Women, Religion, and Politics in America -- 2012

Religion has been intersecting with politics in a wide variety of ways in recent months as the GOP primaries and caucuses have heated up.  Into the midst of that process, which has had plenty of religious moments, the Department of Health and Human Services made a ruling on coverage for contraception, making it mandatory that private health insurance should offer w/o co-pay contraceptives.  An exception was made for religious communities, but not for church-related institutions, the majority of whose employees were not of that faith.  That was later amended so that the institutions wouldn't pay for it, but the insurers would offer it  as a separate item.  It calmed some of the debate, but the Bishops of the Catholic Church said no and folks in Congress and in other government venues got into the debate, claiming this was an infringement on religious liberty.  Some went so far as to call it a "war on religion" by the Obama Administration. 

I have had a very difficult time seeing this as a matter of religious liberty.  It is, in my mind, a matter of medical coverage that a majority of American women make use of, and therefore it's appropriate that it's covered.  That an employer, religiously affiliated or not can decide what coverages to allow seems problematic, especially when the majority of the employees don't share that faith tradition.  

To me this has been a question of civil rights, not religion.  And it seems that those most affected -- women -- have been allowed the least amount of opportunity to address the issue.  

Consider the Republican-led House Oversight Committee's "hearing" on the issue.  The panel, to which the Democrats were not allowed to contribute panelists to, included only conservative, male, religious leaders.  The second panel, had two women, but they were outnumbered by quite a bit.  The panel tried to make this about religious liberty without hearing from those who saw it as a matter of women's health.

Baptist ethicist David Gushee has offered what is to me a very wise and balanced response to this debate.  In an essay on the topic published by the Associated Baptist Press he writes:

The Right is going wrong in dismissing the legitimate public-health concern related to women’s access to contraception. While I believe their concerns about the Plan B morning-after pill are more legitimate, they are irresponsible to project a “war on religion” from the White House – rhetoric that seems aimed at replacing its current occupant.
Some of the current legislative proposals in Washington would allow any employer to deny birth control or any other coverage if they can claim that it runs counter to their beliefs. This is not really about birth control. It’s about gutting any federally mandated health-care rules. 
It’s about killing not just Obama’s health-care law of 2010 but the very idea of federal regulations on private health-care plans. If successful, such laws would do cruel harm to women and would undoubtedly increase the number of both abortions and out of wedlock births.
My concern is the way in which women are being treated and being dismissed as legitimate contributors to the conversation.  One of the people that the Democrats wanted to put on the panel is Sarah Fluke, a Georgetown University Law student who sought to tell how a fellow student was denied access to expensive contraceptives that were needed for a health issue separate from preventing pregnancy, but they're not covered and she can't afford them.  

Jumping into this debate is the ever incendiary and generally disgusting Rush Limbaugh, who has proceded to call her a slut and a prostitute and suggested that if she wanted the government to provide contraception she should put up porn movies of herself.  Such behavior is not just outlandish, it is disgusting, repugnant, and demeaning to women.  He needs to be repudiated, but not just repudiated, those who profit from his vileness need to stop supporting him.  We need to say no to him and others like him who pollute the airwaves and destroy any attempt at having civil conversations.  Republican political leaders have stepped back gingerly from Limbaugh, but don't seem willing to sever the links.  

This episode follows on some rather misogynistic statements made by evangelical pastors Mark Driscoll and John Piper.  Their comments remind us that women still do not have equality in much of the American Christian church.  Ordination of women remains a minority position in the world today, and their voices and concerns remain marginalized.   Why is this?  Some people benefit from it!

So, back to the contraception debate.  I think it's important that we hear from women.  It's important to hear why contraception might be an important part of their health care, beyond mere prevention of pregnancy, but not excluding it either.  Some have suggested condoms -- they're cheap -- but they don't allow a woman to have control over whether or not she desires to be pregnant.  And I won't go too far with the issue of procreative sex, except to say -- I don't think that most married couples today want to limit sex to having babies.   

My point that I want to make at the end is offer a reminder.  Most of the decisions that are being made regarding birth control and health care are being made by men.  That should give us pause.  As for a war on religion -- if so it's a pretty minor one!  


Carol Kuniholm said…
The current discussion about contraception feels more like an attack on women than an attack on religion. The fact that women have been excluded from the discussion, and that their doctors have also been excluded, suggests that the men having the conversation are not really interested in women's experience in this. There are many many women who have paid for birth control pills - sometimes for decades - for medicinal reasons, from regulating difficult and painful menstrual flow, to clearing up acne, to managing endometriosis, to preventing ovarian cysts. why should women bear the burden of those medical uses?

