of abortion and to discredit and vilify pro-choice groups whose only goal and concerns are to advocate for the girl (and her mother) to truly make her own decision with accurate, non-biased, and non-judgmental information. María Luisa Sánchez Fuentes, executive director of GIRE, strongly countered that outrageous claim and stated that it appears that officials did not inform the child and her mother of her right to an abortion. “We don’t know (exactly) what is happening, and the institution that is supposed to provide care and support for these minors hasn’t been transparent. We’re really asking for accountability….(We) have just wanted to inform them of their choices….no organization advocating for women and girls would ever force anyone to have an abortion against her will.”

Ms. Sánchez Fuentes indicated that the family was very poor, was being taken advantage of by the state government, and was very likely too scared to make a decision other than the one proposed by the government: to have the baby. In addition, the girl is small for her age and forcing her to give birth puts her life in danger. She will need constant medical attention and, ultimately, a Cesarean section. Conservative forces further claim that abortion-rights activists have tried to coerce and manipulate the girl and have turned her into the face of their international campaign to legalize abortion. This would be laughable if it was not so gut-wrenching; after all, who is manipulating and coercing who to do what? Anti-choice groups indicate that “abortion was never an option and the girl and her mother never thought about it.” Perhaps that is because they were never truthfully informed of it?

They state that the child has recently seen an ultrasound image of a female fetus and has happily named her baby Alejandra. She wishes that name was her own, is “enthusiastic” and “very much into motherhood.” Putting aside for a moment the obvious question of how such a young child and rape victim can truly comprehend the gravity of, and be “into,” motherhood (if indeed this is not standard anti-choice propaganda and rhetoric), a core issue is the reality of abortion rights and access to accurate and non-judgmental information and safe abortion care in Mexico.

Mexican women and girls risk their lives and health to obtain abortions and there are at least 600,000 to one million illegal abortions annually in the country. At least 1,500 women die of medical complications following abortion every year and there are estimates of at least 50,000-100,000 post-abortion complications that are treated in health facilities every year. Abortion is the third to fourth highest cause of maternal mortality in Mexico. And even under the very limited circumstances (such as rape, fetal deformity, and danger to the woman’s life) where abortion has been theoretically legal throughout the country, there are numerous personal, cultural, and religious biases, as well as outright obstruction and a lack of referral mechanisms in the health and legal sectors, that far too often conspire to deny women their legal right to abortion. This is a well-documented country-wide pattern.

A rape occurs in Mexico every four minutes and these women and girls are denied their right to abortion as well, even though rape is one of alleged exceptions. Paulina Rámirez is one of these women. In 1999, at the age of 13, she was raped in her home. When she discovered that she was pregnant as result of this horrific trauma, she and her mother petitioned the government of her state (Baja California) for an abortion. However, she was manipulated, pressured, and deceived by anti-choice activists to change her mind and, in fact, the attorney general of her state actually took her to a priest for so-called counseling. His version of counseling consisted of attempting to intimidate Paulina and her mother with declarations of abortion as a mortal sin. In addition, the director of the hospital where the abortion was supposed to be performed showed the teen-ager and her mother photos of aborted fetuses and discussed death and infertility as common outcomes of legal abortion (apparently this medical “professional’s” personal version of informed consent). With this relentless campaign of intimidation, threats and lies, the frightened Paulina broke down and decided that she had no choice but to continue the pregnancy. When her son was born, she petitioned the local Mexican courts for redress, with little success. But in 2006, four years after a case had been filed by GIRE, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and other advocacy groups on her behalf (Paulina Rámirez v.Mexico) in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Paulina was granted reparations. This was a tremendous victory for the women of Mexico, as it was the first time that a Latin American government acknowledged that access to legal abortion is a human right and the Mexican government was also now required to issue guidelines to its 31 states and ensure that this right was no longer violated. Mexico appeared to be continuing on the path to expand the right to safe and legal abortion when, on April 24, 2007, another incredible victory for women’s lives occurred when abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy was decriminalized in Mexico City (the nation’s liberal capital). And on August 28th, 2008, yet another hard-fought victory took place when the Mexican Supreme Court voted 8 to 3 to constitutionally uphold the right to abortion for all of the women of Mexico. Mexico then became the biggest country in Latin America to have such a liberal abortion law, based on reproductive rights as human rights, safe and voluntary motherhood, the right to safe abortion care, and reproductive justice. It was an incredible and hopeful time for the very real possibility of the expansion of abortion rights to continue throughout the country.

