Is it worth it to quit Curves gym in protest over the owner's donations to anti-abortion organizations? Readers -- many of them Curves members -- debate.

By Salon Staff

Published May 24, 2004 6:01PM (EDT)

[Read "Curve Ball," by Rebecca Traister.]

I have been a member of two different Curves gyms for two years. I was aware that the founder was a fundamentalist Christian, and that the hours were limited based on some kind vision of women "spending more time with their families." At the first Curves I belonged to, the owner was apolitical and I never had the feeling there was any agenda. At the second Curves they played Christian music; I spoke to the owner about her musical choices and did notice a reduction in the Christian songs.

In April I traveled to D.C. for the March for Women's Lives and came back highly motivated to speak out in my Bible Belt community about women's issues and our need to vote against Bush. Surprisingly, I found many of the women receptive to my ideas and I was actually encouraged.

To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure I want to quit the gym. It's affordable, it's convenient and makes me feel good. I am troubled by the founder's beliefs but am comforted by the response of the local Planned Parenthood. For now, I plan to keep my membership at Curves and keep talking to the clientele about issues relevant to women and working people.

-- Rose Curl Eckstein

I understand that many women are dismayed and feel that they need to leave Curves as a matter of conscience. I have a slightly different perspective. I am a pro-choice activist, I work for a leading organization in the fight for reproductive freedom and I am a Curves member. While giving up a Curves membership may feel like an empowering thing to do, ultimately it is a symbolic gesture. It does nothing to secure reproductive freedoms.

If women are truly concerned by attacks on women's rights -- and they absolutely should be -- then they need to mobilize, educate themselves on the issues, get active politically, and donate to pro-choice organizations. The essence of Curves, despite Mr. Heavin's personal beliefs and actions, is about creating healthy, strong women. This is a great opportunity for these women to draw on their Curves communities and decry the war on women in a substantive way.

Curves members should make a statement, but it is a false assumption to believe that leaving Curves lessens the danger to a woman's right to choose.

-- Kimberly Smith

It is articles like this that tear my insides out. I was the only "young communist" in my high school (this during the Reagan years). I have been tear-gassed at WTO protests. I got garbage pelted at me during antiwar protests by pro-Bush folks. I shouldn't have to prove my "lefty" credentials, but I always feel like I have to when I try to point out that being against abortion does not mean you are "anti-choice" any more than saying you are "pro-choice" makes you for abortion. Suddenly, all my Democratic voting history goes out the window, and I, a woman, am told that I am "anti-woman" for even suggesting that pro-life people aren't all clinic-bombing nutcases.

This whole article is just as scary and knee-jerk as the Bushies can be. I resist the notion that women can't be feminists and think that abortion is a downright bad and a harmful decision. I am not for government intervention, but I don't see one thing wrong with donating to crisis pregnancy centers that promote adoption.

-- Tiffany Lach

I've never considered myself a radical feminist, but I still would not join Curves. Whether or not the organizations Heavin supports picket outside of clinics, it still matters that they deny or simply ignore an option that they could extend for poor, pregnant women. Unwanted pregnancies often can confine women to cycles of poverty and abuse. Women were not truly emancipated until they were able to control their fertility, and anti-choice activists seek only to deny that control. To add to that, abortion is another place where the Christian spiritual intrudes on the secular. Not every religion sees abortion as "sinful," so why should we have to follow this particular Catholic edict? Patronizing organizations that support such beliefs only re-establishes the notion that one religion can enforce its will on everyone. I feel sorry for the women that bought into the franchise only to have it fail because the CEO has no respect for the individual beliefs, choices or rights of women, but such things will not change until women stand up and refuse to put up with it. A treadmill doesn't care who runs on it.

-- Stefani Gunther

Thank you for your article. I joined Curves in November, and had been very pleased with it. In March, I read an article in "Bitch" magazine that exposed the connection between the Curves founder and the so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" that he funds. After that, I was conflicted. On the one hand, this was the first time since high school that I had been consistently working out three times a week. On the other hand, the thought of any part of my money going to fund these organizations was repugnant to me.

