Friday, February 10, 2012

Contraception Mandate: "Fear is not an effective choice or method for enlightenment of the soul."

Today, there are no images ... only much soul searching which has evolved into words ...

I know, I said that I would be gone for the rest of this month ... focusing on images rather than words, but the current controversy over the Obama-care "contraception mandate" has been weighing heavily on my mind and my spirit.   Thus, I seem to have been compelled by my spirit to find my words to speak.  If you read nothing else in this post, please read at least the very last paragraph (of the initial post) ... Thank you.

Obama-care rears its ugly head yet again?  This time the controversy stems from a newly unveiled aspect of Obama-care in which government has mandated the requirement that coverage for contraception medications and procedures be provided as standard provisions in healthcare coverage offered by employers.  Exemptions are provided for religious institutions (churches, synagogues, etc.) whose primary function is that of religious worship.  This exemption provision, however, is not extended to secondary institutions run by religious institutions such as hospitals and universities.

Naturally, leaders of religious institutions that are "morally opposed" to contraception in any form immediately took issue to this recent government mandate.  The largest and loudest complainant has come from the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church and other supporters of "religious freedoms" claim  that government is overstepping its constitutional authority by forcing religious institutions --even at the secondary level of religious run hospitals and universities ...many of which receive government funding-- to provide for services which they find "morally reprehensible."   

I suspect that the above religious institutions do indeed have a legal, constitutionally-backed argument to support their claim as outlined above.  While I am opposed to government stepping on an individual's or institution's right to exercise religious freedom in any instance :   I do happen to approve of the government providing for  inclusion of contraception medications and procedures as standard provisions for healthcare coverage.  Contraception coverage, whether religious opponents like it or not, is a vital part of women's health in this day and age.  A woman being able to choose when she will have children and how many children she will have has revolutionized the lives of women and their families for the better.  Women can now have careers, choices and interests beyond bearing and raising children.  Contraception has also helped to greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, which has reduced the number of instances where a woman would even want to contemplate abortion.  I do not like that the 'morning-after pill' may be included in this contraception coverage, as I am personally opposed to abortion ... but once again it is an individual decision and also an individual freedom to choose whether or not to use contraception medications and procedures.  The individual will have to weigh the moral implications, if any, of the contraception services that they personally will choose to use for themselves.  I, personally, find the attempt by some on the religious right to lump all forms of contraception into the same category as abortion "morally reprehensible."

[ Side Note:   The argument that women (and men) can simply go elsewhere to get the contraception medications and services that they need is ludicrous.  Costs for medications and services not covered directly by primary healthcare insurance in the United States, in this day and age, are undeniably outrageous.  It makes me a bit angry to hear prominent individuals dismissively claiming that individuals can get contraception medications "for free" elsewhere if these medications are not provided for by their comprehensive healthcare insurance.   The news commentator Bill O'reilly, of FOX News, said on his broadcast just yesterday that birth control pills can be gotten "at any clinic [by anyone] for free."  Mr. O'reilly should verify his facts before he rattles off statements such as this as fact.  I was unable to obtain birth controls for free when I was in college, because I worked my way through college and made "too much money"  to qualify for "free pills."  My HMO insurance did not provide coverage for contraception services at the time.  The $60.00 a month cost for the pills was a heavy burden for me as a struggling college student. Coverage for birth control pills under my health insurance plan would have lowered the price that I had to pay out of my pocket quite considerably. While it is true that some low-income individuals will be able find clinics that will provide birth control pills at little to no costs, this option is not available for most moderate income earners where the cost of about $60.00 per month equates to a daughter being able to take dance lessons, children learning Taekwondo or Karate ... a child learning to play a musical instrument.  These are real choices facing real people.  .  For me, as for many women, becoming pregnant before I finished my degree would have most likely meant that I would not have completed my degree (and yes, I was married in college).  And as for the argument:  "if you don't like the rules, then don't play" (go get a job with another employer or attend another university) ... In this lousy economy of the past four years the ability to "play" somewhere else has been severely limited for many. 

