It’s about religious liberty, not birth control

The controversy surrounding the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate requiring religious employers to cover contraception, sterilization procedures, … Continued

The controversy surrounding the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate requiring religious employers to cover contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortifacient drugs has been framed as a conflict between religion and women. Many are painting opposition to the mandate as a war on women and their reproductive rights and health interests.

As a Muslim and a Catholic, we disagree doctrinally about the morality of contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. As women of faith, we stand united in opposition to the mandate and the affront on religious freedom it so gravely poses.

Especially as women, we both reject the notion that opposition to the mandate constitutes a war on women.

In fact, we find the very framing of opposition to the mandate as a “war on women,” a war on women in and of itself. Such framing takes all women hostage for a policy agenda about which women are deeply divided. In recent polling, women are split 47-46 for and against the mandate.

Among Catholic women, there is deep division about the mandate. Recent polling suggests that 59 percent of the roughly 40 million Catholic women in America support the mandate. But nearly one in three Catholics do not. That means there are millions of Catholic women who, along with their church’s leaders, object to subsidizing contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs, whether they are employers providing them via insurance to employees or employees having the cost passed on to them.

Among Muslims, there are theological disagreements on matters of contraception and abortion, with more conservative elements forbidding both, while others accept both contraception and first-trimester abortion.  More broadly, on the question of religious freedom, American Muslims have consistently dealt with government interference in their religious matters, ranging from mosque surveillance to overly broad limits on Muslim charitable giving, even when such measures are not needed from a national security perspective.  As such, many American Muslim women stand against these and any other government incursions into religion.

Katherine Frey

WASHINGTON POST

Should the government be able to tell religious organizations to violate their consciences?

And there are millions more women–be they Mormons, Jewish, Evangelical, or Orthodox–many of whom use contraception, have undergone sterilization, have taken abortifacient drugs, or find some or all of these services morally acceptable, who still object to the notion that a religious institution should be forced into complicity with services it finds gravely immoral.

The notion that this debate and opposition to the mandate is a war on women objectifies women by lumping them into one category as if we think uniformly on all issues. Imagine the absurdity of making an issue into a “war on men” or the controversy that would ensue if it were suggested that a racial group thinks homogenously on a policy issue. 

As one of us stated in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday, “Women, too, seek the freedom to live in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Religious freedom is a right enjoyed by everyone, and it is just as much in women’s interest to protect that right as it is in men’s.”

As women, we are fatigued of the notion that our gender somehow thinks and votes as a monolithic block. We loathe the caricature that our primary motivations are reproductive and sexual by nature. And we are insulted by the notion that we can be played for fools with regard to the facts in this debate.

When Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned that the passage of the Blunt amendment, which would expand conscience protection for religious employers, would amount to a “contraception ban,” he insulted the intelligence of women who know that no one is proposing any such thing.

And finally, we are tired of being told that our religious leaders cannot speak for us simply because they are male. There are times when men unfairly speak for women on matters where religion and gender intersect. But in this instance, those male religious leaders are defending a principle that protects religious men and women alike.

When Bishop Lori said, “[religious liberty] is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and so may take away at will,” he was speaking for men and women of all faiths. And it’s true because it’s true, not because the person who said it is a middle-aged, celibate man.

Yet certain policy leaders walked out of the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the mandate where he spoke those words because the panel consisted of entirely male religious leaders. Speaking about the walkout, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked, “Where are the women?” Her question has now turned into the tired refrain of this controversy.

Where are the women? We are right here. We represent millions of women across myriad religions that find the mandate an offensive assault on freedom of belief in this country. We represent millions of women who do not want to be treated as a lump category whose thinking stops at our reproductive organs. We are the face of millions of women who object to the idea that somehow, we cannot object. 

To those who would make us victims of our own religious leaders or some amorphous war on women, kindly let us speak for ourselves.

Asma T. Uddin is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of  Altmuslimah.com, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and a Legal Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

Ashley McGuire is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Altcatholicah.com and a fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

  • nkri401

    Asma T. Uddin ,

    You are an attorney? Do you know what’s inscribed on the USSC building?
    Hint – it doesn’t say “religious freedom”

    You would be well matched with Mr. Sekulow except being in the wrong sect…

  • ccnl1

    Dear Asma and Ashley,

    Tis the War on Stupidity:

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity: ———>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    : The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Guttmacher has listed these safer methods in their on-line reviews. Doubling up i.e. Pill plus condom or mutual masturbation are not listed but should be.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    “Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    “Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active “post-teeners”: Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    “Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “They view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘s-ex.’” (It shoul

  • fenwayfem

    Brilliant, vital and essential essay to understand the truth and not the hype.

