Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dr. George Tiller, Murdered in Cold Blood

I didn't know him, but I knew of him.

Dr. Tiller was one of the handful of doctors who performed abortions for women after 20 weeks gestation. His patients were most often desperate women who had no where else to turn -- , for assistance in ending a pregnancy with a fatally ill fetus, a life that had changed dramatically and could no longer sustain another child, or such a lack of information and services that a pregnancy hadn't been realized until those later weeks.

He was gunned down this morning...his murder even more shocking in that it took place in his home church, in front of his wife who was singing in the choir.

There have been other murders, in Buffalo and in Boston, but they were years ago, and somehow, I think I had forgotten how dangerous the world can be for doctors who perform abortions. And perhaps for those of us who are public figures who support reproductive justice.

President Obama and members of Congress, we need to hear your voice about this senseless murder and how you will work to make sure it can't, won't happen again. To those who claim the title pr0-life but whose rhetoric leads to such violence, we need you to stand up and clearly denounce this killing and this killer.

And to my readers, please pray for Dr. Tiller and his family...and for all the other providers whose lives may be at risk. Rest in peace.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Please Ask Your Religious Leader to Endorse the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision

Abortion will be back on the front pages during the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor. Reducing the need for abortion is a goal of the Obama administration.

The Religious Institute wants to be sure that policy makers understand that abortion is a moral decision, and that the moral agency of women must be upheld.

We hope that if you are a member of the clergy, a theologian, or a religious educator , you will add your name to the more than 800 religious leaders who have endorsed the Religious Institute' Open Letter on Abortion As A Moral Decision.

Follow the link at the top of the page to read the Open Letter and add your name. If you are not a religious leader, but belong to a faith community that supports reproductive justice, please pass this link on to your clergy person.

Our voices will make a difference in the months ahead; join us in speaking out for the moral agency of women.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Supreme Court nominees and Prop 8: A Time to Weep and A Time to Celebrate

There is a time to weep and a time to laugh...

A time to celebrate and a time to mourn.

And today was both of those.

I couldn't be happier with President Obama's pick of Sonia Sotomayor as the nominee for the next Supreme Court Justice. I don't know much more than the papers have said, but I'm delighted about what I've read about her, her previous decisions, her amazing background, and thrilled to think that the Supreme Court will have its first Latina member.

That was before 9 a.m.

And then at 1 p.m. EST, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, effectively denying same sex couples in California the right to marry. It was satisfying to learn that the Court upheld the marriages that had been performed last summer and fall, and I'm happy for my friends who got married at that time. But, I am weeping for those who may not be legally married simply because they are in love with someone of the same sex. Yes, simply...because goodness, I believe that what makes a good marriage has nothing to do with the sex or gender of the partners.

And yet, I'm hopeful. Iowa and Vermont made same sex marriage legal in the past few months. New Hampshire and New York may follow. Other states will surely follow.

Outside interference and propaganda helped pass Prop 8. In time, I believe that justice will California and in every state.

And Sonia Sotomayor may be the key. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court must decide that it's unconstitutional to create second class citizens -- based on sexual orientation or gender identity or anything else. Separate but not equal is not just unconstitutional -- it's wrong.

President Obama's Supreme Court may indeed be the key to change. It is time for justice to prevail.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mainstream Clergy Support Lesbian and Gay Rights

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Religious Institute's new study of progressive clergy and their attitudes and actions about a broad range of sexuality issues, including LGBT full inclusion. You may remember that I also wrote a Huffington Post piece on whether clergy will lead the way to justice on these issues.

A new study, released by my colleague Dr. Robby Jones this morning, found that the majority of senior ministers from mainstream Protestant denominations also support justice for LGBT persons. Two thirds support hate crimes and workplace anti-discrimination legislation and more than half support the right of gay couples to adopt children. 65% of these clergy support either marriage or civil unions for same sex couples.

