Pop culture and media often shape how we think about the world. As we escape indoors from the summer heat and unrelenting pandemic, look for how issues related to reproductive freedom and dignity are portrayed in the media we consume. What are the stories being told? Who’s telling them? What questions are they asking? How can we be asking better questions, telling better stories? Below are a few things we’ve been watching and reading lately:
Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen
Released in June on Netflix, the must-watch documentary Disclosure “is an unprecedented, eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender.” Helmed by Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black, Disclosure lays out the history of onscreen depictions of trans lives, both positive and negative, and explores how such media shapes society’s understanding of gender. This powerful documentary is a lesson in empathy and critical thinking.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
What if Jesus had been married? Although modern Christians take for granted that Jesus never had a wife, the Bible doesn’t definitively say. That’s the central question of this latest work of fiction from Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees and Dance of the Dissident Daughter. The Book of Longings is a tale of the life of Ana, Jesus’s (fictional) wife. Ana longs to be a writer. Like women have done since the beginning of time, Ana (mild spoiler alert) uses herbs and tinctures, with the full approval of her husband Jesus, to prevent pregnancy so that she can fulfill her dream of studying and writing about the lives of women.
Syfy network adapted Lev Grossman’s trilogy of novels into a five-season hit show. The show takes the books–a grown-up reflection on The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, and similar books–and adds on a deeper reflection on relationships and sexuality, including SPOILER ALERT a magical abortion.
Born Behind Bars
This docu-series shows the lives of women and their babies as they live together in the “Wee Ones” dormitory in a maximum security women’s prison in Indiana. The show is produced in a way that reminds me of TLC shows–plenty of dramatic music, replays of emotional moments–but the content lends to so much reflection on what it means to be able to have agency as a mother and as a person in our society. The women in the show by and large mention their drug addiction (often meth), generational abuse, and lack of health care and education. Watch with an eye toward repro justice and human dignity and wait for the questions to bubble up. Here are a few:
Why aren’t the women in drug rehab?
I imagine that it is rare for ANY woman to raise her baby from 0 to 12 months. How many mothers/parents get to do that?
Again, why isn’t there a rehabilitation and therapy program for everyone in this prison?
Here are a few more resources that look at repro dignity and contemporary media:
Abortion Onscreen is a fascinating project by ANSIRH (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health) at UC San Franciso. (Linked in the above article) I enjoyed looking through the different series and storylines that featured abortion over the past few years. They also have a census of the past 100 years of film regarding abortion.
Want more recommendations for podcasts, documentaries, and books? Check out a few of our past blog posts:
Gratitude is not so much a feeling but a practice–an important one, particularly in times when so little seems to be aligning with our hopes for the world. Even so, we can find hope in unexpected places. Here is what we are giving thanks for this month at Faith in Women.
We are inspired by the first ever Daring Compassion: Movement Chaplaincy Training that is taking place right now. Activists, religious leaders, and other justice-inspired people from around the country are participating in a 12-week online learning program designed to equip individuals to provide emotional and spiritual care within our movements for social change. This course is co-instructed by Hilary Allen and friend of Faith in Women Micky ScottBey Jones, both from the Faith Matters Network. To learn more about the training and get updates on future trainings, visit the Movement Chaplaincy Training website.
November 13th was Contraception Access Day, and we’re saying #ThxBirthControl all month long. From regulating menstrual cycles and easing painful periods to preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing risk of gynecological cancer, access to reliable forms of contraception is essential for gender equality, bodily autonomy, family planning, and reproductive dignity. We are also thankful to our partners that provide sexuality education to ensure every person has the information they need to make informed decisions about their bodies, families, and futures.
Everyday the Jackson Women’s Health Center, also known as the “Pink House” and the only abortion provider in Mississippi,” is targeted by anti-choice extremists who attempt to intimidate staff and patients with shouting and even bullhorns. In response the Jackson City Council voted 3-1 to enforce a noise ordinance that in addition to banning the use of amplifiers and speakers, provides a protective “bubble” both for the clinic and for those entering its doors. The Jackson Free Press covered the specifics of the new ordinance which went into effect October 1st.
