Monday, January 30, 2012

In America, there's no such thing as a virtuous woman

I'm battling a little cold today, and am not really up to the task of writing a whole blog post from scratch. But I wanted to share a few points here that I left in a comment box at Rod Dreher's blog last week; the post was this one, but I warn you that posts move so quickly off the main page at that blog that you probably won't get any responses if you comment over there.

In any case, what I wanted to share were these points I wrote regarding the HHS contraception mandate and my own views of artificial contraception as a woman:

1. Fertility is not an illness.
2. Pregnancy is not a disease.
3. It is not necessary to render women chemically sterile to make them free. In fact, all this does is make them more available to men who don’t have to commit to them or take any responsibility for their actions.
4. Promiscuity, unmarried sex, contraceptive sex–these things are not freedom. They are dead ends for women and soul-killers for men.
5. If the only principle America stands for is that everybody has the right to as much consequence-and-morality-free sex as possible, then America stands for nothing. It will be replaced by some society and culture which still thinks of sex as sacred and children as blessings, probably sooner than we think, at which point all of the hand-wringing in the world about how contraception is just the bestest stuff ever and those meanies in the Church won’t hand it out for free at First Communions and Sunday Mass and in the confessional etc. is going to seem pretty stupid.

To expand on the above combox comment of mine, I think we should recognize that what the HHS mandate says to American women is this: Look, we know there's no such thing as a virtuous woman in America anymore. In fact, we've redefined the whole idea of virtue so that modesty, chastity, and sexual morality have nothing to do with it. These days in our enlightened nation, a virtuous woman is one who is lasciviously and rampantly promiscuous before marriage and, should she actually marry, concerned primarily with being sexually available to her mate every single day of her life in spite of that pesky natural fertility of hers. It is therefore imperative that we in this nation wage an all-out chemical warfare against the natural fertility of human women because that natural fertility leads to unplanned voters and unwanted constituents and citizens.

Moreover, we think that women are stupid, lacking in self-control, unable to understand and appreciate their natural fertility and work with it instead of attacking it and rendering it, and themselves, at least temporarily sterile, and otherwise incapable of thinking for themselves. So we will mandate that it is the job of their employers (and how creepy is this, really?) to buy them birth control pills and devices, abortifacient pills, and to pay for them to be sterilized. Because the American Primary Value of sex without consequences only works if women are willing to participate in their own objectification, to embrace the mandates of contraceptive imperialism, to be brainwashed into believing that their healthy, natural fertility is an illness or a disease in need of "treatment," and to accept the new idea of virtue which means that women have a positive duty to make themselves both sexually available and incapable of pregnancy until or unless some man agrees that he'd actually like to be a father.

The HHS mandate tells us Catholic women that our Church is oppressing us because the Church don't agree with their worldview. Well, I am proud to reject theirs, which is so demeaning and dehumanizing to women that it's hard to know where to start.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

I may have mentioned this before, but my mother had four planned children, at roughly the intervals she wanted them, and used contraception to space us out. I was born almost three years after my parents married. (Around the time of the marriage, mom worked for G.D. Searle, which, as she cheerfully remarked "makes the pill."

There are a lot of good reasons to remain chaste until marriage, and to be monogamous within marriage. Many of them are only really clear with 20/20 hindsight, which is why elders and those in authority (civil, spiritual, cultural, or all three) have always looked for ways to keep young hormones under some sort of discipline.

It is certainly true that fear of pregnancy has been one means of discouraging premarital sex. It is also true that extramarital sex has been happening in some profusion throughout human history. Taking away the fear of pregnancy may have increased promiscuity somewhat, but it certainly didn't create it where it never existed before.

Our medical insurance and prepaid health plan system, which "just grew" over several decades, is a tangled mess. If we went a little deeper, and pointed out that its not really "free," everything has to be paid for, a lot of people might say "Oh, well lower my premiums and I'll pay for my own pharmaceuticals, just insure me for if I need something costing $10,000 a year." (If everyone doesn't need those some time, if it is a rare event, then shared risk brings the catastrophic impact within limits for the "lucky ones.")

