At the risk of further abusing a decayed and desiccated equestrian cadaver, I’ve had it up to here (crap—you can’t see my gestures through text. Bah, just imagine it) with the “contraceptive coverage violates my religious liberties” argument. Here’s the latest one, courtesy of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s twitter feed:
“The Obamacare HHS mandate takes effect today that requires Americans to violate their religious beliefs to implement the president’s health care law. The mandate compels religious employers to pay for and refer women for abortion-causing drugs, birth control, contraception and sterilizations.”
Let’s ignore, for a moment, the absurdity of the notion of an “abortion-causing drug” and—oh nevermind, let’s not. This one’s so stupid, it needs its own paragraph. What is an abortion?
1. Also called voluntary abortion. the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy.
2. any of various surgical methods for terminating a pregnancy, especially during the first six months.
the deliberate prevention of conception or impregnation by any of various drugs, techniques, or devices; birth control.
Abortion is an intervention, either surgical or medical (85% and 15%, respectively, per the CDC), to terminate a pregnancy. Contraception, by definition, cannot be abortion because abortion can only occur after impregnation. An abortion can be done, realistically, at any point in a woman’s pregnancy, all the way up to the final (ninth-ish) month of pregnancy, although third trimester abortions are exceedingly rare (91% occur in the first trimester, and most of that remaining 9% in the second). Contrast this with the notion of “abortion-causing drugs,” by which the author is presumably referring to ella, a “Plan C” pill that a woman can take up to five days after sex to prevent pregnancy (it also triggered a good deal of outrage in the wingnut lobby). It should be obvious—but apparently it isn’t—that swallowing a pill is radically different from undergoing an invasive surgical procedure. One cannot merely swallow a pill six months into her pregnancy and consider the whole ordeal over. The implication that these drugs are fundamentally equivalent to a surgical procedure is at best a gross misrepresentation of the facts (and is more likely a deliberate distortion intended to compel people with more emotion than sense to yell vociferously). Comparing abortion to contraception serves only to demonstrate an unwillingness to engage in rational discussion. It is a red herring, meant only for deception.
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Okay, now that that’s done, here’s their argument: the government requiring Christians’ money to be spent on contraceptive healthcare for women is a violation of Christians’ religious liberties. (Sometimes there’s also an additional “it’s fine if women want to spend their own money on this, but I shouldn’t have to subsidize them.”) Since this is such a big deal to them, this argument presumably stems from those Ten Commandments that Christians value above all other rules, so let’s find the relevant commandment.
1. You shall have no other gods before me
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
5. Honor your father and your mother
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
10. You shall not covet
Um, okay, it’s not totally clear which commandment applies here. I guess they’d reason that number 6 is applicable to abortion (although I vehemently disagree), but I don’t see how this gives any sort of grounding for an objection to contraception, which by definition cannot be murder because it prevents the creation of human life. (Frankly, the suggestion that an implanted egg is human life worthy of all the same rights as an autonomous developed human is astounding and a bit perplexing. To say that a drug that causes it not to implant in a woman’s uterus might somehow be murder is outrageous.) To some anti-choicers, however, this reasoning must miss the mark because even contraception is seen as murder:
“Last year, the Obama Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under the clear influence of Planned Parenthood, announced that it was defining the “preventive services” provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to include “all FDA approved contraceptives.” As AUL has repeatedly documented, adopting such a broad definition forces private health insurance plans to fully-cover, without a co-pay, life-ending drugs and devices, including ella, an abortion-inducing drug,” it said.
So if I follow this reasoning, because there’s a pill that you can take up to five days after having sex to prevent pregnancy, and because some devices prevent implantation, covering contraception is bad? So because money will be spent on contraception broadly, the healthcare law violates religious liberty, and religious liberty trumps individual liberty. Well, that’s interesting. I wonder what else we might want to apply this reasoning to…
How about that sixth commandment? Even if you view contraception as immoral, there can be little doubt that actual murder is worse. If you think that taking a hormone pill every day is a moral harm worse than—or even morally equivalent to—the deliberate ending of a live human being’s existence, you’ve simply become morally unhinged; your religion has blinded you to the consequences of your beliefs. It is consequences that
determine are more important to determining the moral evaluation of any given action, so someone who adopts this stance is incapable of making moral judgments.
