Commentary Religion

Mammograms, Contraception, and Abortion are Always Political, Even Religious. We Ignore This At Our Peril


"Keep politics out of women's health" is a sentiment we have heard a lot regarding the Komen debacle. But isn't it always political? Perhaps even always religious?

“Keep politics out of women’s health.”

In the extraordinary amount of activity surrounding the Komen’s foundation decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood for mammograms, you have probably heard something along the lines of “keep politics out of women’s health.” Komen was frequently criticized for making a politically-motivated move.

Of course it was a politically-motivated move. My question to us all: is it not also a political move to restore the funding? Is not funding mammograms for poor women inherently a political act?

You see, I believe that the personal is always political.  I believe that all of our acts are rooted in our values and deepest held beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong.  It’s impossible not to be ‘political.’  What you do as a human being on this earth inevitably makes a claim on what you believe and what you believe is good and right, and what you believe is harmful and wrong. 

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Similarly, many of us in prochoice and reproductive justice communities rejoiced at the Obama administration’s recent decision to require health plans to fully cover contraceptive services for employees, including many religiously-affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities.  Only not-for-profit employers who have “the inculcation of religious values as their purpose, primarily employ individuals who hold certain religious beliefs and primarily serve a population with those religious tenets” are exempt.

Obama was applauded for resisting “religion’s” influence on policy and women’s health.

But,  you see, it’s impossible NOT to have religious or spiritual beliefs (humanism and atheism included) affect decisions, whether you are a toll-booth operator or a politician in office. Perhaps this is why Obama said his Christian faith guided his policy decisions.

Furthermore, statements about keeping religion out of women’s health seems to assume that all religion is antagonistic to women’s health.  But what if my values, morals, even my religion is exactly what commands me to support contraception, mammograms, and accessible abortion, particularly for those impoverished and marginalized?  Once again, the Left implicitly cedes the ground of ethics, morality, religion and spirituality to conservatives.

I get so frustrated as I routinely see Liberals and Lefties clutch onto the crumbling modern tenets of the secular vs. the religious. 

Do we not realize that what many of us call secularism in the United States is actually referring to the values and culture of White/Anglo (men’s)-Protestantism?  The separation of church and state was a religious concept developed in Puritan communities to protect churches from the corrupting influences of government.  The idea of secularism is rooted in the Calvinist notions of adiaphora or “things indifferent,” from which John Locke developed his powerful and influential ideas of government. “Things indifferent” for Calvin and his interpreters, and for Locke, includes anything in the world that is not necessary for “salvation.”  What falls under the power of the state as opposed to the power of religious faith?  Things indifferent–things not necessary for salvation.

I will not bore you further with theological or Christian doctrine but to say that our secular ideas were born out of Protestant Christian ones.

My religious tradition disagreed with those Calvinist tenets and states that everything matters for salvation–for healing and for justice.  And therefore, all that I do and believe is a matter of my values, my morals, my religion, and my spirituality–including my beliefs that all people have an individual right to conscience and the means for fulfilling that conscience.  Which means that I believe women should have unfettered access to contraception, mammograms, and abortion, regardless of financial resources.  

Many secular folks on the Left deny claims that our nation is a “Christian” nation.  Yet, if you ask a Jew or a Muslim or Hindu, I bet they would agree that, in fact, the United States is a Christian nation.  By failing to acknowledge the dominance of (Protestant) Christian culture and values, we on the Left hinder our abilities to fulfil liberal dreams of a pluralistic and just society.

The Left will not achieve it’s goals by making dated and problematic arguments regarding secular and the religious, or by arguing for keeping “politics” out of women’s health.  We will not achieve our goals by arguing that we are somehow universally right.  We will win by arguing that our policy proposals are most effective at minimizing unnecessary suffering in this world.

Women’s health is inherently political.  And dare I say, women’s health is inherently religious.

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christian, faith, Politics, Religion

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