Diverse Religious Leaders Affirm Contraceptive Access as 'Moral Imperative'

There is a picture I've seen on the Internet of an elderly woman holding a sign that says, "I can't believe I'm still protesting for birth control." As a woman who came of age in the 1970s era of easy birth control availability, neither can I. Surely, almost 50 years since the Griswold decision, I never would have predicted that contraception would once again be controversial.

After all, nine-in-10 heterosexually active women use family planning, nine-in-10 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 as a preventive health service 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, the idea that there is a new "war on women" seems all too believable.

I am proud to tell you that this morning, 38 nationally recognized and theologically diverse religious leaders are joining me in affirming safe, affordable, accessible and comprehensive family planning services. They include current and past heads of denominations, such the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black (United Church of Christ), the Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson (Reformed Church in America), the Rev. Peter Morales (Unitarian Universalist Association), and the Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins (Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)); presidents of seminaries such as Dr. Philip A. Amerson (Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary), the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones (Union Theological Seminary) and The Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale (Episcopal Divinity School); organizational heads such as Dr. Richard Cizik (the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good), the Rev. Harry Knox (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) and Jon O'Brien (Catholics for Choice); and nationally recognized theologians such as the Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, the Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield and Dr. Mary Hunt. They have all endorsed the Religious Institute's new Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning.

The Open Letter was developed at a Religious Institute colloquium held this spring. A dozen Christian (mainline, Evangelical and Roman Catholic), Jewish and Muslim theologians created the Open Letter in a day of dialog and discussion. They affirmed that, "in a just world, all people would have equal access to contraception. The denial of family planning services effectively translates into coercive childbearing is an insult to human dignity." They called on hospitals and health services, regardless of religious affiliation, to provide or refer to contraceptive services, and reminded those who would oppose such services, that "no single faith can claim final moral authority in domestic or international discourse." They urged religious leaders to "advocate for increased U.S. financial support for domestic and global family planning services."

There is nothing new about religious leaders supporting family planning. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform Judaism) and the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion passed the first religious organization policies supporting it in 1929 and 1930, respectively. Today, at least 14 major denominations, including the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Seventh Day Adventist Church have policies supporting contraception.

As people of faith, we must resist those who would deny individuals the ability to make their own personal decisions about their families and reproductive lives; indeed we must resist the political attempts to make such decisions and such services controversial when they are not. As the Open Letter states, "contraception allows for a fulfilling sexual life while reducing maternal and infant mortality, unintended pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases." Surely as the wide range of endorsers of the Open Letter demonstrates, family planning is common ground.

If you are a religious leader, please add your name to the list of endorsers by clicking here. If you are a member of a faith community, please ask your religious leader to add their name. Help us spread the word about the new Open Letter on Facebook and Twitter. Let us demonstrate to all who would once again limit contraception that people of faith understand that "contraception saves lives, promotes human flourishing, and advances the common good."