Judge Carlton Reeves, nominated by President Obama in 2010 to the position of district judge for the Southern District of Mississippi, has twice struck down legislation that would severely limit–or even outright ban–access to abortion in the state. In 2018 he struck down a fifteen-week ban, and this year he blocked an even more restrictive six-week ban. Judge Reeves said the six-week ban “smacks of defiance to this court.”
And, we are grateful to our Faith in Women partners, members, supporters, and activists. Faith in Women started as an experimental project in 2015, and because of your support and perseverance, our organization has grown into a vibrant spiritual force for change in our state and beyond. Thank you, thank you!
Did you know that there is no constitutional protection that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex? That is because the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was introduced in Congress nearly 100 years ago, has never been ratified. Mississippi is one of thirteen states that have failed to support this amendment. Without the necessary three-fourths of states supporting the ERA, equal rights for all citizens is still not guaranteed by the Constitution on the basis of sex.
The ERA is a lot older than many people think. In 1923 Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, leaders in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment that stated:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Support for the amendment blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s as the movements for women’s rights and civil rights gained traction. With overwhelming bipartisan support behind it, the ERA easily passed both the House of Representatives and Senate in the early 1970s, and it was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification.
By 1977 thirty-five of the necessary thirty-eight states had ratified the ERA. Many Mississippi groups, including the Mississippi Nurses Association, the Jackson Women’s Coalition, and the Mississippi Hairdressers and Cosmetologists were active in campaigning for the ERA in the state. But another campaign was working against them: the “STOP (Stop Taking Our Privileges) ERA,” led most notably by conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly. Their messages centered around their support of male dominance and their distrust of the federal government. Unfortunately, STOP ERA thwarted the political momentum towards the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment primarily by targeting policy makers in southern states. When the ERA was introduced in the Mississippi state legislature in 1973, it didn’t receive enough support to make it out of committee for a full vote.
Its language is simple, but its effect would be powerful. The Equal Rights Amendment would enshrine the equality of the sexes into our Constitution and protect the rights of not only women, but also people who are nonbinary, queer, or trans, from the whims of Congress and the states.
Though various protections for women and LGBTQ individuals have been won legistiavely, these efforts to piecemeal protections have left gaps and loopholes, and some require ongoing Congressional support, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which requires regular reuthorization for continued funding. A Constitutional amendment could close those gaps. Additionally, if ratified the ERA could be a critical piece of advocating for reproductive rights, health, and justice–one of the very reasons that anti-choice activists have worked so hard to organize against its ratification.
The ERA is still viable, and it’s just as vital now as it was almost a hundred years ago. The state of Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017, followed quickly by the state of Illinois in 2018. That means only one more state is needed to move the Equal Rights Amendment out of limbo. Currently efforts to ratify the ERA are active in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.
The key to ratifying the ERA is building awareness for it among voters and pressuring state legislators to support it. One way to keep informed on both the state and national level is to sign up for updates from organizations like the Alice Paul Institute and the Equal Means Equal project, an initiative supported by the Heroica Foundation which also produced a documentary film about the ERA called Equal Means Equal. To learn more about how to host a screening in your community, visit their website.
Abortion restrictions and bans seem to be dominating headlines on a daily basis. As attacks on reproductive rights continue to rise and increase in severity, it can be easy to overlook the significant achievements and strides being made to protect and expand access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare in several states around the country. These legislative victories from the past month are worth celebrating as they provide inspiration and practical strategies to guide our work in the coming weeks, months, and years.
This month the state of Illinois passed the Reproductive Health Act, a comprehensive bill that protects abortion in a number of ways. First, it requires all insurance plans, public and private, to provide coverage for abortion care. Second, it removes targeted restrictions for abortion providers and expands the pool of providers to include nurses and physician assistants. Third, it repeals old state laws that criminalized abortion. Fourth, it allows for second trimester abortion without requiring a second physician’s opinion for medically-necessary procedures.
Nevada’s governor signed into law legislation that ends the practice of compelling proivders to share the “emotional implications” of getting an abortion witht their patients. Under this new law providers are no longer required to ask about a patient’s marital status or age prior to their care. Similar to the Illinois legislation, it also removes criminal penalties for those who provide abortion medication without the advice of a doctor. Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement, “Nevada has a long history of trusting the women of our state to make their own reproductive health care decisions and protecting the right to reproductive freedom.”