Based on recent comments by Bill O'reilly and his surrogates (specifically, Laura Ingram): It seems to me that the "no-spin zone" of the "O'reilly Factor" has lost some of its credibility lately in neutralizing 'spin'.  Laura Ingram's interview with the Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, President of Episcopal Divinity School of MA, was so blatantly biased and disrespectful.  I have to give Reverend Ragsdale credit for not biting on Ingram's pointed jabs and line of irrelevant questioning in an effort to discredit this guest in the eyes of the viewing audience.  Reverend Ragsdale made some very well articulated and valid points in this interview, despite Ingram's repeated attempts to derail her.   I know that the issues relating to religious freedom can lead to heated discussions, but I found Lauren Ingram's behavior in this interview to be highly unprofessional.  I will be writing a letter to FOX news about this interview.  ]

Today, the Obama administration issued a statement declaring that religious secondary institutions (e.g., Catholic-run hospitals and universities) will no longer be required to provide the mandated "contraception coverage" as a part of their comprehensive healthcare packages.  The contraception coverage will now be offered separately to employees directly from (and exclusively through) the insurance provider itself, with funding for the services coming from the government and/or savings resulting from the issurance companies not having to cover costs associated with unwanted pregnancies and additional dependents. In this way, the individual can choose for themselves whether or not they want to have the contraception coverage without having to involve the perceived sanctioning of contraception services by religious institutions themselves. 

In sum, religious entities such as the Catholic Church now have their "freedom of conscience" and the additional exemption from the mandated compliance for their secondary institutions.  Sadly, I suspect that even this concession will not be sufficient for the Church and other religious opponents to contraception.  Constitutionally and legally --though the courts will likely have the final say on this-- the Catholic Church and other religious entities now effectively have what they wanted:  the right to exercise their "freedom of religion" and "freedom of conscience."  What will they do next?  Will the self-righteousness of religion rear its ugly head by continuing to press for further concessions (i.e., insistance that contraception services will not be made available to the employees at their hospitals and universities under any circumstances)?  Perhaps, Obama-care will wind up being repealed in the near future and all of this will become a mute point?  Though, I do hope that the inclusion of access to contraception medications and services in standard healthcare coverage will remain in place or be addressed through subsequent, separate legislation.  I strongly feel that the availability of contraception coverage in standard healthcare insurance is an important issue facing women and their families.  I applaud the current administration for having the courage to address this need for reform even though their timing may have been politically motivated and the manner of implementation could have been better thought out before its unveiling.

While I do concede that our U.S. Constitution guarantees that our government cannot be allowed to force the Catholic Church, or any other religious institution, to provide* for "contraception services" :  It seems somewhat ironic to me that religious institutions and individuals fail to make the distinction between holding a moral convinction or belief and the infliction of those convinctions upon others (e.g., pharmacists who refuse to dispense prescribed birth control pills to patients).  In my humble opinion, being a former Catholic --baptized, raised and married in the Catholic faith, who had all three of my children baptized in the Catholic Church-- the biggest shortcoming of the Catholic Church, and many other religions, is their ongoing failure to recognize that the role of the Church should be to provide spiritual guidance not to pass judgment or to coerce the behavior of individuals by using fear (of social reprisal or "eternal damnation") or by withholding medical services in order to conform to the Church's standard of a perceived moral code.  Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use contraception should be between the individual ... the conscience of the individual ... and God.  We are each of us on a spiritual journey in this life, here to make our own choices to the best of our individual abilities based upon our own experiences, interpretations, and a relationship with God, our Creator.  The choices that we make directly translate into the ongoing evolution of our spiritual being and ultimately determine the state of our immortal soul. No one can make the choices for us ... Our choices have to be fully processed, embraced in the heart, mind and soul and fear is not an effective choice or method for enlightenment of the soul.

Perhaps, we would all do well to stop for a moment and consider the contraception aspect --the constitutional aspect being momentarily set aside-- of this debate from another perspective:  "What would Jesus do?" Would Jesus pass judgement and condemn?  Is there a single direct Biblical instance of Jesus ever inflicting His personal beliefs or convictions forcefully upon another? 

*[It looks as if it will likely be left to the courts to determine the legal and constitutional definition of "provide".]

