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The Bishops v. Birth Control: It’s Not About the Money

11:45 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Birth control pills

Religion, birth control, and Obamacare — it’s not about the money.

In announcing its final rule concerning the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of access to birth control without a co-pay for all American women—including the Catholics and non-Catholics who work in religiously sponsored schools, hospitals, and social service agencies—the Obama administration bent over backwards to accommodate the Church’s concerns. The goal was to spare Church fathers from the anguish of getting their pristine hands dirty by, as the Bishops charged, being forced to sell, buy or broker birth control coverage for women, including students. The final rule allows that either the insurance company used by the institution—or, if it is self-insured, its plan administrator—will have to pay, with reimbursement coming through a series of convoluted steps.

In a repeat of the Church battle over the Affordable Care Act, Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, last week publicly approved the administration’s final rule, issuing an explanation for the association’s members about how to implement it. Not so the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The week before, its head, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, released his statement expressing dissatisfaction with the compromise, saying that the bishops are subjecting it to further “analysis,” feel their “religious freedom” is still under threat, and plan to continue “defending our rights in Congress and in the courts.” Count on the 60+ lawsuits by Catholic diocese and universities around the country, joined by secular employers who also don’t like birth control and want to exclude it from their insurance policies, proceeding apace.

It is maddening that the Administration had to go to such extremes to placate the Church fathers, who dare to put “moral” and “money” as it applies to this deeply compromised institution in the same sentence. How pure, really, were the hands of the Church fathers who began decades ago to secretly spend millions of dollars in hush money to silence child victims of clergy rape and sodomy, and rid themselves of the evidence of their paternal crimes? Hush money that came from the faithful in the pews, who paid for all those ever-escalating insurance premiums, and from selling the churches and schools out from under those same working-class Catholics? The victims merited all the compensation they got and more, but the Church fathers literally stole that money from the Catholics they served and lied about it.

When the Bishops realized how much money they had to lose by even these secret settlements, hiding the goods from the victims became the next best strategy. So how pure, really, are the hands of Cardinal Dolan, the leading voice claiming the moral high ground in the battle to keep any of the church coffers from supporting birth control for women? Files just released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee turned up a letter showing that when Dolan served as the Archbishop of that diocese, he secretly and successfully, and even as the Archdiocese was preparing to file for bankruptcy, petitioned the Vatican to bury nearly $57 million in a cemetery trust fund in order to protect those assets “from legal claim and liability,” aka, child abuse victim compensation. And this was on top of his paying off some priest child sex abusers $20,000 a piece to leave the priesthood, reportedly defended by Dolan in one case as “an act of charity,” so that, irony of ironies, the priest “could pay for health insurance.”

And how pure, really, are the hands of the Church fathers regarding money when we look at the shenanigans at the Vatican bank? Still laughably named the “Institute for the Works of Religion,” the Vatican Bank is literally drowning in mounting accusations of money laundering and mobster connections. Most recently, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, an accountant for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which manages the Vatican’s property and investments (and a Vatican account-holder himself), was arrested and charged with conspiring to transfer some $26 million from Switzerland to Italy to dole out to his rich friends.

Given this sad financial state of affairs, how does paying for a health service like birth control for women become such a threat to Church fathers that they’ve made a major campaign out of it?

The bishops claim this mandate violates church teaching that artificial birth control is “intrinsically evil, “despite the fact that nearly 100 percent of Catholics don’t believe there is anything “intrinsically evil” about birth control and use it. The bishops claim birth control is the same as abortion; it isn’t. They claim to be protecting the institution’s “conscience,” thereby stepping all over Catholic Church teaching that defines conscience as “the most secret core and sanctuary” of a person, not an institution, and the Church not as the “men of God” but as “the people of God,” which would seem to include women. They claim the money at issue is “their” money, even though employees earn their health insurance as part of their compensation package, and many have to contribute to or pay the full amount of their health insurance premiums so this is at base a labor issue. And their claim that birth control is not a “health” service, in the face of current scientific knowledge and medical opinion, is tantamount to insisting that the sun revolves around the earth.