Surprised? I'm not because these are some of the ministers I work with every week, who struggle between wanting to welcome all people and believing that sexuality issues may be "too hot to handle". My colleague Rev. Steve Clapp in his publications has called them "silent friends."

Today's survey release, and the work we do every day with clergy from more than 50 faith traditions, should put to rest the myth that people of faith are opposed to gay and lesbian rights. But they also point out that more must be done to help clergy and people of faith who are supportive do more to speak out for LGBT equality.

Our voices as people of faith and as religious leaders are making a difference in struggles within our denominations and in society at large. We need to help those among us yet to speak up -- but who support full inclusion -- to do so.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fair Words at Notre Dame -- But NOT a New Take on Abortion

My email inbox is overflowing with religious leaders and organizations on the President's speech at Notre Dame yesterday.

I posted the link to the video last night. Here's what some of the text actually said:

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion....

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."

Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

And I think they were. I admire the President for going through with the speech, knowing about the protesters, for addressing the concerns about his pro-choice position directly, for not responding to the hecklers, the placards, and the outlines of fetuses on some of the mortarboards...but for stating calmly and resolutely that there is common ground on reducing unintended pregnancies, supporting women who choose adoption, and providing support for women who carry their pregnancies to term.

There is NOTHING NEW about these positions for the pro-choice, feminist community. It's what we have called for as long as I have been doing this work. It's how I was trained 30 years ago as a volunteer at a Planned Parenthood clinic, it's the words in a pregnancy counseling manual that I wrote in the early 1980's, and it is the basis of the Religious Institutes's Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion As A Moral Decision, published in 2005.

And now it's the position of the President of the United States. And since that earned him a long standing ovation at Notre Dame, it perhaps demonstrates more than ever that it's the position that most Americans believe.

As I have written here many times, surely there is common ground in understanding that because life and parenthood is so precious it should not be created carelessly -- and why there must be a moral commitment to comprehensive sexuality education, widespread availability of contraception, responsible procreation, high quality and affordable prenatal care, and intentional parenting.

I understand why some of that wasn't spelled out in detail yesterday at a Roman Catholic university; I'm glad for what was said, I'm glad that Notre Dame didn't rescind its invitation in light of the protests, and I know that in light of the Supreme Court vacancy, this issue isn't going away any time soon.

What would it take to all open our hearts and embrace a prevention first strategy?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

President at Notre Dame on abortion

Watch the President at Notre Dame at

And let me know what you think.

I'll blog on it tomorrow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

President Obama, Notre Dame, and Abortion

I'm out in the Phoenix area where President Obama gave a commencement address on Wednesday. According to a friend of mine, the only thing anyone was protesting was the 100 degree plus heat.

How different that is that what's been going out at Notre Dame, where I understand from news reports, that a plane has been flying with a banner of a dismembered fetus, and where all sorts of people are asking the university to withdraw his invitation.


Fortunately, most Catholics does the President of the University. Read the poll here.

What I continue to find puzzling is how often issues around abortion become the rallying cry in these kind of situations. Surely, there are OTHER issues that are more important. Surely the opportunity to have the President of the United States speak at your son's and daughter's graduation is an amazing opportunity.

Notre Dame, I hope you follow ASU's example...and you don't have to worry about passing out from the heat.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Understanding Gender/Biological Sex and Marriage Equality!

I often use Jenny Finney Boylan’s first memoir “She’s Not There” in my seminary classes to help students understand one transwoman’s experience. In today’s New York Times, she has an op ed piece titled, “Is My Marriage Gay”? A professor at Colby College in Maine, she shares that she was a man when she married her wife in 1988; following her transition, they found themselves as two women legally married to each other; in her words, “differently married.”

She writes, that until last week when Maine legalized marriage for same sex couples, had they divorced, “I would have been allowed on the following day to marry a man only. There are states, however, that do not recognize sex changes. If I were to attempt to remarry in Ohio, for instance, I would be allowed to wed a woman only.” (Read that again – because she was born male, in Ohio, she could only marry a woman even though Boylan is legally a woman and even though Ohio doesn’t recognize same sex marriage.)

