STOKING FIRE: Ultra-Conservative Doctrine May Be the Reason for Unreported Sexual Crimes in the Military

STOKING FIRE: Ultra-Conservative Doctrine May Be the Reason for Unreported Sexual Crimes in the Military

The cliché tells us that war is hell, but for female enlistees, the war on the domestic front—within their units–trumps that of the battlefield. In fact, a recent Veteran’s Administration survey revealed statistics that should have turned the military on its warmongering head: 30 percent of female vets told the interviewers that they had been assaulted by a male colleague and/or supervisor. Worse, 14 percent reported having been gang raped and 20 percent reported having been raped more than once.

Shockingly, these figures may be low since under-reporting of sexual crimes is known to be endemic.

Part of the blame for the reluctance to report rests with an unsympathetic military chaplaincy, one of the few places soldiers, sailors, reservists, national guardians, and marines can turn for counseling. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 percent of today’s 3000 military chaplains were trained at the ultraconservative Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. Founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell and Elmer Towns in 1971, the school bills itself as the world’s largest seminary, something it attributes to its “conservative doctrinal position, its sound grounding in Bible teachings, and its reflection of core Christian essentials.” The school’s website clears up any definitional murkiness: “Liberty is committed to changing the entire world for Jesus Christ, first changing the world with its students, then equipping them to change the world around them.”

While most of its students are undoubtedly attracted to this mission, others attend Liberty because tuition is low: $1900 a term for residential students and $2200 for distance learners. During the 2011-2012 year, nearly 9000 students from 46 countries registered for online classes; of them, more than 1000 hope to complete the 72-credit program and become military chaplains. A severe shortage of armed forces clerics—an article posted on Times in February 2011 blames the deficiency on the military’s rigid age and physical requirements and on the reluctance of pastors/rabbis/imams to exchange the comforts of home for combat—will likely make this dream come true for many of them.

That this bodes badly for women and the LGBTQ community is a given.

Rebecca Turner, Executive Director of Faith Aloud, a St. Louis-based prochoice, pro-LGBTQ group, notes that, “There is a clear pattern within fundamentalist churches to blame the victim. For them Adam and Eve is historical fact and even today the woman is seen as the temptress and the man the fool who can’t resist her feminine wiles.” Fundamentalist chaplains, she continues, will hear a woman say that she was attacked and assume that she did something to provoke or warrant it. “The military is still a predominantly male, macho culture,” she says. “Add chaplains trained in very conservative ideology and you have the perfect storm of victim blaming for women who step forward. “

Rev. John Gundlach served as a United Church of Christ chaplain for 27 years and is now part of the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign. He has personally witnessed the evangelical ascension and says that the declining number of mainline Christians—Turner estimates that 90 percent of today’s Christians are fundamentalist—opened the barracks door to them.

“Some super evangelicals see the military as their own government-paid mission field,” Gundlach begins. “They are there to proselytize; that’s their mandate. Even though proselytizing is prohibited, it takes place all the time.“

In addition, Gundlach says that many Liberty-trained pastors are incompetent. “They take courses online and don’t get the practical training and hands-on experience they need,” he says.

Then there’s the issue of ideology. “Some male pastors lord over women. Some talk about ‘the gay lifestyle,’ which they see as a sin to be condemned. Even though they say they love the sinner and hate the sin, this viewpoint doesn’t help the individual who needs pastoral care and counseling,” Gundlach continues. “They claim it violates their religious freedom to have to provide care for lesbian or gay people, or to offer rites and sacraments to them.”

Of course, now that LGBTQ service members can be out, marriage is the first sacrament that comes to mind. But pastors can also be called upon to perform baptisms, confirmations, last rites, bar and bat mitzvahs, funerals, and provide counseling to enlistees and their families. Within a month of DADT’s repeal, Gary Pollitt, a spokesperson for the Military Chaplain’s Association, assured clergy that they “take cues from their religious order, not the DoD.” Those fearful of having to marry Lisa and Joan or Omar and Stephen need not worry. “Just because the Department of Defense says that gay marriage can happen, chaplains perform such rites in keeping with their ecclesiastical authorization. Period,” Pollitt told them.