But a strong backlash to these significant changes for women and girls began quickly and has been relentless. While Mexico City’s hospitals have performed close to 40,000 legal abortions since abortion was decriminalized, demonstrating the compelling need for this important right and safe women’s health service, more than 50 women in outlying states have been jailed for obtaining an abortion. In the coastal state of Veracruz, at least five women are serving 12-to-15 year sentences for aborting a pregnancy after having been found guilty of homicide. The November 2009 changes to this state’s constitution include a clause that women who illegally obtain abortions can avoid jail time by accepting medical and psychological treatment. This change will “defend the right to life and protect women.” (Note from this author: really? how?) Reacting to this outrageous law, a leader of the liberal Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Margarita Guillaumín said : “Now women who feel driven to abort are ill, crazy, unhinged, perturbed-and they are going to rehabilitate them? Hallelujah!”

And in yet another especially odd and oppressive law in the state of Jalisco, a minimum of four to 12 month sentences are imposed on women for having an abortion if they meet four conditions: they have a “bad reputation,” (note from this writer: who gets to judge that?), sought an abortion as result of an “illegitimate union,” attempted to hide the pregnancy, and had the abortion within the first trimester. If one of these requirements is not fulfilled, then the sentence is doubled. If two are not met, it is tripled. Did I say confusing, punitive, shocking, and really strange?

Already, 17 states have altered their constitutions to declare that life begins at conception, effectively making abortion a crime in those states where it was already prohibited, highly restricted, and typically impossible to obtain. The conservative National Action Party (PAN) has close ties to the powerful and influential Catholic Church and, not surprisingly, the anti-abortion laws it has proposed in these states is remarkably similar to the beliefs and words of the Mexican clergy and the Catholic hierarchy.

In fact, after Mexico City’s momentous 2007 decriminalization of abortion, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to Mexican bishops, encouraging them to vociferously oppose the law. Church leaders in Mexico soon followed by threatening to excommunicate any politician who supported the new law. “It’s not revenge, it’s just what happens in the case of serious sins,” said the archbishop of Acapulco. So while celibate men whose Church is its own ethical crisis decide the fate of women’s health and bodies, the influential participation of the Church is both overt and covert, as Mexico has a Catholic majority but is constitutionally a secular state. Working behind political parties and other conservative organizations, there is no doubt that the Church’s influence in the health, lives, and destinies of women remains powerful and destructive, even as it is overstepping constitutional boundaries.

This was recently also a common concern in the United States, when the U.S. National Council of Catholic Bishops raised its voice in its absolute desire to exclude abortion coverage from any health care reform package. These oppressive legislative restrictions in Mexico have created severe repercussions for women and have pushed many women to take extraordinary measures. It is well known that women will do just about anything to obtain abortions and so the women of Mexico are traveling from across the country to public hospitals in the capital, to private clinics in the U.S., to back-alley abortions, and/or or to self-abort with the pharmaceutical misoprostol and other techniques.

As Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider with four offices in Texas which serve large numbers of Mexican women who are able to cross the border, stated: “The legality of abortion changes the kind of abortion a woman will have, but not the number of women who will have abortions.”

Indeed, a 2009 report from the Guttmacher Institute clearly demonstrates that despite abortion being essentially illegal in virtually all of Mexico, abortion is 40 percent more prevalent in that country than in the United States. Dr. Fatima Juarez, the study’s author, noted: “These findings confirm research from other parts of the world: that making abortion illegal does not significantly decrease its frequency, it just makes it unsafe and puts women’s lives at risk.”

