Commentary Contraception

Did God Tell Congress to Wage War on Women?

Ellen Shaffer

God has apparently told members of Congress it is ok to wage war on women. Well, at least some Congressmen have decided this is the case.

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here

God has apparently signed off on the war on women.

Thanks to at least one member of Congress for setting us straight on that.

“It is not our job as Catholics to tell God what he should do. It is our job to learn and follow his teachings. Conscience is not convenience. We must enforce the laws of God.”

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This was Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), who, having ascertained that the supreme deity is male, explained why Congress should deprive employees of Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities of the right to purchase affordable birth control, regardless of the employees’ own beliefs or practices. His statements were made at a hearing of the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce 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 a year’s supply of birth control pills or devices like diaphragms which are cheaper overall but also are less reliable. The rate of unintended pregnancies is soaring among low-income women, and at 132 per thousand women ages 15 to 44 is five times higher than the rate for higher income women (those over 200 percent 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 co-payments, effective in 2010. Co-payments 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 co-payments 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 at the same rate as other Americans.  Virtually all heterosexually active couples of child-bearing age in the United States use birth control.  Still, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has grown increasingly insistent on enforcing the birth control ban.

As of August, 2011, after a year of studying whether or not contraception is a preventive health care service, and therefore should be covered without co-payments and deductibles, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) arrived at an answer: Yes on all counts.

In covering contraception as a preventive service without co-payments, 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 that include 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.

This evidence is not good enough for the USCCB and the extremist Republicans running Congress. While dire economic threats face many Americans, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), 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:

“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, 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.”

In fact, 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. The rule requires employers’ health plans to cover contraception without any additional co-payment. 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 (R-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?”

To a person, articulate Democrats on the committee–Henry Waxman (D-CA), Frank Pallone (R_NJ), John Dingell (D_MI), Lois Capps (D_CA), Tammy Baldwin (D_WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Edolphus Towns (D_NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY)–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,” Murphy continued, “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,” said Murphy, “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.

To do something about it click here: http://action.prochoiceamerica.org/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&id=5059&s_src=2011_adv_bc4me_whitehouse_web

and here: http://emilyslist.org/20111117_accesspoll/

Analysis Politics

Paul Ryan Uses Falsehoods Behind Texas HB 2 to Push Yet Another Abortion Restriction

Ally Boguhn

In a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Paul Ryan agreed with an audience member's baseless sentiment that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics" in its Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.

During a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) pushed falsehoods about the anti-abortion provisions at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt being necessary for patient health and safety. Ryan nonsensically then used the decision as a launch point to promote House Republicans’ Conscience Protection Act, which passed in the House Wednesday evening and supposedly shields those who object to abortion from discrimination. The only things Texas’ provisions and the legislation have in common, however, is that they’re all about blocking access to abortion care.

Town hall audience member and executive director of New Jersey Right to Life Marie Tasy claimed during the event Tuesday that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics,” in its landmark ruling against two provisions—the admitting privileges and surgical center requirements—of Texas’ HB 2.

“Absolutely,” Ryan said in response to Tasy’s remarks. “I agree with that.”

But the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

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Despite this, Ryan then used the falsehood at the center of HB 2 as a call to action for yet another anti-choice restriction: the Conscience Protection Act. After fielding the question from Tasy about how anti-choice issues could be advanced in Congress in the wake of the Court’s decision, Ryan pivoted to claim that the government is “forcing people to conduct [abortion] procedures”:

Actually, tomorrow we are bringing a bill that I’ve been working on called the Conscience Protection Act. I’m pro-life. I think you probably know that. And I would like to think we could at least get consensus in this country that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding abortions. That the government shouldn’t be forcing people to conduct procedures, especially health-care workers, against their own conscience.

Our First Amendment is the right of conscience, religious freedom. Yet our own government today, particularly in California, is violating that right and not allowing people to protect their conscience rights, whether they’re Catholic hospitals or doctors or nurses. Tomorrow we’re bringing the Conscience Protection Act to the floor and passing it. It’s Diane Black’s bill. And it is to give those citizens in America who want to protect their conscience rights their ability to defend those rights. That is one thing we’re doing tomorrow to protect the conscience, because I believe we need to cultivate a culture of life. And at the very least, stop the government from violating our conscience rights.

