03/14/2012 03:53 pm ET Updated May 14, 2012

Science, Faith and the War on Women

"If we're going to have to pay for this -- then we want something in return... And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we're getting for our money... I said if we're paying for this, it makes these women sluts, prostitutes. What else could it be? We are buying it." -- Rush Limbaugh

Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke testified to congressional Democrats in support of a national health care policy that would compel Georgetown University to offer health plans that cover birth control. It was not enough of a diminution of her testimony that Republican lawmakers had barred her from testifying during the actual hearing. Democrats had to invite her to speak at an unofficial session. Then Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute."

Adding insult to injury, after a huge public outcry and withdrawal of advertising commitments key to his talk show revenues, Limbaugh claimed to apologize as he proffered: "My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir." On his website Limbaugh added: "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
Philip Elliott reported in the Associated Press that Limbaugh had that the 30-year-old Fluke had bought condoms when she was in junior high. Limbaugh "... scoffed at the Democrats' talk of a conservative "war on women"... [saying]:

"Amazingly, when there is the slightest bit of opposition to this new welfare entitlement being created, then all of a sudden we hate women. We want 'em barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen...And now, at the end of this week, I am the person that the women of America are to fear the most."

As the discourse about healthcare and the rights of women in this country continued to unravel, I had an opportunity to meet briefly with international delegates representing the Anglican Women's Commission. They were in New York for the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations Headquarters (Feb 27 - Mar 9). Their schedule of events helps to mobilize Anglican women regarding training in economic literacy and advocacy. They also engage in gender budgeting analysis of Aid Effectiveness. These women are advocates at their country level as they return to their provinces. Often over 100 Anglican women attend, and strong Anglican networks of women empower others in their commitment to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Millennium Development goals in their countries.

I am 60 years old. That's old enough to remember the way it used to be for lots of women in this country -- who had limited access to healthcare relating to reproductive rights. I can recall horror stories about dangerous, illegal and fatal abortions. I remember when family planning was anything but reliable, and how many families -- and women in particular -- did not have choices concerning when they would have children and how many.

Limbaugh is wrong to think that he is feared by women and others of us. What is scary is the flip way in which he and others change the conversation about healthcare and women's access to it into a debate about "new welfare entitlement" or about keeping women "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen." They actually seem to think in such terms even about their own mothers, sisters and daughters.

Reproductive health care is part of basic health care for women. And if it is not affordable, many women will lack access to care and choices basic to their quality of life. Very simply they will not be able to get the care they need to stay healthy and to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families. The only way that women's reproductive health is improved sustainably is when access to health insurance coverage for maternity care and family planning services is part of state-wide Medicaid coverage.

As Lisa Miller noted in "Romney, Santorum and archaic ideas on fertility" in The Washington Post (March 2), "Between them, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have as many children -- 12 -- as there were tribes of Israel." I say that is their choice and respect them as family-oriented dads. But as Miller went on to add, her concern about the discourse coming from the Roman Catholic Church, is that

"... with their crusade against birth control, the Catholic bishops are helping to articulate and elevate that unspoken and archaic value in public. Fertility is a gift from God, they say. To mess with that gift goes against God's plan."

I would add that science, which gives us choices about the families we create, is also a gift from God.

We cannot set the clock back on science and choices we all make in how to use the gifts it brings to us. Of course those gifts -- like any gift -- can be abused. But humans have also used their brains and creative abilities to do great things for God and for all creatures with science. Maybe instead of waging war on women, being faithful to religious beliefs means striving to be better stewards as we make the tough choices about life and death. I think Sandra Fluke is that kind of citizen steward.