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

Jodi Jacobson

The term "trafficking in children" conjures up the worst of all possible scenarios...bad people taking children away from their families for nefarious purposes. But can children be trafficked for religious purposes? 

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". 
 

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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 Me to 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.

Commentary Contraception

For Students at Religious Universities, Contraception Coverage Isn’t an Academic Debate

Alison Tanner

When the U.S. Supreme Court sent a case about faith-based objections to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate back to lower courts, it left students at religious colleges and universities with continuing uncertainty about getting essential health care. And that's not what religious freedom is about.

Read more of our articles on challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit here.

Students choose which university to attend for a variety of reasons: the programs offered, the proximity of campus to home, the institution’s reputation, the financial assistance available, and so on. But young people may need to ask whether their school is likely to discriminate in the provision of health insurance, including contraceptive coverage.

In Zubik v. Burwell, a group of cases sent back to the lower courts by the U.S. Supreme Court in May, a handful of religiously affiliated universities sought the right to deny their students, faculty, and staff access to health insurance coverage for contraception.

This isn’t just a legal debate for me. It’s personal. The private university where I attend law school, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., currently complies with provisions in the Affordable Care Act that make it possible for a third-party insurer to provide contraceptive access to those who want it. But some hope that these legal challenges to the ACA’s birth control rule will reverse that.

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Georgetown University Law Center refused to provide insurance coverage for contraception before the accommodation was created in 2012. Without a real decision by the Supreme Court, my access to contraception insurance will continue to be at risk while I’m in school.

I’m not alone. Approximately 1.9 million students attend religiously affiliated universities in the United States, according to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. We students chose to attend these institutions for lots of reasons, many of which having nothing to do with religion. I decided to attend Georgetown University Law Center because I felt it was the right school for me to pursue my academic and professional goals, it’s in a great city, it has an excellent faculty, and it has a vibrant public-interest law community.

Like many of my fellow students, I am not Catholic and do not share my university’s views on contraception and abortion. Although I was aware of Georgetown’s history of denying students’ essential health-care benefits, I did not think I should have to sacrifice the opportunity to attend an elite law school because I am a woman of reproductive age.

That’s why, as a former law clerk for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, I helped to organize a brief before the high court on behalf of 240 students, faculty, and staff at religiously affiliated universities including Fordham, Georgetown, Loyola Marymount, and the University of Notre Dame.

Our brief defended the sensible accommodation crafted by the Obama administration. That compromise relieves religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations of any obligation to pay for or otherwise provide contraception coverage; in fact, they don’t have to pay a dime for it. Once the university informs the government that it does not want to pay for birth control, a third-party insurer steps in and provides coverage to the students, faculty, and staff who want it.

Remarkably, officials at the religious colleges still challenging the Affordable Care Act say this deal is not good enough. They’re arguing that the mere act of informing the government that they do not want to do something makes them “complicit” in the private decisions of others.

Such an argument stands religious freedom on its head in an attempt to impose one group’s theological beliefs on others by vetoing the third-party insurance providers’ distribution of essential health coverage to students, faculty, and staff.

This should not be viewed as some academic debate confined to legal textbooks and court chambers. It affects real people—most of them women. Studies by the Guttmacher Institute and other groups that study human sexuality have shown that use of artificial forms of birth control is nearly universal among sexually active women of childbearing years. That includes Catholic women, who use birth control at the same rate as non-Catholics.

Indeed, contraception is essential health care, especially for students. An overwhelming number of young people’s pregnancies are unplanned, and having children while in college or a graduate program typically delays graduation, increases the likelihood that the parent will drop out, and may affect their future professional paths.

Additionally, many menstrual disorders make it difficult to focus in class; contraception alleviates the symptoms of a variety of illnesses, and it can help women actually preserve their long-term fertility. For example, one of the students who signed our brief told the Court that, “Without birth control, I experience menstrual cycles that make it hard to function in everyday life and do things like attend class.” Another woman who signed the brief told the Court, “I have a history of ovarian cysts and twice have required surgery, at ages 8 and 14. After my second surgery, the doctor informed me that I should take contraceptives, because if it happened again, I might be infertile.”

For these and many other reasons, women want and need convenient access to safe, affordable contraceptives. It is time for religiously affiliated institutions—and the Supreme Court—to acknowledge this reality.

Because we still don’t have an ultimate decision from the Supreme Court, incoming students cannot consider ease of access to contraception in deciding where to attend college, and they may risk committing to attend an university that will be legally allowed to discriminate against them. A religiously affiliated university may be in all other regards a perfect fit for a young woman. It’s unfair that she should face have to risk access to essential health care to pursue academic opportunity.

