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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Catholics, Contraception and Conscience




I will preface by saying I know this isn’t solely a Catholic issue, but it has been Catholics who have made this a big issue over time. They are, from what I understand, still the single largest Christian demographic in the country, though I wonder how much of it is exaggerating statistics by considering even lapsed or apostate Catholics along with the ones who actually go to mass and confession regularly on the records? Contraception is not an issue that is opposed on ethical grounds by merely Catholics, though they do take it to a “logical” conclusion that it should not be done according to their very strict notion of what sexuality is ordained for by “God”. There are no doubt many Protestants who oppose teaching contraception use in school because it supposedly encourages promiscuity, but they have no fundamental opposition to the use of it in contexts such as marriage. Catholicism, however, has a very narrow permission for the use of birth control, specifically oral birth control, such as the use for medical reasons, like irregular periods or amenorrhea, where periods don’t come when you should be having them or dysmenorrhea, where periods cause pain that interferes with daily life.  The issue of whether insurance providers should be mandated to provide birth control is an issue that gets into whether contraception is considered basic medical care, which is an issue of insurance agents splitting hairs and thus not entirely an issue of government overstepping its bounds in terms of first amendment rights of free religious exercise so much as private entities taking too much liberty with the independence they have.

What is at issue in my mind is that one’s individual freedom of conscience should not be overridden by a group’s supposed freedom of conscience. Like public schools and prayer, individual students have the right to pray, but the school does not, especially since it constitutes government entanglement with religion. A college funded by the government in part has no real say in terms of denying coverage, but even private institutions are crossing a bit of a line in declaring that individuals who are in need of birth control for various health reasons or even just to stay safe in having intercourse cannot have it because the school opposes it on religious grounds.  It’s not as if they probably don’t have at least a partial justification for limiting insurance support for birth control through their own provider. This necessitates bringing up the free market economy of insurance coverage that can make your head spin, no doubt. You can get coverage from an insurer who will pay for your birth control under their plan and the problem is solved. As long as the school, such as a Catholic one, is not forcing people to get their healthcare insurance, then things are good. Sandra Fluke, insulted as an individual by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, might be overstepping boundaries of individual rights by asking a school to provide birth control through their healthcare plan to everyone. It’s one thing to bring up her examples of women, some of which are Catholic, who’ve had severe reproductive health problems and could’ve solved them through birth control paid for by the school for medical reasons, but the government paying for contraception as a whole might be construed as encouraging open sex, even if it’s safe sex. The distinction between this and the school teaching contraception is that the school is in an educational context, whereas the government just paying through healthcare for safe sex is a bit more grand of a scale than telling students that they should be safe with sex when they may not know better otherwise. Grown adults should be expected to pay for birth control if they can manage it and be responsible without the support of the government. Impoverished groups might be under consideration to get coverage by the government in a similar way as people are in terms of other problems resulting from their poverty that the government can aid with in some way.

The crux of the issue still lies with the fault of people thinking a school can make declarations based on religious ideas instead of leaving that to the parents and individual students. Private educational systems can place reasonable limits upon people as they have certain individual expectations based on their school ideals, but denying coverage through their healthcare plan to all people because of a religious objection is patently absurd, on the level of denying people an abortion if it will save the woman’s life, which happened with a nun from Arizona who was excommunicated from the Church for approving of an abortion for a woman who was having partial heart failure and, if she had continued the pregnancy, would likely have died. For the Catholic Church, known for advocating a more consistent pro life position in terms of opposing the death penalty, aiding the impoverished and otherwise preserving life as much as possible overall, to oppose an abortion that would save a person’s life, admittedly at the expense of what they consider to be an innocent life, seems quite unconscionable. The principle appears consistent at first, but if some isolated incident conflicts with what are generally accepted ideas of “protecting life”, they will apparently allow two lives to be taken away by their God instead of sacrificing one to allow the quality of the other’s life to be improved and continue. The incident in the Southwest involved an 11 week old fetus, not even remotely viable outside the womb. If it had been viable, aborting it could’ve easily been decried as against the Catholic Church’s ideal of maintaining life throughout its span, but not so in this particular circumstance. It’s the inconsistency of the Church’s position in terms of many things, including IVF, which I spoke about in “Family Planningand Fertility Procedures”  that creates the issue here. No one is contesting that Catholics can refuse to get an insurance provider who allows contraception to be covered, but it’s a bit pointless to refuse something if it’s otherwise affordable healthcare. You don’t have to get the contraception, so it’s a vicarious objection to the mere presence of an insurance company paying for birth control if you yourself do not use it. A lot of this is splitting hairs in terms of how much one’s religious objections should matter in terms of what is a national matter of healthcare and thus affects people of no religion or faith as much as it does those of faith, and even those who believe are divided about this issue. Strict opposition to birth control is only common in Catholicism, from what I understand, whereas virtually all Protestant groups have no real issue with people using it, though they might be particular about using it in marriage instead of “fornicating” as it were. The technicality is still there in terms of stigmatizing premarital sex, but using birth control is not considered a sin perse in Protestant theology so much as they would consider it sinful to have sex before marriage, which is ridiculous for reasons I could talk about in the future.

Let’s assume for a moment that birth control falls under basic care, though there is obviously a counter argument against this; that elective birth control, used in a context of sex outside of marriage in many cases, is not the same thing as essential birth control, used for medical reasons that are incidentally preventing pregnancy, but also maintaining reproductive health. But if birth control is a basic health right on the same level as regular vaccinations against diseases that we have covered by insurance, then the government has no real secular argument as to why they shouldn’t do so. Since birth control in the form of condoms prevents STDs to a great extent, it is not outside of reason to suggest that it is a form of basic healthcare, along with the birth control pill, used for many reasons beyond preventing pregnancy, which in itself is not something we should take lightly on the level of a common cold that we’ll just “get over”. Some women are biologically unsuitable for pregnancy and would have severe complications by even carrying the child. I know these are isolated incidents, but without knowing specifics of every person, why not lean on the side of safety and prevention instead of taking unnecessary risks with women, as if they are expendable because they could die from pregnancy or birth, but they also could bring a new life into the world? That is a disgusting perspective on women, who are much more than their reproductive potential or even their child rearing potential apart from having biological children of their own. If women are truly to be treated as equals sexually, they should be permitted to have control over their own reproduction, so as not to be bound by what amounts to a patriarchal system that restrains them by a notion that they cannot be expected to have sex without the possibility of having a child. That antiquated idea should be tossed out along with any sort of notion that women cannot do virtually all jobs that men can do, as long as they are qualified by skills and education. We do not need to handle women like they are glass, treat them as equals and they will show what is under the surface of what we perceive them to be, independent, capable and responsible. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

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