The 'war on women'

Round I: Komen vs. Planned Parenthood

By Elizabeth Kaeton
Posted Feb 6, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] There is an undeclared war on women in this country and around the world.

The recent decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to essentially end its decades-long partnership with Planned Parenthood brought this struggle, which was played out in the Internet at head-snapping speed, to a different new battleground.

Komen’s founder and chief executive, Nancy G. Brinker, held a news conference and insisted that the organization’s decision had nothing to do with abortion or politics. Rather, she said, it resulted from improved grant-making procedures and was not intended to make a target of Planned Parenthood.

Her comments directly contradicted those of John D. Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, who reported that Komen made the changes to its grant-making process specifically to end its relationship with Planned Parenthood.

By the end of the week, Brinker apologized and said that the grants promised to Planned Parenthood – $700,000 last year, a tiny portion of its $93 million in grants to finance 19 separate programs – would be re-instated. Indeed, in the process, Planned Parenthood received over a million dollars in additional contributions – including a very public matching grant of $250,000 from New York Mayor Bloomberg – in less than 72 hours.

No one from the Komen Foundation is talking, but from the buzz on the Internet, hundreds of thousands of people – men and women – are pledging not to support the efforts of the organization that made pink ribbons an outward and visible sign of the “race for the cure” to end breast cancer.

That battle was won but the war is far from over. The reproductive rights of women are under sharp attack from the religious and political forces of the evangelical right, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. The battle plan is patently clear: limit women’s access to abortion, birth control, and services after rape and sexual assault by changing laws, state by state, and ensure that government funding is not delivered to any agency that supports reproductive rights in any way.  Do this with a ballot in one hand and a Bible in the other. And when you don’t get what you want, cry “religious intolerance.”

On another front, human trafficking is a mega-billion dollar global industry unregulated by any country or international body. It is a criminal activity ignored and/or tolerated with devastating consequences for the person involved. Trafficking ranks just behind drug and arms trading as the most lucrative forms of commerce. It is no surprise that the vast majority of trafficked persons are women and children. Nor is it any shock that most of those who do the trafficking are men.

The violence continues unabated. A report released in late December 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one in four women in the United States suffers “severe physical violence,” and one in five is raped at some time in their life. Millions of women are suffering serious violence quietly at any time.

According to another CDC survey, four women die because of domestic violence every day in the United States of America. For every woman who dies, hundreds keep suffering without any recourse, without any letup in violence. They remain alive, but are not “living” by any dignified definition of the word.

These are just some of the battles of this war. There are many, many others, including employment, education, immigration, access to affordable health care options, health insurance, the military and yes, the church,

As national convener of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, I receive calls and e-mails from women – ordained and members of the laity – who tell horrific stories of unfair employment practices, which include discrimination in salaries as well as hiring, firing, insurance and pension benefits. These may not show up in the statistics of the church, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.

The recent battle between Komen vs. Planned Parenthood gives us many insights on how women and men of quality can fight back for equality. The fatal flaw in the Komen battle plan was to consider Planned Parenthood just another organization. It is not. It is what it always has been: a movement. Organizations are fine. Movements are better.

Social media played a critically important role in this battle. Women can mobilize without the cost of meetings and gatherings and travel expenses or salaries for executives and staff. It is relational but not incarnational, so it does have its drawbacks, but it remains a highly effective way to have our voices heard about what happens to our bodies.

“The personal is political.” That was the battle cry of the early feminist movement. It has never been more true than today. It is also deeply spiritual. Women of faith must begin to use the tools offered to us in the post-modern world to fight a battle that in many ways is as old as the Garden of Eden.  With a modicum of organization, we can become a movement that is a force to be reckoned with.

So, pick up your smart phones, ladies, and take up your fax machines, turn on your laptops and fire up the Internet. Let’s tweet, text, IM, Facebook, fax, phone and e-mail our way to justice and equality.

There is an undeclared war on women in this country and around the world.

