Control issues: Why the birth control debate is a red herring

Once again, a move to ensure access to affordable health care for all people is getting reduced to another gambit in the War on Women. Following the news that the Obama administration has enacted a rule requiring that most insurance plans cover birth control, conservatives and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops — who no doubt have lots of empathy and knowledge about female health care needs as well as human sexuality — are pissed.

Why should insurance provided by your employer be forced to cover routine, preventative health care, after all? Oh come on! Am I a fully autonomous person capable of rational thought and judgement or am I uterus with arms and legs?

So, the argument this time is that requiring employer’s insurance plans to cover contraceptives would mean that religious institutions (ahem, here come the Catholics) like universities and hospitals would have to provide that coverage. This is about the sanctity of religion! This is about the sanctity of The Constitution!


Actually, there is already an exception for approximately 335,000 houses of worship (PDF). So there’s that. Then there’s this USA Today survey which says 58% of Catholics agree that employer insurance plans should cover contraception. And the fact that many religiously affiliated hospitals, such as Catholic Healthcare West (which has local affiliates), already cover birth control.

Wanna try another hat there pontiff? Perhaps it was something you ate

Take Anthony Picarello, the Catholic bishop’s general counsel, who came out and admitted that this is really just about controlling women’s autonomy by controlling their access to health care… by way of saying that if this were about Taco Bell and not The Church, he’d be screwed because he’d have no choice but to cover contraceptives (because there’d be no religious exception argument, you see):

“We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed.”

That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.”

“If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.

Oh, so you mean you don’t really care What Jesus Would Do, you just care about what women can — I mean cannot — do.

Well… isn’t that special?

Let’s call this what it is — a witch hunt on women’s autonomy. This is about treating women as inferior and relegating their health care coverage to second-class status to that of male employees. This is about the fear of a woman’s sexuality as represented by a teeny tiny birth control pill. This is about denying women agency, not only in the workforce but in their own lives and as productive members of their families and communities… and, yes, their pursuit of faith and God.

This is about control.

Nowhere was this better highlighted than on tonight’s edition of Face to Face with Jon Ralston, in which Personhood boogeyman Chet Gallagher actually had the nerve to use the term “baby killers” and contraception in the same breath. Really?! Thank God (and yes, I mean Thank God) Annette Magnus of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada was there to set the record straight about why it’s never a good idea to politicize women’s health care (ala Susan G. Komen For the Cure). (Don’t see video up yet, but I think it will be at this link when it is.) This is a man who not only thinks birth control is morally wrong, he thinks there should be personhood rights for the “preborn.” Hmm… Does that mean “every sperm is sacred?” After all, it’s only purpose is to provide one-half of the building blocks of a “preborn” individual. Waste not, Chet. Waste not.

I am so tired of this debate! I am so tired of women’s lives being used as pawns in political games! And I am so tired of being reduced to an organ that — when not in use — only takes up about three inches of space in my body.

And let me be clear, I am a woman who has benefited from access to birth control. This June, about a month after my daughter’s second birthday, I will celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary. When we got married, my husband was in grad school and I was finishing my final year for my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have health insurance, but I had Planned Parenthood. (Thank God!) We were in no position in our young lives and new marriage to have children. And later, when we were ready to look at the issue more closely, I was diagnosed with a hereditary immune system disorder and was told a pregnancy could be incredibly risky, with a very real chance of life-threatening complications. So I never thought I’d have a baby. Then a few years ago — long after I thought the ship had sailed — modern medicine and maybe even some prayers (because, yes, I am a Christian, too) were answered in ways I never thought would be possible.

Having my daughter in my life brings me joy I do not know how to quantify. And I take my role as her mother very seriously. So seriously, that I want to be around for her as long as possible.

But with that joy of having my baby, has come some very real consequences to my health. My body has some serious battle wounds from pregnancy and I have had to have surgery, medical treatments, lengthy and expensive tests and so much more since giving birth. My recovery has been painful and slow and I will likely have lasting effects on my immune system. I do not regret having my baby for one second. But because I love my daughter, my husband and, yes, my own life, I will never willingly get pregnant again. Not because I do not want any more children, but because doing so could prove fatal to me and/or the fetus. My body just wasn’t built for it. (And before you feel sad about that, just know that I don’t look at it as “never having more children,” but as “I have 100% more children than I thought I would.”)

But to GOP presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, even the safe travels of a fetus inside a uterus are not enough reason to validate women’s access to all forms of health care. To Catholic leadership (which, ironically, does not seem to echo the desires of their own flock), there are no moral grounds for a woman to want to take care of her body. Or even the thought that a woman could deign to know how to take care of her body, for that matter.

So, what about the women like me? I’m all the stuff Rich White Conservative Religious Blowhards like. I’m white. I’m in a heterosexual marriage. I’m Christian. I am a mother. Golly gee, I even qualify as a Stay at Home Mom! If it wasn’t for my wacky feminism, I’d be a regular Stepford Wife out here in the suburbs. (Well, maybe I wouldn’t go that far…) But am I going to H-E-double-hockey-sticks if I use birth control to avoid another pregnancy? And what about my husband? Why do I get all the blame in this game, anyway?

And this doesn’t even touch on all the other women in America of all ages, races and ethnicities, education-levels, income-levels, gender identities… who use contraceptives for any number of reasons. What about women on chemo who need hormone replacement therapy? What about the college kid who was raped? What about the greater good in protecting people from the spread of STDs like AIDS?

It’s time to face the music. These groups do not have women’s best interests at heart. And I don’t even believe that they have God’s interests at heart. This is about control. And it’s not their place to control access to health care — for any body.

**UPDATE (2/10/12): President Obama announced that birth control coverage will be required of ALL insurance providers, regardless of employer.

One thought on “Control issues: Why the birth control debate is a red herring

  1. Pingback: Abortion and the maternal instinct « The Sin City Siren

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