Letter Backs Contraception September 19, 2012 News Nearly 40 religious leaders have signed the Religious Institute’s “Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning.” The institute describes the open letter as “a direct response to political attempts to deny or restrict family planning access.” The Very Rev. Katharine Ragsdale, dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and the Rev. Harry Knox, former interim executive director of Integrity and president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, are among the signatories. The full text of the open letter is available as a PDF. Some of its central points: “Religious traditions teach that sex and sexuality are divinely bestowed gifts for expressing mutual love, generating life, for companionship, and for pleasure. From a religious point of view, sexual relationships are to be held sacred, and therefore should always be responsible, mutually respectful, pleasurable and loving.” “Families in their diverse forms are best upheld in environments where there is love and respect, children thrive, and women’s welfare is protected. It is unacceptable for society to impose limits on family size or to discriminate against those who choose not to be parents.” “Every individual is a moral agent with the right and responsibility to make their own decisions about procreation, including family size and the spacing of their children. These rights should be accorded equally to all persons regardless of geography, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class, or race.” “Our sacred texts are silent on modern contraception. Yet, in the creation stories the world over, the Divine fashions humans intentionally in relationships and families. Family planning is thus a key part of the narrative of many sacred texts.” “Governments must respect individual decisions and assure accurate and comprehensive information as well as access to services and supplies. Hospitals and health services, regardless of religious affiliation, must provide or refer to contraceptive services. Services must be offered without regard to sex, age, gender, income, race, religion, marital status, or sexual orientation.” “No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on contraception, nor should government take sides on religious differences. We oppose any attempt to make specific religious doctrine concerning pregnancy, childbirth, or contraception the law of any country in the world. Religious groups themselves must respect the beliefs and values of other faiths, since no single faith can claim final moral authority in domestic or international discourse.” The Religious Institute, based in Westport, Connecticut, advocates for “sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society,” which includes “sexuality education, reproductive justice, LGBT inclusion, abuse prevention” and responding to “global suffering caused by preventable maternal mortality, violence against women and sexual minorities, the HIV pandemic, unsustainable population growth and over-consumption, and the commercial exploitation of sexuality.” The Rev. Deborah Haffner, a Unitarian-Universalist minister and executive director of the institute, wrote in a weblog post: I never would have predicted that nearly four decades later that birth control would once again be controversial. After all, nine in ten heterosexually active women use family planning, nine in ten Americans believe that birth control use is morally acceptable, and three quarters of voters in 2012 agree that “we should do everything we can to make sure that people who want to use prescription birth control have affordable access to it.” Yet, during the past two years, there have been efforts to pass so called “Personhood Amendments” that would criminalize hormonal methods of birth control, the federal government almost closed down because of an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, and contraceptive coverage in health care reform is being challenged by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, calling its inclusion an attack on their “religious liberty.” Given these efforts, coupled with increased restrictions on abortion and politicians’ ridiculous statements on how pregnancy does and doesn’t occur, terming this a “war on women” seems all too apt. Other signatories include the Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson (Reformed Church in America), Richard Cizik (The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good), sociologist Tony Campolo, and Jon O’Brien (Catholics for Choice).