But within a framework of broad medical coverage, primarily via employer paid and negotiated plans, contraceptives should be covered. Individuals don't have to use that coverage, but that is their choice, not their employers'.

Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is a bodily condition a woman might reasonable want to regulate. The church is not oppressing Catholic women... but certain CEO's with some sort of Catholic affiliation are seeking to dictate to their employees.

Rebecca in ID said...

Siarlys let me get this straight. You are saying that if an employer will not offer contraceptives, sterlization, or abortifacient drugs to an employee, that employer is trying to dictate the employee's lifestyle and is oppressing that employee? It seems like that's what you're saying. The government insisting that someone actively participate in something that person holds to be gravely harmful, is not oppression, but *not offering* someone something you hold to be poisonous to them, is oppression. By that reasoning, it would be dictation and oppression for a Jewish deli not to offer its customers pork, wouldn't it? And it would not be dictation and oppression, but merely ensuring the basic rights of customers, if the government were to insist that there be a pork option at that deli. The way you're turning what's happening entirely upside down is amazing, Siarlys. Whatever your mother did, and whatever you think is great and fine, do you understand that this country customarily has not forced people to violate their consciences? Why not force medical students to perform abortions? Catholic hospitals to provide them? Maybe *you*, Siarlys, don't happen to think that would be a great idea, but if people are not free to act according to their conscience or are actively forced to violate their consciences, who will decide what is reasonable or not? Many, many people think routine abortifacients and surgical abortions, are just as reasonable as routine contraception. Doesn't this disturb you or worry you at all? Do you think there should be any kind of conscience clause for anything at all, and if so, what principle do you use?

Rebecca in ID said...

argh, I think I lost my comment...but the gist was...Siarlys, what I see clearly happening is the government imposing its morality on people by forcing them to actively participate in something they hold to be deeply wrong. You, like the media, turn it on its head and see it as the Catholic employers imposing their morality on their employees by *not* offering them something they hold to be deeply harmful. Would you say that a Jewish deli is imposing its morality on the world by not offering pork options, and would you say the government would just be protecting the public by forcing the Jewish deli to offer pork options? Do you think there should be any such thing as conscience clauses? Ever?

t e whalen said...

As a non-Catholic, there are a couple of things that confuse me.

Is your position that contraception is malum in se and ought to be illegal, full stop? If your position is that those who manufacture, prescribe, dispense, and utilize artifical contraception ought to serve time, I'm not fruitful discussion can develop about whether to require that it be included in the health insurance sponsored by employers with a religious objection to its use but who primarily employ and serve non-adherents.

Why is the issue here the "paying" for the contraception? Presumably in the absence of this mandate, the employee would, in the privacy of the examining room, request a prescription contraceptive and the doctor would write a prescription for a contraceptive and all of that would be paid for by the employer. The employee would then take money paid to her by the employer and use it to fill the prescription. So instead of the money flowing from (A) the employer to the employee as a big lump sum and then to the pharmacist as a smaller amount instigated by the employee, it's now flowing from (B) the employer to the insurer as a big lump sum and then to the pharmacist as a smaller amount instigated by the employee. How is (B) any worse than (A)? Isn't the moral choice by the employee the important thing here? What is the employer doing wrong in (B) that it's not doing in (A)?

What if these religious employers have their employees sign statements pledging not to use artificial contraception? Would that solve the problem?

Alternatively, do you think it would be okay for these religious employers just to fire their employees who use contraception?

Barbara C. said...

"Taking away the fear of pregnancy may have increased promiscuity somewhat, but it certainly didn't create it where it never existed before."


That's like saying the national legalization of abortion increased the abortion rate somewhat.

That's like saying that the passing of "No-Fault" Divorce laws increased the divorce rate somewhat.

So, because culturally undesirable (and morally wrong things) always somewhat existed that justifies not only normalizing them but the government forcing people to encourage them?

"Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is a bodily condition a woman might reasonable want to regulate."

So is obesity (a much greater health risk in our country than pregnancy), so maybe all insurances should be required to cover diet pills and stomach stapling.

