Since the Obama Administration promulgated a rule which would require all businesses, even those affiliated with religious groups, to provide contraceptive care as part of employee insurance benefits -- if the employees have any benefits, that is -- the Right has attempted to whip up a First Amendment frenzy, claiming that Catholic-affiliated hospitals and schools should not have to comply.
However, 28 states have had similar rules in place for years, and the Church has somehow managed to live with this. Even in states without such laws, some Catholic-affiliated employers have nonetheless provided the coverage as a matter of course. Still, the issue seems to have gained traction in the punditocracy, though not with Catholic laypeople, who prefer the Obama rule standardizing contraceptive coverage at an even higher rate than the general population.
Even some generally liberal opinion leaders who are not misogynist in any way, such as E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post
, have spoken up for the claimed right of the Church to have consistency in its anti-contraceptive stance beyond the boundaries of the churches themselves -- which the Obama Administration has exempted -- but also in its business entities, such as hospitals, universities, and the like.
I know something about this "consistency."
During the early 1990s, I was a student at Georgetown Law. I volunteered for a drug study being done at Georgetown Hospital. Georgetown University is a Roman Catholic institution which accepts and employs people of all faiths and none.
To participate in the study, I was compelled to sign GU's Human Experimentation Protocol. It required
that I agree to use contraception for the duration of the study, to protect Georgetown from liability should the drug in question turn out to be bad for fetuses.
This was Georgetown's own protocol, but any institution doing human experimentation has such a document which test subjects are required to sign. If other Catholic hospitals do drug testing, I guarantee that they adhere to a protocol which requires fertile women to commit to using contraception for the length of the study.
To comply with the protocol, I requested a prescription for oral contraceptives. They gave me one, written by a Georgetown University Hospital physician on a Georgetown University Hospital prescription pad.
When I took the scrip upstairs to the Georgetown Hospital pharmacy, the desk clerk scornfully told me that I couldn't get it filled there.
The hypocrisy of the pharmacy is not the issue today. Today, it's the hypocrisy of the Church hierarchy, in asserting that paying for coverage for oral contraceptives or other birth control for employees of their non-church businesses (universities, hospitals, etc.) is sinful and contrary to their beliefs -- while at the same time requiring oral contraceptive use to protect themselves from liability in drug studies.
The punditocracy can be forgiven for not having this admittedly arcane situation leap immediately to mind. But what about Viagra?
It is common knowledge that the Church forbids fornication, adultery, and masturbation. Therefore, in the name of the "consistency" claimed by the bishops who protest the coverage rule, shouldn't the Church be refusing to cover Viagra for single men? Yet we've heard nothing like that. Oral contraceptives have many medical uses, most importantly, the prevention of luteal cysts of the ovary. Viagra, so far as I know, doesn't.
Yet contraceptives are under attack, and a drug which does nothing but facilitate acts forbidden to unmarried men gets no disapprobation from the bishops, nor from the likes of Rick "Contraception Is Not OK" Santorum or known Viagra-smuggler Rush Limbaugh, who wanted the drug for a Caribbean vacation but didn't want his name on the bottle.
So this current faux-outrage isn't about allowing a very inconsistent Church to make a pretense of consistency. It's not even about giving religiously-affiliated institutions an unfair cost break their secular competitors don't get. It's certainly not about a "new rule," when this rule has existed for years in a majority of U.S. states.
It's about whipping up an uninformed, hyper-sensitized base to believe that this is, somehow, an attack on their religion. It's about one church attempting to force even its unbelieving employees to conform their conduct to a faith not of their choosing. It's about permitting religious discrimination and sex discrimination even in activities which are heavily tax-subsidized (via Medicare and student loans). It's about cheating female workers of their just benefits. It's about using women's bodies and women's health as political footballs.
As of two days ago, Texas began enforcing a law which requires any woman seeking an abortion to submit to vaginal intrusion via a physically and financially punitive forced ultrasound.(1)
As of two weeks ago, the formerly-respected Susan G. Komen fund learned the consequences of de-funding poor women who were getting breast screenings at Planned Parenthood.
And now, the political punters and discredited bishops who pretend that contraception is "not OK"(2)
and that even their non-church businesses should be relieved of this responsibility in the name of a mendacious "consistency" -- a consistency they abandon when it is to their benefit to have a litigation shield, a consistency they abandon when it comes to men's reproductive health -- now, they are faced with a Catholic population in which 98% of couples have used birth control, and 54% -- a greater proportion than the population as a whole -- support the standardized-coverage rule.(3)
After the appalling sex abuse cover-up scandals of the past decade, do the Catholic bishops really think their credibility can take another heavy hit such as this? Do they really think that their claim to moral authority is what it once was among Catholics, on this or any other issue?
President Obama, don't compromise. The coverage rule is a blessing to those who need it most, the women and working teens at the bottom of the wage ladder who cannot easily afford the $600+ annual cost of contraception, some of whom are washing floors and serving food at Catholic hospitals and schools and are already struggling to support more children than they can afford. Don't let the Church cry victim when the real victims are the women of whatever faith, who need contraceptive prescriptions for whatever reason, and are being told by their tax-subsidized employers that it's just too sinful and they just can't have it.
(1) Texas Sonogram Law Enforced via MSNBC, 2/8/2012
Also, transvaginal, rather than abdominal, ultrasounds are preferred early in pregnancy.
(2) Rick Santorum via The Raw Story, 10/21/2011
(3) PPP press release, 2/7/2012
© 2012 Lisa Small, all rights reserved
cross-posted at Lisa Small: Newsvine