Birth control means no killing can occur because life isn’t involved,* but murder means that sentient life was ended by deliberate external intervention.
The natural consequence of this disparity is that every dollar spent on US military operations abroad contributes to a greater moral harm than incurred by the increased healthcare coverage in the Affordable Care Act. If the Christians who oppose contraception coverage want to exempt themselves from healthcare on moral grounds, they must also demand to exempt themselves from defense spending. Failing to do so is an admission that their moral values are inconsistent; it is an admission that they care more about a few dollars than they do about upholding their god’s sixth commandment.
“But wait,” the pro-war anti-choicer might say, “some wars are just wars! The deaths happening overseas are a terrible tragedy, but they are necessary to prevent further harm!”
Great, I’m glad we’re on the same page. If preventing greater harm is a priority for you, this means you value human life over adhering to your own religious tenets. The vast majority of people we’re fighting in the Middle East are not Christians, which means they do not hold themselves to your interpretation of the Ten Commandments. As far as I know, God’s list of rules does not include “go into foreign lands and prevent nonbelievers from murdering other nonbelievers.” This intervention is not the product of religious reasoning (although it may very well be justified post-hoc through Biblical references). Instead, it stems from a secular desire to see all people have equality and be free from oppression.
Altruistic military intervention, for all its good intentions, may be able to achieve morally good ends, but it costs a lot of money. Contraception, on the other hand, prevents future harm at next to no cost at all. Which is worth more, a few dollars, or human life? Only a sociopath would place a greater emphasis on the money. And guess what? That’s exactly what the anti-choice lobby is doing right now. These people are advocating for the wholesale repeal of the ACA (“Obamacare”), which would result in the denial of healthcare coverage to 33 million people as well as a reduction in coverage to everyone who doesn’t lose their healthcare policy as the result of the repeal. Due to the very real harm that this would cause, the only possible conclusion is that the crowd of people insisting “Obamacare must be repealed because it infringes on my religious liberty by mandating that everyone have access to coverage that includes optional contraceptive services” values their money over human well-being.
Supporting war is supporting murder. Supporting contraception is not. Furthermore, anyone who believes abortion is murder is morally compelled to support contraception, which prevents abortion by virtue of preventing pregnancy.
Pleas of religious liberty do not withstand scrutiny—this argument is over equality, not religious freedom. What opponents of the law want is not fairness but instead a special exemption that allows them to force their beliefs on other people. This isn’t even a fight between Christians and non-Christians! The majority of Christians support the contraception mandate (and within the most vocal group, Catholics, a full 98% of Catholic women admit to using or having used birth control), so this is a very small, disproportionately vocal minority fighting against everyone else. This selfishly short-sighted group is seeking to deny individual liberties to everyone else while simultaneously calling their efforts “religious freedom.” The argument makes me feel a bit like I’m living in the prequel novel to Nineteen Eighty-Four, watching as anti-choicers try to establish a Ministry of Freedom and implement the first version of Newspeak. “Religious freedom means giving up your right to choose things for yourself in order to please a minority people who follow a radical religion. You must support freedom by opposing freedom.
This must not be put up with. Freedom does not mean that you have a right to make my choices for me—this would be the antithesis of personal liberty.
The Congressional Republicans who repeat their Repeal Obamacare! mantra are not doing so in support of religious liberties for the common folk. Their priority is merely to score political points. In repeating it so consistently, however, they seem to be convincing some that the inclusion of contraceptive coverage is somehow a threat to everyone’s First Amendment rights. It isn’t. Indeed, the real threat to the First Amendment comes in the form of their advocating for a governmental policy that allows the denial of care to the majority based on the harmful extremist views of a minority. You couldn’t possibly find a better example of doublespeak in today’s political discourse—by denying your religious freedom, we are reinforcing everyone’s religious freedom. As long as you interpret “everyone’s religious freedom” as “the right of everyone else to follow my religion,” I guess this argument would be valid. I do not, however, see any reason to prefer that absurd interpretation. Apparently these Republicans do, but thankfully, the Constitution does not.
* Realistically, both sperm and eggs are life, so life is involved. Countless millions of these instances of human life die naturally every day, but no one gets up in arms about that. I offer this as evidence that people who view human embryos as "human life" hold a fundamentally flawed interpretation of what "life" means. As an afterthought, I have previously written on this subject. It's frustrating to see the same bad arguments still floating around.