Dean Ragsdale, National Religious Leaders Affirm Access to Birth Control in Advance of SCOTUS Hearing

MARCH 18, 2014, (CAMBRIDGE, MA) -- forty-five nationally recognized religious leaders, including Episcopal Divinity School President and Dean, Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, released a joint statement supporting universal access to contraception, and affirming that equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. The statement comes one week before the US Supreme Court hears two cases by private companies to deny women birth control coverage in their employee health insurance, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

Together, these Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and Muslim leaders agreed:

"As religious leaders, we support universal access to contraception. We believe that all persons should be free to make personal decisions about their reproductive lives, their health and the health of their families that are informed by their culture, faith tradition, religious beliefs, conscience, and community. We affirm, in accordance with each of our faith traditions, that ensuring equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. Including contraceptives as a covered service does not require anyone to use it; excluding contraceptive coverage for those who choose to plan and space their families with modern methods of birth control will effectively translate into coercive childbearing for many.

We support social justice. We recognize the dignity and worth of each and every member of our communities—including those uniquely vulnerable to the effects of unequal access to healthcare due to race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or geography.

We support religious freedom. Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others' beliefs forced upon them. We believe no employer has the right to deny the women who work for them basic health care. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions.

No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on contraception, nor should government take sides on religious differences. We call on our government to respect the beliefs and values of everyone’s faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it."

Endorsing faith leaders include 5 current and former presidents of national denominations including 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), the Rev. Dr. Yvette A. Flunder (The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries) and the Reverend Nancy Wilson, (Metropolitan Community Churches); 5 seminary presidents including the Rev. Dr. Nick Carter (Andover Newton Theological School), Dr. Alton B. Pollard (Howard University School of Divinity) the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones (Union Theological Seminary), the Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale (Episcopal Divinity School) and the Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes (Vanderbilt Divinity School; and the heads of more than thirty national religious organizations, including the Interfaith Alliance (the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy), the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (the Rev. Richard Cizik), Women of Reform Judaism (Rabbi Marla Feldman), the Beatitudes Society (the Rev. Anne Howard), Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (the Rev. Harry Knox), Catholics for Choice (Jon O’Brien), the National Council of Jewish Women (Nancy K. Kaufman) and Muslims for Progressive Values (Ani Zonneveld). 

The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, President of the Religious Institute, which coordinated the letter and the endorsement effort, said, "It is a myth that people of faith don't support family planning. Most Jewish movement and Protestant denominations have had policies supporting family planning for decades. It is precisely because as faith leaders we know that life is sacred, that we believe that every woman must be able to plan her pregnancies intentionally without governmental interference and without her employer in her bedroom. The theological diversity of those who endorsed today’s statement is further evidence of widespread faith support for birth control coverage. We pray the U.S. Supreme Court is listening."

The full text of the statement and its endorsers can be found at www.religiousinstitute.org/faithleaders4bc. 

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The Religious Institute, based in Westport, CT, is a nonprofit, multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society. More than 6,400 clergy, seminary presidents and deans, religious scholars and other religious leaders representing more than 50 faith traditions are part of the Religious Institute’s national religious leaders network.