By Zara Rapoport of The Morningside Post
My body is my ... temple? My church? My political/religious war-zone?
Is my body mine at all anymore? Has it ever been?
Recently, contraception has been placed back on the front page as policymakers squabble over whether it is part of women's comprehensive health, or if it is just enabling women to be wanton whores. Religious institutions do not want to have to cover birth control in their insurance plans for employees. This strongly resembles the "conscience clause" which allows doctors to deny reproductive health care, including birth control, to patients if it goes against their beliefs. This debate seems never-ending and is woefully outdated.
This is 2012.
It should not be a surprise that women, (and many, many, many men) want to have sex for non-procreative purposes, despite edicts passed down for centuries in numerous religious texts. How many of the men protesting women's reproductive freedom throughout history have been caught in scandals involving non-procreative sex with a woman other than their procreating wives? How happy were they that these women were able to afford birth control? Why is it so important to make sure that I can't have sex for pleasure without risking my career, my womb and my freedom? Why do you care so much about what I do with my body? I don't care what you do with yours. Just keep it away from mine.
This question is not going to be resolved today. It's apparently not even the big question on the table at the moment, though it certainly seems like an important underlying cause on the raging debates over women's uteruses the world over. We are being told that the real question is religious freedom.
Well I have something to say about that.
What about my religious freedom not to practice your religion? Religious freedom, while a group right when preventing discriminatory practices, is an individual right in terms of a person practicing their faith. This includes my right to not practice any given religion in this (less and less) secular country, where everyone is free to practice religion or not to.
Things begin to get very blurry when religious organizations become mainstream employers who are technically not allowed to discriminate against their employees. Today, the Catholic Church owns and operates 624 hospitals and 499 long-term health care facilities, including John's Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and the number one ranked hospital in 2009, St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix.
There are also numerous private schools, and 267 universities, including mainstream colleges such as Boston College, Georgetown University and Villanova. None of these institutions exclusively employs, accepts, or treats conservative Catholics. It is standard practice for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic universities, often without even realizing the underlying religious tenets the university upholds. Hospitals are even trickier, as patients are rarely able to choose which hospital to be treated at. Ambulances officially have to take you to the nearest hospital, and different hospitals specialize in different surgeries, attracting people from all faiths and non-faiths.
According to the Catholic Health Association, 1 in 6 Americans are treated at a Catholic medical facility. They were boasting because 29 Catholic hospitals were in Thompson and Reuters Top 100 Hospitals list in 2009 and they felt this meant Americans were being well cared for by Catholic hospitals. I'd like to qualify that statement by saying male Americans and all females who have no reproductive needs, no emergency obstetric life saving surgery needs, no post sexual assault treatment needs, no family planning needs, no medical conditions requiring the hormones available in birth control pills needs, no contraceptive needs or informational needs on how to have non-procreative out of wedlock sexual intercourse needs are indeed being well cared for.
Everyone else is being given limited care based on someone else's moral ideals and not scientific medical information. All I know is that I would be utterly terrified to be taken in an ambulance after a brutal sexual assault only to be told I would not be given complete care, including pregnancy prevention, because my doctor did not feel this fully safe and available medicine was good for his soul. When I am seeking medical care, I am much more concerned with my body than my doctor's soul.
It simply isn't up to my doctor to make medical decisions on the basis of anything other medical information.
Women who attend Catholic universities will also have to choose if they wish to attend a school that denies them a basic right to have agency over their own bodies. Students are notoriously low on funds and many forgo birth control when they cannot afford it. These schools will either become de facto mostly boys schools, or the women there will be at a distinct disadvantage to the many women attending schools providing affordable birth control. Birth control, after all, was a major catalyst to women entering the work force in droves, as it allowed them to delay childbirth, finish their educations, and gain valuable work experience. Sure, they could refrain from having sex, but then what would all the boys do with their co-pay free Viagra?
Members of the Catholic Church and other employers who do not want to provide birth control say that women who want such coverage can just look for work elsewhere. Last time I checked, the unemployment rate was over 8 percent. Choice is a relative word here. It also constitutes discrimination, as birth control is an FDA approved medication that is available and used regularly by millions of women. There are no other across the board coverage limitations on medicines, particularly those affecting a distinct group of people. Employers refusing to offer such coverage would, in effect, discriminate against women for having reproductive systems and wanting to use them. They would basically impose religious beliefs on non-believers.
Everyone is entitled to practice their own religion and refrain from taking birth control, but every employer, medical facility and university is prevented from discriminating against their employees, patients and students based on the very tenets that allow them to freely practice their religion. The precedent this type of legislation would set will be disastrous for women's rights and a huge set back for women's reproductive freedom. (It may even be riding the coattails of the "conscience clause" that paved the way for religion to trump reproductive freedom) It will basically say, once again, that our bodies are not our own. That despite the advances made in modern medicine and the social status of women, I am still just a baby-making machine that should know my place and cross my legs, at least until my domineering husband tells me to open them.
Once again, I hope the women of America will defend themselves. And I truly hope the enlightened men stand with them. Let them take away our reproductive health care. Don't work for them, don't patronize them, and don't think of them. Let the hospitals close down because they cannot find enough patients to treat or women to work there. Let the universities be brought up on discrimination charges when they become all boys' schools once again. Let their alumni fall by the wayside as the young men and women attending more enlightened universities excel and surpass the small minds bred at these schools. Let us show everyone once again how important and how many and how powerful we really are. Seriously ladies, we need to take back this country.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go have non-procreative, recreational, insurance provided birth control protected, sex-ed informed, condom using safe sex out of wedlock.