In the end, I decided that I couldn't continue to sell out my morals in favor of my biceps. If Curves franchise owners think that my individual boycott is "irresponsible," as they said in your article, then so be it. I can't believe that it is any more irresponsible than contributing to groups that misinform and sometimes flat-out lie to women.

-- Maayan Roth

Thank you for your balanced article on Gary Heavin and Curve. I'm glad to know he's not a radical, militant anti-choice crusader. But I still wouldn't join Curves.

It is at best naive, and at worst disingenuous, for anyone to claim that because Heavin uses his "personal wealth" to contribute to organizations which actively limit women's reproductive choices that those monies have nothing to do with the success of Curves. His "personal wealth" comes from the women who join Curves and the people who buy franchises. The difference between Heavin donating a portion of Curves' profits and donating a portion of his "personal wealth" is of interest only to the IRS and Heavin's accountants.

It's also naive of the franchise owners to try to separate Heavin's religious fundamentalism from his business practices. Fundamentalists do not compartmentalize -- just look at the erosion of the separation between church and state since Bush took over the White House.

I wouldn't be able to sleep at night supporting Curves in any way, shape or form, even if I donated the equivalent amount of membership to a pro-choice organization.

It's clear: If you support Curves, you ultimately support organizations who would take away your right to choose.

-- Karen Schlosberg

I loved Curves. I looked better, felt better.

I couldn't stand the music. I couldn't stand the fact that Christianity, at least at my Curves, was being pushed down my throat. I'm a Christian, but I have friends who are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish. They felt uncomfortable in my Curves.

I started researching. Yes, the Christian music playing was music produced by Curves. (Although there is a wide range of music without religious leanings that is also produced by Curves.) And yes, the founder is virulently opposed to Planned Parenthood. And yes, the founder does a program on AFN every morning. (American Family Network is a virulently homophobic, anti-choice, conservative-Christian radio network that doesn't mind taking over NPR station frequencies.)

So I quit. I started walking my dogs every afternoon instead. I miss Curves, but at least my money isn't helping Gary Heavin.

-- Pam Melder

As a longtime reader of Salon and a resident of Waco, I felt it worth my time to chime in on the Gary Heavin controversy. First, yes, Heavin is an avowed conservative. And yes, he did give money to Care Net, the McLennan County Collaborative Abstinence Project, and the Family Practice Center of McLennan County. While I do not agree with the philosophies of Care Net or the Abstinence Project, I would like to write in full support of the Family Practice Center of McLennan County, where Heavin donated the large majority of his money.

I live in a racially and socioeconomically mixed neighborhood known as Sanger-Heights. It's 30 percent white, 30 percent black and 30 percent Hispanic. It is also served by the Family Practice Center, a mere seven blocks from my house.

The Family Practice Center is a residence-training facility for general practitioners. While I've never been there myself for care, a close friend -- a confirmed liberal and pro-choice activist -- worked there for three years. I spoke with her tonight, and she confirmed that in all her years with Family Practice, she had never heard any anti-abortion talk. In fact, they distribute subsidized birth control, have a midwife on staff, and generally support Waco's lower socioeconomic population in all ways except abortion. We've got Planned Parenthood for that.

Here in Waco, where picketers and worse plague Planned Parenthood on a daily basis, the Family Practice Center can better serve the community in ways other than getting embroiled in the pro-life controversy. The Family Practice Center exercises extreme fiduciary responsibility and offers top-quality care to patients who might otherwise go without. Frankly, when I read months ago in the Waco Tribune Herald that Heavin was contributing $3.75 million to the Family Practice Center, I was happily surprised to see him putting his money behind an organization I so strongly approve of -- and a local one at that!

All this Heavin and Waco discussion begs me to ask one question: Could the rest of the country please give Waco a friggin' break? We might be first on the list for the Bush library, but we're not all bad. Come visit, and I'll take you on a tour of my town. You'll love the homemade Dr Pepper floats.

-- Martha Hopkins

Salon Staff

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