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Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning

This week, I signed onto this letter in my capacity as a Rabbi. The letter was circulated by the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society.  Learn more about Reform Jewish perspectives on Family Planning and Reproductive Justice.

Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning

As religious leaders, we are committed to helping all people thrive spiritually, emotionally,
and physically, which includes their sexual and reproductive health. Millions of people ground
their moral commitment to family planning in their religious beliefs. Most faith traditions
accept modern methods of contraception, and support it as a means of saving lives, improving
reproductive and public health, enhancing sexuality, and encouraging intentional parenthood.
Even within faith groups that limit or prohibit such services, the religious commitment to
freedom of conscience allows couples to choose contraception to intentionally create their
families. While there are strong public health and human rights arguments for supporting
domestic and international family planning programs, here we invite you to consider the religious
foundations for affirming safe, affordable, accessible, and comprehensive family planning services.

A DIVINE GIFT

Religious traditions teach that sex and sexuality are divinely bestowed gifts for expressing mutual
love, generating life, for companionship, and for pleasure. From a religious point of view, sexual
relationships are to be held sacred, and therefore should always be responsible, mutually respectful,
pleasurable and loving. The gift of sexuality is violated when it is abused or exploited. Accessible,
safe, and effective contraception allows for a fulfilling sexual life while reducing maternal and
infant mortality, unintended pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections.

SACREDNESS OF FAMILY

Our faith traditions affirm that parenthood is sacred, and therefore should not be entered into
lightly nor coerced. Families in their diverse forms are best upheld in environments where there is
love and respect, children thrive, and women’s welfare is protected. It is unacceptable for society to
impose limits on family size or to discriminate against those who choose not to be parents.

MORAL AGENCY

Every individual is a moral agent with the right and responsibility to make their own decisions
about procreation, including family size and the spacing of their children. These rights should be
accorded equally to all persons regardless of geography, marital status, sexual orientation, gender
identity, disability, class, or race. Men and women are equally responsible for contraception and
for procreation. Religious institutions have a special role in helping adolescents develop their
capacity for moral discernment about relationships, contraception, and procreation. We believe that all persons should be free to make personal decisions about their families and
reproductive lives that are informed by their culture, faith tradition, religious beliefs, conscience,
and community. Decisions about which methods to use must be based on informed consent about
medical and health risks. The decision to use or not use contraception must always be voluntary.

SACRED TEXTS AND TRADITIONS

Our sacred texts are silent on modern contraception. Yet, in the creation stories the world
over, the Divine fashions humans intentionally in relationships and families. Family planning
is thus a key part of the narrative of many sacred texts.
Scriptural stories honor and welcome diverse families, the care of children, and moral and
just decision-making. The scriptural mandate to care for the most marginalized and the most
vulnerable calls us to assure access to contraception for all people. The longstanding religious
commitment to social and economic justice requires a commitment to reproductive justice.
The commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” is not exclusive to procreation, but also
calls individuals to co-create a world characterized by justice and inclusion. Our traditions
affirm children as a blessing, not a requirement or an entitlement.

MORAL IMPERATIVE TO ACCESS

In a just world, all people would have equal access to contraception. The denial of family
planning services effectively translates into coercive childbearing and is an insult to human
dignity. We affirm a commitment to voluntary family planning services that includes making
the full range of safe and effective methods affordable and accessible. The family planning
needs of specific populations, such as low-income women, teenagers, immigrants, refugees and
LGBT persons, must be addressed with cultural competence.
Governments must respect individual decisions and assure accurate and comprehensive
information as well as access to services and supplies. Hospitals and health services, regardless
of religious affiliation, must provide or refer to contraceptive services. Services must be offered
without regard to sex, age, gender, income, race, religion, marital status, or sexual orientation.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

No government committed to human rights and democracy can privilege the teachings of
one religion over another or deny individuals’ religious freedom. 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 oppose any attempt to make specific religious doctrine
concerning pregnancy, childbirth, or contraception the law of any country in the world.
Religious groups themselves must respect the beliefs and values of other faiths, since no single
faith can claim final moral authority in domestic or international discourse. Copyright 2012, Religious Institute

CALL TO ACTION

We call on leaders of all faiths to raise a prophetic voice to publicly advocate for universal
access to family planning. We urge religious leaders to:

  • Educate themselves and their faith communities about sexual and reproductive health
    and the need for universal access to family planning. 
  • Compassionately and competently address the needs of their congregants as they make
    decisions about family planning, contraception, and sexual relationships. 
  •  Contact local family planning providers for referrals, mutual training and support, and
    encourage those agencies to acknowledge the influence of faith on clients’ decisions
    about contraception. 
  • Engage in public discourse about the ethical issues involved in research on new methods
    of contraception. 
  • Work within their traditions and denominations to make reproductive health a social
    justice priority. Advocate for increased U.S. financial support for domestic and global family planning
    services through sermons, public witness, and involvement in the political process.

IN CLOSING

Today, as religious leaders, we are called to support universal access to family planning. Religious
leaders and people of faith have supported modern methods of contraception since the early 20th
century. We resist any political attempts to restrict or deny access to family planning services.
Contraception saves lives, promotes human flourishing and advances the common good.

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