— The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Newark and the national convener of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. She was recently elected to a three-year-term on the national board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.

Comments (34)

  1. Tracy Wood says:

    Superb piece!

    1. Douglas W. Archer says:

      There is a war on women who believe that killing unborn children is somehow to be exalted, almost raised to the status of a sacrament. I’m constantly surprised that liberals on the East and West Coasts believe that folks in the middle of the country are not reasonable, not sophisticated and are rightist crackpots.
      Could it be that God values everyone and he “He forms you in your mother’s womb.” Folks who believe in abortion should be shown sonograms of a four-week old fetus. He or she is one of God’s children who, if left to live, will worship its maker.

      1. Diane Kirse, RN says:

        Dear Mr. Archer. There are very few women who are pro abortion. To have an abortion is one of the most difficult decisions that a woman will ever have to make. But most of us are pro choice. There is a difference. It is not up to you or anyone else. Because YOU and others like you are not the ones that have to live with the decision.

  2. Deborah Griffin Bly says:

    As usual Elizabeth+ raises the clarion call of justice in measured, rational, and stylish terms. Thank you, Mother Kaeton, for putting so well into well-chosen words what we all need to hear. Bless you.

  3. Paige Baker says:

    God bless you for fighting the good fight, Elizabeth! I keep having flashbacks to Susan Faludi’s book “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women” which was published IN 1991, and thinking—how long is it going to take us to wake up and DO something?

    Russ Johnson–Komen didn’t “change its mind.” Komen has a long track record (since the Clinton Administration) of lobbying against healthcare reform legislation that would have given poor women access to healthcare and strengthened patients’ rights. If you want your donor dollars to be spent undermining women’s healthcare, suing small nonprofits/charities that have the temerity to use the words “the Cure” in their fundraising, or paying Komen’s top people (37 of them in 2010) more than $100K a year, go ahead and donate to them.

    If, however, you want to ensure that all women have access to safe, affordable, quality healthcare, send your money to Planned Parenthood or some other organization that doesn’t hide its right-wing agenda behind a big pink ribbon.

  4. The Rev. Laina Wood Casillas says:

    Please tell us how we can help.

    1. Thank you so much for asking. I have lots of ideas but I’ll limit myself to a few:

      1. Conduct faith-informed adult forums about Reproductive Rights, Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking, Immigration, etc. in your church and diocese and province. Weave the topic into your sermons when you can.

      2. Have bright neon colored stickers made in English and Spanish with the telephone number of the local domestic violence hot line and the message that says something like “You are made in God’s image. God loves you. No one deserves to be abused or beaten.” Put the stickers up in the church bathroom. Distribute them in your diocese/province. Put some in your purse and stick them in the ladies’ room on the wall or door or mirror at local restaurants and theaters. Bumper stickers are a little more expensive but they work, too. Don’t hesitate to put your church name or diocese and website on the bottom of the sticker or bumper sticker.

      3. Do some community organizing – ecumenical, interfaith and secular – to build economically, culturally, racially and religiously diverse coalitions to bring new individuals and organizations into the interfaith movement for reproductive justice. Check out RCRC’s website for inspiration and assistance Support Planned Parenthood and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Be as generous as you can.

      4. Invite RCRC to hold Peaceful Presence Training Programs at your church, and/or RCRC’s counseling and theological resources for clergy and religious leaders, so they may help more women and influence policy and legislation on reproductive and sexual health.

      5. Have a module of your Confirmation/Reception/Inquirer’s Class on sexism at the intersection of all the vehicles of oppression.

      6. Be a ‘parson’ – a public religious figure. Challenge religious extremists where and whenever they appear by writing to them or about them in your parish or diocesan newsletter or local newspaper. Write letters to the editor or open letters to members of Congress who say or do or sexist, misogynist things or propose legislation. Be an outspoken, clear, strong, compassionate moral voice of a person of faith committed to women’s health and dignity.

      7. Take an inter-generational group to a domestic violence shelter. Talk with staff. Talk with some of the guests. Listen to their stories.

