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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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Adoption Imperialism: A Q&A With ‘The Child Catchers’ Author Kathryn Joyce

11:55 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Cover: The Child Catchers

The Child Catchers chronicles the hypocrisy of anti-abortion & right-wing Christian activists.

Kathryn Joyce’s new look at the adoption industry, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, contains within its pages true horror stories. Perhaps most shockingly, the book details what appears to be the long-term abuse of a group of Liberian orphans “adopted” into a life of virtual slavery in Tennessee — starved, hit, manipulated, and isolated by “parents” practicing an extreme brand of back-to-the-land Christianity.

But Joyce, through intensive reporting around the world, also tells the stories of “orphans” who have actual families, even mothers, back home and who were adopted under false auspices, as well women in the United States who are manipulated into relinquishing children for adoption by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

Throughout the book, these dynamics of exploitation are recreated on a macro scale as the increasing drive for Westerners, often people of faith, to adopt orphans keeps feeding into, and off of, a global system of poverty, corruption, and mistreatment of women and children. Joyce’s work touches on bigger social issues, like the intersection of capitalism with reproduction, the role of religion in shaping policy, and the way conventional — and even inspirational — narratives of care and charity intersect with old paradigms of oppression and power.

Joyce recently spoke to RH Reality Check about how the movement she chronicles relates to abortion politics and the treatment of biological families of adoptees at home and abroad.

RH Reality Check: Ideologically speaking, how did the concept of adoption as a positive alternative to abortion end up morphing from “Don’t have an abortion, adopt!” rhetoric into this massive movement to actually facilitate adoption on a broad scale?

Kathryn Joyce: Adoption and abortion have long been linked. For years, it’s been presented as a neat, common-ground solution to the abortion debate — something that politicians on the right and left can agree on. For liberal politicians, it offered a way to moderate support for abortion. For conservatives, it was presented as a solution for women who didn’t want to parent, or who couldn’t. It was also framed as an answer to the pro-choice challenge: Who is going to care for all these babies you want women to have?

RHRC: You also address how the post-Roe landscape demographically affected the practice of adoption.

KJ: The real push to increase adoptions came in the last few decades, after the rate of domestic infant relinquishment for adoption dropped, going from around 20 percent of never-married white women in 1972 to closer to 1 percent today. The rates were historically lower for women of color, who were less likely to be pressured to relinquish in pre-Roe days because there was more adoption “demand” for white infants. Today, I think domestic relinquishment rates for Black women are statistically zero. So as demand outstripped “supply,” a lot of organizations became invested in increasing the number of women relinquishing.

RHRC: The capitalist angle strikes me, almost like the “market” for adoption mimics 19th century European imperialism, going to new territories to find “supply” through exploitation.

KJ: Yes, I think you see that overseas as well as here in the United States — the sort of “country-hopping” that happens in inter-country adoption, as adoption booms and busts move from nation to nation, but also in the experiences of U.S. mothers, about whom some organizations wrote multiple reports, trying to figure out how they could encourage more adoptions.

RHRC: Given your contact with people on both sides of the equation, do you think the choice to carry to term and then relinquish is never going to be as common as adoptive parents want it to be, which tips the power relationship?

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The Bishops’ Lawsuit: A Colossal and Purposeful Drain on Public Funds

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

stack of papers

Government lawyers filed an emergency motion to dismiss lawsuit over contraceptive coverage mandate citing exorbitant costs in responding to document requests.

This week, the government filed an emergency motion in the New York Archdiocese’s lawsuit against the contraceptive coverage mandate, requesting that the court halt proceedings and dismiss the case. The emergency is that the government is hemorrhaging money defending a regulation it will never enforce against the Archdiocese.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of NY v. Sebelius is the only lawsuit out of the 23 brought by religiously affiliated organizations not to be dismissed at the district court level for lack of standing or ripeness. The cases have been dismissed because religiously affiliated non-profits are currently completely exempt from the contraceptive coverage requirement. They enjoy a one-year safe harbor period provided for the religious accommodation to be finalized. If you haven’t been injured, you can’t sue.

The government swore up and down from the day the case was filed that the rule in its current form would never be enforced against the Archdiocese and its co-plaintiffs and that a new rule with a new religious accommodation was on the way. As promised, the Obama administration released a new proposed rule, is now reviewing comments from the public on it, and will release the final rule by August. However, in the New York Archdiocese case, Judge Brian M. Cogan found that the administration’s assurances were not enough and that the impending threat of the rule was injury enough for the plaintiffs to proceed.

