Friday, February 3, 2012

When Religion and Politics Mix There are Two Losers – Religion and Politics

Trying and Failing to Have a Rational Discussion on the Subject of Family Planning 

Religion and religious institutions have always been intertwined in American life and American government and American politics.  In many situations this is a good thing.  Religious sponsored institutions do a great deal of good; they provide education, they provide social services and they supplant ineffective and inefficient government programs with more effective and more efficient programs of their own.

Problems and conflicts occur though when religion enters secular life.  When a religions provides a non-directly related service, like education or health care the tenets of the religion can be in conflict with the tenets of a free and secular society.  One of these conflicts has become a center piece of the coming political campaign.  It is the requirement that employers provide free access to family planning medicines, even if the family planning practices are in conflict with the beliefs of the religion of the employer.

This month the Obama administration, citing the medical case for birth control, made a politically charged decision that the new health care law requires insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control without co-payments for employees, and that may be extended to students. But Catholic organizations are resisting the rule, saying it would force them to violate their beliefs and finance behavior that betrays Catholic teachings.

As with many issues involving “rights”, this one involving a conflict between the right of a religion to act on its beliefs and the rights of citizens not to have those beliefs imposed upon them.  One can and should have a great deal of sympathy for a religion that is required to provide something that is in opposition to its belief.  But one can also sympathize with the students and employees at a college or university who are denied access to family planning because their religious beliefs are not the same as the sponsor of that college or university.

The solution that those who disagree should go somewhere else is simply not practical; schools and health care facilities sponsored by religious groups are simply too ingrained in American life.  And those who would argue that position sometimes come up with a truly offensive statement.

Senior Catholic officials said that students at Catholic universities should know what to expect, and that those who disagree with the policies can choose to go elsewhere. “No one would go to a Jewish barbecue and expect pork chops to be served,” Mr. Galligan-Stierle said.

There is also the problem of government entanglement in conflicts within a religion.  The members of a congregation may strongly disagree with a principle set forth by the leaders of that religion.  Almost all Catholics, for example, have used birth control methods condemned by the Catholic Church.

Some 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church, research published on Wednesday showed.

There is no good way to resolve this issue, the rights of some individuals are going to be harmed no matter what.  But one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that the issue is not fodder for politics, and that things are harmed not helped by injecting politics into the issue.  Republicans are offenders

Republican candidates have said that moral and religious values weigh heavily in birth control issues. Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Mitt Romney, said in an e-mail that he regarded the administration’s rule requiring religious employers to furnish birth control as wrong. “This is a direct attack on religious liberty and will not stand in a Romney presidency,” she said. Mr. Romney has also pledged to end a federal program, Title X, that provides family planning services to millions of women.

Mr. Santorum has taken the position that health insurance plans should not be required to cover birth control. He also favors allowing states to decide whether to ban birth control. He and Mr. Gingrich both support “personhood” initiatives that would legally declare fertilized eggs to be persons, effectively banning not just all abortions but also certain contraceptives, including IUDs and some types of birth control pills.

Mr. Gingrich wants to withdraw government money from Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions in addition to providing contraceptives, though the federal money cannot be used for abortion.

And the President and Democrats are not entirely innocent in this issue.

The Obama administration has itself not been consistent in following experts’ advice on birth control. In December, it overruled scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and blocked increased access to an emergency contraceptive, citing potential risks to young girls who might use them without parental help. The decision was widely seen as an effort to avoid the ire of socially conservative voters and to defuse anger about its pending rule requiring the provision of birth control in insurance plans of Catholic institutions.

It is correct to have a public debate on the subject, but it is not correct to ascribe to supporters of the rights of women to obtain family planning services and medicines that they are against religious freedom and an enemy of religion.  In fact, they may just be the strongest force in preventing abortion.

About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and about 4 of 10 of those end in abortion, according to the Institute of Medicine report, which was released in July. It noted that providing birth control could lower both pregnancy and abortion rates. 

And finally, note that while the opposition is coming from religious leaders, the average person doesn’t seem to be all that bothered by the policy.  It may well be that given the widespread usage of family planning this is really just another disconnect between those leaders and their congregations.

1 comment:

  1. Many of these religious institutions receive millions of dollars in Federal funds to provide secular, non-religious services to the public, i.e., health care, education. It is not unreasonable to require that they render unto Caesar when they're on Caesar's dime.