      There’s more but this is a good enough start.

  5. Timothy D. MacLam says:

    Religious fundamentalists and radical extremists who desecrate Scripture (“a ballot in one hand and a Bible in the other) to enact laws against women’s’ health and reproductive health, must be watched most closely, especially in state legislatures. Some of the most onerous laws against women are made in rural areas, putting unreasonable barriers between women, especially poor women, and their health providers.
    Legislators have no business in the examination room, dictating the practice of medicine.
    And while abortion invokes much passion, religious leaders have a special duty to reinforce that a woman is more than a pelvis.
    We must also remember the “fathers” of the Church never agreed exactly when life (ensoulment) began. We must be wary of “personhood” legislation, which would give full rights to an embryo in her earliest days.
    Let us remember we must come to the assistance of the poor, sick, and needy, AKA the already born.
    Thank you for you work, Mother Kaeton.
    Let us pray that the Light of Scripture and the Gospel Teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, envelop those who would be false teachers, those who are hard of heart, and bring them the Truth of God.

    H.G. Bishop Timothy (MacLam)
    Pilgrim Prayer & Healing Ministries

  6. Lelanda Lee says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for leading the way. This fight for women’s rights and women’s dignity is far from over. There has been a lot of slippage in the last couple of decades as the U.S. economy enjoyed its heyday and things looked like they would never crash. Now it’s time to get serious again to ensure that women can effectively use our right to vote and our share of the economy, our families’ and our nation’s, to help our sisters and daughters claim their places in the workplace, in our churches, in the government, in the boardroom, and with medical service providers.

  7. Jenny Plane Te Paa says:

    I write with deep gratitude to you Elizabeth on behalf of your global sisters across the world – the struggles for women actually know no cultural or geographic bounds – the injustices we experience simply vary only in the intensity and in the form of the violence being used against us.

    Kia kaha, kia maia.

  8. Paul Spengler says:

    The issue is not as clear cut as Elizabeth Kaeton thinks. At stake is not only the right of women to control their own reproduction, but the right of religious organizations, in this case the Roman Catholic Church, to exist and to provide services in a manner consistent with their beliefs. Personally, I have no objection to birth control, I would gladly make it available to anyone who wants it. The Catholic Church thinks differently. I have no right, nor does Planned Parenthood, or the Episcopal Church, or the Obama administration to interfere in the internal affairs of the Roman Catholic Church. Forcing Catholic institutions to provide birth control would be equivalent to forcing Jewish community centers to serve pork chops on the grounds that pork is good for your health or because some of their employees or non-Jews or don’t observe kosher. This is a First Amendment issue. I am a life long Episcopalian, but in this instance right and justice are on the side of the Roman Catholic Church.

  9. Thomas Andrew says:

    Oh dear Lord! This makes me sick! Women are killing the most pure and innocent in our society. Abortion is murder – not a blessing. The so-called “war against women” is just a smoke screen to hide this slaughter of children. Shameful.

    1. Paul – If any church of any denomination is going to accept government money to provide medical care, it must follow the law. Birth control is legal. Any religious denomination has the absolute right to its beliefs but it can not deny legal medical care to people because of those beliefs.

      Thomas – If abortion were murder, it would be illegal. It is not. The War Against Women includes more than the denial of reproductive rights. That is only one battle, many of which I’ve listed in this article. You are absolutely entitled to think abortion is wrong. You are not entitled to prevent a woman from having an abortion if she believes it is right for her. No woman gets pregnant in order to have an abortion. In the Episcopal Church, we recognize that an abortion is always a tragedy but we support the woman’s right to make that choice for herself.

      1. Chad Huelsman says:

        The HHS ruling requires employers’ compliance regardless of whether they receive government funds.