The Archdiocese et al. proceeded to serve the government with requests for every document under the sun. “Discovery” is the process in which litigating parties get evidence by requesting relevant documents from each other. To respond to a document request, a party has to review documents to determine whether they are responsive to the request and make a log of documents that are responsive but won’t be turned over because they are protected by attorney-client or another privilege. Computer searches only get you so far; a human attorney or paralegal has to determine if a document is responsive or privileged.

Plaintiffs in these cases being 1 for 23, the Archdiocese may have sought to make the most of its unique situation. It made discovery requests the government calls “enormously burdensome and irrelevant.” The Archdiocese also noticed a deposition of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Lawsuits are brought over regulations all the time — it is pretty audacious to demand a cabinet member show up in person for yours. That was indeed too far, and Judge Cogan granted Sebelius a protective order.

The plaintiffs didn’t stop there. The Archdiocese subpoenaed the Executive Office of the President (EOP), even though it isn’t a party to the lawsuit, many of the requested documents are protected by various privileges, and you must have an extra good reason to get documents from the president. Also, the EOP being in D.C., the subpoena was issued in a district that has thrown out three of these 23 lawsuits for lack of jurisdiction.

The Archdiocese later withdrew the subpoena. We don’t know why. Perhaps it realized it was an unreasonable request. This did not happen, alas, until after our tax dollars were put to work on a very lengthy motion to quash the subpoena. But whatever that cost, it pales in comparison to the expenditures of various agencies on the New York document requests; in the emergency motion, the government estimates completing the requested document production would take eight years and cost over $10 million.

We should take that estimate with a grain of salt, of course, but the government has sought to back it up. Attached to the emergency motion are declarations from officials of various offices and agencies as to what they have spent so far on this one case and what they estimate it will cost to finish. Two-hundred HHS employees have spent have spent over 2,000 hours and located over 7.6 million pages of potentially responsive documents so far. That has cost over $177,000. Those documents haven’t been reviewed by HHS or their Department of Justice counsel yet. The Internal Revenue Service has spent over a quarter of a million dollars.

The lawyers, paralegals, and IT professionals needed to complete discovery are expensive — even those of the lower-paid government variety. Offices that don’t have enough staff for this have hired contract lawyers, but they can’t afford to do that anymore because of the sequester. Lest you think it’s not a big deal to have government lawyers tied up or that the effect is minimal in the scope of things, consider one example contained in the declaration from the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL’s Plan Benefits Security Division investigates and litigates cases of fraud or mismanagement in employee benefits. The division, which recovered $1.38 billion for U.S. workers in 2011, argues that the impact on the public interest of putting its attorneys on document review will be far greater than the financial loss.

The Archdiocese, which employs 10,000 people in programs receiving many millions of dollars in government grants each year, will never have to provide health plans with contraceptive coverage under the rule as proposed. Despite this, it is waging a legal battle that is imposing significant costs on the taxpayers who fund its work. And this is only one lawsuit. With the additional cases brought by secular for-profit corporations, over 60 lawsuits have been filed in this scorched earth litigation campaign — which we have to pay to defend.

On the same day the emergency motion was filed, Judge Cogan granted it in part, staying all discovery and proceedings until the contraceptive coverage rule is final. So the government lawyers can get back to other business for the moment. But once the rule is final, I expect we will see that some if not all of those 22 dismissed cases (the ones that haven’t already been appealed) will be refiled.

Back in February, with the sequester looming, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which, like the Archdiocese of New York, is led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, signed a statement by religious leaders urging legislators to protect the interests of the poor. The Bishops’ litigiousness does not reflect the same awareness of our limited resources nor concern for those who will be hurt most by the sequester. Instead, the Archdiocese seeks to deprive its employees of affordable contraception — provided by an outside company — that will enable employees to limit their families to the size they want and can support, using up resources that are needed elsewhere in a time of economic distress.

