Mar 5, 2012

The Freedom to Control Other People

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan weighed in this weekend on the wholly manufactured debate over freedom of religion. This, if you'll recall, is the Rick Santorum endorsed version of "absolute" separation of church and state that would allow religious affiliated, but non-religious organizations such as hospitals and colleges, to deny birth control coverage under their insurance plans.

"We're not trying to impose our teachings on anybody," said Dolan in his 45-minute speech to a packed auditorium of about 1,000 people. "We're simply saying, don't impose your teaching upon us and make us do as a church what we find unconscionable to do."

The statement borders on the Orwellian. Of course they're imposing their teachings on people. They're imposing them on numerous students and employees -- many of whom aren't even Catholic -- by not allowing them to use their health benefits in a manner consistent with medical advise and their own conscience.

What I find most confounding about the religious leaders and congressmen demanding "religious freedom" to exempt employers from allowing coverage of birth control is that they seem incapable of seeing the irony. It seems perfectly reasonable to them to demand as their own freedom the right to control other people.

What Cardinal Dolan and others like him are engaged in is a battle over symbolism, not substance. No one is demanding that they do anything. Under President Obama's compromise, they're not even required to pay for birth control coverage. The insurer would have to pick it up. All that's happening is that people who are in some vague way under their auspices are doing something they don't approve of. You'd think they'd be used to that, considering that roughly 98% of Catholic women have used birth control at some time.

As Jon Stewart pointed out in a recent episode of the Daily Show, health insurance is part of an employee's salary. What difference does it make to the Catholic Church if employees use their benefits package or their paycheck to buy birth control? Or will the next move be to demand that no employee or student at any Catholic affiliated institution be allowed to use birth control at all?

Make no mistake. This is not a battle over religious freedom. If the Catholic Church and the GOP were so concerned about people not being compelled to pay into systems that go against their religious beliefs, they'd be fighting for the right of Quakers not to have their tax dollars used for military purposes. I think we all know how invested Rick Santorum, Darryl Issa, and Rush Limbaugh are in that particular issue.

The hue and cry being raised by some members of the Catholic church hierarchy and some opportunistic members of Congress over the Obama administration's requirement that employers provide contraception to their employees reminds me that their argument of religious freedom and how the evil federal government is stomping all over it applies to more than just pills and condoms.

I belong to a religious denomination that is adamantly opposed to war in any form and to the manufacture and sale of it. The Quakers were founded on this tenet, they have suffered for it, including torture, exile, and even death, yet they haven't changed their position in five hundred years. As a Quaker, I too am opposed to war and its trappings to the point that I registered as a conscientious objector in 1970. And yet my taxes go to the Treasury every year; taxes I am sure go to support the Department of Defense and our war machine.

No. This is not about religious freedom. Not when they so obviously cherry-pick what religious groups deserve special exemption from civic responsibility. This is about the freedom of women to own and operate their own bodies and just how uncomfortable that makes an awful lot of men -- be they celibate priests in a denomination that consistently makes women second-class citizens or a dirty old man like Rush Limbaugh who wants to compel college girls to record their sex lives for his entertainment.
"So Miss Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal," he said. "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

Limbaugh displayed an almost incalculable level of ignorance with a three-day tirade against female sexuality that has so far resulted in the loss of seven advertisers and a tortured apology, no doubt to stop the hemorrhaging. The factually challenged Limbaugh repeatedly asserted that his tax dollars were somehow paying for birth control activist Sandra Fluke to have sex. In fact, the Georgetown law student testified before Congress about her lesbian friend who lost an ovary after being denied coverage for medically necessary birth control pills because the Catholic run institution refuses to cover contraception. It's Georgetown students, though, who currently have to pay for the inadequate coverage as the college automatically bills students for their group medical plan. Yet, in Limbaugh's narcissistic mind, this translates to him somehow having to pay for Fluke to have "so much sex" she can't afford to buy her own contraception. Yes, Limbaugh is so ignorant on the issue of women's health, he seems to think women take birth control pills every time they have sex, and has failed to grok that it's a long-term prescription that has to be taken daily on a schedule.

One wonders how much sex Rush Limbaugh was having in the Dominican Republic, having taken illegally prescribed Viagra on his 2009 trip. Limbaugh, who was already under indictment for doctor shopping to feed a drug habit of a different nature, was caught upon his return with a prescription made out by a doctor to his own name to protect Limbaugh's privacy. One wonders who paid for that Viagra. No doubt that was covered by his insurance as most plans cover Viagra, including those offered by Catholic institutions.

Joked Limbaugh:

I had a great time in the Dominican Republic. Wish I could tell you about it.

Promiscuous sex is funny when men do it. (Limbaugh was traveling unaccompanied in a country known for its sexual tourism.) But when women use properly prescribed birth control -- for, in some cases, other medical needs -- they're "sluts." They're "prostitutes." They're "round heeled."

Limbaugh, as usual, gave voice to the uncontrollable id of the conservative movement. He gave the lie to all the grandstanding about religious freedom and made it clear that what it's always been about is aging males desperate to control women's bodies with all their mysterious and terrifying sexuality.

Repeatedly conflating the birth control issue with the politically safer territory of abortion rights, Republicans have railed against the evils of forcing churches to in any way endorse women owning their bodies outright. You have to marvel at the hypocrisy epitomized by a Catholic senator like David Vitter arguing against birth control when we all know he used it... with prostitutes.

Such double standards make it hard to read this as anything other than contempt for women and a desire to roll back the clock on our freedom. Effective birth control has been available for so long that many have forgotten what a dramatic change in the social order it facilitated. Before contraceptives like the pill, women's lives revolved around the potential for pregnancy to disrupt any other plan. And with all their mockery of birth control as health concern, these men broadcast their ignorance of the toll pregnancy and childbirth can take on a woman's body. They ignore the fact that it can kill us and that the more pregnancies a woman has the greater the odds that she'll suffer complications. The very vocal men at the forefront of this battle for "religious freedom" seem to still be longing for the halcyon days when women were either barefoot, pregnant Madonnas or so many disposable whores.

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