A hint of a far deeper motivator lies in a rarely regarded passage from Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1969 Encyclical letter, “On the Regulation of Birth,” which cemented the Church’s current intransigent opposition to birth control. The section on “Grave Consequences on Methods of Artificial Contraception” reads in part:

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Birth Control and “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition”

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Rabbi Dennis Ross and Rev. Tom Davis for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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The Myth of Judeo-Christian Tradition by Arthur A. Cohen reminds us that no one group speaks for all members of these religions.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently responded to the concerns of some religious groups and individuals by proposing yet another plan to provide prescription birth control insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although this HHS initiative respects religious concerns and ensures access to birth control, it received a negative response from the Catholic Bishops, just as the other initiatives had. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained the rejection, saying, “In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs they proclaim on the Sabbath.”

Now, it would be reasonable to come away from these words thinking that all Jews and Christians are of one mind about birth control — that is to say, opposed. On the contrary, many U.S. rabbis and ministers have long recognized the moral wisdom of ensuring wide availability of safe and effective birth control. Beginning in the late 1920s and the ’30s, many Jewish and Protestant groups formally endorsed access, including rabbis from Reform and Conservative Judaism, and ministers from Episcopal, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. Clergy came forward with the support of their faith teachings, underscored by their real-life experience. The pastors were invited into the daily and private lives of congregants to witness, first-hand, that the ability to control one’s child-bearing makes for healthier children and mothers and for stronger families and communities. Today, one thing is certain: Differences in religious teachings remain, and no religious group or leader speaks for all of the nation’s faithful about birth control insurance coverage under ACA.

The recent HHS announcement affects employees of religiously-affiliated hospitals and the like; churches, synagogues, and mosques remain exempt. The reality is that these hospitals are not the same as houses of worship that conduct weddings or confirmations. They are not-for-profit businesses serving the larger public with secular services that are not specifically religious, like setting a broken ankle or performing an appendectomy. What’s more, a hospital employs staff from all walks of life, including faithful individuals in our communities whose fully informed moral decision may lead to a conclusion that differs from the faith of an employer. Besides, these workers earn their insurance along with wages and pension. The insurance belongs to the worker; an employer’s religious objection is irrelevant. A woman’s private decision about her birth control has a higher moral standing than her employer’s problem with her using it. And all we are talking about is insurance paperwork passing quietly through a human resources office — no one is being asked to use birth control.

Notably, the ACA’s birth control insurance provisions resemble those of New York state and California. These insurance requirements, tested in the highest courts of those states, were upheld as an equitable accommodation. And, as clergy, we emphasize that imposing a religious teaching about birth control into the private, personal home life of an American is an egregious violation of church-state separation. But all this is not enough to satisfy birth control opponents.

Arthur A. Cohen’s book, The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, encouraged a robust dialogue on our religious difference. He argues that the term “Judeo-Christian tradition” represents “a myth which buries under the fine silt of rhetoric the authentic, meaningful, and irrevocable distinction which exists between Jewish belief and Christian belief.” So let’s take Cohen’s advice and recognize that no one religious body or leader represents all Jewish belief — or Christian belief, for that matter. Where religions disagree, policymakers must not play umpire and pick their favorite “team.” Instead, they need to respect the boundary of church-state separation, leave it to the woman to decide about her health care, and ensure her access to the safe and legal preventive medicine she decides she needs.

Cohen calls our religious differences “meaningful.” So let’s ditch the rhetoric, embrace the wonder, grace, and strength of spiritual diversity, and enter a full-hearted and “meaningful” conversation across denominational lines and within religious groups about pressing issues, such as addressing the needs of the poor, the homeless, and immigrants. And let’s take the moral high ground by recognizing that women own their health insurance and deserve protection from the religious objections of others.

Biblical Abortion: A Christian’s View

10:49 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Nynia Chance for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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The American version of the War on Women has been going on for quite some time, and one of the most long-standing fronts in this war is abortion. It’s an unpleasant topic that’s fraught with complexities and complications, so it’s been a frequent tool in dividing us into Pro- and Anti- camps of social warfare (and in the cases of murders of doctors and bombings of clinics, actual violent warfare).

The War on Women has been especially effective in getting many to feel as though Christians need to march in lockstep against the idea of allowing abortions of any type to ever be legal, to the point of criminalizing miscarriage, itself. Those who try to conscript religious Christians into this war do so under the argument that the Bible itself demands such a prohibition.

Except that it doesn’t. The Bible never once specifically forbids abortions; it’s actually quite the contrary! Not only were methods of abortion well-known at the time, there’s times when the Bible states God commands that one take place. I’m going to walk through a few examples as illustrations.

