Friday, February 10, 2012

Church, State and Contraception

I have been debating for a while whether I wanted to tackle the Obama administration's decision regarding insurance coverage for contraception or not on this blog, but since the issue was raised yesterday during prayers and concerns I decided to go ahead and have my say.

There are lots of great ironies in this situation. The first is that the very same group of people who are saying that there is no such thing as a separation of church and state and that the two should be connected, are now saying that the federal government has overstepped this constitutional boundary and are now meddling in the affairs of the church.

I think that argument is a stretch, but the problem with combining the church and the state was never really the fear of what the church will do to the government, although that is a concern, but instead what the government would do to the church. If you have ever worked with someplace that receives federal funding in any form then you know what the requirements, stipulations and restrictions are.

So I guess this is exposing the reality that those who want to tie church and state together want the church to interfere with the government but not vice versa. Of course then this sets up situations where religious "law" will trump governmental law (you know sort of like what people are afraid of with Muslims)

One way to look at these issues is to extend them to their logical conclusions (not to extremes as some are doing) or to look at it and ask what you would think if someone you disliked was doing it. I remembering going to a speech by Lynne Cheney in which she was attacking the new history standards that had been put into place by the Clinton administration. The problem was that she was the one responsible for beginning the process, it's just that Bush was voted out of office and so she didn't get the finish it. So she wasn't opposed to the standards, just as long as she was the one who got to decide what they were. Unfortunately the world does not work that way, so let's take a look at some logical questions.

An attorney for the US Council of Bishops has said that their opposition is about more than just the church, that if he opened a Taco Bell that he should be exempt as well since as a Catholic he is opposed to birth control. So let's extend that to others:

Scientologists do not believe that mental health problems actually exist, so by the standard being discussed they would not need to provide any mental health coverage, including prescription coverage for drugs, like Prozac. And, since I don't know of a single Christian or Jewish denomination that says that sex outside of marriage is okay, does that mean I can provide coverage that only allows birth control for married couples (which the UMC is okay with), but not for single people?

What about other medical procedures involved with reproduction? Will vasectomies or tubal ligation be covered or not since they are radical forms of birth control? What about hysterectomies? Covered or not? What about if the hysterectomy is needed? A nun in Phoenix was defrocked because she allowed an abortion to take place in a Catholic hospital in order to save the mother's life, so I'm thinking not. What about Viagra for men who are married to women who can no longer have children? Since that would then encompass sex that cannot lead to procreation I’m guessing not.

The committee advising Paul VI said not to include contraception in the Humanae Vitae. The man who invented the pill, John Rock was a devout Catholic who believed that it was within church teaching, and actually created it in a way that was totally unnecessary and maybe harmful to women in order to make it fall within Catholic teachings (here is a great story on this). Plus, 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used birth control and the majority of Catholic hospitals and schools already have insurance policies which cover birth control, including for single females.

Twenty-Eight states, including New Mexico, already have laws on the books requiring that large institutions like hospitals and schools cover this regardless of religious convictions (and for those not good at math that is more than half), and 8 of those states, including the liberal bastions of Georgia and Iowa, require local churches to provide birth control coverage in their insurance without exemption. Finally, Republicans proposed a bill in both the House and the Senate in 2001 which would have done exactly what is now being proposed. They were for it then but are opposed to it now that it's being done by a Democrat, much like Lynne Cheney.

What you also need to pay attention to is who is advocating opposition to the administrations position on television shows. It is more than 2 to 1 in favor of men, except for Fox which was 10 to 1. The two groups most strongly in opposition are the Roman Catholic church and Southern Baptists, both groups who deny leadership and other roles to women. I, and others, can't help but guess that if women were involved at the table in which these and other theological decisions were made, that their results might be very different.

To tell you how strange the arguments around these issues have become for the Catholic church, I attended a Catholic university for a year and there was a student organization supporting gay rights but another organization pushing women’s rights issues was not allowed to form because they would also be pro-choice. So homosexuality was okay, but abortion was not. Of course this decision was made by men, celibate men, some of whom were open about their own sexuality.

One of the problems that I see the Roman Catholic church falling into is the fact that they are turning themselves into a one-issue church. It's all about contraception, and nothing else seems to matter. They are supposedly just as opposed to the death penalty as they are to abortion, but how often do you hear anything about that? When was the last time you heard of a politician who supported the death penalty, which strangely enough are also those who say they want to protect the “sanctity of life” but also are pro-war, being denied communion?

If the Catholic church is going to make this the position on which they are going to make their stand, and it is a position which is uniformly opposed not only by the general populace but also by their own members, at what point do people stop listening them all together?

The church does need to make stands on things, but many people are asking why the bishops were not just as outraged about the clergy abuses taking place in their dioceses as they are about this issue.

And what's worse is that some are beginning to backtrack on that issue. Cardinal Egan recently recanted an apology he had offered to his diocese when interviewed by the Connecticut Magazine:

CT Magazine: In 2002, you wrote a letter to parishioners in which you said, “If in hindsight we discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”

EGAN: First of all, I should never have said that. I did say if we did anything wrong, I’m sorry, but I don’t think we did anything wrong. But I hate to go back over this. I think there’s more to life than that one issue, especially when I had no cases. (Emphasis in original)

I guess what that means is that contraception is the one issue that want to make an fuss over, but the abuse of children is not.

Finally, I would agree with others that this really has little to do with government restrictions on religion, but instead is much much deeper. It is about the right of people to use birth control. Rick Santorum himself has said “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.... Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

He then went on to say that he worries that sex is being “deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.” Of course what these positions want to do is to deconstruct marriages to that they are simply all about sex and procreation. I certainly hope that Mr. Santorum's marriage is about more than sex, because mine is as is those of my friends.

He has also said he would like to see Griswold v. Connecticut, which gave married couples the right to possess and use contraception, overturned. This was a case in which the majority said "Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship." Apparently not for some.

Here is the position of the United Methodist Church (edited for space):

Each couple has the right and the duty prayerfully and responsibly to control conception according to their circumstances. They are, in our view, free to use those means of birth control considered medically safe. As developing technologies have moved conception and reproduction more and more out of the category of a chance happening and more closely to the realm of responsible choice, the decision whether or not to give birth to children must include acceptance of the responsibility to provide for their mental, physical, and spiritual growth, as well as consideration of the possible effect on quality of life for family and society.

To support the sacred dimensions of personhood, all possible efforts should be made by parents and the community to ensure that each child enters the world with a healthy body and is born into an environment conducive to the realization of his or her full potential....

We therefore encourage our churches and common society to.... Make information and materials available so all can exercise responsible choice in the area of conception controls. We support the free flow of information about reputable, efficient, and safe nonprescription contraceptive techniques through educational programs and through periodicals, radio, television, and other advertising media. We support adequate public funding and increased participation in family planning services by public and private agencies, including church-related institutions, with the goal of making such services accessible to all, regardless of economic status or geographic location.

In addition, Bishop Shamana, the head of the General Board of Church and Society, has said: "Basic to the values we hold as United Methodists is the belief that women are capable decision makers regarding their bodies and the gift of childbirth."

* cartoon from the Naked Pastor.

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