Of course. This, too, is a universal and documented pattern. Women are, yet again, treated as expendable, disposable, and requiring control and punishment. When this story first broke in the U.S., I received a note from a physician I know. Protecting his/her identity with this information, the note read: “These cases such as the one of the ten year old from Quintana Roo touch a place very deep in my heart. It seems so amazing that some people impose their beliefs on an innocent child. ….in a way that will forever affect her. Does anyone truly believe that there is any positive end to her being forced to continue the pregnancy?”

Apparently and tragically, many do….and in a remarkable gesture of solidarity, this skilled abortion provider also offered to pay for the child’s and her mother’s flight to the U.S., to cover all costs of food, lodging, and other needs, and do her abortion himself at no charge. Although this is not meant to be, such acts of compassion and concern give me hope for the future even as women’s lives and abortion rights in Mexico continue to be under severe attack. In the meantime, the pregnant young rape victim, still in state custody, and allegedly “excited” with her growing abdomen carrying baby Alejandra, is receiving constant attention and medical care. One of her medical concerns has been malnutrition, and, according to Fox News (April 23, 2010) “the focus has been on “providing the girl with lots of vegetables, vitamins, and folic acid.”

If only this child had been able to receive all of the loving attention, healthy food, educational opportunities, and medical care her growing mind and body needed well before she became pregnant. If only the state deemed her as worthy and significant even without a pregnancy growing in her body. I wish that she was regarded as having value as a young child even without a fetus. Do I wish for too much? I don’t think so.

Helping “Invisible” Mothers and Their Families

6:52 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Malika Saada Saar for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

There are now more mothers behind bars than at any other point in US history. But these mothers are invisible to most of us. They exist mostly as caricatures of the ultimate bad mother. They are viewed as the mothers who violated the basic maternal commitment to care for their children and instead engaged in wrongful criminal activities. But, in truth, mothers’ pathways to incarceration are complex, and most often rooted in issues of sexual and physical violence.  Most mothers behind bars were first victims of violence. The shared narrative arc of mothers behind bars is that of repeated experiences of brutal sexual and physical victimization.

Most of these incarcerated mothers have been convicted of a non-violent crime, and most are entering prison for the first time. These heightened rates of incarceration have wreaked havoc on family stability and child well-being as most mothers behind bars were the primary caretakers of their minor children prior to incarceration. Maternal incarceration wrongly leaves children behind, without recognition of children’s fundamental need for their mothers. Unfortunately, incarcerated women and their children are subject to federal and state correctional policies that fail to honor family bonds or recognize the distinct needs of pregnant and parenting women behind bars.

 

Sentencing alternatives, however, allow mothers with minor children to be sentenced to community-based facilities. And what is especially needed is the option of alternative sentences to family-based treatment programs. These are programs that permit mothers and their children to live together while the entire family receives therapeutic treatment to recover from addiction. More than sixty percent of mothers achieve sobriety at the end of the treatment process, and they succeed at stabilizing their families.

It is also more cost-effective to support family treatment than to relegate a mother to the criminal justice system and her children to foster care. When family treatment costs are compared to the costs of incarcerating a substance-abusing mother and placing her children in foster-care, the savings to the state and nation are significant.

For example:

  • Family treatment costs average between $14,000 to $25,000 per family per year depending on the state (for example, in Utah it costs about $14,000 and in New York treatment is approximately 25,000).
  • The average cost of one child in the foster care system is $37,000 per year.
  • The average cost of state and federal incarceration of a mother is $30,000 per year.
  • The Department of Justice (2002) concluded that lifetime costs of caring for drug exposed children range from $750,000 to $1.4 million per child.

 

Alternative sentencing to family-based treatment programs promotes best evidence-based outcomes and cost-effective approaches for mothers behind bars–and honors the sacred ties between these mothers and their children.