As for rape, groping, or sexually offensive comments, the MCA has been appallingly silent.

“Liberty-trained chaplains are just one piece of a larger problem,” Rev. Gundlach concludes. “The evangelical Christian piece is huge. Their influence in the Pentagon and the military academies is enormous and will not be easy to overcome. It’s not just chaplains but senior officials and admirals who have been influenced by these conservative groups.”

Sharon Groves, Director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program, sees the challenge as attracting seminarians who are sensitive to women and LGBTQ people, preachers who are willing to uphold the Code of Ethics promulgated by the 4000-member Association of Professional Chaplains: “Members shall serve all persons without discrimination regardless of religion, faith group, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, or disability… [and] refrain from imposing doctrinal positions or spiritual practices on persons whom they encounter in their role as chaplains.”

Now, wouldn’t that be something for the Amen Corner to celebrate?

South Dakota’s 2012 Legislative Session: Another One Just Like the Last One

This week will mark the beginning of the 2012 legislative sessions for many states across the nation, particularly in the Midwest.  Many of these states have part-time legislatures, which only meet for a few months of the year. Most of these states are coping with strained economies and restricted budgets.

A reasonable expectation for 2012 would be that these legislative bodies would seek to use frugality as their policy-making guide during tough times.  Seeking the most bang for their taxpayer buck, leading them toward wise budgetary decision-making, shoring up essential public services and providing their respective citizenries with improved quality of living.  A year to set aside ideological political divides and begin focusing on what really matters for their respective states. 

If South Dakota provides us with any indication, it looks like 2012 will most likely be a sad repeat of 2011.  Just one state among many that contributed to the drastic and unprecedented increase in abortion provisions attempted and enacted at the state level during 2011.  Another state clamoring for the chance to regulate, harass and restrict abortion out of extinction within its borders.   

There are five states with only one abortion clinic within their borders.  South Dakota is one of those five states.  South Dakota is also in the midst of litigation, outspending my own home state of Kansas.  In fact, they anticipate spending $750,000 in the first half of 2012.   Their Governor Daugaard has even requested $1 million for an “Extraordinary Litigation Fund” to cover court costs related to fighting abortion laws passed by a South Dakota legislature based upon scientifically bogus factoids. 

Scientifically bogus factoids like those included state-mandated information materials that tell women who seek abortions that suicidal tendencies are a “risk factor” of their procedure.  So, the state of South Dakota is going to follow up this wise use of taxpayer cash by throwing more money at scientifically bogus factoids like the myth of “fetal pain.” 

South Dakota’s fiscal picture looks brighter that it did last session, so what better way to spend all of that fat cash than on the ideological pursuit to shut down one abortion clinic within 77,121 square miles?  As Kate Sheppard points out at the end of her piece on the South Dakota spending, this is out of line with the “will of the people” who have twice voted down abortion bans at their polls. 

One South Dakota legislator stated,  “I would encourage a group that’s been putting up legislation like that – and has done some great legislation – to maybe take a year and regroup.”

Rest assured, there will be no “re-grouping” for the anti-choice zealots intent upon eliminating abortion in South Dakota.  There is only the “ramrodding” of their abortion access eliminating agenda through their state government, representing the will of the radical right in spite of the will of the majority. Incremental legislation is their end game.  Its not as sexy or eye catching as personhood amendments, but it achieves the desired result…anti-choice victory, one red state at a time. 

How Long Will It Take For Women to be Free to Control Their Bodies?

Originally posted to JACBLOG!

How long will it take for women to be free to control their own bodies?  How long will it take before government backs out of bedrooms?  How long will it take before women rise up and fight the assaults on their freedoms?  History and 2011’s increase in reproductive restrictions do not present reassuring answers to these questions.

