The personal is political: Women’s health choices VS religious freedom?

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...

Women’s health issues are controversial. In recent years, conservative politicians and religious leaders have been leading a push to make health services for women harder and harder to obtain. For instance Rick Santorum has advocated that states should have the right to ban birth control. Now, as adamantly pro-choice as I am, I can see why some people might be squeamish about abortion. It took me a lot of reading and listening to women’s stories, as well as a few hours volunteering in the chaos outside the Louisville abortion clinic on Saturday mornings to come to my stance. However, I seriously cannot understand how anyone could possibly also be in favor of restricting women’s access to birth control. Unless, of course, their ultimate aim is to take away from women the ability to control if they will have babies, or when, or how many. And if a woman can’t control her fertility, how can she have control of her life?

Recently, the Obama administration has mandated that employers cover birth control in their insurance policies, and the conservatives are having a fit.

Under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, most employers and insurance plans will have to cover birth control free of charge as preventive care for women. Churches and houses of worship do not have to follow that requirement, but administration officials recently announced that many religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals, colleges and charities must comply after a year’s phase-in period.

The wave of protest that followed has clearly taken the White House by surprise. Catholic and Protestant evangelical leaders criticized the decision as infringing on freedom of religion. Some religious liberals have called it politically risky for Obama in a close election year.

Now let’s be clear about this, there is still an exception for churches and other “houses of worship”, which generally hire people who are in agreement with their creeds and beliefs anyway. But to mandate that a nurse working for a Catholic hospital should be able to have birth control covered by insurance? This is a restriction on freedom of religion? What about freedom for these women to have access to the health care they need? This is the sort of thing that reaches into me and pulls out all the frustration and anger I have ever held towards religion! Why can’t they just let people make their own decisions about what services their health insurance should cover?

It is probably not news to anyone by now that the conservatives have been trying to shut down Planned Parenthood. Nevermind that federal funds do not, by law, go into funding abortion care. Or that the vast majority of services that Planned Parenthood provides are such controversial things as pap smears, cancer screenings, STI diagnosis and treatment. Oh yea, contraception too, which I believe counts as preventative care. Having been raised getting my information on PP mainly from Focus on the Family, even I was shocked to find out just last year that only about 3% of PP’s services have anything to do with abortion. Planned Parenthood is the sole provider of a multitude of health care services for so many American women, especially those without health insurance.

But here is the take of Scott Walker, who attempted to shut down Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. (SLIGHT CORRECTION: This is a Forbes article paraphrase of Scott Walker’s position.)

No doubt, the women who will be denied access in the four counties where no such screening will be available, can comfort themselves in the knowledge that, while they may die of breast or cervical cancer, at least they won’t have to expose themselves to some perceived controversy over the local Planned Parenthood treatment facility.

That is just mind-boggling.

And then there is the whole debacle with Susan G. Komen. Why would an organization dedicated to fighting breast cancer retract funding and support for an organization that does a lot of breast cancer screenings for underserved women? Lately they have retracted that decision under tremendous backlash but one has to wonder what were they thinking?

When in the world did it become a religious right to deny health care to employees? And what is it with the conservative politicians lately? Do they envisioning a future where women must stay at home to care for a gaggle of children, imprisoned by biology, while the (wealthiest) men get to hold all the political and economic power? How is it that such personal, private choices are so political?

4 thoughts on “The personal is political: Women’s health choices VS religious freedom?

  1. Hi Mikel,

    A very well written article with many very good points and lots of good info. As you may have guessed, I have a few difficulties with some of the philosophical ideas. I think there are areas you may have over simplified. A person can be anti-abortion without being a religious fanatic. I personally know many people who are not religious at all and are against abortion. In fact I am puzzled how a person can be a humanist and be pro-choice. I don’t think it is a question of women’s rights. I agree that anyone should have the right to use contraception and I think we should provide it for those who cannot afford it. A woman has other rights as well. She has a right not to get pregnant by whatever method she chooses. She has a right to give an unwanted child up for adoption. She has a right to quality medical care if she becomes pregnant. The only right she does not have here is a right that no one has. She does not have the right to end a human life. Actually she does have a legal right to end that life. She does not have a moral right to do that.

    If you want to maintain freedom FROM religion in this country, you must also maintain freedom OF religion. You cannot force a religious organization to comply with a rule that goes against their religious beliefs. No matter how foolish you think they are, if you wish to remain free you must also protect their freedoms. The obvious solution to the plight of the nurse you mentioned is for her to go to work for a secular hospital, or provide her own birth control. The better solution of course is to enact national health care and take those decisions out of the hands of religious institutions.

    • I’m sure the article was a bit simplified. But I never said anything about only “religious fanatics” being anti-choice. I never even said anything about “religious fanatics” and I even bent over backwards to acknowledge that some reasonable people are squeamish about abortion. I am saying that religious organizations that are also huge hirers of the general public are claiming it under their religious freedom to deny the women coverage for contraception. They are claiming that for the health bill to require them to cover contraception in their insurance policy violates their freedom of religion. I call bullshit on that. And on top of that, have you noticed how many conservative politicians are doing whatever they can to get Planned Parenthood defunded? Back when the health care bill was being debated in congress, the conservatives were trying to make the defunding of PP a condition for passing the bill. Conservative governors like the one in Wisconsin are trying to get PP defunded in their states. If you don’t see that there is something rotten going on here, I don’t think you have been following this particular issue very closely.

  2. BTW, just as a point, the reason I have a “?” at the end of “Women’s health choices VS religious freedom?” is that I don’t think there is a genuine conflict here.

    The conflict is that certain religious org think it is a part of their “freedom of religion” to deny their employees insurance coverage of certain health care procedures and treatments their religion disagrees with. I am quite sure this is stretching the intend of a law that prevents any individual from being persecuted for following their chosen religion or supporting other religions though their taxes. Do we let them get around whatever laws or regulations they want in the name of “freedom of religion”? I think not.

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