Toxic Chemicals: Neglected Threats to Health and Reproduction

7:27 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jennifer Rogers for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

America’s bicentennial year, 1976, was one of phenomenal events and inventions: Apple Inc was founded; West Point began to admit women; my husband was born; and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our primary chemical safety law, was enacted. In the ensuing 34 years, much has changed. The boxy desktop computer bears almost no resemblance to the recently launched iPad; women are serving valiantly in both Iraq and Afghanistan; and my husband has gone from a pudgy baby to a gray-haired professor.
Unfortunately, despite the introduction of thousands of new chemicals into the products we use every day, TSCA has undergone no revisions.  Scientists, health care providers, reproductive and environmental health advocates agree: TSCA has not kept up with the times.

When TSCA was passed in 1976, it was considered a huge step forward in the government’s ability to regulate toxic chemicals. To some degree, however, TSCA was already outdated before it was signed into law. Many dangerous chemicals were “grandfathered in” under the new law and remain in use today. Many new chemicals remain unregulated because the legislation was limited in scope.

As a result, one of the primary deficiencies of TSCA is that the chemicals we encounter in our daily lives—in our water and baby bottles, food containers, children’s toys, household cleaners, and personal care products—are not tested for safety and these chemicals are harming the reproductive health and fertility of women, men and children. Lower-income and communities of color are disproportionately and adversely affected by chemicals in consumer products whether through workplace exposure, specific marketing of niche products, or through products sold in and to their communities. For example, dollar stores, typically located in lower-income communities, are often the last stop for consumer products that can not or will not be sold in other stores. These products, including house wares, toys, jewelry, and food and drink containers, often have been recalled or discontinued. However, these products end up in dollar stores with little regulation or oversight. Likewise, environmental and reproductive justice organizations have long been concerned with the toxic chemicals found in skin lighteners and hair relaxers, products marketed specifically to women of color.

Pregnant women and children are another group among the most vulnerable to toxic chemicals.  We know that the short- and long-term effects of early exposure to even low levels of toxic chemicals have been linked to a host of health problems including childhood cancer, early puberty, reduced fertility, and learning and developmental disabilities, including autism and ADHD.  Phthalates, for example, a common product found in vinyl, cosmetics, fragrance, and medical devices, has been linked to early puberty, infertility and endometriosis. Although some phthalates have been banned from children’s products, they remain poorly regulated under TSCA. 

Toxic chemicals can accumulate or build up in our bodies, negatively impacting our health and our future pregnancies long after exposure. Hormone disruptors (also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals) are one class of chemicals of particular concern because they alter the essential hormone balance required for overall health including the function and regulation of our reproductive health system. Bisphenol A (or BPA) is a widely known hormone disruptor commonly used in plastics products such as water and baby bottles as well as in the lining of canned food, beverages, and infant formula. In 2008, BPA became a household word when news emerged that the popular bottle maker, Nalgene, decided to stop using plastic made with BPA due to growing concern about the negative health impacts of this chemical.  

Experience has shown that TSCA does not provide EPA with the regulatory mechanisms necessary to protect public health. The decision by Nalgene, for example, was made voluntarily due to consumer and media pressure. The federal government has not issued any regulations regarding BPA. In addition to phthalates and BPA, there are currently more than 80,000 different chemicals produced and used in the US. In 34 years, EPA has been able to require testing on just 200 of these chemicals and only 5 have been restricted. In fact, EPA tried to use TSCA to restrict asbestos 18 years ago and failed; they haven’t tried since. And why would they? Despite spending tens of millions of dollars and amassing thousands of pages of evidence, the EPA was unable to prove that asbestos presented an “unreasonable risk.” In other words, TSCA’s burden of proof is so high that under this legislation not even the worst of the worst chemicals, like asbestos, can be taken off the market.

Even as I write this, I begin to feel nervous, angry, and overwhelmed. How can this be true? For years, I’ve used products that may have caused me and my family harm. I have come to realize that as much as anyone can try to do research and keep up with the science, we can’t all be PhDs in chemistry. And we can’t shop our way out of the problem. I shouldn’t have to figure out what’s safe and what’s not.  This is why we have government. We need a new, modern law that protects us all. Having just witnessed passage of historic healthcare legislation now is the time for Congress, especially the Democratic Party, to get serious about issues that are adversely affecting reproductive health, family health, and the general health of lower-income populations.