Despite Abigail Adams’ admonition to her husband to ‘remember the ladies’ as he attended the Constitutional Convention, the rights of women were not laid out during the very founding of our county; thereby not granting them equal parity legally and allowing abuses to occur.   In the 1800s, women began organizing and achieved some minor successes, but no equality either legally or socially.  After years of struggles and a bitter fight for the right to vote, the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.  Three years later the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed. 83 years after its initial introduction, the ERA has yet to be ratified.

Throughout most of the 20th century, women were prisoners of their own biology.  In many cases, they were unable to legally purchase contraception, husbands could force their wives to have sex and it was not considered rape, and women could not obtain safe, legal abortions.  Finally, on January 22, 1973, American women won a major victory with the Roe vs. Wade decision by the Supreme Court.

For those of us who remember the days before Roe vs. Wade, this decision changed the landscape for women.  I can remember hearing sirens on my college campus as young women resorted to coat hangers, stairs, or medication to handle unwanted pregnancies.  I can remember women pooling their funds and going to clinics where doctors performed abortions at night.  I can remember women who lost their ability to have children or who lost their lives to back alley abortions.  Roe vs. Wade offered a life line, freedom to choose.

Sadly, Roe vs. Wade did not stop the war on women’s rights.  The fight against abortion has not ended, and it worsened drastically in the last few years.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, 2011 had a record number of anti-abortion measures proposed.  Across the 50 states, there were more than 1,100 reproductive health- and reproductive rights-related provisions introduced.  While in the U.S. House of Representatives, draconian laws, such as HR 358: the “Let Women Die Act,” passed easily.

The anti-abortion forces have launched full-scale attacks on a number of fronts.  One tact targets coverage of abortion and/or contraception in health insurance plans, insuring that people of modest means are unable to pay for these services.  Another abuse of privacy is the requirement that women undergo abortion counseling.  It is the ultimate paternalistic reasoning that women are not smart enough to make informed decisions on their own, and it is another example of the government invading the most private of spheres. 

According to the most extreme laws, a woman must go to a crisis pregnancy center, where her medical privacy is invaded and where non-medically trained personnel give incorrect information and may even proselytize if she is of another faith. In a number of states, “personhood” has either been proposed by the legislature, is scheduled to be proposed, or is on a ballot initiative.  This measure would give the fetus more rights than the living woman carrying it.  It regards her as a vessel that has no worth except as an incubator for the fetus.  “Personhood” conveys all rights to the fetus.  That means if a woman needs a life-saving abortion due to an ectopic pregnancy, she cannot get it because it would be considered murder. 

Now mind you, the fetus would not ever survive in that case, but under “personshood” the fetus would be considered more important.  It would also mean that many types of contraception would be outlawed and that in vitro fertilization, as well as stem cell research, would not be lawful procedures.  In fact, if a woman did not know she was pregnant and she fell or engaged in what the state considered “risky activity,” she could be charged with murder if she had a miscarriage.

These laws should strike fear in anyone who is female or who loves a female.  There is no regard for the safety and value of a woman’s life and rights.  The anti-abortion forces speak of the sanctity of life without any regard for the life of a woman.  They impose their own convictions on her and are willing to sacrifice her for their own religious beliefs.

The time has come.  The time is now.  We must work very hard to support those who value women’s lives.  There is not one candidate running in the Republican presidential primary who is pro-choice.  Not one of them supports the right to choose.  In fact, most of them vow to appoint judges who would overturn Roe vs. Wade.  A number of them would like a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Every Congressperson in the House of Representatives is up for reelection this November, including each and every Representative who sponsored and voted for HR 358 and other outrageous bills to curtail women’s health and freedoms.  One third of the Senate is up for reelection as well.  Now is the time to make sure those who are against reproductive rights do not get sent back to Washington to continue their harsh attacks on women.

This is not only about the right to choose, it is about the right to be and the right to be free.  How long will it take?  The time to stop asking and start answering that question is now.  Give your time and your money to candidates who believe in women.  