In an effort to expand abortion access to those living in rural areas, Maine passed legislation that would allow medical professionals who are not physicians, inlcuding nurses and physician assistants, to provide abortion care in the state. Governor Janet Mills said, “By signing this bill into law, Maine is defending the rights of women and taking a step towards equalizing access to care as other states are seeking to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate these services.”
While politicians in our state scale up their fight against reproductive rights, there are fearless and faithful activists in our state working tirelessly to protect them, like Laurie Bertram Roberts, Shannon Brewer, and Derenda Hancock, whose work to ensure abortion access for Mississippians was profiled in the New York Times magazine, and Judge Carlton Reeves, who blocked the 6-week abortion ban proposed by the state legislature, stating in his ruling that the ban “prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy.”
Lastly, in these difficult times, many faith leaders, some for the first time, are raising their voices in support of reproductive dignity and decrying the injustice of the abortion bans spreading like wildfire in the South and Midwest. Rev. Emily Heath, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, preached for the first time about abortion. They ended their sermon with this call to action: “This is our chance, as Christians, to change the narrative. Moderate and progressive Christians are rarely the ones chosen to be talking heads on the evening news when it comes to matters of faith. That’s because we’ve been too quiet. But that can change. That must change. Our moral voice, our voice of Christ’s love, is needed more than ever.”
Are you looking for an easy way to keep up to speed on the latest news and stories related to reproductive health, rights, and justice? Our team has listened to hundreds of podcasts episodes over the years, and we have curated a list of recommended episodes for your daily commute or your next road trip. We hope these stories and discussions will help keep you grounded in the real stories of people impacted by reproductive oppression and inspire you to take action.
Not sure how to listen to a podcast? Check this guide out to get you started listening today.
Podcast: The Longest Shortest Time
Episode We Recommend: One Mom’s Late Term Abortion
“Content Warning: This episode discusses the circumstances that led to ending a wanted pregnancy. As much as this is a story about abortion, this is also a story about losing a terminally ill child. If that’s a sensitive subject for you, keep that in mind before you listen.”
Description: “At a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, President Donald Trump recently spoke about a procedure he refers to as “extreme late-term abortion” – a graphic made-up procedure. But what really happens? Late-term abortions make up less that 1% of all abortions, and are usually sought due to medical complications. There are laws in 43 states limiting when and how they happen. But, the more we read about the procedure in the headlines, the more we started wondering about the voice we never hear — the mother’s. Margot Finn tells us about getting hers at 29 weeks, and how it turned her into a parent.”
Podcast: Sexing History (hosted by friend of Faith in Women, historian Dr. Gillian Frank!)
Episode We Recommend: Sherri
Description: “In August of 1962, Sherri Chessen boarded a flight to Sweden in order to get an abortion after she was unable to obtain one in the United States. Sherri had accidentally taken medicine containing thalidomide, a drug that caused children to be born with internal injuries and shortened limbs. Her decision to terminate this risky pregnancy and her journey abroad attracted international attention from journalists, politicians, and religious leaders. Her widely shared story changed the way many Americans thought about abortion laws and even about abortion itself.”
Podcast: Dex, Sex, and Money
Episode We Recommend: I Wanted to be a Good Girl
Description: “Andrea grew up attending an evangelical church in Texas, where she was taught to abstain from sex until marriage and keep herself sexually “pure.” That early sex education—and her decision to have premarital sex anyway—had long-lasting impact, well into her adulthood.”
This episode is the first in a series called Our Sex (Mis)Educations.
Podcast: Intersectionality Matters
Episode We Recommend: Black Women & #MeToo: From Hollywood to Hip Hop
Description: “After hip hop icon Dr. Dre brutally assaulted trailblazing emcee and television personality Dee Barnes in 1991, his career continued to skyrocket while she was effectively blacklisted from the entertainment industry. Nearly three decades later, Dre, who has allegedly assaulted several other women in addition, continues to enjoy a decorated career in which his heinous misdeeds have become mere footnotes. The combination of racism and patriarchy is the condition of possibility that allows Beats by Dre to be well-known commodities while beatings by Dre remain largely overlooked.”