Then there's the amazing hypocrisy of denying birth control and prenatal care while opposing abortions. A significant number of abortions take place because women can't afford contraception; free contraception would give low income women greater ability to manage pregnancy.

This is one more sad chapter in the misuse of faith in the public arena.
Gary said…
I don't believe that the US Government has the authority to dictate to private businesses what they must include, or delete, from the health insurance they offer. If the government has the authority to do that, then they must also have the authority to dictate pretty much everything a business can and cannot do. The government has exceeded its consitutional authority in this matter, and in many others.

As to the woman from Georgetown, she is attending a Catholic school. If she wants her contraception to be covered by insurance, she should have chosen another school, or she should buy her insurance someplace else. What she should not do is demand that Georgetown violate its beliefs in order to accomodate her.

Is this woman a slut? Well, if she is having sex with someone other than her husband, she is a fornicator, according to the Bible.
John said…
Contraception is not a major political issue in the United States. The fact that certain republicans and a radio show host have decided create a controversy around it is heinous, callous and hypocritical. The fact that the radio host would set out to publicly humiliated the young lady disposing of her as nothing more than collateral damage in his personal war against the Whitehouse says everything you need to know about his motives, what he cares about and his utter lack of moral center.

The Catholic Church has an issue with the latest federal regulations and the matter will be negotiated out with the government, but it is not a political issue, is a legal one.

It's offensive how some fascists play the 'states rights card' asserting that states ought to be able to legislate contraceptive options without federal interference, while at the same time advocating for a federal constitutional amendment to prevent states from expanding the definition of who may have the right to marry. What this reveals is that the overall objective, besides seizing control of the government, is to enact legislation institutionalizing certain conservative policies (you can do what I permit, you may not do what I prohibit - because I am in charge, or I ought to be - and you may not tell me what to do or what not to do at all because I am the privileged white male and I am entitled, and besides that would be class warfare) using states laws when possible and using federal laws when possible. The concern is not about states' rights versus federal powers but instead its about seizing control of whichever level of government is most susceptible to manipulation, for purposes of seizing power and imposing a neo-Christian sharia.
John said…

and we're you one of the witnesses? Where are her accusers? Then you need to let her go as well.
Gary said…

Let her go? I'm not trying to hold her. It was God who said fornication and adultery are sins, not me. And it is God to whom everyone will answer for their behavior and their beliefs.

You have a real problem with anyone who points out that fornicating is a sin, according to Jesus Christ. That reveals much about you. And it isn't good.
John said…
No, I have a problem with your implicit judgment of her for something of which no one has even accused her. You are gossiping about her and judging her and in doing so you are participating in the worst kind of sin. Her life, even if you had the least idea about how she lives it, is not for you to judge. Don't you have enough sin in your own life to occupy your attention?

Can't you just pray for her that she find her way closer to the Lord and that she be a blessing to those she touches? Must you always find fault with others?

And don't suggest that support for availability of octracepteives equates to license for fornication. My wife was on the pill for a number of months, after we were married, exclusively to help control endometriosis. If she had worked for a Roman Catholic employer should she have been precluded from using her health insurance to purchase the birth control pills? Should she have had first to 'confess' to her employer her medical condition so as to allow her employer judge whether her reasons for the medication comported with her employer's moral compass before she could get the medication? Do we really want employers making those sorts of inquiries into employee's health care decisions?

And if her employer's principle shareholder were a Jehovah's Witness should she have been precluded from seeking a blood transfusion because that offends his moral compass?

The issue is not about fornication. And your twisting it into an invitation to cast judgment is offensive.
Gary said…

If you read my first post, I never accused her of being a fornicator. I said "if" she was having sex with anyone other than her husband, according to the Bible, she is a fornicator. So we find that it is you who is judging me for something I didn't do. Obviously you think you are free to judge me, but I am not allowed to make a moral observation about anyone.

I understand that you have no tolerance for those who believe fornication and adultery are actual sins. I can only guess as to why you hold that view. But I'm ususally a good guesser.

I also understand that you are not interested in being fair. You demand that employer's furnish insurance coverage to their employees even if things are covered that the employer has a moral objection to. Nevermind, you say, the employee's rights are all that matter, and the employer is duty bound to insure whatever the employee wants. Hogwash. If you are employed by someone who won't furnish insurance for things you want, your choices are clear to me: you can aske your employer to give you what you want, and if they refuse you can seek employment elsewhere, you can buy your own insurance somewhere else, or you can pay for what you want yourself. What you have no right to do is FORCE your employer to do what you want. If I was your employer and you tried that with me, you would soon be unemployed.
John said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
Ecstatic adoration to constructive criticism!Women Health

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