I believe the reproductive health movement must be a key player in achieving chemical policy reform.  Our movement has a legitimate, unique, and necessary role to play in educating the American public about the dangers of toxic chemicals and in mobilizing for policy change. Not only do we have considerable resources and infrastructure to contribute to these efforts, but according to recent opinion research, three of the four most effective messages in support of chemical policy reform involve reproductive health concerns.

And now is the opportune time for reproductive health and justice organizations to get involved. The impact of toxic chemicals on human health has recently captured the imaginations of the media, public, and policymakers. In fact, 12 states and the District of Columbia have already introduced legislation to ban BPA. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has written on the links between toxic chemicals and diseases such as cancer and autism.

Perhaps most notably, champions of environmental health in the US Senate currently stand poised to introduce legislation to reform TSCA. Sponsored by Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would empower the EPA to require testing of chemicals and to regulate chemicals we know harm health. It should come to no surprise that our main opposition for reform is the chemical industry. However, the leading chemical industry association, the American Chemistry Council, finally endorsed reform of TSCA in 2009, reversing its long-standing opposition. But reforming TSCA is not about an updated marketing ploy—instead, we need to ensure this legislation includes a few key principles:

  • Basic Safety Information for All Chemicals: All chemicals should have basic health and safety information as a condition for entering or remaining on the market — something other laws already require for drugs and pesticides.  
  • Expedited Action on the Most Dangerous Chemicals: Ensurethat the EPA moves quickly to reduce the impact of those chemicals already known to be dangerous.
  • Real-World Analysis Using the Best Science: Currently, chemicals are assessed (when assessed at all) as if a person is exposed to individual chemicals in isolation.  Instead, we need to follow the National Academies of Sciences recommendations that cumulative exposure to chemicals, such as they are experienced in the real world, should be considered when the EPA reviews chemicals for safety. 

 

And while toxic chemical reform many not be as sexy as the newest gadget from Apple or as visually symbolic as women at West Point, the impact these chemicals are having on our nations collective reproductive health is dangerous and pervasive. If we want to give birth to and raise the next generation of innovative thinkers or brave service members, we need to start at the beginning: the health of their mothers. Thousand of people have added their voices to this growing movement– will you?

Naivete and Best Intentions or Trafficking in Children For Religious Purposes?

6:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The term "trafficking in children" conjures up the worst of all possible scenarios…bad people taking children away from their families for nefarious purposes, such as the labor or sex trade.

But can children be trafficked for religious purposes by deeply misguided people who think they are doing "good?"

According to the United Nations, human trafficking is defined as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation".

As I hear more about the story of the group of Baptist church members from two congregations in Idaho that attempted to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic without papers and absent any legal process, it strikes me that in fact they were trafficking these children for religious purposes.

The first reports on the group suggested that the children were orphans and that the American Baptist group was "just trying to help." According to the Washington Post:

One of the detained Baptists, Laura Silsby, told the Associated Press that the group had not obtained the proper Haitian documents to take the children. But she explained that the group was "just trying to do the right thing" to help.

But the road to hell is, as they say, paved with good intentions, and this response struck me, from the beginning, as deeply naive and even dangerous. Even if the children were orphaned and even if the country was devastated by an earthquake, you do not–you can not–just parachute in from Idaho and take children out of their country with no process, no permission, no legal review, no effort to find or communicate with any living relatives just because you think it is the right thing to do.

It turns out, however, that most if not all of the children were not orphans and in fact have relatives–parents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents–alive in Haiti. Some had been separated from their families in the aftermath of the earthquake, some may have lost one or both parents but still had extended family. Some had been brought by their own parents to orphanages where, the parents apparently hoped, they would get priority for scarce food supplies. In the aftermath of such a devastating national disaster, people do what they can to survive until they can regain a stable footing. Placing children in orphanages is one such strategy.

But the Baptist group went one further, because they were actually in direct contact with the parents of some of the children.

Several parents of the children in Callebas, a quake-wracked Haitian village near the capital, told The Associated Press Wednesday they had handed over their children willingly because they were unable to feed or clothe their children and the American missionaries promised to give them a better life.

