Since I last wrote about the birth control mandate, the Obama administration has offered a compromise to help protect people who, for religious reasons, think birth control is evil. Instead of requiring religious employers to subsidize the cost of of birth control, the insurance companies providing the institution's health care plan will have to subsidize the cost. But even with this compromise, religious extremists, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are unhappy and feel that Obama has declared war on religion.
I think many feminists knew all along that the outrage over the mandate had nothing to do with religious freedom, and had everything to do with controlling women. Religious extremists, including the USCCB, think it is bad and dangerous that women have the ability to have sex without getting pregnant, to have fewer children, or to delay having children, even if they're married. And many believe that taking hormonal birth control is the equivalent of having an abortion, despite that thing called science which tells us otherwise. Jill over at Feministe writes:
So fine, compromise time: Catholic organizations, even those that are not really all that religious and instead serve the public, won’t have to pay for contraception. Instead, insurance companies will have to cover contraception. Bam, women are covered, and no one is forced to violate their strong moral opposition to birth control by covering it for their employees. Good, right? Everyone’s happy?
Nope! Because, wait, this is just about a handful of celibate men wanting to control women’s reproductive freedoms? And it’s not really about religious freedom at all? It’s just about hostility to women having the ability to prevent pregnancy? Oh. Who could have possibly seen that coming?So despite the fact that no religious employer even has to subsidize the cost of contraception, a panel was organized to see if the fact that women have access to contraception at all interferes with religious freedom (newsflash: it doesn't).
California Republican Darrell Issa was in charge of the panel, and he rejected requests to have women on the panel saying, "the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception." Instead, he composed a panel of five men from various religious traditions. Not only did he decide that it was silly to include people who have a uterus or actually take birth control, he also decided that women don't have religious consciences. He could have included one of the 98% of Catholic women who use contraception. But apparently their religious conscience doesn't count. It is the religious conscience of the celibate men we should be worried about! Their religious freedom matters, not women's.
This video shows Representatives arguing against the panel because it only includes people who disagree with the mandate and only represents a small portion of religious institutions (for example, Catholic charities that support the mandate were not invited. Neither was Catholics for Choice). They also argue that it does not include women, who will be primarily affected if the mandate is overruled. They literally plead to allow a woman to participate. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Eleanor Holmes Martin walked out in protest. As Maya over at Feministing writes, "This is democracy in action ladies and gentlemen: Women actively barred from speaking about an issue that directly affects us, our health, and our lives." I'd also like to add that if this is actually a legal issue about separation of church and state, where are the legal scholars? None of the people on this panel have any great legal knowledge.
If this isn't enough, in Issa's opening statement he said that "a man's conscience" should guide laws in America (emphasis mine). Then Bishop William Lori compared insurance companies subsidizing the cost of contraception to Jewish delis being forced to serve pork. Does he know that not eating pork isn't exactly a public health issue, or that not having access to pork doesn't mean you'll wind up pregnant? Does he know that Jewish delis, or Jewish hospitals/schools for that matter, don't run around actively trying to bar other Jews, and especially non-Jews, from eating pork. They're not upset that some of their hard-earned tax money might end up supporting pig farmers or the meat industry, thus violating their conscience. In addition to being a ridiculous analogy (although not as ridiculous as an analogy I heard from another Catholic man, who said the birth control mandate is the same as telling Catholic doctors that they have to shoot their patients), comparing bacon to birth control and women's health is incredibly demeaning and insulting. Erin Gloria Ryan, from Jezebel, writes, "The comparison of birth control to cooked pig parts was effective in one way, though— it showed that the Church utterly devalues women, and views their health care as a recreational afterthought. Want to have some honey glazed ham? Wanna keep from getting pregnant? Same thing!"
The fact that access to birth control is compared to access to bacon is infuriating. The fact that no one on the panel was a woman, supported the mandate, or had a background in law or medicine is infuriating. But the most infuriating thing is that in 2012, we're actually having congressional hearings about access to birth control.
|Picture from the Congressional Hearing. Where are the women?|