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Mammograms, Contraception, and Abortion are Always Political, Even Religious. We Ignore This At Our Peril

11:36 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

“Keep politics out of women’s health.”

In the extraordinary amount of activity surrounding the Komen’s foundation decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood for mammograms, you have probably heard something along the lines of “keep politics out of women’s health.” Komen was frequently criticized for making a politically-motivated move.

Of course it was a politically-motivated move. My question to us all: is it not also a political move to restore the funding? Is not funding mammograms for poor women inherently a political act?

You see, I believe that the personal is always political.  I believe that all of our acts are rooted in our values and deepest held beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong.  It’s impossible not to be ‘political.’  What you do as a human being on this earth inevitably makes a claim on what you believe and what you believe is good and right, and what you believe is harmful and wrong.

Similarly, many of us in prochoice and reproductive justice communities rejoiced at the Obama administration’s recent decision to require health plans to fully cover contraceptive services for employees, including many religiously-affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities.  Only not-for-profit employers who have “the inculcation of religious values as their purpose, primarily employ individuals who hold certain religious beliefs and primarily serve a population with those religious tenets” are exempt.

Obama was applauded for resisting “religion’s” influence on policy and women’s health.

But,  you see, it’s impossible NOT to have religious or spiritual beliefs (humanism and atheism included) affect decisions, whether you are a toll-booth operator or a politician in office. Perhaps this is why Obama said his Christian faith guided his policy decisions.

Furthermore, statements about keeping religion out of women’s health seems to assume that all religion is antagonistic to women’s health.  But what if my values, morals, even my religion is exactly what commands me to support contraception, mammograms, and accessible abortion, particularly for those impoverished and marginalized?  Once again, the Left implicitly cedes the ground of ethics, morality, religion and spirituality to conservatives.

I get so frustrated as I routinely see Liberals and Lefties clutch onto the crumbling modern tenets of the secular vs. the religious.

Do we not realize that what many of us call secularism in the United States is actually referring to the values and culture of White/Anglo (men’s)-Protestantism?  The separation of church and state was a religious concept developed in Puritan communities to protect churches from the corrupting influences of government.  The idea of secularism is rooted in the Calvinist notions of adiaphora or “things indifferent,” from which John Locke developed his powerful and influential ideas of government. “Things indifferent” for Calvin and his interpreters, and for Locke, includes anything in the world that is not necessary for “salvation.”  What falls under the power of the state as opposed to the power of religious faith?  Things indifferent–things not necessary for salvation.

I will not bore you further with theological or Christian doctrine but to say that our secular ideas were born out of Protestant Christian ones.

My religious tradition disagreed with those Calvinist tenets and states that everything matters for salvation–for healing and for justice.  And therefore, all that I do and believe is a matter of my values, my morals, my religion, and my spirituality–including my beliefs that all people have an individual right to conscience and the means for fulfilling that conscience.  Which means that I believe women should have unfettered access to contraception, mammograms, and abortion, regardless of financial resources.

Many secular folks on the Left deny claims that our nation is a “Christian” nation.  Yet, if you ask a Jew or a Muslim or Hindu, I bet they would agree that, in fact, the United States is a Christian nation.  By failing to acknowledge the dominance of (Protestant) Christian culture and values, we on the Left hinder our abilities to fulfil liberal dreams of a pluralistic and just society.

The Left will not achieve it’s goals by making dated and problematic arguments regarding secular and the religious, or by arguing for keeping “politics” out of women’s health.  We will not achieve our goals by arguing that we are somehow universally right.  We will win by arguing that our policy proposals are most effective at minimizing unnecessary suffering in this world.

Women’s health is inherently political.  And dare I say, women’s health is inherently religious.

Women’s Bodies: Wholly Owned Subsidiaries of the Christian Right

6:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

When Virginia Del. Bob Marshall publicly stated his desire to defund Planned Parenthood in his state (they receive a whopping $35,000 in Medicaid reimbursements NOT for abortions, but for primary reproductive and sexual health care for women, men and young people), he used his interpretation of certain Biblical passages to justify his positions. He said:

"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children," said Marshall, a Republican.

"In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest."