But to new to me was how many different ways states recognize gender and sex. In San Antonio, Texas, only people with different chromosomes can marry (which means that if one member of a lesbian couple had a genetic make-up with a Y chromosome such as XXY, they could marry but two women who are XX’s couldn’t. Boylan writes, “This made Texas, paradoxically, one of the first states in which gay marriage was legal.”

She presents the case the lawyer made, “noting the absurdity of the country’s gender laws as they pertain to marriage.” The unnamed lawyer said, “taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Texas is male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Texas and enters federal property, she is a female and a widow; …in Kentucky, she is female and a widow; but upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont [before Vermont changed its law this year] she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a man.”

Whew. Did you get that?? Our male/female fixed binary, our heterosexual/homosexual fixed binary ignores the incredibly sexual and gender diversity that exists. But more, laws that try to neatly categorize people and how adults can love each other do real harm. As Boylan concludes, “what matters is that my spouse and I love each other, and that our legal union has been a good thing – for us, for our children, and for our community.”

She’s right. It’s hard for me to understand how a person of faith would think otherwise. How often we have heard, “where there is love, the sacred is in our midst.” And so may it be.

Monday, May 11, 2009

President's Budget More Mixed Than I Thought

I am still doing a happy dance about the President eliminating all three abstinence only until marriage funding streams last week.

But it turns out that the budget as a whole is a little more mixed for reproductive justice. Here's what the Guttmacher Institute has to say:

On May 7, President Obama sent Congress his proposed 2010 budget recommendations. For programs and policies relating to sexual and reproductive health at home and abroad, the proposed budget contains some good news, some bad news and some news that is only okay. The most welcome development is the abolition of “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs. The most disappointing is the failure of leadership the president displayed by sanctioning the continuation of federal bans on subsidized abortion services for U.S. women who depend on the federal government for their health care or health insurance.

You can read their analysis at

And it's going to be important to help both the Obama administration and the Congress understand that the new "teen pregnancy prevention" initiative needs to be broadened to "comprehensive sexuality education" so in helps young people avoid STI's not just pregnancy -- and so it is inclusive of gay and lesbian and questioning teens who may not be at risk of pregnancy yet still information and services. We need to help all young people make ethical decisions about their sexuality, including postponing their involvement in mature sexual behaviors of any kind.

So, it's not a perfect report card for the President from the SRH community. But, goodness, it is SO MUCH better than we've seen in a long time that I'm still encouraged.

Now, Mr. President, can you do something that demonstrates your support for the LGBT community?

Friday, May 08, 2009

President Says No To Just Say No! Yes to ALL Teens Sexual Health Needs

I learned late yesterday afternoon that the President's 2010 budget did what he promised he would do: eliminate ineffective and wasteful federal programs, and it included all three abstinence only funding streams.

From the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy:

President Obama released his FY 2010 budget today and called for at least $164 million in funding for a new teen pregnancy prevention initiative. This includes competitive grants for evidence-based programs, research and evaluation, and an authorization for $50 million in new mandatory teen pregnancy prevention grants to states, tribes, and territories. The budget eliminates funding for Community-Based Abstinence Education and the mandatory Title V Abstinence Education program.

I haven't reviewed the federal budget yet, and understand from other emails that the Hyde Amendment was left standing. I'll blog more about this when I find out more.

But, I'm celebrating on saying no to just say no federal programs! These changes lay the groundwork for funding for comprehensive sexuality education programs (although right now the budget specifically says teen pregnancy prevention, which needs to be expanded to include HIV/STI's and GLBT young people).