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There Is No Magic Word: Why We Are and Must Remain ‘Pro-Choice’

9:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

At a time when state legislatures continue to break new records for the number of restrictions on reproductive health-care access introduced, passed into law, and placed on ballots, when lawsuits against birth control coverage continue to trickle into the courts, when political candidates can’t even get it right on rape and the White House has repeatedly used abortion and birth control as bargaining chips, those of us who support reproductive autonomy face critical questions. One question should not be, as some have recently posited, whether or not a group adheres to a pro-choice or a reproductive justice frame when doing its work. It should be how each of us, individually and as organizations, can best use our knowledge, strengths, resources, and values to bring about change that makes women’s reproductive autonomy a reality.

F Collective: Pro-Choice Action

Pro-Choice Action

 

Right now, we need every voice and perspective we can get to speak out loudly, strongly, wherever, and to whomever they can, in whatever language they speak best, to protect rights that many thought were guaranteed. A movement that is monolithic does not use the best everyone has to offer. One that allows all organizations and individuals to identify as they see fit and truly put their passions to work on shared or complementary goals will thrive. We win when we have a definite, common goal that requires real action, and we win when we allow a variety of groups to speak to their own communities with their own voices. We recently saw this in Florida, where women’s organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the League of Women Voters; religious organizations such as Catholics for Choice, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; and reproductive justice organizations such as the Miami International-Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy (MI-LOLA) all worked to soundly defeat two ballot measures aimed at curtailing abortion access and real religious liberty.

Unfortunately, some advocates for reproductive health, rights, and justice insist we wordsmith the movement rather than take action. Some folks are paralyzed by semantics, stuck in a vain search for a magic word or phrase that will convince everybody to agree with us. In doing so, the focus is taken off what we believe and what we need to do, and we are reduced to creating word clouds of marketing frames outlining why we must replace the concept of “choice.” “Reproductive justice” has been suggested as this magic phrase.

Both choice and reproductive justice have a place in our battle for women’s autonomy. But one cannot take the place of the other.

At Catholics for Choice, we approach the word “choice” from an ideological standpoint, one that includes justice at its very core — social justice. We are called by our faith to advocate most strongly for policies that protect and lift up all people, particularly the most marginalized and the poorest of the poor. Our religious beliefs compel us to recognize the dignity and rights of all people, who deserve respect and equal access to reproductive health care, no matter their race, color, class, or creed. We cannot settle for any less. Why some people have failed to recognize that justice is an inherent part of what we do is a mystery to us.

We believe, however, that the reproductive justice model is an important piece of the reproductive rights movement. It works for some groups to reach the constituencies that they must reach. It reminds the rest of the movement that we are not, nor should we be, a homogenous steamroller.

As our colleague Loretta Ross, the co-founder and national coordinator of SisterSong, has noted, it was American women of color who first coined the term “reproductive justice” almost 20 years ago, in 1994. They did this to embrace a broader range of concerns that many women of color in the United Sates shared and that were not being addressed by some in the pro-choice movement. They found a phrase to express their unmet needs and through which they could develop solutions. SisterSong continues to highlight these concerns, and we are a stronger movement because of their efforts.

Unfortunately, as others have adopted this framework, some people have chosen to denigrate the language and framework of choice, even sighing a “huge sigh of relief” when others choose to stop identifying as pro-choice. We do not need to tear down each other in order to build ourselves up, and it is misguided to assume that there is a single way to approach a common goal or a single way of viewing the work that we do and why we do it. Those who have dismissed choice have most often misrepresented it. They have pointed to polling data claiming that the number of people calling themselves “pro-choice” is in decline, when most of us already believed that putting “choice” vs. “life” in head-to-head polling is a mindless approach. We’ve long known that Americans have felt that pitting the two terms against each other creates a false dichotomy, and that even those who consider themselves staunchly “pro-life” don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and do support abortion access at least some of the time.

Some have also claimed that Millennials don’t “get” choice, that choice does not reflect what Millennials need to hear in order to support access to reproductive rights. As Jennie Bristow noted in her perceptive essay on the alleged generation war over abortion rights in the United States, “Winning the argument for choice might be difficult today — though it is hard to see why it is more difficult now than in previous decades. What is certain is that younger generations of women, and their daughters, will lose a great deal if we turn our back on the ‘pro-choice label.’” It is, on the one hand, patronizing to assume that young people do not understand what being pro-choice means or must be told something different in order to gain their support for reproductive rights. It is equally troubling that many of those claiming that we need to use something other than choice to speak to Millennials view young people as a problem to be solved rather than a source of energy and people power for our movement.