In other words, a disabled child is a punishment from God doled out to the child’s mother for having had a prior abortion. Putting aside the fact that his claim that “the number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically” has no basis in reality and no evidence-based studies to back it up, let’s examine what these remarks are meant to convey.

What so many have found offensive is the insensitivity he’s displayed towards disabled children and their mothers. Disabled children are a punishment? And women, these children’s mothers, are characterized as receivers of a “special” type of vengeance?

Although his comments seem particularly hurtful as they pierce the hearts of mothers and disabled people everywhere, this meme is exactly what we’ve come to expect when it comes to issues surrounding women’s bodies, health, and lives. From placing blame upon the victims of rape and sexual assault to declaring that breast cancer is bestowed upon those women who dare to remain childless to deciding that women who don’t remain celibate outside of marriage must pay for their decisions to have sex by carrying a pregnancy to term against their will, right-wing, ultra-extremist Christians have staked their claim on what women can and cannot do with our bodies by endlessly repeating the “you get what’s coming to you” line. In essence, women’s sexual and reproductive capacities are inherently evil and must be delicately controlled by the steady hand of the men who know best.

When it comes to pregnancy prevention and the use of contraception, for example, the Christian right is clear: if women have sex outside of marriage, we must “pay the price.” It’s framed as “living with the consequences of one’s decision” so the paternalistic desire to control women’s bodies is brilliantly turned into a call for women to take personal responsibility but the underlying premise is clear: women must know where our free will begins and our options end. If you are a woman and you commit the “sin” of sex for pleasure, you have given up the “privilege” of bodily autonomy.

In fact, fundamentalist Christian and far-right ideology (which includes the anti-choice movement) is not only against access to abortion. It has become, in recent years, vehemently anti-contraception as well. However, in the various scenarios and protests about these issues, it is never the married, heterosexual woman who is targeted because they are abiding, however superficially, by Judeo-Christian principals.

It’s the young woman, not married, who dares to engage in sex-for-pleasure or finds herself the victim of a rape or sexual assault who is in the cross-hairs of the ultra-right wing’s weapon of choice: shame and blame. It is the woman in Texas in 2004, the victim of a rape, who comes face-to-face with a pharmacist who refuses to fill the legal prescription because “his religion says she shouldn’t have it.” If women dare think we can “get away” with engaging in sex outside of marriage (regardless of ones’ sexual preference), or that we think we are not responsible in some way for the assault upon our body, we are mistaken. For our sins, the wrath of an almighty, angry God will appear in the form of an unintended pregnancy that we should be forced to carry to term.  It’s an odd juxtaposition with the public messaging put forth by the ultra-conservative, Christian right that says that no matter what – babies are always a blessing, and that anything we do to prevent that blessing from being bestowed upon us is wrong. It takes only a moment of reflection to realize that what they are really saying is: unintended pregnancy for women who have sex outside of marriage, forced or not, while using birth control or not, is a curse disguised as a blessing for those women who sin.

In a similar sentiment, the spate of bills and laws popping up around the country from Utah’s bill proposed and pushed by right-wing, conservatives that seeks to criminalize women who have miscarriages to “feticide” laws stemming from our Unborn Victims of Violence Act that have been used around the country to punish women who may dare to wittingly or not place their fetus in danger, we codify the Christian right’s patriarchal, anger towards women.

While we may be shocked at Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall’s callousness, it should not surprise anyone who pays attention to the right-wing, anti-choice, Christian conservative messaging and agenda for the women and girls of this country: Do not forget that the reproductive and sexual capacities of the female body are wholly owned and operated by the Christian right acting as ambassadors of a God on the side of the patriarchy.

40 Days of Harassment: Anti-choicers Avoid Self-Reflection During Lent

6:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

When I was growing up, I was told that Lent—the period commemorating the days before Jesus’ execution—was a period for believers of self-denial in the service of self-reflection.

I’m not a Christian, but I always had respect for the idea of Lent, from its usefulness in helping people break bad habits by giving them up for Lent to the idea of taking time out of your life for self-reflection and contemplation of your own mortality. Anti-choicers, on the other hand, have taken this venerable tradition and turned it into a circus of avoiding self-reflection. On Ash Wednesday, a traditional day for believers to repent, anti-choicers kicked off the “40 Days for Life” protests, so believers can avoid focusing on their own sin and instead scream at others for perceived sexual sin, while also avoiding thinking about their own mortality by demanding others give life against their will.