So is aging, so maybe all insurance companies should be required to cover cosmetic plastic surgery like face lifts, liposuction, and botox injections.

And what about the First Amendment, this policy is basically forcing the Catholic Church to violate dogma that was established over 2000 years ago. In the eyes of the Church this is leading others to sin; the Church might as well be forced to buy hookers for everyone. This is the level of gravity of this situation.

Never mind the poor and disenfranchised that will be hurt when Catholic organizations (who have a constant reputation of offering top-notch care) are forced to shut down services to avoid compliance or to pay the fines for non-compliance.

Barbara C. said...

t e whalen, let's talk about how insurance works.

If companies choose a plan for their employees that does not include contraception, abortion, or abortion drug coverage, then NO MONEY is going between employer/insurance company/healthcare provider for these services. The money for such services go from employee to healthcare provider only.

I used to work in medical billing for a company that supplied orthotics (slings, walking boots, wrist supports, etc.) There were many insurance plans that did not cover these things. The patient had to pay for their cost out of his/her own pocket. (And a broken leg usually required a minimum of two to three orthotics.)

In fact, if you look through your current health insurance plan there will be things that just aren't covered. For instance, my insurance plan used to only cover $500 in well-care pediatric visits and absolutely no vaccinations. We had to pay for those out of pocket.

Each employer chooses which insurance company they want to use for their employees and how much they are willing to spend on employee plans (in addition to what comes out of employee paychecks). I've worked places with insurance that had no deductible and lots of benefits covered, and I've worked places with a $500 deductible and lot of things not covered.

Furthermore, I am about to have my fifth baby. Before any of my delivery or hospital bills are paid, I will have to cover the first $600 of charges as my deductible, then insurance will cover 90% of the charges left while I have to pay the other 10%. If my 10% reaches $800 dollars than the insurance will cover any thing else for the year at 100%.

However, according to the new rules if I want birth control pills, abortion pills, or an abortion not only is my employer required to pay for insurance to cover it, but the cost of these procedures can not be subjected to my deductible or even a co-pay. I can not be asked to pay a penny (other than my usual paycheck deduction) to murder a child in my womb.

Rebecca in ID said...

This is well worth the read, just ran into it...

t e whalen said...


Thanks for your response. I believe I understand how insurance works, but I'm not clear on what difference it makes in this particular situation.

My question is more philosophical, or theological, if you prefer: what is the moral difference, if any, from the perspective of the employer, between an employee choosing to use wages to procure contraception and an employee choosing to use insurance to procure it? I honestly don't see the difference and I'm hoping someone can explain it.

If employees are getting contraception now, with wages, and getting contraception later, with insurance, the same people are still getting contraception. How has the moral significance for the employer changed, given that the outcome didn't change? Is the employer now participating in a different way?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Rebecca, I am indeed saying that within a rather convoluted health care delivery and financing system, in which most families who have medical coverage at all rely on an employer-negotiated and partially employer-funded medical policy, in which that policy is a substantial part of their compensation for services rendered, an employer MAY NOT decide to exclude certain procedures or medications from that policy, on the ground that the employer morally disapproves of those procedures or medications.

Your analogy to the Jewish deli is, as the lawyers say, inapposite. If the Jewish deli required its employees to sign a contract that none of the money in their paycheck would be spent on pork, or on beef from a cow which had not been killed in accordance with kosher law, that would be a more accurate analogy. Employee compensation, not the wares available to customers, is the issue.

A better analogy would be if ALL employers were required to provide a daily lunch allowance to employees, and a Jewish deli insisted on an exemption that the lunch allowance could NOT be spent at a non-kosher restaurant, because they would be subsidizing non-kosher food.

No Catholic-affiliated hospital has been required to PROVIDE contraception to its patients. As an EMPLOYER, they must leave up to their employees the option to obtain contraceptives for personal use under a standard health care policy.