Tamar: Killing an Undesirable Pregnancy

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Fighting Fire with Water: The Christian Role in the War on Women

10:59 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Nynia Chance for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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Birth should never be about control, but there are those who are working very hard to make it so.  There are those who are doing their level best to usurp control over women’s legal and moral rights to their own lives, under the pretense of protecting hypothetical lives that could come into being.  And they do so under the idea that it is their divinely-appointed place to ensure that each woman is put into hers, regardless of her own conscience and beliefs.

That is, as Christians, they feel that Christ has commanded them to turn even birth control into a fight for Controlling Birth.  To those of us who feel a woman’s right to her own life is a simple matter of fairness and decency, that can be very frustrating.  It can be especially frustrating to those of us who are Christians, and know a Christ who is so very forgiving and generous and kind to women.  We often want to ask them, “When the crowd surrounded Mary Magdalene to put her to death for prostitution, how many stones would you have thrown?”

But it’s pretty hard for Christians to see themselves on the wrong side of Christ, especially as they take sides in history’s latest Holy Crusade.  This is made worse by Fearmongers who will merely use the Bible as a tool for their own ends, seizing women’s sexual health and reproduction as scare-tactic cattle prods to herd their followers to the ballot boxes.  They whip congregations up into a frenzy of fear and disgust over images of wanton women destroying civilization, then send them forth to do battle against these supposed enemies of Christ… coincidentally keeping the Fearmongers in power in the process.

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Mary’s Choice: What the Annunciation Story Tells Us About Moral Agency

12:45 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Rev. Dr. Maria LaSala for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In my twenty-five years of ministry I have often been challenged about my pro-choice theological position. It happens during the Advent season especially, when those who oppose my position exclaim in loud and sometimes threatening tones, “What would have happened if Mary had had an abortion!”

I am always stunned by such a remark, of course. How did that person get from the Advent story of the Annunciation to abortion?

The Annunciation story, and for that matter, the remarkable story of God becoming human, says nothing about abortion. But it does say something about choice, and perhaps that is why it is a lightning rod text for those who seek to deny women the right to choose a safe and legal abortion.

The season of Advent is, for Christians worldwide, the time of preparation for the birth of Jesus. The Annunciation story is found in the Christian New Testament’s Gospel according to Luke. One of the two gospels to tell the birth narrative of Jesus, Luke’s Gospel includes the story of two women facing unplanned pregnancies. The story of the Annunciation begins with the angel Gabriel and a young girl whose name is Mary.

Mary is seen in her room, reading Torah perhaps, or a book of prayers, when suddenly an angel of God appears before her. We like to imagine Mary this way because we see in her the ideal candidate for the role she is about to play.

The angel is in dazzling clothes, a sight to behold. “Greetings, favored one,” we hear Gabriel announce. Mary, not surprisingly, is perplexed by his words and wonders what might be happening.

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel continues. “You have found favor with God.” But what kind of favor is in store for Mary? The story goes on to tell us that the angel pronounces that Mary will conceive and bear a son, who will be named Jesus.

A pro-choice reading makes one thing very clear. Mary, the young woman who has just received a visit from an angel, is blessed by God with the ability to make a choice. Mary is a young woman charged by the holy with her own moral agency, a woman able to reflect on her life and on the world around her. Read the rest of this entry →

The Morality of Choosing Abortion

11:14 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Ann Anderson Evans for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The religious pundits have claimed the moral high ground, claiming that God and History have decreed it immoral to have an abortion.  This is a fiction (though I cannot claim that I know what God thinks, and don’t think they should either).

Supporters of abortion lose nothing if they accede that abortion belongs in some category of the concept of “killing.”  It is sad, feels cruel sometimes, and can upset some people for the rest of their lives.  It’s not a trivial action.

But we kill things all the time. A friend had twins in the ICU, and a few weeks into their treatment, with the twins hanging on for dear life, the insurance company send my friend a notice that coverage had been terminated.  That’s killing.  So is cutting off health care for the ill and vulnerable. So is war, and in a juxtaposition which would challenge any professor of logic, the Christian pundits who claim abortion is murder are often supporters of capital punishment and of our current wars, which are polishing off civilians, including babies, at a diminishing though appalling clip.

Buddhist monks often sweep the path in front of them as they walk, lest they kill any form of life, including insects. Our attitudes regarding the killing of other forms of life on our Earth are careless indeed.