      2. John Kirk says:

        “If abortion were murder, it would be illegal. It is not.” Elizabeth Kaeton

        “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

        “Hell is paved with priests’ skulls.” St. John Chrysostom

    2. Dennis Reeves says:

      Thank you!!! At last a voice of reason. You’re right! Call it what it is, I can’t believe grinding up a baby in the wound can possibly be considered an advancement of woman’s rights. The more I read here is that you can justify murder or anything else as long as you slap the woman’s rights label on it first. I do believe in birth control but not murder. Woman should exercise their rights before they become pregnant, that is, use contraception. If it applies, wait until your prepared to have children – this horrible act of Abortion is easily avoided.

  10. Virginia Fitzpatrick says:

    I don’t think those who are pro life should be so self righteous in calling their opposition “baby killers”. Ten million (already born) children under the age of 5 die every year from communicable diseases and starvation. The pro lifers should worry about the “already born” and prevent their miseries and death before they push more “unborn” into the world that neither they nor their parents can protect against a brutish and short life. Saving the “already born” would show more compassion and good sense. It would also take more effort than just forcing women to undergo a pregnancy they are not ready for. In short, the pro life piety is cheap.

    1. mary grech says:

      I am a “so called” prolifer. I am a small business owner, mother to three beautiful women, and a former Episcopalian. At 19 I was single and pregnant. I was advised to abort by my friends and the father. I did not! 30 yars later I provide FREE Occupational Therapy services to the “already born” and our small family business has been named Disability Employer of the year. Why am I no longer an Episcopalian? Because the inner city parish I attended REFUSED to provide information about the local FREE Elizabeth’s New Life Center, & Black Woman’s Network. They are excellent resources for adoption, grants for school, and other ways to choose life for the LONG TERM! My former parish would actively fund raise for Planned Parenthood, however. When I pressed to display literature (not even fundraise) for the Network, I was asked to leave the parish (after 25 years an Episcopalian). So Virginia, please start a dialogue with those you so openly deride. There are many,many of us women fighting for the unborn AS well as the already born. The Episcopal Church just doesn’t want to hear from us! Oh, and being prolife is NOT cheap or easy – the hours and money spent to save the unborn as well as already born adds up quickly.I will provide verification of this information to any who ask. MMG

  11. Martha O'Keeffe says:

    Please instruct me in some basic facts, because if I am to believe this post, I was gravely mistaken.

    It is my understanding that the Komen foundation raises and provides funding for research and treatment of breast cancer. That the grant it gave to Planned Parenthood was for local programmes providing breast exams and referrals for mammograms, not for sex education, provision of contraceptives, abortion or the like.

    That being the case, how is either the payment of a grant in such limited and defined circumstances or its withdrawal an attempt to “limit women’s access to abortion, birth control, and services after rape and sexual assault “? Unless I am to understand you as meaning that Planned Parenthood was not spending the grant money on the services contracted, in which case the Komen foundation were entitled to cease donations, just as any charity or organisation would be.

    If you gave me a grant of money to work on publicity materials for a reproductive rights campaign and instead I spent it on a campaign for provision of clean water to the Third World, you might approve of the cause but surely you would decine to renew the grant on the grounds that it wasn’t going for what you wanted?

    1. Martha – A more careful reading of this post will reveal that the accusation you articulated was not made about Komen. Allow me to quote directly from this article: “The reproductive rights of women are under sharp attack from the religious and political forces of the evangelical right, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. The battle plan is patently clear: limit women’s access to abortion, birth control, and services after rape and sexual assault by changing laws, state by state, and ensure that government funding is not delivered to any agency that supports reproductive rights in any way. Do this with a ballot in one hand and a Bible in the other. And when you don’t get what you want, cry “religious intolerance.”

      I hope this clarification is helpful to you.

  12. David Batlle says:

    Most of Komen’s board ARE women, so it’s a “war on women” being fought against women BY women. See how childish your buzzwords sound now? Come to think of it, most pro-lifers are women.

    1. David – It’s really, really important, I’ve found, to think carefully – Christians would add, prayerfully – before you speak or write. As Mark Twain once wrote: “It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”.