Ryan would go on to make similar remarks the next day while speaking on behalf of the bill on the House floor, though this time he added that the “bill does not ban or restrict abortion in any way …. All it does is protect a person’s conscience.” 

As Rewire‘s Christine Grimaldi previously reported, the Conscience Protection Act would codify and expand on the Weldon Amendment. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against any health care entity-including physicians, health-care professionals, hospitals, and insurance plans, “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

The Weldon Amendment currently must be passed each year as part of annual appropriations bills.

Grimaldi noted that the act “would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care.”

Ryan proposed similar conscience protections as part of his recently released health-care plan, though, as Grimaldi wrote, “the Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.”

But those whom Ryan and his colleagues are claiming to defend already have protections that impede access to abortion care, according to critics of the measure.

Ryan, for example, suggested in both his CNN appearance and his House floor speech the next day that California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under “basic health services” violates “religious freedom.” But a June investigation by the HHS Office for Civil Rights into whether California’s requirement violated the Weldon Amendment rejected similar complaints by anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Let’s be very clear—right now, current law says that hospitals, insurers, and doctors may refuse to perform an abortion or provide coverage for abortion, which already greatly limits women’s access to legal procedures,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Wednesday, speaking after Ryan on the House floor during remarks before the Conscience Protection Act passed.

“More importantly, when a woman’s health is in danger, providers would not be required to act to protect the health of that mother. This bill would allow them to refuse to … facilitate or make arrangements for abortion if they have a moral objection to it,” continued Schakowsky. “They could also refuse to provide transportation to another hospital if a woman is in distress if that hospital provides abortions.”

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, explained in a statement following the passage of the legislation in the House that the measure is about blocking access to abortion. “The Conscience Protection Act is dangerous, discriminatory legislation designed to block women’s access to abortion care,” said Ness.

“For example, a hospital could rely on the Conscience Protection Act to turn away a woman in an emergency situation who needs an abortion or refuse to provide a woman information about her treatment options. This legislation is a license for providers to discriminate against women and undermine their access to essential, constitutionally protected health care,” Ness said.

News Sexual Health

Congress Fails to Act on Zika Before Seven-Week Recess

Christine Grimaldi

There was no last-minute deal on funding to address the Zika virus, even in the middle of mosquito season.

In the midst of summer mosquito season, the U.S. Congress is set to recess until September without taking action on the Zika virus.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate Thursday again blocked Republicans’ proposal for $1.1 billion in funding for the mosquito-borne virus linked to microcephaly and other fetal brain defects. The GOP-engineered agreement falls short of the $1.9 billion that the Obama administration staunchly contends is needed to combat Zika. The Senate plan also restricts what advocates consider to be essential contraceptive access, even though the virus can be sexually transmitted.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue condemned Senate Republicans for their response to Zika.

“Instead of digging deep to adequately respond to this global health threat, anti-choice Republicans are trying to restrict funding for the very clinics and health care that allow women to plan for healthy families,” she said in a statement. “Their constant claim that they are dedicated to ‘protecting the unborn’ falls flat when they refuse to give women the resources we need to bear healthy children.”

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The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives previously passed even less Zika funding—$622.1 million. House Republicans made a separate attempt to limit contraceptive access through gutting Title X in the appropriations process. “It is particularly foolish to target Title X at a time when the nation is at the precipice of a public health emergency resulting from the Zika virus,” National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association President and CEO Clare Coleman said in a statement at the time.

Republicans insisted that their various plans protected women’s health, contrary to Democrats’ characterization of the plans as attacks on the same. Partisan bickering aside, Congress failed to strike a last-minute deal before a seven-week recess as Zika cases are already on the rise.

As of July 7, nine infants with Zika-related birth defects had been born in the continental United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As many as 346 pregnant people in the United States and 303 in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, may have the Zika virus, the CDC found.