Thursday, February 9, 2012

Birth Control, Religion, Government And Individual Rights

The religious freedom of an organization to dominate or control the religious freedom of choice of individuals - which freedom should prevail; The organization's religious freedom or the individual's personal right of religious freedom?

The US Conference of Catholic bishops (USCCB) are incensed at the decision by the Obama administration to guarantee that the women's health care benefit package in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes contraceptive care. Beginning in August 2012, all of the services in this benefit package will be available in new insurance plans without any out-of-pocket costs to women.

The rule specifically exempts pervasively religious institutions like houses of worship from offering their employees birth control coverage as part of their health insurance. Even so, in a USCCB video, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, angrily invokes religious freedom, protected by the “very first amendment,” in castigating the policy that private insurance must provide reproductive health care to women. Archbishop Dolan calls upon his flock to contact their elected officials and let them know that “religious liberty must be restored.”

Under a cloak of reverence for religious freedom, the bishops say reproductive health care must be denied to women and men of other religious faiths, and even to American Catholics – most of whom disagree with the archbishop.

There are already approximately 335,000 churches and houses of worship that are not required to provide reproductive health care services for their employees because of religious exemption. Now the Bishops claim that their religion also exempts them from providing preventive health care services to the millions of employees -- many of whom are not even Catholic -- at Catholic owned businesses, like hospitals and Universities!

Add to those direct employees of Catholic owned businesses the families of workers who are covered under the employee insurance program, too.

Statistics show that most insurance plans already cover birth control and 28 states require it. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in announcing the Administration's decision, explained that birth control is the most commonly taken drug in the U.S. by young and middle-aged women -- and that holds true of women across the religious spectrum. Ninety-eight percent of all American women, Catholic and otherwise, report using birth control during their lifetime.

The lobbying against reproductive health care for women by the Catholic bishops has been widely publicized. What hasn't gotten as much attention is that many faith-based groups, including the National Council of Jewish Women weighed in on the other side.

NCJW says that this is an issue of religious liberty -- although there are differing religious views on the use of contraception, it should be up to women to decide on whether and when to use contraception based on their own beliefs and needs. On this most-personal decision, no woman should be forced to abide by the religious views of her bosses at work or those of her insured spouse's employer.

Many people do not remember that the purchase and use of birth control products and literature about birth control options, even by married couples, was against the law in many states until 1965. There are those who, for the last 46 years, have worked to reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that Americans have a fundamental right of privacy. That right includes making family planning decisions and the right to learn about and use birth control contraceptives. Among those who have worked to reverse Griswold v. Connecticut is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may be one of the quietest, yet most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill, with political allies that have enabled them to roll back decades of law and precedent in reproductive rights for women. Among those political allies are the 2012 GOP presidential candidates and Republicans who currently control the U.S. House of Representatives. This group of men, blessed with a strong personal interest in women’s bodies, have quietly influenced all of the major legislation on reproductive health care over the past several years.

Just one year ago the GOP-controlled House voted to cut not only all of Planned Parenthood's $75 million in federal funding for family planning but also the entire $317 million Title X budget. Title X money helps pay for birth control, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, breast and cervical cancer testing, prenatal care, sex education and vasectomies for men. About 4.7 million Americans get health care from clinics funded by Title X money, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

During an ABC interview with Jake Tapper presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that premarital sex should be outlawed, that women have no right to accessible reproductive health care, that contraceptives should be illegal and that states can outlaw the sale, purchase and use of contraceptives.

“The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a constitutional right, the state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have. That is the thing I have said about the activism of the Supreme Court, they are creating right, and they should be left up to the people to decide.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the top three 2012 GOP presidential candidates, have committed to a "personhood" constitutional amendment that would outlaw most common contraceptive choices available to women. Mother Jones reports that Republicans in the U.S. Congress also want to pass a federal Personhood Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
That amendment would effectively reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that Americans have a fundamental to use birth control.

Video: Can Republicans seriously nominate an anti-contraception candidate? Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, talks with Rachel Maddow about the unprecedented and hard to fathom conservative Republican opposition to birth control.
Huffington Post:

Over the past two years the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has launched one of the most extreme assaults on women's choice the U.S. has seen in decades. Republicans voted twice to slash federal family planning funds for low-income women, moved to prevent women from using their own money to buy insurance plans that cover abortion, introduced legislation that would force women to have ultrasounds before receiving an abortion and, most recently, passed a bill that will allow hospitals to refuse to perform emergency abortions for women with life-threatening pregnancy complications.