Young people are the ones most often out canvassing, working phone banks, staffing, and leading our organizations, and they are more supportive of reproductive rights than other generations. They are the ones who are of reproductive age. The supposed “intensity gap” between pro-choice young people and anti-choice young people today largely tracks the so-called “intensity gap” between people of different generations. That perceived lack of involvement does not mean that young people cannot or will not prioritize choice. It does mean that those of us charged with sustaining the movement need to do less talking at young people about how they are the problem. We need to instead offer them real action that all people — young and old — can rally around.

It is not as if reproductive justice itself is not without its challenges. While it is absolutely right for some organizations, we cannot afford to be Pollyannaish in assuming it is right for everybody. In particular, we cannot be dictatorial in charging every group to use the term or pretend that it is inherently superior to choice in its ideology.

Some of the challenges of the reproductive justice framework illustrate why it cannot be a substitute for choice, as a concept or as a practical strategy. They include the following.

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Why I Refuse to Be Taken to a Catholic Hospital—And Why Other Women Should Too

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Hospital hallway

Erin Matson argues that pregnant women should refuse to be taken to Catholic hospitals.

The reason I don’t want to be taken to a Catholic hospital isn’t because of abstract notions about morality, the separation of church and state, or when different faiths say life begins. Rather, I refuse because in Catholic hospitals patients may be refused medical treatment on the basis of church teachings. That’s a pretty big deal if an ambulance or well-meaning relative brings you to one while pregnant, after a rape, or any time you need urgent medical care.

Refusal to Perform Abortions Allows Women to Die

In October 2012, severe back pain brought Savita Halappanavar to a Catholic hospital in Galway, Ireland. When it was revealed that her 17-week pregnancy was unsustainable, doctors ignored her pleas and refused to perform a life-saving abortion, citing Catholic doctrine. Savita died. Her death has implications for all women, knowingly pregnant or not, who enter a Catholic hospital anywhere in the world.

Here in the United States, Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated after authorizing a life-saving abortion in 2010 for a gravely ill woman at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

It is unreasonable to expect that every Catholic hospital in the country will have a dissenting nun willing to be excommunicated or a doctor willing to be fired to prevent women from being killed by “no abortion under any circumstances” rigidity. It seems it’s only a matter of time until the United States has its own Savita — a pregnant woman who dies needlessly in a Catholic hospital because the all-male Catholic hierarchy has decided barring all abortion, no exceptions, is the “pro-life” thing to do.

If Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) had gotten his way in 2011 and HR 358 had been signed into law, under federal law all hospitals would be allowed to refuse life-saving abortion care to patients; they also would be able to refuse arranging transport to another hospital that would provide such care. Pitts even had the nerve to name the bill the “Protect Life Act.”

It’s important to note that discrimination is dangerous and wrong, even when it doesn’t kill you. When we consider abortion only in life-and-death situations, we ignore the health and economic consequences women also face when they are denied constitutionally protected abortion care in the Catholic medical system.

Furthermore, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has claimed that abortion is, well, whatever they say it is. Scientific facts do not back up the bishops’ repeated assertion that emergency contraception is an “abortion-inducing drug”; in reality, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy before it occurs. When facts don’t matter, the next substance that the bishops deem an “abortion-inducing drug” could be anything — routine over-the-counter treatments, standard vaccinations — if the person controlling the medical care available to you is in a Catholic medical facility.

Scope of Problem Is Vast, Hits Rural Areas Hard

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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.

Myth of Judeo Christian cover

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.

The Pope, Pregnant Children, and Violence Against Girls and Women

11:48 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Pope Benedict Pope Benedict XVII find it strange that Pope Benedict XVI chose a week that will culminate in a global strike to protest violence against women to retire. And for health reasons no less. Orange smoke and irony and all that. On Thursday of this week, all over the globe, people will gather and dance for One Billion Rising, a day dedicated to striking against violence against women. As Eve Ensler, the founder of  V-Day which has organized the strike knows better than most, “violence against women is a global, patriarchal epidemic.

Part of that epidemic is compulsory pregnancy. The Pope’s rationale is that his “age means he lacks strength to do job.” You could use the exact words to describe the nine-year old girl the Pope excommunicated for having a life-saving abortion after being raped and impregnated, with twins. It seems to me that her age meant she lacked strength to do the job, too. Actually, the job would have killed her.  These things happen. She and 16 million other pregnant adolescent girls a year, two million of whom are under age 15, strike me as 16 million good #reasonstorise.

