Article of Faith: Faith leaders urge women's reproductive rights not be left behind in health care reform

November 13, 2009

Pedro Julio Serrano, Communications Manager
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — Faith leaders have come out reaffirming that abortion must be safe, legal and accessible. The Rev. Debra Haffner of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable is among those who are expressing disappointment in the inclusion of the Stupak-Pitt amendment to the U.S. House health care reform bill. This amendment would effectively deny coverage for abortion services to women covered by the new federal health care plan. Earlier this week, faith groups issued a joint statement reaffirming support for abortion rights. What follows is an Article of Faith addressing the importance of continuing the fight for women's reproductive rights in the health care reform debate in the U.S.

Article of Faith by the Rev. Debra Haffner
Director, Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
National Religious Leadership Roundtable Member

I want to be happy that the U.S. House passed its version of health care reform. Really. I believe so strongly about making health care a right, not a privilege.

But the House version included a last-minute amendment — the Stupak-Pitt amendment — which if included in the final law, will basically mean that any insurance company that wants to be part of the federal program will not be able to include abortion as a covered service. If passed, it's the greatest restriction on women's access to abortion since the Hyde amendment passed more than two decades ago.

I feel betrayed. Betrayed by the many Democrats who voted for it. Betrayed by Nancy Pelosi who let it be brought to the floor. Betrayed by those in the pro-choice community who asked too early for us to get behind the Capps amendment, which would have continued to deny women who needed abortion coverage in the public option but was 'abortion neutral.' We gave up too much ground too soon. And I'm angry that our pro-choice president was willing to go along with trading the rights of women to get anti-choice legislators to go along with it.

I can't say that I'm surprised. I've been writing for more than two years about my concern about religious leaders who call themselves progressive but don't support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights or the rights of women to make their own decisions about their pregnancies. I've continually called for sexual justice to be an integral part of a progressive religious agenda. I've been asked far too many times to stop raising these issues, to recognize that they are divisive to a common ground agenda, that reaching out to Catholics and evangelical leaders is more important than working for justice to LGBT people and women. I can't count how many times I've written articles that women's and LGBT people's lives shouldn't be traded for political gains.

Some of those so-called progressive folks helped deliver health care reform in the House — but they did it at the expense of hundreds of thousands of women who will now have even a more difficult time accessing safe abortion services. Removing abortion from covered insurance plans won't keep women from having abortions — it will just mean that they happen later in pregnancies as women struggle to find the money to pay for them — or they will resort once again to unsafe procedures.

The bottom line: Women's lives got buried under common ground on Saturday night. And to those who said the religious right was dead, I wish it felt better to say, "I told you so."

About the Author: The Rev. Debra Haffner is co-founder and director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and a member of the steering committee of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable.


The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is an interfaith network of leaders from pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) faith, spiritual and religious organizations. We work in partnership with other groups to promote understanding of and respect for LGBT people within society at large and in communities of faith. We promote understanding and respect within LGBT communities for a variety of faith paths and for religious liberty, and to achieve commonly held goals that promote equality, spirituality and justice.

The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the grassroots power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. We do this by training activists, equipping state and local organizations with the skills needed to organize broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.