This year marks the 39th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  Let’s make sure there is a 40th anniversary, a 50th anniversary, a 100th anniversary.  The time is now.

Gail Yamner
President, JACPAC

Why Cervical Cancer is an LGBT Issue

This article is cross-posted from and in partnership with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Healthand is published as part of a series on cervical cancer.

See all our coverage of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2012 here.

When talking about bringing the number of cervical cancer deaths to zero, it is crucial not to forget about LGBTQ people’s distinct experiences accessing health care. We know cervical cancer is completely preventable, and that regular pap smears are designed to catch any changes in the cervix that may lead to cancer later on. Just as with many other Latinas, however, preventing cervical cancer for LGBTQ Latin@s becomes a matter of access – to affordable exams, to providers who are culturally competent, and to providers who are trained to deal with LGBTQ patients. Unfortunately, for many LGBTQ Latin@s, affordable preventive care with properly trained clinicians is simply not accessible.

One of the most pressing issues for LGBTQ access to care is discrimination and bias. Homophobia at the doctor’s office is unfortunately common, and a great detractor to queer women seeking care. This then affects access to preventive care – women who have sex with women are at risk for cervical cancer, and research suggests that queer women who report positive attitudes about their providers are more likely to have had a recent pap. Transphobia is also a concern, and especially for highly gendered health services such as Pap smears, a huge barrier to access. In fact, in a recent survey about the experiences of transgender people with discrimination, nearly a quarter of trans Latin@s reported having been denied medical services due to their gender identity, and 36 percent reported delaying needed medicals services for fear of bias.

Discrimination at the doctor’s office is only part of the problem, however. While person-to-person discrimination is an issue, the systematic oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ communities plays a role in LGBTQ Latin@s’ ability to afford care, research and knowledge about LGBTQ health, and clinicians’ training on treating LGBTQ patients. Existing research suggests that LGBTQ communities are disproportionately poor, and the Latin@ respondents of the Transgender Discrimination Survey reported high rates of both unemployment and harassment at work due to gender identity. This means that health care is often out of reach for these communities, especially non-emergency and preventive care such as Pap smears. But even if LGBTQ people are able to afford care, most physicians are woefully unprepared to treat LGBTQ patients due to a lack of training on relevant issues.

We are seeing progress, however. Reproductive justice activism is incorporating the needs of LGBTQ communities, and the LGBTQ advocates are beginning to consider reproductive rights issues as ones that are relevant to their base. Every day we are seeing research on LGBTQ health grow. And last November, in a historic move, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement urging their members to be prepared to treat transgender patients. It’s a long road ahead, but as long as we don’t forget our LGBTQ herman@s in the fight to bring down cervical cancer deaths to zero, we are moving forward.

Lights, Camera, Condoms: Activists Try for Another Ballot Initiative Requiring Porn Stars to Use Condoms

Last week, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) began collecting signatures on a petition to get a measure on the county-wide ballot mandating that porn stars wear condoms.  This is the latest move in a battle between an industry that claims it is willing and able to police itself and an activist community that argues producers are not doing enough to protect their performers. 

In case you’ve forgotten, when we last left our friends in the porn industry in September, production had just resumed after one star’s HIV test caused both a panic and a voluntarily shut down of all sets. Though the test turned out to be a false positive, the incident drew attention to the safe-guards (or lack of safe-guards) designed to protect performers from sexuality transmitted diseases (STDs). 

Both California and federal workplace safety rules require porn stars to use condoms if they are exchanging body fluid through sex, but some activists, including AHF say these rules are toothless and largely ignored. AHF has long been working to get the city of Los Angeles to pass an ordinance which would mandate condom use on set and heavily fine those productions that fail to comply.