As does this girl: last Thursday a friend posted a story on Facebook, ”Dafne, 9-Year-Old Girl, Gives Birth To Baby Girl In Mexico.” Millions read and shared it over the weekend.  The link appeared with this caption: “The girl reportedly delivered a 5.7 pound baby by Caesarian section on January 27. She was 8-years old when she became pregnant.” Picky, picky feminist wordsmithy me thinks the caption should read, “The girl underwent a dangerous Caesarian surgery to delivery a 5.7 pound baby on January 27. She was 8-years old when a 17-year old boy forcibly inseminated her.”  Eight-year olds cannot consent to sex. They also cannot consent to having contraceptives implanted in their arms, but that’s now happened too. Just in case she gets ideas. On the same day, by coincidence, a 12-year old in Argentina gave birth to twins after she “fell pregnant.” Like she tripped by accident.

While nine is very young, girls this age having babies is not as rare as we’d like to think. The United States has more “teen” births than any industrialized nation, including girls as young as 10,  and our rates have been climbing.  However, 95 percent of teen births take place in poorer countries. According to W.H.O., “Half of all adolescent births occur in just seven countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and the United States.” Many girls die because they do not have control over their bodies and their own reproduction.

Last year, after a 10-year old in Columbia gave birth, experts blithely explained that “a C-section delivery for such a young mother is not unusual.” Given global trends (researchers, armed with competing theories, have noted that the average age of the onset of menstruation for girls has been steadily declining for decades) we can reasonably expect to see instances involving younger and younger girls. Little girls, and women who find themselves raped and pregnant often “want to die.” It’s only one reason why raped people shouldn’t be forced to carry pregnancies to term. Guess what else, besides the Papacy, of course, is a “job or life with no retirement age?” Whereas the Pope is retiring to “go back to his priesthood,” girls who are raped, pregnant and give birth or die cannot go back to their childhoods.

This was the conclusion reached by a doctor last year in the case a mentally-disabled girl, 10-years old, in Kansas, who had to have an abortion after becoming pregnant as a result of rape.  Many people, like these at the Landover Baptist Church think, “Ten-year old sluts getting pregnant is no reason for abortion!” That’s pretty much what the Kansas medical review board that revoked the girl’s doctor’s license seemed to believe. Which was a relief for people who want girls to get this message: “Ten year old sluts in Kansas are being given a simple message: GET PREGNANT IN KANSAS AND YOU WILL HAVE A BABY!” I realize that these quotes seem to be from a lunatic fringe, or just any number of misguided priests, but these words are bluntly stated distillations of common victim-blaming ideas and believed by many people.  In Mexico, authorities “don’t know if [the girl] is being entirely truthful.” Mainly because of her age, but interesting choice of words. Is she saying she was raped? Or is she saying she wasn’t? The article linked to doesn’t say which. Turns out she’s saying that the boy was her “boyfriend.” As one commenter speculated, the child “may have even had feelings for” her rapist.  Authorities, in a perverse game of “he said/she said,” acknowledge that they are looking for the missing father, a 17-year old boy, “to acquire his own account of what occurred between the two.” In case he reveals that she was wrong in her assessment and wants to make it clear that he raped her?

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Fearing God at the End of the World

1:49 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photo of this Day
Written by Vyckie Garrison 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 remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” ― Oswald Chambers

Even though I’m 99.9 percent sure that December 21, 2012 is not the Last Day, I’m having an End of the World party at my house.

To tell the truth, I am a little afraid – not that the world will end, but that life goes on and I have relatively little control over whatever the future might hold for me and my family.

As most readers at No Longer Quivering know, I no longer count myself among the God-fearing faithful. When I was a Believer, I honestly thought that I was fearless — not that there was nothing to be afraid of — to the contrary, as a Christian, I had all the usual anxiety of living in an uncertain modern-world-gone-mad compounded by the added terrors particular to Evangelical culture; namely, the World, the Flesh, and the Devil — all of which, I believed, were aligned against God and doggedly determined to steal, kill, and destroy my eternal soul, and my precious children’s souls too!

BUT … I regularly consoled myself with inspiring and comforting words from scripture such as, “Perfect love casts out fear,” “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” “When I am afraid, I will trust in You,” and my personal favorite from Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So every night, I said my prayers, trusted God … and slept peacefully, believing myself and my children were safe and secure in God’s protective love.

