If you don’t think that Catholic and evangelical leaders are waging a new war against contraception, then you aren’t paying close attention. Even two years ago, I would have scoffed at the notion that any group would think it was feasible or advisable to take a public stand against contraception. With very large majorities of Americans in favor of contraception, and the Women’s Rights Movement—which arose in part to obtain women’s right to use contraception, so that women would not have their lives dictated by biology—in the rearview mirror, it seemed to me to be just the sort of misogynist position that was beyond the pale in the 21st century. I was wrong.
Catholic and evangelical leaders are even now feverishly lobbying and funding public relations experts and lawyers in an attempt to avoid having for-profit corporations include women’s contraception in their health plans. Apparently, these religious organizations’ war chests are so deep that poverty, education, and care for the homeless are well-covered, freeing them to try to turn the clock back to when women, in their eyes, were just as women ought to be. This is only the newest attack on women’s rights to obtain contraception, however, as the same forces had already been propounding so-called “conscience clauses” in the various states and the federal government in order to permit health care professionals (e.g., pharmacists) to refuse to hand over contraception.
These forces’ latest move is to urge Republicans to sneak into the proposals that were flying back and forth between the House and Senate to avoid a government shutdown, an amendment to Obamacare, delaying its effect, and including permission to employers to refuse to pay for contraception “based on religious or moral objections.” Few noted the proposed amendment, except CNN, in the heat of the impending government shutdown, which did indeed happen.
This is not simply a move to ensure that contraception isn’t paid for; it is an all-out war on women. This is the pushback to the feminist revolution, and it is being fostered by the religious organizations that believe that women should be subservient to men, because that is God’s plan, and should never hold positions of power. In the dictionary, it’s easy to find such views: Just look under misogyny.
Make no mistake. Every believer has the right to believe such beliefs and to propound them in the public sphere. I have no brief against their right to such beliefs. They have no right, however, to my respect for the belief itself, and I have none. My religious beliefs do not include opposition to contraception, or the subjugation of women. To the contrary, my religious beliefs dictate women’s equality, equal dignity, and the right to choose when to have a family. Thus, the views I express in this column are not “secular,” but rather deeply religious, though in direct opposition to other religious views.
Let us return to those halcyon days when contraception was illegal in the states. Women could not choose when or whether to have their children, and, therefore, their fertility dictated their choices, their careers, and their contributions to the society. Women were supposed to be obedient to their husbands, and to please the “breadwinner” in the house. At the time, being a mother was the worthiest goal to which the most gifted Ivy League female grad could aspire, while law and medical school classes were predominantly male.
The current generation of female college students would laugh if they read it now, but in the 1970s, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, in all seriousness, advised women that, “[i]f marriage is to be a successful institution, it must…have an ultimate decision maker, and that is the husband.” These relations, Schlafly claimed, are dictated by God, as “[i]t is self-evident…that the female body with its baby-producing organs was not designed by a conspiracy of men but by the Divine Architect of the human race.” Schafly was laughable in the 70s, but the essentially misogynist views that she proselytized then are now getting fresh air with the Republicans’ continuing pandering to the religious far right.
I could have sworn that women (and therefore the broader society) won those battles and that we were done debating contraception. Under Griswold v. Connecticut, decided in 1965, it is your right to use it, without government interference. And your employer (if there are more than 15 employees in the workplace in which you work) may not discriminate against you based on your religious beliefs, which means that health care should be based on health policy, not on religious litmus tests.
The religious lobbyists and their public relations folks drape all of this misogyny in “religious liberty” rhetoric, but that is a misnomer. This debate is much deeper and more troubling, because it involves those religious groups that historically have insisted, and even now still insist, on keeping women in their place, and who are trying to shape healthcare in their own religious image. And what they oppose on this issue and others, frankly, is female autonomy.
Women, this latest move by the Republicans in the very midst of the fight over the budget and Obamacare, is a clarion call to pay attention. Don’t whisper amongst yourselves, but speak loudly to your elected representatives. The war for women’s equality and liberty is not over, as long as the Republican Party is still the party of the 1970s, of women’s oppression, and of a front for religious men who are intent on controlling women’s destiny and identity.