A brief history of First Unitarian Church’s engagement with Planned Parenthood/People’s Justice Forum

by Reverend Monica Dobbins


Sometime in late spring 2017, the Social Justice council decided to narrow its focus to two new issues: immigration justice and reproductive justice. The council would pursue immigration justice by preparing the congregation to engage in Sanctuary, and it would pursue reproductive justice by aligning with Planned Parenthood. 

That fall, as Rev. Monica began her work with the congregation, she attended a meeting at Planned Parenthood’s local office, along with Rev. Tom, Carol Foster, and Diane Johnson. The four met with Liz James, Planned Parenthood’s director of community engagement. James told the group that PP had two main ways that the church could offer assistance. The first was to volunteer in a sexual health program it offered for women inmates at the local jail. This program involved teaching classes in sexual health, which the inmates could attend in exchange for time off their sentences. 

The second way we were invited to partner with PP was to participate in the Reproductive Freedom Forum (RFF), its new community lobbying organization. The RFF was at that time just beginning its second year. 

The RFF was formed in response to the election of Donald Trump, to organize community members to advocate for reproductive issues at the state level. The concern was that the Trump administration would almost certainly nominate two justices to the Supreme Court, thus endangering abortion access for at least a generation, and that state-level work would be needed to protect contraceptive and abortion rights. 

However, as the RFF began its second year of work, it shifted its priorities in a couple of important ways. First, it reframed its mission to align with a broader definition of reproductive freedom, as articulated by the Sister Song collective, to include:

      1. The right to have a child
      2. The right to not have a child
      3. The right to parent one’s children in safe and healthy communities, without fear of violence from individuals or the state.

Second, it began to prepare for a planned transition away from Planned Parenthood incubation and toward self-sufficiency, led by a steering committee of community leaders. Rev. Monica took a place on this steering committee, alongside community leaders from such organizations as HEAL Utah, Equality Utah, and Utahns for Fair Wages. This new iteration of the Reproductive Freedom Forum came to be known as the People’s Justice Forum (PJF).

The PJF, now in its third year, advocates as a grassroots organization of individual community lobbyists, focused on the Utah State legislature. It advocates for bills related to reproductive rights/healthcare, environmental justice, LGBTQ issues, disability rights, racial/immigration rights, and other progressive issues. Over half the makeup of the PJF are members of First Unitarian Church.

This year, its intent is to engage in creative tactics to bring awareness to these issues, in the hope of shifting public policy to the left. In the first days of the 2019 legislature, the PJF cooperated with Utah Decided to coordinate an act of civil disobedience as the House of Representatives voted on SB96, a bill that would have replaced Proposition 3, a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid coverage to Utahns making up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Rev. Monica joined other clergy members in blocking the doors to the House chambers and praying for over an hour to disrupt the proceedings, while other PJF members dropped banners inside the chambers and were removed from the room by Utah Highway Patrol. Even though SB96 eventually passed the House and was returned to the Senate for a final vote, these acts of civil disobedience brought statewide attention to the issue and put pressure on lawmakers to consider the consequences of voting against a ballot initiative.