Thursday, November 17, 2011

God to Congress: OK to Gang Up on Women's Rights

"It is not our job as Catholics to tell God what we should do.  It is our job to learn and follow his teachings.  Conscience is not convenience. We must enforce the laws of God." Rep. Tim Murphy, Republican of Pennsylvania, having ascertained that the supreme deity is male, explained why Congress should deprive the employees of Catholic schools, hospitals and charities of the right to purchase affordable birth control, regardless of the employees' own beliefs or practices. The  hearing of the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce took place on Wednesday, November 2, 2011.

Republicans in Congress are truly on the warpath against women's rights, and in many cases against reason. 

Just a few points here about women and contraception.  For starters, while it usually takes two to conceive a child, only women get pregnant. The right and ability to make independent decisions about whether and when to become a parent are fundamental to every other aspect of a woman's life: whether society recognizes women as autonomous, independent, responsible and competent; and whether women themselves experience the same opportunities as men to acquire education and employment, and to construct a meaningful life based on loving relationships.

Cost is a barrier to purchasing birth control for lower-income women.  More effective forms like new, safe intrauterine devices (IUDs) cost more than birth control pills or devices like diaphragms that can be bought in smaller, cheaper quantities, but also are less reliable. The rate of unintended pregnancies is soaring among low-income women, and at 132 per thousand (women aged 15-44) is 5 times higher than the rate for higher income women (those over 200% of poverty).  Low income women are more likely to have unplanned births. The costs of contraception are minute compared to the costs of pregnancy and delivery, in dollars as well as in human health. 

The new health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), calls for covering preventive health care services without requiring copayments, effective in 2010.  Copayments are fees individuals must pay when they go for care, in addition to their premiums, and are intended to discourage health care visits.  The problem is that they discourage people from getting care they need, particularly low-income people.  Preventive health care services like flu shots can protect health by avoiding illnesses entirely or catching them early, and also save money. The ACA eliminated these copayments for prevention. 

Except in the case of contraception.

In 1968, despite the recommendation of the majority of Catholic bishops, the Pope adopted the minority recommendation to declare that using birth control was inconsistent with the Church's beliefs.  Nevertheless, U.S. Catholics continue to use birth control, to the same extent as other Americans. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has grown increasingly insistent on enforcing the birth control ban.

Virtually all heterosexually active couples in the U.S. of child-bearing age use birth control at times, including Catholics.

As of August, 2011, after a year of studying whether or not contraception is a preventive health care service, the federal Department of Health and Human Services ruled that birth control would count as a preventive health care service.

In covering contraception as a preventive service without copayments, HHS granted an exception for actual churches who provide health insurance to their employees, but required all other religiously sponsored institutions such as hospitals that offer health benefits to follow the rule.

Catholic organizations have gone to court in the past to avoid state rules that require including coverage for birth control in the health care plans they provide for employees, and failed every time.  The Church sponsors large organizations including health care providers, universities and social service agencies, as well as churches. They employ millions of Americans, many of whom are not Catholic. Their work generates the funds their employers use to pay for health insurance.  Most economists assert that the costs of employee health benefits are reflected in lower pay; that is, employers calculate benefits as a form of compensation, and many reduce wages accordingly.  In effect, the money that pays for health insurance is really money that employees generate, and belongs to them.

Not good enough for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the extremist Republicans running Congress.  While dire economic threats face many Americans, Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania decided to change the subject.  He called a hearing entitled “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?”  []

Now let's be very clear here.  The Republicans and the Bishops are claiming that institutions have a conscience.  Not a policy.  A conscience.

Here is Joe Pitts' description of his concern [and my comments in brackets]:

"Many entities feel that it [the proposed policy] is inadequate and violates their conscience rights by forcing them to provide coverage for services for which they have a moral or ethical objection. The religious employer exemption allowed under the preventive services rule -- at the discretion of the HRSA [Health Resources Services Agency] -- is very narrow.

"And the definition offers no conscience protection to individuals," [there is no involvement of any individual employer in this matter, or any issue of an individual's conscience except that of employees deciding to purchase and use contraceptives] "schools, hospitals, or charities that hire or serve people of all faiths in their communities. It is ironic that the proponents of the health care law talked about the need to expand access to services but the administration issues rules that could force providers to stop seeing patients because to do so could violate the core tenants of their religion."  [The rule requires employers' health plans to cover contraception without any additional copayment.  There are three parties involved here: employers, employees, and health plans.  No provider or caregiver is involved, nor is any patient, student, or recipient of charity. At the most extreme, every Catholic institution could claim it will close their doors absent this exclusion.  So far no such institution has done so where state requirements are in effect, and when Rep. Jan Schakowsky asked representatives of Catholic institutions at the hearing if they would close, they affirmed that they would not.]

Rep. Gingrey, GA, opined: "Imposing the dictates of the state on the will of employers sounds un-American to me."

And another gem: "Should we force religious employers to violate their consciences?  To recognize same-sex marriage?  Will we ethically neuter health care professionals?"

Articulate Democrats on the committee - Henry Waxman, Frank Pallone, John Dingell, Lois Capps, Tammy Baldwin, Jan Schakowsky, Edolphus Towns, Eliot Engel - to a person challenged this tripe.

Tammy Baldwin: "This is a war on women."

Lois Capps: "An employer is not a person. Your boss' conscience is not your own."

Witnesses Jon O'Brien of Catholics for Choice and Dr. Steve Hathaway were articulate and brilliant in defending the truth.

But Rep. Tim Murphy, a psychologist in his fifth term in the House, was on fire:

"Conscience is at the core of Catholic teachings... and it is not left up to individuals to decide, thank goodness. Father Anthony Fisher tells us that ...there is an objective standard of moral conduct.  Vatican II teaches us that the moral character of actions is determined by objective criteria, not merely by the sincerity of intentions or the goodness of motives. It is not, I repeat, it is not our duty as Catholics to tell God what he should do or what image he should adhere to, or what he should think, but it's up to us to shape our conscience to conform with the teachings he's given us.

"Conscience, sir, is not convenience.

"Conscience is formed through prayer, attention to the sacred and adherence to the teachings of the church, and the authority of Christ's teachings in the church.  So asking a group in a survey whether or not they have ever acted or thought of acting in a certain way that runs counter to the Church's teachings is no more a moral code than asking people if they ever drove over the speed limit as a foundation for eliminating all traffic laws.

"I end with a quote from John Adams, in 1776, when he was writing our Declaration of Independence of the United States:  'It is the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons to worship the creator and preserver of the universe, and no subject shall be hurt, molested or constrained from worshipping God in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for religious profession or sentiments, provided he does not disturb the public peace or obstruct others in their religious worship.' The foundation of our nation is not to impose laws that restrict a person's ability to practice their faith, sir."

Well, actually, Tim: Exactly.

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