What possessed the American Baptist group to try take them away from parents likely still in shock, and out of the country so swiftly, without permission from authorities? Religious beliefs, it seems, drove this group to feel it was above the law, but also to take these children for the purpose of converting the children to their own form of Christianity.

About half of all Haitians identify as Roman Catholic, about 15 percent as Baptist, 8 percent Pentecostal and 3 percent Adventist, with the rest identifying as Muslim, Christian Scientist, Mormon or other religious affilations.

The majority of Haitians, however, practice voodoo alongside Christianity (most commonly with Catholicism), and the voodoo religion keeps a strong hold on the beliefs, traditions, and worship practices of the population. In short, voodoo holds that all living things–from people to trees and plants–have spirits. According to a report by the U.S. State Department, voodoo is frowned upon by the elite, conservative Catholics, and Protestants.

The voodoo religion, adopted from practices in Africa brought to Haiti by slaves, is one aspect of "animist" religious practices which the Catholic church and evangelicals have long sought to banish from Africa, Haiti and elsewhere, because they are seen as incompatible with true Christianity.

But "true Christianity" is what the American Baptist group wanted these children to practice. For example, a flier used for fund raising purposes by the group in Idaho states that:

NLCR is praying and seeking people who have a heart for God and a desire to share God’s love with these precious children, helping them heal and find new life in Christ.

The flier also suggests this may not have been the only trip they intended to take children out of Haiti. Their flier states:

Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon
our hearts the need to go now vs. waiting until the permanent facility is built. He has provided an interim solution in nearby Cabarete, where we will be leasing a 45 room hotel and converting it into an orphanage until the building of the NLCR is complete. This interim location will enable us to provide a loving environment for up to 150 children, from infants to 12 years old.

Moreover, the New York Times story from today reports that

some of [the] parents said the Baptists had promised simply to educate the youngsters in the Dominican Republic, and said the children would be able to return to Haiti to visit their families.

Was it clear to the parents what exactly these missionaries had in mind? It doesn’t seem so. Isn’t it a form of coercion to ask people so devastated by a tragedy to given up their children for some unknown "better life" without offering to better their lives right there? Why take them away? And if your intention is to bring these children to the DR and put them up for adoption to "loving Christian homes," how does telling their parents they are just going to get an education and can "come back to Haiti to visit" make you much different than the labor or sex trafficker who promises a woman that she is going to find lucrative work abroad in a new industry, only to be trafficked for other purposes? While these children might be adopted to "good homes" that does not obviate the lies, deception and abduction in which the group engaged to secure access to these children.

These children were clearly being abducted for the purposes of religious conversion, a strategy that may have been indirectly propelled by a broader religious movement to expand adoption internationally for the purposes of religious conversion.

A report in the Associated Baptist Press, for example, quotes Russell Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as decrying the efforts of the Idaho Baptist group to "remove children from earthquake-stricken Haiti without proper documentation [because it] could give a black eye to a budding movement of evangelicals who view adoption as a means of spreading the gospel."

ABP relays Moore’s reaction upon hearing the news of the 10 Americans being held in Haiti:

"I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to cause all kinds of derision to the orphan-care movement and to what the Holy Spirit is doing in churches all across America and all over the world in having a heart for orphans,’" Moore said, sitting in as guest host for seminary president Al Mohler.

Last year Moore published a book titled Adopted for Life calling on Christians to adopt children as a "Great Commission priority." On Feb. 26-27, the seminary in Louisville, Ky., is sponsoring an "Adopting for Life" conference aimed at creating "a culture of adoption" in families and churches.

"The Bible tells us that human families are reflective of an eternal fatherhood (Eph. 3:14-15)," says a website promoting the event. "We know, then, what human fatherhood ought to look like on the basis of how Father God behaves toward us. But the reverse is also true. We see something of the way our God is fatherly toward us through our relationships with our own human fathers. And so Jesus tells us that in our human father’s provision and discipline we get a glimpse of God’s active love for us (Matt. 7:9-11; cf. Heb. 12:5-7). The same is at work in adoption."

