Olivia Riutta - February 17, 2012
Good evening –
I would like you to imagine something with me. Picture this, a hearing in the US House of Representatives, the hearing is on an amendment to the Surface Transportation bill, but the amendment titled “The Respect the Rights of the Conscience Act of 2011,” has nothing to do with transportation and everything to do with denying women access to contraceptives based on “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
The Congressmen are sitting at their table in the front of the room, each has a nametag, The Chairman of the committee, Darrell Issa, is a Republican from California.
Facing the panel of electeds, the room is full, rows of people, members of the media. At the front is a big wooden table, it looks heavy. It fits five across, all dressed in black suits, each with a microphone and notes, ready to explain why they believe that women should be denied access to contraceptives – all of them are men.
We can stop imagining. This isn’t some bad dream, no, this is February 16th in the year of our lord, two-thousand and twelve, yesterday.
To be clear, we’re not even talking about abortion, the gold standard of our moral demise. No, we are talking about contraceptive coverage – the pill, the ring, an IUD, good old contraceptives so that women can plan when and if they have children. The pill has been around so long in the US that she is quietly wringing her hands, waiting to drawing down social security. Virtually all women (99%+) who have ever had sex with a man have accessed some kind of contraceptive, and with Catholic women, that number dips to 98% (Guttemacher, 2011).
But this story starts almost two years ago when congress passed and the president signed the Affordable Care Act, or the ACA, sometimes referred to as Obamacare. The ACA requires certain preventive health services and screenings to be covered in all new health insurance plans without any cost-sharing or co-pay. The list of covered services is long but includes contraceptives. The contraceptive rule came out last August and the anti-choice faith community, led by The US Conference of Catholic bishops, cried fowl.
In January, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced the final policy would provide contraceptives without co-pays and would include a “narrow” religious employer exemption, exempting over 330,000 houses of worship. The Bishops lobbied to expand the exemption to cover religiously affiliated organizations: hospitals, universities, and charities.
So last week, President Obama announced that he had a solution, new plan: these religiously affiliated organizations didn’t have to cover contraception, because we’ll require insurance companies to do so, still at no cost to women, and those with a “crisis of conscience” could just rest their pretty heads knowing that their money was not going to anything immoral.
Back to the five men sitting at the table. So not only are the Bishops not happy about the President’s announcement, but the Republican party has also jumped on the crazy train, pushing for radical legislation, “The Respect the Rights of the Conscience Act of 2011,” would allow the “religious beliefs and moral convictions” of employers and insurance companies to refuse coverage of any health care service or procedure.
The Democrats on the committee requested to have a woman testify in support of President new plan. While Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown University Law student didn’t get to testify, she was able to talk to the press. She told the story of her friend who at 32, was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and prescribed birth control pills to keep her from becoming infertile. Student insurance didn’t cover contraception, the friend couldn’t afford the medication, and the woman eventually lost her ovary and began experiencing symptoms of early menopause.
Regarding the rejection of the witness, the Committee Chairman’s staff described his rational this way, “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration's actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness."
28 states already require that if an insurance plan covers prescriptions, they must include contraceptives, including Montana. Federal law already requires insurance coverage of contraceptives for federal employees and their dependents. The majority of American, even the majority of Catholics support the President’s new plan.
This isn’t a “crisis of conscience.” I would agree that the Catholic Church and the religious right have a problem on their hands, as their beliefs are quite out of line of- those of their parishioners or constituents, but I understand, it makes then insecure when their power and patriarchy are questioned.
They just need little faith. If Catholic Bishops had faith in the beliefs of their members, they wouldn’t be worried about paying for contraceptives because they’d trust women not to use then. Not only do they want to take the freedom of conscience away from Catholic women, but they want to take it away from all women. They’ll just decide that we don’t need contraceptives, so that we don’t have to.
I’m Olivia Riutta, thanks for listening and have a fabulous weekend.