In February 2011, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance which would mandate condom use in adult films and enforce the rule by linking the requirement to the issuing of film permits. Oddly enough, in May the council voted unanimously not to pass such an ordinance.  So AHF took its campaign to the voters in the city of Los Angeles and began circulating petitions.  It managed to get a ballot measure qualified for the city’s June 2012 vote, however, that measure faces some legal challenges

In the meantime, AHF is focusing at least some of its energy on a similar county-wide measure.  The group’s president argues that it is the county’s responsibility to protect the health of its residents. “After all,” he told the LA Times, “fire departments are responsible for overseeing pyrotechnics on film sets, and municipalities have banned smoking in restaurants to protect patron and employee health.”

County officials, however, disagree.  At least one county supervisor believes that it is not a city issue or a county issue but a state issue:  “it is the state of California, not the county, that needs to act to protect adult film performers.”  He argues that if the state empowers law enforcement to conduct sting operations “all you’ve got to do is make one or two arrests and the rest of the … industry will understand pretty quickly that there’s a risk.”

AHF disagrees and is hoping that the voters of Los Angeles County will go for its ballot measure which it likens to the health permit requirements for tattoo shops, massage parlors, and bathhouse.  The measure, would “require producers of adult films to obtain a public health permit from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and pay a permit fee.” It would also authorize the county “to revoke permits of film producers violating the ordinance.”  Violations of the ordinance, could result in civil fines or misdemeanor charges. The measure needs 200,000 signatures in order to find its way on to the November 2012 ballot. 

Some warn, however, that if such a measure were to pass, the porn industry, would take its billions of dollars and start making movies far away from Hollywood, where no latex is required.    

Maryland Law Expanding Medicaid Access to Women’s Health Services Takes Effect

Last May, while the U.S. House and legislatures in various states were trying to defund family planning services, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Family Planning Works Act into law.  The Act, which makes Medicaid-funded birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screenings, and other essential services accessible to an additional 33,000  low- and moderate-income women in the states, has now gone into effect.

In an article last year in the Washington Post by the lead sponsors of the legislation, Democratic Delegate Heather Mizeur and Republican Delegate Michael Smigiel, asserted that the act makes sense both in terms of public health and economically:

Getting effective family planning to more women can help Maryland — one of the richest states in the nation — improve its dismal record of being the 13th-worst state for low-birth-weight babies and ninth-worst in infant mortality. Studies show that when a woman delays motherhood until she and her partner are ready to welcome a child into the world, their baby will be born healthier.

Family planning is also a winner for the state and federal budgets. It sounds impossible, but even in these tough fiscal times, expanding these services to tens of thousands of women — at a cost of $5.5 million per year, paid mostly by a generous federal Medicaid match — will save the state and federal governments tens of millions of dollars a year.

How so?

First, wrote Mizeur and Smigiel, “one must understand how things work in Maryland right now. (Or, to be more accurate, how they don’t work.)”

To protect the health of mothers and babies, we provide coverage for prenatal, birthing and neonatal care to low- and moderate-income women and their newborns. For each pregnancy whose costs are paid for by the state, Maryland spends nearly $20,000.

At the same time, we also offer family planning services — but only for a woman who has already given birth to her first child, and only if the state helped pay for her pregnancy care. That’s quite an odd policy, of course, because family planning is best begun before a family is started.

It is costly to state and federal budgets to pay for unintended pregnancies. Based on the experience of states that have similarly made family planning more available, experts at the Guttmacher Institute project that there will be 7,980 fewer unintended pregnancies (including 2,650 fewer abortions) per year in our state, saving Maryland as much as much as $39.5 million per year.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, support for the legislation was solidly bipartisan, with more than a dozen House Republicans joining almost all Democrats in voting to pass it. Nearly half the Senate Republican caucus supported it on the floor.

The bill’s authors wrote:

Family planning isn’t a Democratic issue, and it’s not a Republican issue. Progressives like Heather should support it because it’s good for the health of women and babies. Conservatives like Michael should support it because it dramatically reduces the number of abortions and saves taxpayer dollars. Everyone should support family planning because it improves lives while saving money…Despite our many differences, this bill helped us reach across the aisle to move our state forward.