This is sensitive territory. Untold numbers of children languish in orphanages in countries throughout the world, waiting for a safe and secure home. And when a child is without parents or any family and has no recourse, it is assumed that the best thing for that child is to be placed in a loving home through adoption.

But the link between adoption and prosyletization is troubling. In Haiti, for example, I would imagine that parents, rather than being so bereft of food, shelter, water, health care and other profoundly basic needs that they feel compelled to give their children to orphanages or to strangers promising them a "better home," never to see them again, would prefer to be assisted right there to rebuild their lives, maintain their families intact, raise their children according to their own traditions and see them thrive.

But learning about their own heritage and history is not part of the "gospel-driven" religious movement. Moore, for example, is the father of two children adopted from a Russian orphanage.

In his book, Moore said when he and his wife were adopting their boys they were encouraged by social workers and family friends to "teach the children about their cultural heritage."

"We have done just that," he wrote.

"Now, what most people probably meant by this counsel is for us to teach our boys Russian folk tales and Russian songs, observing Russian holidays, and so forth," Moore explained. "But as we see it, that’s not their heritage anymore, and we hardly want to signal to them that they are strangers and aliens, even welcome ones, in our home. We teach them about their heritage, yes, but their heritage as Mississippians."

Moore and others, therefore, have strongly criticized the tactics of the Idaho Baptist group in large part because they are concerned about the backlash against their own efforts to expand "gospel-driven" adoption. .

"I’m worried that this news is going to give a black eye to the orphan-care movement in the same way that some of the really rambunctious, lawbreaking aspects of the right-to-life protester movement did to the pro-life movement," Moore said on Monday’s program.

"[It] is going to cause people to have increased skepticism toward what I think is a genuine movement of the Spirit of God among God’s people."

Similar sentiments were expressed in an interview conducted by Moore with Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, and David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

Medefind, a former aide to President George W. Bush who led the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, now heads an alliance of orphan-serving organizations and churches promoting Christian orphan and foster care and adoption and adoption ministry.

The group’s mission statement says it exists to "motivate and unify the body of Christ to live out God’s mandate to care for the orphan." The Alliance’s vision statement is "every orphan experiencing God’s unfailing love and knowing Jesus as Savior."

Its easy to get caught up in the moment of devastation to say that rescuing children by taking them "away" from their parents and their country is the first, best response. According to the New York Times, for example, the Americans, their lawyers and members of their churches have said they are innocent of any wrongdoing, and said the imbroglio was "a huge misunderstanding."

In an interview earlier this week, Ms. Silsby said the group had come to Haiti to rescue children orphaned by the earthquake, and that “our hearts were in the right place.”

But was it really, given their own materials? And what does that really mean when you have a religious agenda for children–many of them with living family– who are being taken away from everything they know to serve your own notion of what is right in the world and your own notion of "God?"

"The Real crux of the issue," writes Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches, is this:

These ten do-gooders walked into the trap many well meaning white evangelical Christians fall into: those poor brown/black/yellow/red people need My help. Jesus wants Meto help them. To much of White American Evangelical Christianity the We often means Me. It’s what God Called Me to do. It’s what God would want Me to do. The problem with the Me mentality of much of conservative Evangelical Christianity is that they often can’t see the We—the people of Haiti—who love their kids so much they’re willing to let some white people who claim to be “Christians” take them away to what they promise will be “a better life.”

It is unquestionably true that the majority of adoptive parents raise their children in their own faith. It is a different issue, however, to me at least, when you seek to rescue children, legally or not, for the express purpose of expanding the number of believers in your faith….removing all trace of their original heritage. It strikes me as similarly troubling to providing aid to people in need in order to bring them into your "religious fold."

And it also seems that similarly to those who call themselves "pro-life’ but perpetuate violence against medical doctors and their clients, an approach that suggests the "religious ends" justify the means in removing children from a country will only lead to more coercion, abduction, and falsehood in the effort to "rescue" children from a culture and a religion that does not comport with your own.

To me that feels like trafficking children for religious purposes.

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Veronica Arreola wrote about the same subject here.