Your reference to not forcing people to violate their consciences is loose and without any context in law. Erin could testify that I have argued eloquently and at length against requiring nurses to participate in abortions. (I might look at that differently if the nurse applied for work at a clinic where abortions were a majority of the work performed, sort of like a vegetarian shouldn't apply for work at a steak house and then complain about having to serve cooked flesh). But, a hospital has many functions, and many nurses, and personal participation in an act that violates conscience is very different. In fact, I see no difference, in terms of personal liberty, between a hospital requiring a nurse to participate in an abortion, or refusing to include contraception in an employee's medical coverage. In both cases, the institution is imposing its preference upon its employees.

Now if you want to discuss whether employer-paid medical coverage is the best way to insure everyone has access to health care, we could easily come up with a better way to organize the entire system. What if there were a convenient, affordable, array of medical plans, which each employee could pick on their own, without having to be part of the employer's "group plan"? What if the employer simply handed the employee an extra $800 a month, for the employee to pay to whatever plan suited them?

Would the same bishops then insist that employees must agree in writing NOT to get a plan that offered contraceptive coverage? If not, we have a solution. If so, the bishops will have proved my point.

Rebecca in ID said...

No Siarlys, no one has ever required employees to sign something promising they won't spend their wages in an immoral way. That is not the issue. If you want to get technical about the analogy, this is like forcing a Jewish employer to *buy ham sandwiches*. No Jewish employer is going to object to someone going and buying himself a ham sandwich with his wages, but he will object to buying the ham sandwich. And we're dealing with not just positive law but something Catholics hold to be deeply harmful to *anyone*. You are not morally culpable for what a person chooses to do with wages you fairly paid them, but you would be morally culpable for *paying for something immoral*. Do you understand, Siarlys, that our religion prohibits us from such direct cooperation in evil? And the first amendment is about the free exercise of religion. If this does not mess with the free exercise of religion, I don't know what does. Again I refer you to the article I linked to, which gives many examples of perhaps uncomfortable things other religions hold, that the U.S. gov has always respected. Can you imagine if the government insisted that Quakers pay for soldiers' guns in lieu of fighting? Moreover, your notion that the pill, that abortifacients, that voluntarily sterilization, constitute *basic health care* is completely off the wall. You understand, Siarlys, don't you, that here we are a micrometer away from claiming that surgical abortion, as well, is *basic health care* and that of course all doctors and hospitals will then be required to offer these services? Conscience smoncience, when we are talking about *basic human rights*, is that not so? If a man deeply believes he needs to beat his wife or withhold food from his children, we cannot honor his conscience in that regard. What you are claiming, Siarlys, is that conscience or not, 2000-year-old religion or not, contraceptives and abortifacient drugs are *owed* to every woman by her employer, and by the same reasoning, surgical abortions will be owed to every woman by every doctor and hospital.

Red Cardigan said...

Rebecca, that Quaker analogy is brilliant. I hope you don't mind if I share it. :)

Rebecca in ID said...

not at all :)

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Do you understand, Siarlys, that our religion prohibits us from such direct cooperation in evil?

How could I have missed it? Do you understand, Rebecca, that medical benefits are part of an employee's compensation package? In wage negotiations, employers add up the cost of hourly wages, plus medical benefits, plus paid vacations, plus sick days if any, to figure what this is really costing them per employee. That's natural, but for certain employers to then turn around and say "you're asking me to be complicit in evil, this isn't the same as freedom to spend your own wages" borders on sheer hypocrisy.

The real friction comes from the fact that employers generally negotiate A package, or a small selection of inter-related packages, which then become THE package available to employees. That does mean the employer gets their hands a little dirty, signing off on documents that state contraception is included. However, it also means employees can't go find themselves another package, can't "go buy themselves a ham sandwich."

Medical benefits are not like a Jewish deli owner serving employees ham sandwiches. It is like issuing employees vouchers to go buy their lunch, stamped "Not good for ham sandwiches." (The Jewish deli would only be remotely relevant if ALL employers were required to provide lunch vouchers to all employees).

And the first amendment is about the free exercise of religion. If this does not mess with the free exercise of religion, I don't know what does.

Well, for starters, if the police came into your church, ordered you out, padlocked the doors, and announced that anyone of X faith trying to meet in groups of two or three, or more, for purposes of worship would be arrested.

