Thursday, November 3, 2011

Controversy about HHS Guidelines and Contraception Continues: An Update

Speaking of conversations it's surprising we're still having at the start of the 21st century (I'm referring here to the gays + devil meme about which I've just posted): isn't it at least a little bit surprising that, when over 90% of married Catholic couples practice artificial contraception, the U.S. Catholic bishops are choosing--still!--to draw a line in the sand about that issue and to claim that, as they do, they're protecting the "religious freedom" of "us Catholics" in a secular culture assaulting our Catholic beliefs?  "We Catholics" who have long since rejected the magisterial teaching about contraception by an overwhelming majority, so that the bishops aren't representing "us Catholics" in the least in their expensive, divisive political battle against expanded access to contraception . . . .

This conversation continues to unfold.  Though Michael Sean Winters (who acts as a semi-official voice of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference through his position at National Catholic Reporter) keeps maintaining (and here) that the U.S. bishops' fierce opposition to the proposed Health and Human Services guidelines that would require employees to provide access to contraceptives in their health insurance plans is not about contraception, it clearly is.  It's about contraception because a growing sector of the "pro-life" movement has developed the mindless notion that contraception is tantamount to abortion, and is as much of a threat to the sanctity of life as is abortion.

As Irin Carmon notes at Salon yesterday, those behind the Mississippi "personhood" amendment are openly admitting that their goal is to make not only abortion but contraception illegal.  But as Nicholas Kristof points out in the New York Times today, it's wildly illogical to oppose access to contraceptives if you're truly concerned about preventing or diminishing abortions.  As Kristof also notes, though opposition to contraception was once a rather peculiarly Catholic thing (most other religious groups that once opposed birth control have long since accepted it), it's now becoming a rallying cry for political and religious conservatives in general--so that (I'm making the following observation, not summarizing Kristof) it's perfectly legitimate to link the position taken by the U.S. Catholic bishops on abortion to the "personhood" movement in Mississippi and other places, which is merely parroting Catholic magisterial language about how a unique human is fully present from the moment of conception.

And since the U.S. Catholic bishops have long since gotten into bed with the religious and political right about this and other "life" and "family" issues, it's impossible to separate what's happening as a state like Mississippi, with a tiny proportion of Catholics but a huge proportion of right-wing evangelicals, seeks to diminish access to contraception, from the position taken by the U.S. bishops.  As Kristof writes, 

Traditionally, support for birth control was bipartisan. The Roman Catholic hierarchy was opposed, but Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush provided strong support. Then family planning became tarnished by overzealous and coercive programs in China and India, and contraception became entangled in America’s abortion wars. Many well-meaning religious conservatives turned against it, and funding lagged. The result was, paradoxically, more abortions. When contraception is unavailable, the likely consequence is not less sex, but more pregnancy.

But despite the patent wisdom of supporting contraceptive use and expanding access to contraceptives if we truly want to prevent or diminish abortions (which are primarily the result of unplanned pregnancies), the U.S bishops and their spokespersons remain emphatically committed to demanding that the Department of Health and Human Services drop contraceptive coverage from its new guidelines for employers and their health insurance plans, or provide religious exemptions to groups that, on the grounds of conscience, do not wish to provide this or that medical service or commodity.  Two good up-to-the-minute summaries of this debate can be found today at Huffington Post and NPR, where Laura Bassett and Julie Rovner discuss what took place at yesterday's Congressional subcommittee hearing about these matters.

Warning: Laura Bassett is in league with the devil one of those uppity "anti-Catholic" women out to get the Catholic bishops, according to Michael Sean Winters.  But never fear: all she's capable of, Winters maintains, is "a catalogue of dumb and dark statements" about the Catholic church, whereas our boy Tim Dolan, "a man with a conciliatory temperament" and "an unequalled defender of the both [sic] the Church's teachings and her interests," is too smart and too brave to let anyone, including the president or Congress, "roll" him and the church he represents.

"The Church's teachings and her interests": strange.  I can't get beyond the fact that more than 90% of Catholics in the U.S. don't agree with the position Mr. Dolan and his brother bishops are hotly defending on our behalf in these Congressional committee hearings.  And I had somehow been given by Vatican II to believe that we, too, are the church.

But perhaps my devil-addled gay brain is simply too dumb and too dark to get the point Mr. Winters clearly intends to keep making as he beats the USCCB drum about these issues: that it's their church and they'll do what they wish with it, regardless of what the Catholic people they claim to be representing think or believe about anything.

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