Time to Talk
We Unitarian Universalists are often encouraged to come up with and get comfortable delivering so-called elevator speeches. Those pithy, direct, persuasive sentences that summarize just exactly what our faith tradition is (rather than what it is not).
Or slap on bumper strips, of which we have had many over recent years. My car is papered over with different versions, including my personal favorites: Affirming the Worth and Dignity of All People and Deeds Because Actions Speak Louder than Words.
Speeches and stickers that might at least buy us some respect in the religious marketplace, let alone a few visitors, even members.
In the years I worked as a spokesperson – and trainer of spokespeople – for Planned Parenthood, we also created and refined and then re-created our elevator speeches, our bumper stickers for similar reasons: to give some heft to our stands, to gain sympathy, even active support. Perhaps the most familiar would be Keep Abortion Safe and Legal. Not far behind might be Pro-Child, Pro-Choice: Every Child a Wanted Child; or My Body, My Choice. A more recent one is I Stand With Texas Women, much less obvious, referring to the battle there over a bill which was initially filibustered away but ultimately decisively passed by the state legislature This new law, scheduled to go into effect September 1., requires doctors performing abortions in clinics to have privileges at nearby hospitals, and the clinics to have operating rooms and other hospital-style standards.
On the surface this can sound benign, even desirable. That is until the outcome is described: unnecessary upgrades for a procedure that has been proven safe and rarely complicated, unaffordable for the providers, forcing closures. Doctors warn that being granted affiliation with hospitals in conservative and often hostile environments for abortion is hard to come by.
Projections are that 18 clinics will close as a result of this legislation, leaving only seven abortion facilities in the state, all of them in major cities and none in the Western half of the nation’s second largest state. More than 2,000 abortions per year have been performed in El Paso, with the real probability that the only clinic remaining open in September will be a referring clinic – letting women know their options in other parts of Texas and even other states but unable to perform them on site.
The statistics are flying from both sides and arguments mounting as an appeal to the law has been heard and is now in the hands of a US. District court judge. While opponents of the law point out the hardship to women in terms of unthinkably long drives – hundreds of miles – to have an abortion within state lines, state attorneys counter that they will have an option to cross over into New Mexico, where these same so-called health and safety requirements do not exist.
Last month another federal judge in Mississippi, faced with a law that would shut down all the remaining abortion clinics there, ruled that a state can’t shift obligations on constitutional rights – in this case the abortion access – to other parts of the country. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in the same way voting rights and school integration are the law nationwide, with the expectation that there is parity from state to state.
What does it actually mean to have access to the polls, to schools, and to reproductive choices? In each of these arenas, what is the human face of the barriers and outright denials?
As opponents of these basic human rights find more and more flagrantly cynical ( and strategically clever) ways to chip away at and de facto wipe out access to these mandates, elevator speeches and bumper stickers are less and less effective in making our case that on the ground we are losing so much ground so fast.
UUWF belongs to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice which, while remaining steadfastly pro-choice on the issue of legal abortion, is looking at how we might be more nuanced and more persuasive in our conversations – beyond bumper stickers and one liners. The coalition has introduced a Time to Talk, “a call to action that we must have authentic conversations that are based on our lived experiences” across a wide variety of faith traditions.
The UU pulpit is once place where more of this might and should happen, and not just during the anniversary week of Roe V, Wade. We preachers need to find a way to balance the trend toward fixed themes and long scheduled sermon titles to respond more flexibly and forcefully to what is happening in El Paso, Tupelo, Montgomery, and other towns and states across our land.
For more information and to order the new RCRC sermon guide go to https://rcrc.wufoo.com/forms/its-time-to-talk-resource-request/