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March 20, 2012 / Joshua

The Satire of The Union – Reproductive Rights vs. Religious Power

Protip for Rush Limbaugh; this is what satire actually looks like:

Before getting a prescription for Viagra or other erectile dysfunction drugs, men would have to see a sex therapist, receive a cardiac stress test and get a notarized affidavit signed by a sexual partner affirming impotency, if state Sen. Nina Turner has her way. The Cleveland Democrat introduced Senate Bill 307 this week.

A critic of efforts to restrict abortion and contraception for women, Turner says she is concerned about men’s reproductive health. Turner’s bill joins a trend of female lawmakers submitting bills regulating men’s health. …

Other bills in this trend include a proposed ban on vasectomies in Georgia and an “every sperm is sacred” masturbation amendment to an Oklahoma personhood bill. Note that these could be considered actual illustrations “of the absurd with absurdity”, in part because, unlike Limbaugh, they are lampooning the truth.

The truth in this case is a sustained legislative agenda led by Republicans and conservatives across the country, state by state, targeting women’s reproductive health and rights. First, it was attempts at regulating and limiting access to abortion. Now it’s also attempts at limited access to birth control. The Right has tried to make the contraception issue one of religious freedom. I noticed that even when Limbaugh acknowledged this framing, he lied about that too. Here he was discussing it the other day:

Obama mandating the churches provide these things violates the First Amendment, the so-called separation of church and state. But it’s religious freedom that we’re talking about here.  That’s the whole point. …

Funny how Limbaugh juggles the religious right’s new religious freedom talking point here with the old religious right rejection of  “the so-called separation of church and state”. But no. This doesn’t have to do with churches. What’s at issue is a new federal requirement for all employers, including religiously affiliated institutions (universities, hospitals, and the like) that serve and employ the general public, to cover contraceptives in their health insurance plans. Churches, however, are exempt. As such, I find the religious freedom argument here to be suspect.

Still, this would be one matter of complicated debate if it were only over religiously affiliated institutions. What’s more troubling, though, is many Republicans and religious figures are trying to now extend religious exemptions to any kind of employer. First, there was the failed Blunt amendment at the federal level which would have allowed any employer to opt out of the contraception mandate, or conceivably any other form of coverage, over religious / moral objections. Now, Republicans are putting this trick into play at the state level. A bill in Arizona, for example, would not only grant any employer the religious exemption; it would also allow for employers to ask that female employees provide medical proof if they claim a non-reproductive need for contraception.

New Hampshire provides another interesting battle front. Since the year 2000, New Hampshire has been one of many states to have its own contraceptive coverage requirement for insurance plans that provide prescription drug benefits and one of the few without any exemption for religious employers, unless those employers self-insure. A Republican legislature passed the law, and a Democratic governor signed it twelve years ago without controversy. Now however, Republicans in the state legislature, some of whom were until now unaware of the state law, want it overturned.

While reading an NPR article about the New Hampshire issue, I was taken aback by this little portion:

[The Catholic Diocese of Manchester] isn’t itself directly affected by the contraception mandate because it, like the state’s largest Catholic hospital, has chosen to self-insure. But if the church gets its way, contraceptive-free insurance may soon be widely available on the open market.

“I ask that all of our people of good will support that which is in the best interest of that which gives life, that which sustains life,” Bishop Peter Libasci said during a recent news conference. The diocese helped draft the bill, which would free any employer, be it an auto repair shop or a metaphysical bookstore, with a religious objection to birth control. (emphasis mine)

Whoa now. Does that bit in bold actually sound problematic for religious freedom to anyone else? – members of a specific religious group helping draft legislation that could very well extend the free imposition of their beliefs onto employees of different faiths and/or no faith at all.

This is all the more remarkable when you consider that just over 50 years ago, our first and still only Catholic president had to assure Protestants and Evangelicals that as president he would not serve as an agent of the Vatican. But since then, Evangelicals and conservative Catholics have selectively joined forces with Republicans over social issues, attempting to march the church right into the halls of the State in a power struggle against what they see as a common secular enemy. More on that with respect to the birth control controversy in the next post.


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