Thank you to the more than 900 clergy who endorsed the letter we sent to the White House earlier this month supporting comprehensive sexuality education. I'd like to think it played a tiny part in making this happen! And thanks to all of my SRH colleagues who have worked tirelessly to have this happen. And blessings to the President and his staff for following through on their campaign commitments on this!

This isn't just a public health victory -- it's a moral victory for young people who deserve the truth and life saving information!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

5 States for Marriage Equality -- 45 to Go

Yeah for Maine!

It joins Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Iowa in assuring marriage equality for same sex couples.

New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York may not be far behind. And we're praying for a good outcome in California.

It's a little like abortion in the late 1960's and early 1970's. As states begin to recognize these rights, surely the U.S. Supreme Court will follow. DOMA has to be upturned -- by the Congress preferably, by the Supreme Court if it has to be. Sooner of later, a couple married in say Connecticut is going to want to move to say Nevada and have their marriage recognized.

Here's my prediction: marriage equality in the U.S. by 2015. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

America's Top Teen SpokesMom -- For Abstinence? Huh?

There's a day for everything.

Today is National Day To Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Some of my friends and colleagues have written some great commentary over at RH Reality Check about what we know about preventing teen pregnancies that you should check out.

And then there is Bristol Palin making the rounds of the morning talk shows. I missed her on GMA, where she said, "abstinence in the only way that you can effectively 100% full proof way to prevent pregnancy." Apparently not in her case.

But, I did see her on the Today Show, where her father called her pregnancy "a mistake." And Bristol appeared to take back her early comment that abstinence wasn't realistic for all teens. She repeated her 100% abstinence message, and when pressed by Matt Lauer, both she and her dad gave a quick nod to safer sex being a good idea if a teen isn't abstinent.

She was poised, articulate, and it was clear that she had been carefully coached, with the adult message, "don't have sex, but if you must, protect yourself." Her message that being a teen mom is hard rang true -- her message, don't have sex like I did, was not. How much more impact she might have if she told her story honestly and directly -- and if she had used what is clearly a national pulpit being offered her to call for parents to talk to their teens, comprehensive sexuality education, and contraceptive services for teens.

As I said at our Congressional briefing last week
, there is 40 years of research on how to prevent teenage pregnancies and scores of countries that do it better than we do. Helping young people to delay sexual intercourse until they are physically, emotionally and spiritually ready is key -- but so is providing young people with the information, services, and skills they need to protect themselves if and when they do have sex.

Bristol, if you really want to help prevent teen pregnancies in the U.S. -- and I believe you do -- maybe leave Dad at home and talk from your heart about how teens can make good decisions -- about sex and about protection.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Fear and Statistics

I read a tweet today that said something like, "if 300 cases of flu cause a run on face masks, how come a million cases of AIDS hasn't caused a run on condoms?"

Except that there are 33 MILLION people living with HIV/AIDS in this world, and more than that number of people have died.

It got me thinking about my biostatistics class more than 30 years ago. The professor said things like, "Statistics don't lie. People lie with statistics." And, "the risk to the individual is always 0 and 1."

And the fact is that, depending on which news report you hear, between 35,000 and 50,000 people die of the flu each year in the U.S. -- and that's not a headline.

And half a million women in the world die each year because of pregnancy-related complications, and that's not a headline.

And nine in ten sexually active people who don't use a contraceptive method will get pregnant in a year, and that's not a headline.

And using a condom is 10,000 times safer than having sex without one, and that's not a headline.

And I'm asking myself tonight, why are there people who are cancelling trips, not going in planes or subways, buying face masks and stocking up on tamiflu but 1.5 million unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. each year?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Coverage of Religious Institute's Congressional Briefing on Sex Ed

One of my favorite journalists and bloggers is Sarah Posner. We just met in person last week for the first time. She writes for the Nation, American Prospect, and other print and online journals on religion and politics. The fact that we share an alma mater is a nice connection.

She covered our briefing last week in American Prospect. I'll let you read it directly:

Pro-Sexual-Justice Religious Left Calls for End to Abstinence-Only Sex-Ed Funding.