And what about now? What consolation is there in unbelief when things go horribly wrong as they did last week in Newtown, Connecticut? When I read about the cold-blooded, execution-style mass murder of the Sandy Hook elementary school children and their teachers and would-be protectors, I confess that I wanted to pray.

I wanted to pray for the victims; I wanted justice and I wanted all those little kids to have their lives back! I wanted innocence and trust restored to the survivors, I wanted all of us to feel safe again. I wanted to pray for Adam Lanza; that he would have another chance and this time, make life-affirming, rather than deadly choices. I wanted to pray for this crazy world we live in; there are way too many wrong-headed, corrupt, and failing societal influences predisposing and even compelling mankind to act against our own best interests. I wanted The Big Guy to break His silence, come down here and put the world back together!

I wanted to pray for my own children; for their safety and their sanity. And I wanted to pray for myself … because as the mother of seven children, I feel vulnerable and afraid.
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Using “Religious Liberty” to Hide Religious Overreach

8:12 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Birth Control Pills

Photo: Sarah C / Flickr

We have been hearing plenty about “religious liberty” lately. Now let’s see who’s using the term “religious liberty” in a novel way, trying to conceal a campaign of religious overreach.

The issue has to do with the faith-based legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Recently, a Missouri mining and manufacturing holding company, O’Brien Industrial Holdings, filed a lawsuit against the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The lawsuit challenges the ACA employer requirement to include birth control coverage in employees’ health insurance. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed an amicus brief supporting the ACA contraception rule. The brief examines the O’Brien complaint and considers the arguments in light of modern legal history.

Even though O’Brien is a secular business, the company maintains that the birth control rule violates its religious liberty — a claim that does not stand up to deeper examination. First of all, workers earn their employer-sponsored health insurance. The insurance belongs to the worker like any other earned benefit, such as salary and pension; it is as much a worker’s personal property as a pay check — the employer’s religion doesn’t belong there. After all, workers may well have different and personal moral understandings about access to birth control and no judge, politician, or office boss has any business barging in.

Moreover, a look back at recent history shows two things. First, similar laws in New York State and California have prevailed in state-level legal challenges. And second, as described in the ACLU brief, a business cannot use religious liberty as an excuse to practice religious discrimination.

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Anti-Gay/Anti-Choice Kansas Democrat Challenged in Primary by Openly Gay Man

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

“Morality” used to be the established code word for anti-gay and anti-choice discrimination. It seems that “morality” has run it’s course, however, and it is now time for new and improved phraseology to push the anti-choice, anti-gay theological agenda in Kansas. The new catch phrase for discrimination is “religious freedom” and the queen bee of spreading the pollination of religious freedom in Kansas is Representative Jan Pauls.

Erich Bishop

Erich Bishop, Kansas challenger (Photo: Erich Bishop campaign)

Representative Pauls is another one of those anti-choice Democrats that pervades the Kansas political landscape. She has served in the Kansas Legislature since 1992 and has used her time there to sponsor numerous anti-choice bills. She wrote a law prohibiting same sex marriage in the state, backed the successful state constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, and blocked the attempted repeal of Kansas’ antiquated sodomy ban.

Religious freedom has been creating a lot of buzz nationally and red-state legislatures and red-state politicians have latched on to this discriminatory defense as the life preserver that might “save” them from the evils of Obamacare. Pauls has provided not only her vote for two Kansas bills based upon the false premise of “religious freedom,” but also her strong words of favor. She heralded the Kansas legislature’s so-called “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” and the expansion of the existing “Conscience Refusal Act,” which both gained momentum from “Obama outrage” over contraception care afforded under the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Pauls resides in Hutchinson, Kansas. Pauls’ stance on these “religious freedom” initiatives may garner her usual votes and favor from many of her constituents at large in this conservative Kansas community, but in this election cycle there is a question as to whether or not Pauls will earn a place on the general election ballot. This time around, Jan Pauls and her “religious freedom” have earned her a Democratic primary opponent, and that primary opponent is gay.

Erich Bishop is a member of the Kansas Equality Coalition, a gay rights organization that has waged a full on political war against Pauls for her public statements, votes and actions against the gay community. Pauls, for example, made the following comment on February 20, 2012:

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