More than 300 Texas clergy have signed an ongoing petition to demonstrate that it’s possible to have faith both in God and in women—at the same time. Sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based non-profit watchdog group that keeps its eye on the religious right, the petition was launched “quietly” this fall and asks clergy to affirm that they “support policies that ensure adequate funding and broad availability of birth control, especially for low- and moderate-income women.”
Much of the recent conversation surrounding access to contraception and reproductive health care in Texas has been dominated by Bible-thumping far-right ideologues with extremist axes to grind—guys like Tea Partier Dan Patrick and unabashed anti-birth control, anti-gay warrior Wayne Christian. The TFN’s petition is a refreshing reminder that reasonable, and religious, people want to be and are part of the conversation.
“We hope this petition will draw attention to the many faith leaders throughout the state who, precisely because of their religious convictions, support access to contraception,” TFN coordinator Mary Ann Kaiser told RH Reality Check in a statement this week.
Texas is poised for a real reproductive crisis in the coming months and years: if it doesn’t get a handle on budget cut decisions made in the 2011 legislative session that slashed family planning funds by two-thirds, it’s looking at asking taxpayers to spend hundreds of millions of dollars supporting an increase in Medicaid births. And recent numbers released by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services also show a marked reduction in the number of people receiving publicly funded family planning services in the state–at a higher cost per patient than ever. Indeed, the TFN said in its statement that:
In short, the ability for women in Texas to access basic preventive healthcare services — including contraception and family planning — has come under intense attack. And far too often religious voices have supported these attacks or remained silent while politicians made decisions that damaged women’s health and eroded individual rights.
Perhaps widespread support from religious leaders will give conservative legislators leeway they seem to think they haven’t had in the Tea Party-appeasing past, to support money-saving family planning policies that respect the agency and autonomy of Texans.
Kaiser told RHRC that TFN hopes the petition will “encourage our state leaders to restore funding to family planning programs during the upcoming legislative session next spring.”
So far, signatures have come from clergy representing a diverse group of Texas churches, temples and synagogues, and the list is growing. Texas legislators have shown they’re more than capable of listening to the demands of the right-wing religious fringe—will they listen to the mainstream? We’ll find out in 2013.