Or, if the state legislature passed a law that ALL children MUST attend secular public schools. (Google "Pierce v. Society of Sisters").

Another might be, if a church put a large stone on their own church grounds inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and someone who passed by on the street sued to have it removed because they found it deeply offensive to have to see it as they walked by.

But telling an employer not to restrict their employees' choices in the medical coverage provided as part of employee compensation is not an infringement on freedom of religion, it is a bar to inflicting the employers' religion on the hapless employees.

I try not to push this point, because I don't think it is foremost in your mind or your sense of your own faith, but the Vatican has made many comprehensive claims to virtual dictatorship over all mankind over one thousand years or so. I consider this simply an attempt to reaffirm, in however limited a way, that all mankind is under their jurisdiction, whether most of us care to admit it or not.

Rebecca in ID said...

Again it boils down to you insisting that killing small zygotes, hormonal contraception, and sterilization, are basic health care and *a fundamental human right*. That is a claim. It is upon this claim that religious persecution has begun and will continue. And the first amendment will shrink to your definition, Siarlys, and then it will shrink further.

I'm just curious--because it's clear to me that your view pretty much represents the MSM and those who are fed daily by the MSM--if this were just about surgical abortion--about medical coverage about surgical abortion--would you be saying the same thing? That employers *must* pay for health care plans which would include surgical abortion? Why or why not? Is that a basic human right, or do you draw the line somewhere?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

It is not a basic human right that employers must provide health care for employees. Actually, I think it is becoming a bad idea, generally.

If some form of general access to medical coverage for all citizens, residents, and/or lawful residents is legislated, then due process and equal protection of the laws mandates GENERAL access to all who qualify for coverage. Nobody gets different coverage based on the religious beliefs of their employer. That sounds downright feudal.

Employer paid health coverage originated because our immigrant ancestors, laboring for a pittance in the Anglos' factories, could not afford adequate care, and sought, through their unions, ways to make the employer increase their compensation for labor performed in every conceivable way. It was between the unions and the employers then, no government involvement. I would guess a good number on both sides of the negotiating table would have had nothing to do with covering abortions.

Of course non-union workers weren't covered. Many union leaders candidly admitted that there would be an uneven burden on employers, which they expected to be resolved by some form of legislated universal medical coverage. Meantime, a lot of employers who didn't want a union implemented medical plans for employees, so they wouldn't feel the need for one.

I don't consider it morally essential that medical plans must cover surgical abortion. It might be a good thing to leave out, for the same reasons I will never again sign up for dental insurance, unless my employer is paying all the premiums. Its not really insurable. It costs what it costs. Premiums have to cover it. But that requires digging into the difference between insurance and pre-paid health plans. Some things, we're going to pay for either way, so we might as well just admit that, instead of talking about "coverage."

One could say the same about contraception. It's not something that a few of those covered "might" have to use. It's something that millions of women use routinely throughout many years of their lives.

Having that conversation would probably removed the bishops' current concern from the table. Out of hundreds of available plans that individuals can choose, some would include abortion (with modestly increased premiums), some would not. Mine wouldn't.

But whatever the general mandate is, for all citizens/residents/etc., I oppose the bishops demand that certain employers be exempted from providing to their employees what all other employees get, on the ground that the employer doesn't approve.

Rebecca in ID said...

See my question above. So you actually think it is within the government's rights to force employers to pay for employee's surgical abortions...this is breathtaking, really.

Red Cardigan said...

Rebecca, one of the things you have to understand about Siarlys is that he is really, truly pro-abortion, however much he may choose to use the "pro-choice" epithet. There is, quite literally, no moral dimension whatsoever to him in the killing of an unborn human being. I think he has said he'd be mildly opposed to the latest of late-term abortions, but even then, only in a sort of "squeamish" way, not in a way that would actually stop a woman from ordering her eight-month-gestation unborn baby killed.

It has been my experience that people who are this rabidly in favor of abortion have been personally involved at some point in it. I don't know that about Siarlys; I just know that usually a man who is as pro-abortion as he is has had either a girlfriend or a close female relative who has killed at least one unborn child.