I spoke with a number of clinic workers and escorts about how they and the clinic patients they assist react to the 40 Days protests and to protests in general, and, not surprisingly, no one noted that the protesters were engaged in self-reflection or repentance for their own sins.

It’s hard to make the mental space for repentance and self-reflection when you’re aiming your ire at others who you believe must be doing something wrong according to your own moral assessment. Martha Stahl of Planned Parenthood of the North Country New York noted, “[I]t is heartbreaking to see the look on the face of a patient, someone just trying to get the health care she needs and deserves, when she is told she will go to hell if she comes into our building.” Stahl also noted that the heavy judgment that anti-choicers express towards women scares many women off in her small community; the fear of having to face your neighbors as they judge you for a strumpet has that effect on them.

The overall impression from clinic workers and escorts was that the 40 Days protests do not increase the amount of self-reflection and repentance on the part of protesters; they simply increase the number of people who are willing to donate time to harassing women over private medical choices. My interviewees noted that the protesters that come out are younger than the usual crew, and far more aggressive. In many cases, protesters judge and shame women in the most passive-aggressive manner possible, praying and generally trying to lay a guilt trip on them.

But for the 40 Days, you get a lot more aggression.An abortion counselor at one clinic described the difference: “They have big billboards with obscene, gruesome, scientifically inaccurate images. They try to physically touch patients, which is illegal.” Patients are quite aware that what’s going on is not outreach (as anti-choicers claim), but pure judgment and abuse. “Patients usually react in one of two ways: visible anger that the protesters are so disgustingly disrespectful, or terror that the protesters will physically harm them in some way.”

Escorts from the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force noted that the main effect of the 40 Days protests was simply to make life harder for women seeking abortion care as well as other non-abortion related health services provided by women’s clinics in the area. Even though a younger crowd does come out, they mostly stick to the passive-aggressive methods of trying their hardest to guilt-trip the female patients they perceive as sexually wayward.

However, patients and escorts have good reason to fear for their safety, since there are also some lone operators who show up unaffiliated just for the sheer pleasure of harassing women. One escort (you can read more from her here) noted, “The unconnected protester, the one who is a loner, those are the ones that pose a real danger typically to a clinic.” Danielle Geong, from the same organization, noted that 40 Days brings out one particularly worrying character. “She runs down the sidewalk to try to get around the clinic escorts beside the patient, she’s pushy (like pushes you to get close to patients) and accuses us of illegally blocking her path in a twisted interpretation of the FACE Act."

One thing that came through clearly in all the accounts is that anti-choice claims that clinic protests are about love and outreach ring false not just for escorts and clinic workers, but also for the patients themselves. Patients have no illusions about being “loved;” they know exactly what’s going on—they’re being shamed by strangers who have an unhealthy obsession. The screaming, the passive-aggressive praying, the physical intimidation doesn’t really send that love vibe.

Patients react like you do when ugly people judge you unfairly. Some, as one escort said, “recognize the harassment for what it is, and dismiss it accordingly.” Others are upset at being judged, but proceed anyway. Some avoid the clinic on heavily protested days, but more because they don’t want to deal with judgmental blowhards, and not because they’ve been hit with a love bomb and repented for living a fairly normal life with some sex and sexual health care in it.

While I’m not a Christian, the mobs of angry people eager to judge women for their private sexual choices do remind me of a passage in the Bible, in the book of John.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

Jesus lets her go, telling her not to sin anymore. While Jesus and I may disagree about what a “sin” is when it comes to sex, I can’t help but admire his willingness to see through the misogynist motivations of this woman’s accusers. And how they would prefer to obsess about a woman’s sexual choices than to look inward and attend to their own sins. And I think how far from this lesson are the angry mobs of protesters coming out to guilt-trip women in what’s supposed to be a period of repentance and self-reflection.

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 – 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.


Veronica Arreola wrote about the same subject here.