An Interfaith Call to Action on Reproductive Health

Rev. Dr. Carlton W. Veazey

Decisions about whether or when to have children are among the most sacred and monumental that people consider in their life. A coalition of religious groups call on President-Elect Obama to make reproductive health a priority.

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

  • In this country,
    more than 17 million women cannot afford reproductive health care services.
  • Internationally,
    each year, half a million women die and 10-15 million women suffer chronic
    disability from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • In this country,
    one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted infection and nearly
    60,000 new HIV infections occurred in 2006.

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

Our letter to the new President:

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Dear President-elect Obama,  

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

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

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

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

Access to
Comprehensive Sex Education

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

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

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

Therefore, we urge you to:

  • Ensure that, as
    they grow, young people in public schools receive comprehensive, medically
    accurate, scientifically sound sex education that includes the unbiased
    health information about abstinence and contraception necessary to help
    them make responsible and safe life decisions.
  • Ensure that young
    people from other countries are not barred from accessing the full range
    of information because of restrictive, ineffective, ideologically motivated
    policies that put youth in HIV ravaged nations at higher risk. Remove
    funding requirements for dangerously ineffective abstinence-only programs
    in US global HIV/AIDS policy.

Access to
Abortion Services

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

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

Therefore, we urge you to improve access to abortion

  • Support the Freedom
    of Choice Act, which reaffirms a woman’s right to choose to bear a child
    or terminate a pregnancy, and urge its passage in Congress.
  • Repeal the Hyde
    Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services. Low-income
    women and women of color are disproportionately affected by this restrictive
    law. These women are not abstract entities, but members of our faiths,
    who often depend on the government for their health care. Restrictions
    on local and federal government funds force them to risk their health
    by delaying or even foregoing reproductive health care.   Striking
    funding restrictions will help eliminate this unjust denial of vital
    care and the resulting disparity in access to care.

Access to
Contraceptive Information and Options

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

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

Therefore, we urge you to:

  • Ensure contraceptive
    access for all women and men by increasing support and funding for Title
    X family planning clinics and for voluntary international family planning
    assistance. All individuals, regardless of age, income, religion, race,
    or geographic location need access to the full range of contraceptive
  • Protect and strengthen
    access to birth control, including emergency contraception. Implement
    safeguards so that no one religious practice or belief denies women
    the freedom to make personal decisions about their own health.
  • Restore funding
    to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), so that the most vulnerable
    women and families around the world have access to vital reproductive
    health services.   In addition, for many women, family planning
    clinics serve as the entry point to access health care services. Fully
    coordinate and integrate family planning with HIV prevention, care,
    and treatment programs.
  • Repeal the Global
    Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy), which withholds much needed aid from
    family planning agencies that even mention abortion. Allowing international
    health clinics to provide comprehensive services would enhance the efficacy
    and efficiency of their work, saving the lives of women around the world.

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


American Friends Service Committee

Catholics for Choice

Christian Lesbians Out

Disciples for Choice

Disciples Justice Action Network


Jewish Women International

Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Lutheran Women’s Caucus

National Council of Jewish


Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory

Religious Coalition for Reproductive

Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Unitarian Universalist Association
of Congregations

United Church of Christ

United Methodist Church, General
Board of Church & Society

Union for Reform Judaism

Women’s Alliance for Theology,
Ethics and Ritual

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”