      1. P.M. Summer says:

        Dr. Keaton, perhaps you should follow your own advice rather than offering it so freely and piously.

        1. PM Summer: It’s KAETON. Not KEATON. I send the same advise in return.

  13. P.M. Summer says:

    This is not a war on women. It is a war against the powerless, silent, innocent unborn.

    A society that can refuse to recognize the ‘human dignity’ of the unborn can soon turn that same blind eye to other ‘inconvenient’ (the old, the infirm, the mentally and physically challenged, even the ‘different’).

    1. P.M. Summer – This IS a war on women. You can see it if you move from your obsession about the single issue of abortion. If a society can not honor the “human dignity” of a lowly woman, it can, with breathtaking easy, turn a blind eye toward any of the “the lesser children of God”.

      1. P.M. Summer says:

        There’s actually a war against humanity. It’s been going on a long time. If you would perhaps move from a self-centered single-issue of sexuality/gender, perhaps you could see the bigger picture. But any action that murders millions of unborn Children of God every year can not be condoned by those claiming to represent their Creator.

  14. mary grech says:

    The war against women can be fought without killing ANY babies!

  15. Actually, I am pretty sure the war has BEEN declared, against women, and against children who are born and suffering. Here in Missouri, one crazed state legislator, Cynthia Davis, kept bottled up for THREE years a bill to improve oversight of unlicensed day cares because she was adamant that she would only deal with laws that would restrict abortion. She scoffed at the grieving grandmother of a toddler who died in an unlicensed day care, saying that the family merely wanted a “souvenir” law to somehow assuage their grief. This same woman assailed school lunch programs because she said that hunger could be a great motivator out of poverty.

  16. Doug Desper says:

    The Komen Foundation made itself clear that it wanted to scrutinize its funding to those organizations with questionable financial practices and so a collective managerial decision was reached last year to exclude Planned Parenthood due to its current financial accountability. The Congress has likewise uncovered questionable practices in Planned Parenthood. So, the Komen Foundation exercised its conscience to not partner with Planned Parenthood. To ascribe this as a “war” on women is a reaching mischaracterization and villainizes those who do not support PP for their own well-reasoned motives. However, because of the pressure by interest groups, Komen found that they could not exercise their conscience after they made a collective decision last year. Current movers and shapers in the Episcopal Church have often exercised their consciences even to the extent of calling their actions prophetic. The same tolerance should have been given to Komen by progressive activists, including those in TEC, and one wonders why it cannot be generously extended if freedom of conscience is a hallmark of Episcopal thought. That this commentary also goes on to criticize the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the Roman Catholic Church, and conservatives in general suggests a clear liberal orientation; and more than just a question about one organization.

  17. Jeffrey Wells, RN says:

    The left/liberals claim that this is an attack on women’s rights and access to “free” abortions, contraception and sterilization. The right/conservatives assert that this is an attack on people of faith, the Constitution and tax payers.

    Ms Kaeton reflects the left/liberal view and it appears that the Episcopal Church does too. This left/liberal view seems to be carefully modulated and communicated to keep those checks coming from generous, giving people on the right. Those generous pledges and plate pay your salary, benefits and retirement, Ms. Kaeton.

    I feel as if my church has left me and my family. I work too hard to provide for my family to have it spent on partial birth abortions, gender selection abortions and late-term abortions as contraception. Please, Ms Kaeton, we simply disagree. I am pro-choice and pro-life, but not pro-abortion.

    Please, Ms Kaeton, stop the nasty hate speech against those you disagree with, people of faith working to follow their moral conscience. Many of us see this aspect of ObamaCare for what it is – illegal according to our Constitution. Oh, and immoral too.

  18. Mary S. Gould says:

    God bless you, Mother Elizabeth, and I thank you for your clear mind and cool head in presenting the truth in this Episcopal venue. May I add that politics was afoot in the Komen Foundation decision and on their board? Yes truly, there is a war against women, especially poor women, not only here in the U.S. but also throughout the world. Again I say thank you for speaking out.

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