Lift the curtain, and behind the assault was the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"It is a very effective lobby, unfortunately, and now they have an ally in the Republican majority because both groups find this a means by which to fight women's health issues in general," said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a member of the House Pro-Choice Caucus. "The bishops carry a lot of clout."

"We consider the two biggest opponents on the other side the Catholic bishops and National Right to Life," said Donna Crane, policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "They are extremely heavy-handed on this issue."

While the bishops have always been vocal on the issue of choice, they have emerged since the 2009 health care reform debate as one of the most powerful anti-abortion advocates on Capitol Hill.

Now, they are stepping up their attack on women's choice with a new, high-intensity campaign aimed at the latest front in the national anti-abortion battle: birth control. And the opposition is worried that they might have just enough sway over lawmakers to succeed.

* * * * *

In opposing the legalization of contraception, conservatives declared in 1965, as they continue to declare today, that sex must be inextricably tied only to reproduction; That it is morally wrong for people, young or old, married or not, to pursue sexual pleasure while deliberately preventing pregnancy. Albert Mohler, current president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, voices the social conservative position on contraceptives when he writes, "To engage in sexual pleasure without openness to children is to violate a sacred trust." This echoes Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae" encyclical of 1968 that forbade "any action which either before, at the moment of or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation."

After the court legalized the sale and use of contraceptive products for married couples in its 1965 Griswold decision, and particularly after the court extended its Griswold right to privacy finding to legalize the sale and use of contraceptive products for unmarried couples in its 1972 Eisenstadt v. Baird decision, social conservatives have followed an agenda of limiting the availability of information about contraceptives and family planning options at every turn to everyone, young or old, married or not.

The underlying motivation for withholding accurate information and disseminating misinformation about the effectiveness of contraceptive products, as this blog is discussing in its five part series on sex education, is to discourage people from using contraceptives, period - even through their adult life.

Social conservatives successfully pressed this agenda into action through Abstinence-Only Sex Education funding legislation passed during the years that conservative Republicans controlled the White House, U.S. Congress and many state legislatures, like Texas.

NYTimes: For the past 33 years — since, as they see it, the wanton era of the 1960's culminated in the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 — American social conservatives have been on an unyielding campaign against abortion. But, as the conservative tide swelled, this campaign has taken on a broader scope. Its true beginning point may not be Roe but Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that had the effect of legalizing contraception. "We see a direct connection between the practice of contraception and the practice of abortion," says Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, an organization that has battled abortion for 27 years but that, like others, now has a larger mission. "The mind-set that invites a couple to use contraception is an anti-child mind-set," she told me. "So when a baby is conceived accidentally, the couple already have this negative attitude toward the child. Therefore seeking an abortion is a natural outcome. We oppose all forms of contraception."
Social conservatives hold the Supreme Court's Griswold “right to privacy” declaration with contempt because it is the foundation of the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Citing the Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird decisions, which were based on justifications of privacy, the Justice Burger Court extended the right of privacy to include a woman's right to have an abortion in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a Texas law criminalizing abortions unconstitutional.

The Griswold and Eisenstadt privacy decisions were again cited in the court's Lawrence v. Texas 2003 decision holding a Texas state law prohibiting certain forms of intimate sexual contact between members of the same sex as unconstitutional; yet another decision conservatives hold in contempt. Justice Thomas’ dissent in Lawrence v. Texas leaves little doubt that he would overrule Griswold if given the chance, and Chief Justice Roberts disparaged Griswold in an article he drafted in 1981, although he claimed to have backed away from that view in his confirmation hearing.

The Bush Administration in 2008 took the conservative abstinence-only agenda a step beyond sex education with an administrative approach to legally restrict access to contraceptive products. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, "The Bush Administration's Department of Health and Human Services wrote a regulation that defines most birth-control pills and intrauterine devices as abortion because they work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus." Most social conservatives define a fertilized egg, from the "moment of conception," as human person with full civil rights. Any human interruption to the natural processes that allows and egg to be fertilized or once fertilized to implant in the uterus and develop into a full term birth is akin to abortion. In December, the HHS formally adopted this conscientious objection 'regulation’ permitting federally funded health care providers to decline to provide or participate in services, such as filling prescriptions for contraceptives, to which they object.

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