Even deeply religious people are entitled to have their disagreements with current feelings about morality.  In the past, Catholic leaders did not consider embryos in the first semester to be “human.” St. Augustine called of the “unformed” embryos that “…the law of homicide would not apply, for …it could not be said that there was a living soul in that body.”  St. Albertus Magnus noted that a fresh abortion or miscarriage was “animated,” but was “not human.”  The Southern Baptist Convention changed its own position much more recently. In the seventies they voted to support abortion under certain circumstances, and in 2010 said that life begins at conception and God made life, therefore abortion is not permitted.

We are allowing the Christian Right to blanket us with their own interpretation of morality, which has changed over the years, and in any case should apply only to their own believers.

But even deeper than that, an individual may feel that abortion is immoral because it is a form of killing, but may feel even deeper that it is immoral and irresponsible to bring into the world a child she cannot care for. That this is the case is evident in the number of women of every faith that have abortions.

We have morals, and we have responsibilities. The choice not to bear a child can be a deeply moral one.

Right-wing Focus on the Family’s Chilling New Agenda on “Marriage Defense”

8:51 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

So ~ the “refocus” of FOTF is shifting away from opposing same-sex marriage and instead focusing on making it more difficult to obtain a divorce.

Does anyone else think this is scary? … and I was seriously pissed when I read Jim Daly’s remark, “… so it’s not just ‘we don’t like each other any more.’” WTF? What woman is ever so flippant about divorce?

Truthfully ~ filing for divorce for me did mean a major step down financially ~ my income and assets took a huge hit ~ and we actually were already living close to poverty level before the divorce. BUT ~ IT WAS SO TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!!!! I’ll take poverty over abuse any day.

If FOTF and similar “pro-family” organizations succeed in reducing the Christian divorce rate to 5% ~ that’s going to represent a huge increase in misery for a lot of Christian wives who are already seriously oppressed in their “traditional” marriages ~ with husband as patriarchal head of the home and wife as subservient “helpmeet.”

These women do not need divorce to be more difficult ~ it’s already almost impossible to leave an abusive marriage when it’s supposedly God’s will and the domineering man is simply fulfilling his biblical role as head of the home.

Daly’s thinking is that by reducing the divorce rate among Christians and holding up the ”Biblical family” as the key to marriage “success,” the secular world will have to admit that God’s way is truly the best way ~ and somehow, that’s supposed to convince gays to repent of their deviancy, I guess.  Ugh.  As though the only reason gay people are gay is because they’ve never seen a long-lasting heterosexual marriage. … Read more

Social Issues and the Tea Party: By Their Leaders Ye Shall Know Them

6:36 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In a late September column for RH Reality Check, Amanda Marcotte asked: Is the Media’s Tea Party Delusion Coming to An End? 

The answer quite obviously is no. Over the past several months, as Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, Joe Miller, Pat Toomey and other mad-hatters have stumped for office, I have listened and read in disbelief as one after another otherwise respected media representative or outlet continues to suggest that the Tea Party is not interested in "social conservative issues."

The media, and at this point I don’t know whether to describe it as mainstream, midstream or up a creek without a paddle, still persists in mis-reading and misrepresenting the broader context of what is happening in the 2010 elections. Reporting is done on the extemist positions of individual candidates, but virtually every analysis describing the Tea Party "movement," such as it is, continues to ignore or outright deny the extremist positions take by those candidates as representative of said movement.

Two weeks ago, for example, David Greene, a host on NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, whose new book about the Tea Party, Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America had just been published. 

Greene asks Zernike:

How cohesive is this movement looking down the road? I mean, you sat down with a lot of these groups who feel a connection to the Tea Party all over the country. You found a whole range of agendas, ideology, positions on social issues. How do they stick together?

Zernike responds:

Yeah, you know, it’s a very interesting question. One thing that people often get wrong about the Tea Party is they assume that this is just the old Christian conservatives under a different name. And that these are people who don’t want gay marriage and don’t believe in abortion rights, and they’re not. I mean, a lot of these people are socially conservative themselves, but they don’t want to talk about social issues. They think the Republican Party went wrong in spending so much time in talking about this – if you remember the debate about Terri Schiavo, the woman in Florida, and whether we should keep her alive.

Then, again last night, Congress.org published an article by Ambreen Ali entitled "Tea Party May Tackle Abortion Issues."

This articles states, presumably with a straight face:

So far, though many of the movement’s rank and file and a number of its top leaders are women, the tea partyers have stuck to the fiscal issues that brought them together.