Religious liberty is an important right—and that’s why it should not be misinterpreted. Historically, religious freedom has been defined as the right to make decisions for yourself, not others. Religious freedom gives you have the right to determine where, how, and if you will engage in religious activities.

It does not, nor should it ever, give one person or institution the power to meddle in the personal medical decisions of others.

Commentary Abortion

It’s Time for an Abortion Renaissance

Charlotte Taft

We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long, it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

My life’s work has been to transform the conversation about abortion, so I am overcome with joy at the Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Abortion providers have been living under a very dark cloud since the 2010 elections, and this ruling represents a new day.

Abortion providers can finally begin to turn our attention from the idiocy and frustration of dealing with legislation whose only intention is to prevent all legal abortion. We can apply our energy and creativity fully to the work we love and the people we serve.

My work has been with independent providers who have always proudly delivered most of the abortion care in our country. It is thrilling that the Court recognized their unique contribution. In his opinion, after taking note of the $26 million facility that Planned Parenthood built in Houston, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:

More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered.

This is a critical time to build on the burgeoning recognition that independent clinics are essential and, at their best, create a sanctuary for women. And it’s also a critical time for independent providers as a field to share, learn from, and adopt each other’s best practices while inventing bold new strategies to meet these new times. New generations expect and demand a more open and just society. Access to all kinds of health care for all people, including excellent, affordable, and state-of-the-art abortion care is an essential part of this.

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We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long—with our financial, emotional, and psychic energies drained by relentless, unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation—it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that abortion regulations must be supported by medical proof that they improve health, and that even with proof, the burdens can’t outweigh the benefits, it is time to say goodbye to the many politically motivated regulations that have been passed. These include waiting periods, medically inaccurate state-mandated counseling, bans on telemedicine, and mandated ultrasounds, along with the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements declared unconstitutional by the Court.

Clearly 20-week bans don’t pass the undue burden test, imposed by the Court under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, because they take place before viability and abortion at 20 weeks is safer than childbirth. The federal Hyde Amendment, a restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion, obviously represents an undue burden because it places additional risk on poor women who can’t access care as early as women with resources. Whatever the benefit was to late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) it can’t possibly outweigh that burden.

Some of these have already been rejected by the Court and, in Alabama’s case, an attorney general, in the wake of the Whole Woman’s Health ruling. Others will require the kind of bold action already planned by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations. The Renaissance involves raising an even more powerful voice against these regulations, and being firm in our unwillingness to spend taxpayer dollars harming women.

I’d like to entertain the idea that we simply ignore regulations like these that impose burdens and do not improve health and safety. Of course I know that this wouldn’t be possible in many places because abortion providers don’t have much political leverage. This may just be the part of me that wants reproductive rights to warrant the many risks of civil disobedience. In my mind is the man who stood in front of moving tanks in Tiananmen Square. I am yearning for all the ways to stand in front of those tanks, both legal and extralegal.

Early abortion is a community public health service, and a Renaissance goal could be to have early abortion care accessible within one hour of every woman in the country. There are more than 3,000 fake clinics in this country, many of them supported by tax dollars. Surely we can find a way to make actual services as widely available to people who need them. Of course many areas couldn’t support a clinic, but we can find ways to create satellite or even mobile clinics using telemedicine to serve women in rural areas. We can use technology to check in with patients during medication abortions, and we can provide ways to simplify after-care and empower women to be partners with us in their care. Later abortion would be available in larger cities, just as more complex medical procedures are.

In this brave new world, we can invent new ways to involve the families and partners of our patients in abortion care when it is appropriate. This is likely to improve health outcomes and also general satisfaction. And it can increase the number of people who are grateful for and support independent abortion care providers and who are able to talk openly about abortion.

We can tailor our services to learn which women may benefit from additional time or counseling and give them what they need. And we can provide abortion services for women who own their choices. When a woman tells us that she doesn’t believe in abortion, or that it is “murder” but she has to have one, we can see that as a need for deeper counseling. If the conflict is not resolved, we may decide that it doesn’t benefit the patient, the clinic, or our society to perform an abortion on a woman who is asking the clinic to do something she doesn’t believe in.

I am aware that this last idea may be controversial. But I have spent 40 years counseling with representatives of the very small, but real, percentage of women who are in emotional turmoil after their abortions. My experience with these women and reading online “testimonies” from women who say they regret their abortions and see themselves as victimized, including the ones cited by Justice Kennedy in the Casey decision, have reinforced my belief that when a woman doesn’t own her abortion decision she will suffer and find someone to blame for it.