This episode features a panel discussion with Rashida Jones, Beverly Johnson, Jamilah Lemieux, historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, Kenyette Tisha Barnes, and Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Episode We Recommend: Men and Feminism
Description: “Can men even be feminists? And if they can, why would they *want* to be feminists?” This episode is a conversation about patriarchy, toxic and tender masculinities, and displays of allyship from men and boys that we can all celebrate.”
Did you know that reading more books ranks as the seventh most popular New Year’s resolution that people make? That’s one goal that we can get behind! Whether you have committed to reading more in 2019 and are looking for books to add to your to-read list–or if you simply want to gain a better understanding of the issues that impact women and girls in our communities –we’ve compiled a list of highly recommended books that we suggest you pick up this year. (Looking for more recommendations? Check out our other reading list we put together in 2017.)
Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light by Rachel Marie Stone
This award-winning memoir about birth, death, and the spaces in between will send tingles down your spine. Stone’s artfully-crafted reflections on faith and our reproductive decisions call us all to deeper, more intentional conversations about life’s greatest complexities. Weaving together lessons and errors from ancient texts, modern learning, and personal stories, this book includes discussions of contraception, abortion, disability, and AIDS.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittany Cooper
Both raw and personal, Cooper’s collection of essays about life as a Black woman in America is required reading for everyone. She explores topics like growing up as a Black girl in the South, the power of friendship, and Black feminism. Cooper also dives into her encounters with the church and how they have shaped her sense of self–for better and at times, for worse.
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown
Fans of Octavia Butler’s Afrofuturism will devour Brown’s book–a hybrid of tactics, self-reflection prompts, personal stories, and group exercises aimed at doing the work of changing the world in a truly collaborative fashion. Advocates and activists, this would be an excellent book for your organization to discuss as a group and to consider how you might integrate some of her strategies and tactics into your work.
An unapologetic critique of the “purity industry,” Pure dives into the damaging, long-lasting effects of purity culture on the lives and relationships of those who were immersed in it as young people. Klein argues that “purity” is not a product of the evangelical Christianity alone, but one that secular culture upholds alongside the church.
A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
In her latest novel Picoult’s harrowing story of an anti-choice terrorist who enters Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic reads more like fact than fiction. Hour-by-hour, Picoult explores the thoughts, beliefs, and fears of those who oppose abortion, those who provide abortion care, and those who are desperate to terminate a pregnancy. One of the characters, Dr. Louie Ward who travels to the clinic to provide abortions, was inspired by our friend and colleague Dr. Willie Parker.
Is there a book you’d like for us to feature in a future Faith in Women book club discussion? Would you like our help in starting a book club of your own featuring one of these books? Please send us an email. We’d love to hear from you!
The faithful activism of Rev. Bill Kirby, a United Methodist pastor who helped lead the Missouri Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, is tied to his long-held belief that God is love. Guided by Jesus’s commandment to “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself,” Rev. Kirby felt called to assist nearly two thousand women experiencing unplanned pregnancies in the early 1970s, at a time when abortion was illegal, offering them non-judgemental, compassionate counseling known as All Options. “Even the use of the word ‘abortion’ was illegal,” he said. “We lived in the realm of knowing we could be in trouble.” If a woman in his care chose abortion, he and his colleagues made sure she could get one, even if it meant arranging a secret round-trip flight from Missouri to New York, where abortions were performed safely by trained physicians.
Rev. Kirby was one of three featured speakers at Faith in Women’s September event, “Called to Resist: The Pre-Roe Faith Movement that Saved Women’s Lives,” co-sponsored with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). More than forty local clergy, churchgoers, health educators, and representatives of Mississippi-based reproductive health and rights organizations gathered in Jackson to learn about the history of the Clergy Consultation Service (CCS) and how its legacy continues to inform the prophetic work of reproductive health, rights, and justice advocacy today.
Historian Dr. Gillian Frank, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Program in American Studies at the University of Virginia, gave a brief overview of CCS’s history. At a time when abortion was a punishable crime, more than 2,000 Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, and dissident Catholic priests and nuns banded together to fight publicly for reproductive rights and to counsel hundreds of thousands of women on how they could access safe, compassionate abortion care. The underground networks they formed were robust: members were active in 40 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and in the city of Tokyo, Japan.
