The Course of Reason

Fight Against an Expanded Religious Exemption that Denies Birth Control Coverage

November 30, 2011

This post is part of the #HERVotes Blog Carnival

I have my own opinions about birth control and whether it should be made available at no cost to women who want to have control over their reproduction, but I think that there is something that we can do to solve this issue that is more decisive than weighing our biased and subjective opinions. We need to look to unbiased sources. It is imperative that we turn to science and critical thought in order to study and truly understand the implications of the decision we are going to make.

 

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Why do Catholic bishops have any say in what we do as a matter of public health? Are they doctors? Have they studied society in order to understand what happens when birth control is outlawed or available only at prohibitive costs to some women? Do they think that the rights of women, and all people, are more important than faith? I can not possibly speak for all Catholic bishops; in fact, you might be surprised to find out that I have never met one. Regardless, it is very unlikely that in his free time any Catholic bishop has decided to study science, sociology, or public health to an academic and professional level at which other experts in such fields could consider the bishop an authority on those topics. Bishops may have studied some things outside of faith and may be academically knowledgeable people, but I am going to assume that being a bishop means studying and regarding faith and religious doctrine above every other area of study.

Because their expertise is in faith and understanding of religious texts, I think that bishops should have absolute say over church doctrine. If they think that everyone should wear those cool hats to church and high-five as they eat crackers, that’s perfectly fine and well within their right as bishops (I think). No philosophy or religion or worldview, however, has the right to deny people medicine, to be allowed to hurt others, to repress women, or to take away the rights that are mandated by our government. I think that a religious exemption in order to avoid providing mandated health care is unacceptable because we do not have a religious government. We have to trust in professionals who study actual outcomes and efficacy of social programs to make important societal decisions. We have to look to what is best for society and not what is best according to one religion that bases its knowledge on a creed written several hundred years ago. Plus, if we allow for religious organizations to deny some healthcare to their employees because it upsets their religious views, then where is the line drawn? Is it okay for religious organizations to deny some rights but not others?

I don’t want to spend too much time on hypothetical situations, but what if we allowed other religious exemptions, like honor killings? What if we decided that it was okay for Mormon organizations to not provide healthcare to black people because of the Curse of Cain Doctrine, which some have interpreted to mean that black people are cursed? What if we determined that it was okay for a man to kill his son for being disobedient, as the Bible states he should (Deuteronomy 21:18–21)? We, as a society, do not allow religious conviction to excuse murder, rape, theft, oppression, or the denial of rights to our citizens where there are laws to criminalize these things. No matter how much someone thinks that he or she is acting justly based on faith, that individual is not allowed to infringe on the rights of others. Okay, why not? Well, we have laws that exist for all people. Everyone is subject to laws and to the judicial system no matter what they believe. We have a secular government which means that no one religion is allowed to exercise its rules over anyone else if those rules contradict our laws. Period. Being an American means you have rights no matter what religion you are, and the case of basic health care should be no exception.

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If the Catholic bishops said that they have proof of no-cost birth control hurting society in a real, tangible, measurable way that can be observed by science, then I think that we, as responsible thinkers and people who care about the wellbeing of our society, would have to ask scientists and scholars to look at more data and use universal systems of gaining knowledge in order to come to a conclusion. Scientific fields such as sociology and public health have already considered the question of whether easy access to birth control causes more pregnancies, more unwanted children, and other outcomes that most of us would agree are bad for society. Look for news sources that state information from studies and not from religious organizations whose motives are to make people live according to a particular faith:

“About half of all pregnancies in Colorado and across the country are unplanned or unwanted, and many of those result in abortion, according to government reports.” From Health Policy Solutions

“Two new studies taking different methodological approaches arrive at the same conclusion: Unintended pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers roughly $11 billion each year. Both estimates are conservative in that they are limited to public insurance costs for pregnancy and first-year infant care, and both studies conclude that the potential public savings from reducing unintended pregnancy in the United States would be huge. A related new study provides first-ever estimates of unintended pregnancy for each state, and a starting point for future efforts to monitor states’ progress toward reducing unintended pregnancy.” “Contraceptive use is critical to couples’ ability to reconcile their sexual lives and their childbearing goals.” From a study by the Guttmacher Institute; the second from another study by the Guttmacher Institute

“Despite the advances that have been made in contraception over the past fifty years, an estimated 150 million women worldwide cannot get the birth control they desire. In many parts of the world most young women become mothers before they are 20 years old. A woman who bears children at a younger age tends to have more children over all, is less able to care for them, and is more likely to suffer ill health.” From the Our Bodies Ourselves health resource center (it has a list of sources here)

“Laws limiting teenagers’ access to contraceptive services and information fail to reduce sexual activity and increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), according to two studies” From The Alan Guttmacher Institute

I don’t want to only cite the sources that reinforce my opinion because that would go against my original premise of counting on authorities to help us make important decisions, but I did not find any information stating that greater access to birth control would have negative consequences for the United States. There may be other studies that I don’t know about; furthermore, many of the studies I did find relate to abstinence-only education, or birth control statistics for specific groups and not the broader population (but they are also positive). The point is that it is not my decision to make, nor should it be a decision made by the Catholic bishops or any other member of clergy or any average layperson. Matters of medicine and public health need to be handled by doctors, scientists, and other professionals whose only goals are to make our society as prosperous, happy, safe, and healthy as it can be.

The Center for Inquiry released an alert asking supporters to urge President Obama to keep religion our of reproductive health care regulations. Read that alert and see how to get your voice to President Obama here

To read other blog posts about the proposed expansion to the religious exemption for birth control coverage, visit the HERvotes blog carnival page or check #HERvotes on Twitter. Go to the National Women’s Law Center to learn more about important women’s issues. 

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About the Author: Dren Asselmeier

Dren Asselmeier's photo

Dren Asselmeier does student outreach as a campus organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She got her start as an organizer while interning at Center for Inquiry–Michigan in 2008. She stayed until 2010 as a volunteer campus coordinator, and was CFI–Michigan Freethinker of the Year in 2009, as well as president of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley State University. Dren has a B.A. in English from Grand Valley State University. She is the president of Buffalo Area Non-Profit Professionals, an event volunteer at Buffalo Subversive Theatre, and a contributor to the Buffalo Storyteller Hour. 

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