If only common sense could go viral.

Iowa Legislators Claim No Abortion Bills Will Be Voted on This Session

The Iowa 2012 legislative session begins today, and politicians appear ready to agree on one thing:

No abortion bills this year.

Via THOnline:

Don’t expect the volatile issues of abortion and gay rights to dominate the Legislature this year as they did last session, legislative leaders said.

Republican lawmakers said they still believe the Legislature should further restrict abortions and refer a proposed repeal of the state’s same-sex marriage law to voters, but with little chance of success on those issues they’re planning to focus on other matters when the Legislature convenes Monday.

“We’re not afraid to address those issues, but we’re also not interested in squandering Iowans’ time,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, arguing that voters are more interested in jobs and the economy. “We have a job to do and we’re going to do it.”

Funny, I seem to remember some South Dakota legislators saying the same thing.  And we see how long that lasted.

Personhood Arkansas Blames Proposal Defeat on “Pro-Abortion” AG

A group in Arkansas who wants to give legal rights to fertilized eggs is not taking defeat lying down.  In response to having their proposed constitutional amendment language turned down for being “too vague,” Personhood Arkansas is responding by calling the attorney general “blatantly pro-abortion.”

Via OneNewsNow:

The group submitted language for the proposal to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who rejected it on the basis of it being too vague. Personhood spokesman Keith Riley says that was no shock.

“They discussed several pro-life bills in the Arkansas legislature last year and he [McDaniel] sent somebody from his office to testify in opposition to every single one of them,” says Riley. “So, he’s been described in media circles as blatantly pro-abortion.”

But don’t worry about them giving up.  They intend to resubmit, and then take the matter to court if they get turned down again.

President Obama, Please Keep Your Promise to Insulate Science from Politics and Ideology

On Friday, January 6th, 2012, several experts addressed the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology about the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step® and the Obama administration’s refusal to let the Food and Drug Administration lift the age restriction from the medication. The administration dismissed overwhelming scientific evidence showing Plan B’s safety, and the experts whose testimonies are published by Rewire raised questions about both the process and the politics behind the decision.

See all our coverage of the Administration’s 2011 Emergency Contraception Reversal here.

Thank you, Dr. Holdren and Counsel Advisors for setting aside time for us to speak with you this afternoon.

I am here today representing the 12,000 ARHP member health care professionals across disciplines and specialties who are passionate about evidence-based science and excellent patient care. It is our job to translate the best possible bench, clinical, and behavioral research into clinical practice to improve public health.

You are the President’s greatly respected science and technology advisors at the highest level. Your Counsel work is testimony to President Obama’s commitment three years ago to “restore science to its rightful place.”

Unfortunately, that is why our community is so distressed right now. One of the most difficult things to do is tell a friend that we are disappointed or upset with them, but that is what we are doing here today. Our field is experiencing a collective moment of “cognitive dissonance” with the administration right now. This is due to Secretary Sebelius’ recent decision to pit science against politics when she overruled the FDA’s evidence-based decision to approve Plan B One Step for over-the-counter use for all women. This method is extremely safe and effective for all women, and is far safer than many currently approved over-the-counter medications.

This situation raises difficult questions about women’s healthcare in the US:

  • How will this unfortunate precedent impact future FDA decisions, and how will that uncertainty impact public health overall?
  • How will this political barrier to access impact unintended pregnancy, morbidity, and mortality rates among teens and young adults?
  • Amid this confusion, how do clinicians counsel women about their care?

President Obama promised to insulate science from politics and ideology, and PCAST is evidence of this intention. We are asking you to work with us on this setback to readdress this decision, find out how it was made, and identify a better pathway forward in the future.

Three Minutes, Three Positions On Birth Control

Presidential front runner Mitt Romney has been accused of flip-flopping before, but never quite this fast.  Via Think Progress, watch his three different stances on birth control in three minutes.