They don’t want to talk about "social" issues?  May tackle abortion? Top leaders have stuck to fiscal issues?

Have Zernike and the reporters at Congress.org "drunk the tea" so to speak?

Are we talking about such "leaders" as Sharron Angle, Tea Party Queen of Nevada?  The one who stated that "rape" is part of "God’s Plan," and who consistently stated throughout the summer that she would vote to outlaw a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy even in cases of rape and incest?  Angle who would helpfully counsel a 13-year-old raped and pregnant by her own father that "two wrongs don’t make a right?" The Sharron Angle who not only opposes gay rights?  The Sharron Angle who answered this questionnaire

Are we talking about Delaware Senate Tea Party Candidate Christine O’Donnell?  The O’Donnell who believes in a "fundamentalist version of sexual "purity that emphasizes thoughts and feelings as well as deeds," who is against masturbation, advocates an absolute ban on abortion, and gave an interview to CBS on the subjects of "Virgins, Abortion, and God?"  Perhaps these reporters didn’t read Michelle Goldberg’s interview with O’Donnell’s former aide, who she dropped like a hot potato when he came out as being gay.

Are we talking about Tea Partier Joe Miller, running for Senate in Alaska, whose platform states: "I am unequivocally pro-life and life must be protected from the moment of conception to the time of natural death."  That Joe Miller?  Or the same Rand Paul who not only wants to go back to the days when businesses can discriminate against customers, and who also believes he knows "when life begins?"

Nikki Haley, Pat Toomey…every single one of these candidates has been talking about so-called "social issues," and more to the point they have articulated the most extreme of the extreme positions that exist in the minds of the fundamentalist right wing of this country and have been kept under wraps by campaign managers…until now.

Moreover, they are getting support from a wide range of sources from within the Republican party and from corporate sources.  This is no "bake-sale" fueled grassroots movement, yet the media continues to treat it as such. In Virginia, for example, Ginni Thomas, founder of Liberty Central and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, gave a talk to a group of women in Virginia organized by the conservative group Smart Girl Politics.  She said:

"I see more than fiscal issues being answered by the tea parties," Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told a crowd of conservative women gathered to discuss—among other topics—overturning Roe v. Wade.

Yes, there are folks at the local level affiliated with Tea Party politics (whatever they are beyond disaffection) who do not see so-called social issues as their main concern. Ali of Congress.org, wrote:

About 55 percent of tea partyers are women, according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted in spring. So are six of the original eight board members of Tea Party Patriots, the largest national coalition group.

Jenny Beth Martin, an oft-quoted Patriots leader, has strived to keep the focus on three guiding principles: constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets.

Yet at the local level, many tea parties are passionately anti-abortion.

Much of the media has failed and continues to fail to do its job on these Tea Party in any real sense. How many of reporters have read and incorporated any of the info in Jane Mayer’s excellent investigative article in the New Yorker on funding, training and sponsorship of the Tea Party by the billionaire Koch brothers whose fortunes are based largely on oil, and who have taken what was an inchoate group of disaffected people and created a "movement" that serves their own corporate interests?  Which one of these media outlets, even such respected and beloved outlets as NPR and the NYT, taken this further and examined how much money self-proclaimed Tea Party candidates are getting from such sources?

And which has focused on the fact that while so-called grassroots say one thing, the candidates are obviously ultra-right wing conservatives getting support from ultra-right wing conservatives from within and outside the formal structures of the Republican Party.  Note how quickly Lisa Murkowski was dumped by the Republican leadership in part because of her position on choice.

It is not hyperbole to say that we have a religious war underway today, and it is in fact a new Christian crusade, a crusade based on ideas about society no less fundamentalist in nature than is the Taliban and the most radical elements of politicized Islamists.  It is in part illustrative of the most radical fundamentalist Christian forces in the United States, who now feel free to suggest that even a 13-year old incest victim should endure and possibly die from a pregnancy than undergo an abortion and get covered in unquestioned in the "mainstream" media.  This war is enabled by the media writ large every time one of them goes on air or is quoted as if their ideas were not dangerous and without any context of where their support is coming from.

They’re talking about "social issues," and lots of other things about which we should be deeply and profoundly concerned.  The media just isn’t listening and certainly isn’t looking.

"Grassroots" folks who affiliate with the Tea Party may not articulate social issues as their priority, at first.  But to paraphrase Matthew: By their leaders ye shall recognize them.