I wish I were a woman. Okay, relax, I don’t mean in general. I just mean that I want to talk about contraception and I recognize that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if men kept their mouths shut on such subjects for a while. As a feminist, though, (That’s right; you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. Ask Alan Alda.) maybe my point of view will be more acceptable than those offered by, say, the panel of religious leaders and experts – all men – that testified to Congress in February. How embarrassing is that? Try to imagine a panel of all women called to testify about prostate exams or the use of Viagra. Fat chance! As you might expect, Jon Stewart had a field day with it on The Daily Show. If you watch his program, you know that images are often displayed over his shoulder while he talks just as they are on straight news shows and that the titles that caption the images are often hilarious. In this case, he labeled the all-male panel “The Vagina Ideologues.” I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.
Unfortunately for women and for anyone who understands the necessity and the logic of church/state separation, what’s been going on lately isn’t the least bit funny. Catholic Bishops claimed that Catholic hospitals and universities shouldn’t have to pay for health insurance to cover birth control pills for their employees because the Church doesn’t condone birth control. Never mind that these employees don’t have to be Catholic. Never mind that the institutions involved are supported in part by government funds. Never mind that birth control can be necessary for health as well as for family planning. And most of all, never mind that approximately 98% of American Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives. No, forget all that. The Bishops want you to think that the government tried to force the Church to act against its own beliefs and thereby infringed on the separation of Church and state.
Does your head hurt yet from considering all that? Mine certainly does. Luckily for the Obama administration and for the women involved, the insurance companies come out so far ahead when women practice birth control that they were happy with the compromise that has them absorbing the cost. (Whether they’ll pass it on to all their customers is another question.) It’s just important to keep in mind that the original law wasn’t forcing any woman, Catholic or otherwise, to use birth control. The Church leaders, unable to win the argument against birth control with their own congregants, were simply trying to make it less available for their employees.
Rush Limbaugh stuck his nose into this argument and as usual got it all wrong. He somehow came to the conclusion that women who engage in sex more frequently need to take more birth control. (Perhaps, he had it confused with Viagra.) He then used that idiotic premise to suggest that women who want insurance to cover birth control pills and devices are promiscuous. From there it was an easy leap to equate having your birth control paid for to being paid to have sex. This from a man who is treated as an icon by the country’s right wing. Unbelievable!
When it comes to church/state separation, I believe that rather than carving out exceptions for religious practices that don’t conform with laws based on the common good, the state’s main concern these days should be to make sure that no religion gets to impose its beliefs on the rest of us.