Why were these faith leaders willing to risk so much–their careers, their livelihood, even their freedom–for these women? They saw the devastating impact that illegal abortion was having on their communities. Back-alley abortion providers took advantage of desperate women, charging exorbitant fees to terminate their pregnancies and even worse, they often endangered their health and their lives in the process. “It became increasingly clear to clergy across the country that abortion restrictions were not preventing abortion,” noted Dr. Frank. “Rather, they were creating a public health crisis.”
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was a landmark moment for the CCS, whose members had advocated tirelessly for the legalization of abortion. But in Rev. Kirby’s eyes, it was also a moment when the CCS made a strategic error. “Once we got Roe, we quit. And that’s the mistake we made,” he commented. “We need to recover the moral high ground. We’ve given it up, and we can reclaim it.”
Dr. Willie Parker, a Christian abortion provider and author of the bestselling memoir Life’s Work, offered his insight as to how we reclaim our prophetic voice in this moment when the future of reproductive rights in the United States seems increasingly tenuous:
Let’s say hypothetically…that Roe goes away. Our task still doesn’t change. Women don’t lose their right to bodily autonomy and safe management of pregnancy. The question becomes what do we do next? If it’s non-negotiable that women have a right to safe termination of pregnancy and control of their lives, how creative are we going to be as people of goodwill?
Dr. Parker also emphasized that the intersectional analysis of the reproductive justice movement continues to be central in responding to the relentless political destruction of reproductive health and rights that has occured since the Roe decision. This expansive framework, he said, lends itself to the kind of coalition building we need right now—and that we will continue to need in the future.
Audience reaction was overwhelmingly supportive. For many attendees, the event was their first introduction to the history of the CCS. “I continue to be surprised to learn just how deeply involved faith leaders have been in this movement from early on, including advocating for safe, legal abortion and helping to provide care when it was still illegal in most states,” said one Jackson-based United Methodist minister. “I was also impressed with how strategic the CCS was in crafting an incredibly holistic movement that spanned several states and accounted for every detail of the process to help women have as smooth and safe an experience as possible. It was an amazing operation!”
Others considered their own faith perspectives as they listened to the speakers. “It’s so easy to lump all religious perspectives into one belief system or moral understanding of faith, grace, and health and healing. The movement is lead by people who are doing the work not in spite of their faith, but because of their faith,” commented one attendee. “That most resonates with me and my approach to life.”
To learn more about the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, check out RCRC’s interactive timeline.
It’s a busy time for Faith in Women! You may remember that last fall, Faith in Women hosted more than 70 activists, faith leaders, and students for a dynamic evening with Dr. Willie Parker at Milsaps College. Building on the theme of courageous callings, next month we are partnering with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice on an evening event to honor the Clergy Consultation Service (CCS), a national underground network of clergy who risked everything to help women access safe, compassionate abortion care in the years prior to the legalization of abortion.
Our September event held in Jackson, MS will feature a number of special guests, including:
During these turbulent times, as the future of reproductive rights becomes increasingly uncertain, there is much that we can learn from those who came before us. By exploring the legacy of the Clergy Consultation Service and its stunning example of faithful resistance, we find wisdom, hope, and inspiration as we discern our own roles in ensuring that every woman and girl lives in a world in which she is safe and free to make decisions about her body, her life, and her future.
This event will be by invitation-only. If you would like to request admission, please contact a member of our staff. Pre-registration is required for all attendees.
Beginning in New York City in 1967, more than 1,400 clergy came together to form the Clergy Consultation Consultation with the mission to ensure that women in their communities could access safe abortion procedures from reputable providers across the country. Some faith leaders even personally accompanied women across long distances to locations where they could obtain safe terminations. In addition to their clandestine work with women in need, members of the Clergy Consultation Service were public advocates for the legalization of abortion. To learn more about the CCS, visit RCRC’s interactive timeline featuring historic footage and interviews with several CCS members.
Hear from Rev. Finley Schaef, a founding member of the CCS, about how the movement began.