We can transform the conversation about abortion. As an abortion counselor I know that love is at the base of women’s choices—love for the children they already have; love for their partners; love for the potential child; and even sometimes love for themselves. It is this that the anti-abortion movement will never understand because they believe women are essentially irresponsible whores. These are the accusations protesters scream at women day after day outside abortion clinics.

Of course there are obstacles to our brave new world.

The most obvious obstacles are political. As long as more than 20 states are run by Republican supermajorities, legislatures will continue to find new ways to undermine access to abortion. The Republican Party has become an arm of the militant anti-choice movement. As with any fundamentalist sect, they constantly attack women’s rights and dignity starting with the most intimate aspects of their lives. A society’s view of abortion is closely linked to and mirrors its regard for women, so it is time to boldly assert the full humanity of women.

Anti-choice LifeNews.com contends that there have been approximately 58,586,256 abortions in this country since 1973. That means that 58,586,256 men have been personally involved in abortion, and the friends and family members of at least 58,586,256 people having abortions have been too. So more than 180 million Americans have had a personal experience with abortion. There is no way a small cadre of bitter men with gory signs could stand up to all of them. So they have, very successfully so far, imposed and reinforced shame and stigma to keep many of that 180 million silent. Yet in the time leading up to the Whole Woman’s Health case we have seen a new opening of conversation—with thousands of women telling their personal stories—and the recognition that safe abortion is an essential and normal part of health care. If we can build on that and continue to talk openly and honestly about the most uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy and abortion, we can heal the shame and stigma that have been the most successful weapons of anti-abortion zealots.

A second obstacle is money. There are many extraordinary organizations dedicated to raising funds to assist poor women who have been betrayed by the Hyde Amendment. They can never raise enough to make up for the abandonment of the government, and that has to be fixed. However most people don’t realize that many clinics are themselves in financial distress. Most abortion providers have kept their fees ridiculously and perilously low in order to be within reach of their patients.

Consider this: In 1975 when I had my first job as an abortion counselor, an abortion within the first 12 weeks cost $150. Today an average price for the same abortion is around $550. That is an increase of less than $10 a year! Even in the 15 states that provide funding for abortion, the reimbursement to clinics is so low that providers could go out of business serving those in most need of care.

Over the years a higher percent of the women seeking abortion care are poor women, women of color, and immigrant and undocumented women largely due to the gap in sexual health education and resources. That means that a clinic can’t subsidize care through larger fees for those with more resources. While Hyde must be repealed, perhaps it is also time to invent some new approaches to funding abortion so that the fees can be sustainable.

Women are often very much on their own to find the funds needed for an abortion, and as the time goes by both the costs and the risk to them increases. Since patients bear 100 percent of the medical risk and physical experience of pregnancy, and the lioness’ share of the emotional experience, it makes sense to me that the partner involved be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of an abortion. And why not codify this into law, just as paternal responsibilities have been? Perhaps such laws, coupled with new technology to make DNA testing as quick and inexpensive as pregnancy testing, would shift the balance of responsibility so that men would be responsible for paying abortion fees, and exercise care as to when and where they release their sperm!

In spite of the millions of women who have chosen abortion through the ages, many women still feel alone. I wonder if it could make a difference if women having abortions, including those who received assistance from abortion funds, were asked to “pay it forward”—to give something in the future if they can, to help another woman? What if they also wrote a letter—not a bread-and-butter “thank you” note—but a letter of love and support to a woman connected to them by the web of this individual, intimate, yet universal experience? This certainly wouldn’t solve the economic crisis, but it could help transform some women’s experience of isolation and shame.

One in three women will have an abortion, yet many are still afraid to talk about it. Now that there is safe medication for abortion, more and more women will be accessing abortion through the internet in some DIY fashion. What if we could teach everyone how to be excellent abortion counselors—give them accurate information; teach them to listen with nonjudgmental compassion, and to help women look deeper into their own feelings and beliefs so that they can come to a sense of confidence and resolution about their decision before they have an abortion?

There are so many brilliant, caring, and amazing people who provide abortion care—and room for many more to establish new clinics where they are needed. When we turn our sights to what can be, there is no limit to what we can create.

Being frustrated and helpless is exhausting and can burn us out. So here’s a glass of champagne to being able to dream again, and to dreaming big. From my own past clinic work:

At this clinic we do sacred work
That honors women
And the circle of life and death.