1/11/2012   ... I do not deny that the unveiling of this mandate at this point in time and in the fashion in which it was done was a politically motivated tactic by the current administration in a effort to galvanize Obama's voting base (women in particular) for the upcoming November 2012 Presidential Election.  That being said, if the Catholic Church is wise: they will take their first amendment victory that was conceded by the Obama Administration yesterday and let this debate cease right here and now.  The latter will effectively take the wind out the Obama's campaign sails.  Then, if needs be, this issue can be taken up in the courts after the election.  There is also the distinct possibility that Obama-care will end up being ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or repealed by a newly elected Republican President.  If either of the latter happens all of the debate with respect to this specific mandate and its method of implementation becomes a mute point.

1/12/2021 ... As I have said before, "It's still not about class warfare.  Just like its not about a perceived moral victory" (re: Republican Presidential Primary). And for the time being, maybe it should not be about a woman's right to "pursue, Life, Liberty and happiness" by being guaranteed unhindered, affordable access to basic contraception medications and services?  The politics of polarization and division have brought this country to its knees. Obama, I think, is hoping to cash in on the ongoing divisions in our country in order to benefit his re-election campaign by using the strategy of "Divide and Conquer." What we've been doing these past 3++ years hasn't been working; It's time to try something NEW!  It's time for us to throw down our sticks and to extend our hands towards one another in an a concerted effort to try to find common ground so that "We the People" can save our country from its final demise.  We have real issues facing our nation (as I've outlined in previous posts) and ... We need real solutions to implement that will unite us as a strong nation in order to get America back up on its feet again and stave off looming disaster.  "United we stand; Divided we [shall innevitably] fall."

1/14/2012 ... While the Catholic Church and others opposed to the "contraception mandate" have argued forcefully, repeatedly, and rather dismissively that this is "not about contraception": IT IS. For the Church and its champions to dismiss the medical aspect of this legislation entirely is rather an arrogant and dangerous posture to assume ... especially in light of the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election.  The contraception mandate legislation, while controversial and inflammatory in its initial wording and method of implementation, does addresses a vital problem facing women (and men) in healthcare today:  unhindered access to affordable contraception medications and procedures as fewer than 28 states have any sort of law requiring inclusion of contraception medications and services in standard healthcare insurance. The Obama-care Contraception Mandate addresses access and affordability requirements across the board for ALL employers in the United States --NOT JUST THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND OTHER RELIGIOUS EMPLOYERS-- in an effort to include a vital aspect of healthcare as standard in healthcare insurance packages offered by employers to their employees.

 The "First Amendment" issue, now being rallied around, was a subsequent issue that has evolved from this contraception mandate legislation, but the underlying need and principle healthcare issue still remain.  The Catholic Church, religious right and conservatives news commentators need to show a bit more sensitivity (i.e., acknowledgement for the legitimacy of the underlying healthcare issue) to the principle issue from a healthcare standpoint lest their words, arguments and actions further fuel the stereotype that so many Americans already have of these religious groups and thereby the Republican Party itself by default ... That is to say, that while political posturing around the First Amendment issue may rally the conservative base:  the blatant and arrogant dismissal of the underlying issue (medical need) will simultaneously trumpet a timely reminder to moderates, independents and the rest of the country that they should remain fearful of any leadership (presidential candidates) coming from a political party comprised of persuasive religious factions whose actions and words, now and in the past, have caused the conservative base and its party to be perceived as being the party of  "fiercely rigid inflexibility, narrow-mindedness, intolerance and arrogance [self-righteousness]."

In sum Catholics, religious conservatives and others championing the First Amendment infringement of the Obama-care contraception mandate should tread carefully.  At present, your actions and words are just fanning the Obama re-election campaign momentum.  I'm not saying that you do not have a legitimate First Amendment argument; I am simply pointing out the need to show some genuine sensitivity for the other side of the issue.  Unfortunately, this is not simple mathematics where two negatives multiply for an end positive result. Two infringements ... "two wrongs, do not make a right."  

One last thought:  timing is everything.

Additional Thoughts on the "Contraception Issue" with respect to party politics & losing women voters:

"Where Have All the Good Men Gone?"
"Follow-up: Where Have All the Good Men Gone?"
"Contraception: A Possible Win-Win ..."   (summary and final basic conclusions)

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