For all his talk of "abortion reduction" as one of his centrist goals, Wallis remains committed to the idea that, in Gedeik's words to me this week, abortion is the "taking of a human life." That's theo-conservative, not theo-progressive talk. There is a religious left that emphasizes the moral agency of women to make reproductive choices, something Wallis does not.

But progressive, pro-choice religious activism is not limited to abortion. It includes a panoply of reproductive-justice issues. This week, a group of religious activists continued their push for the government to end abstinence-only sex education and fund comprehensive sex education.

The Religious Institute on Sexual Justice, Morality, and Healing, which has gathered over 900 pastoral signatures in favor of comprehensive sex education, hosted a briefing this week for congressional staff. Activists, including pastors, made a religious case for teaching medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education in the nation's public schools.

According to Bill Smith, vice president for public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the White House has assured activists of its commitment to comprehensive sex education. "It's a new day in this town," said Smith at the briefing. Obama is "the first president in American history who supports unequivocally a comprehensive approach to sex education."

But in the end, it's not about religion but science. "If science is in," Smith said, "abstinence-only is definitely out."

But for Obama, and increasingly for Democrats, the issue is also about satisfying religious constituencies to the right of the Religious Institute. Science is in but so is religion.

Thanks, Sarah. Good to meet you.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Religious Institute to Congress: Fund Sexuality Education Now

Here's a photo from the Religious Institute briefing on reducing teenage pregnancies and STI's that we held this past week.

Joining me at the table are Ann Hanson, Rev. Ignacio Castuera, Rev. Cedric Harmon, Emily Goodstein, and Bill Smith. Over 30 national organizations and Congressional offices sent representatives to the briefing.

We'll be posting my comments at our website next week, but here's a piece from the ending. Let me know what you think.

The fact is we know how to prevent unintended teenage pregnancies. The US teenage pregnancy rate is 9 times higher than the Netherlands, four or five times higher than other European countries. Our teen gonorrhea rate is a shocking 74 time higher than France and the Netherlands. 74 times. The reason? An openness about sexuality, a clear message to young people that sexuality is a wonderful part of life but that it must be exercised wisely, sexuality education that begins at the youngest ages in the home and in schools and continues throughout their youth and early adulthood, and easily accessible free or low cost family planning services. We have forty years of research telling us there is NO silver bullet, but there are clear common sense proven strategies – we just need the political will and the funding to put them into practice.

That’s good public health practice – but it’s also the moral and ethical response. Religious institutions and religious leaders support and provide comprehensive sexuality education out of deep commitment to our theology, our sacred texts, and to our belief that they are called to serve the most vulnerable, the most marginalized among us. We must remember that the lack of sexuality education and family planning services disproportionately affects low income families in the United States: Poor and low income adolescents account for almost three quarters of all teenage pregnancies in the United States, and 83% of the births to teenagers.

Sexuality is one of life’s most precious blessings, but we need to be wise stewards of this gift. We know that our sexuality should be celebrated with joy, holiness, and integrity, but that requires understanding, respect and self discipline. We know that our young people need adult help to develop their capacity for moral discernment and a freely informed conscience.

We are at a Kairos moment. We need a federal sexuality education program that reaches all young people -- those who are heterosexual, those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning of their orientation, those who are transgender or questioning, those who are abstinent and choose to remain so, those who have had sexual relationships, and those who have experienced sexual abuse.

Last year at a similar briefing, I ended my remarks this way. “It is time – it is way past time – for the federal government to support sexuality education programs for youth and to cease funding programs that are not only ineffective but may put our children and teenagers at risk – for disease, for short changed futures, for denial of the gift of their sexuality. “

It is a Kairos moment for our young people. We pray that together those of us in this room – the members of Congress and their staffs, the organizational representatives, the religious leaders – will walk through that opening together."

May it be so.