  • cricket44

    You must have read a different article. There is precious little “truth” in this one.

  • lastofall

    Good for You, and thank you for the article. The secular world does not understand the things that belong to God, but only the things that belong to Caesar.

  • Secular1

    There is a Caeser, but as to the sky daddy you do not meet the burden of proof needed. Please acquit yourself on that front before you bring in “things that belong to sky daddy” to the discussion. Until then please don’t delude us with your delusions.

  • Secular1

    As matter of fact it is full of “I sincerely believe X, Y, Z”. because I sincerely believe these you need to accomodate me. Or else your trampling over my rights. Total nonsense.

  • kathleenkrevetski

    In 1924, Margaret Sanger said,” the man who cannot support three children should not have ten, notwithstanding all pleas of the militarists for numbers.” Banning contraception goes along with the continued culture of silencing women as the war mongers continue to send our children into the battlefield. War is profitable for the 1 %’s portfolio. To feed their greed, the military industrial complex has always needed the pawns of war to be expendable and therefore they need replacements in every generation.Contraception is against their interest. The profiteers of war will spend their money on buying our democracy rather than creating jobs so that our young people have no choice but to join the military with hopes they will come home to a better life.

  • dbbrowne

    I don’t quite understand what the issue is. I understand that religious groups don’t like birth control for various reasons. I understand that religious leaders preach abstinence or sex for reproduction only. I understand why they wouldn’t necessarily want other people using birth control. What I don’t understand is why religions are so against allowing their insurance to pay for birth control for women. I don’t believe it’s a “war on religion” nor do I believe it’s a “war on women.” These employees do not work in a church or a mosque or a synagogue; they work in a private work place which is affiliated with a certain religion. Not allowing someone’s insurance to pay for birth control, something that is not a huge offense against religion because it can be used for non sexual reasons (preventing ovarian disease) is like not allowing an employee’s insurance to pay for a blood transfusion because the employer is a Jehovah’s Witness. Yes a blood transfusion is a bit more life saving in most instances than birth control but it still helps my point. We are not demanding churches to burn bibles or denounce God, we are asking for the insurance to pay for birth control if needed by the employer. Religious groups make a fuss about the government not catering to all of their religious needs so that doesn’t mean they should not allow people to have their secular needs met. And for some women, this is a need.

  • digtalcomp

    Sorry, doctors and patients need to make medical decisions without interference from employers, whether they are truly religious or just conscientious objectors. There are people who believe that a woman should take her baby to term even though it’s an ectopic pregnancy and cannot survive. That woman may be a mother to children who already need her, but someone outside of her doctor or family wants the “freedom” to take her freedom away. This is broken.

  • mmarie24

    As a young woman who is completely fed up with this “war on women” nonsense, I’d like to extend a sincere THANK YOU to Ms. Uddin and Ms. McGuire for bringing the focus back to what this debate really is about, and for defending the intelligence of women everywhere. I know that there are millions upon millions of women out there who feel as I do. The problem is that we don’t fit the narrative of the story people want to write. Thus, our voices are not included. THANK YOU once again!

  • mmarie24

    fenwayfem, a warm thank you for your thoughts that speak to something deeper, something beyond the cable news clips and hysteria that run people lives in this capital city of ours. It makes me extremely happy for me to see that there are people that still “get it” out there, that is doesn’t have to be ‘religious’ versus ‘secular’ or bust.

    “Religions and faith in God or the attributes of God such as truth, justice, beauty, virtue, sublimation, and the development of human character into human decency–these combat the objectfication and marginalization of women and men and indeed all souls into our drug anesthetized, toxic, hypersexualized, socially darwinistic , mind and body controlling, joyless, selish, jaded, crassly materialistic, pop culture. ” COULDN’T AGREE MORE WITH THIS!!

    You rock for putting into words what I feel, but can’t find the words to express. God bless you!!!

  • cricket44

    The debate is about health care. Religious liberties are NOT at risk.

  • haveaheart

    At the crux of this issue is an oxymoron, “religious employers,” that is the source of all the controversy. Religion shouldn’t be a business; that’s why churches are given tax-exempt status.

    However, as we well know, many religions ARE in business, operating large and technically profitable institutions like hospitals and universities. The fact that these religious organizations have decided to move into the public sector and operate corporate entities doesn’t mean that they should carry their religious exemptions with them. “Religious liberty” does not guarantee the right of religious institutions to conduct profit-making businesses outside the constraints of federal law.

    “Religious liberty” also doesn’t convey protection for imposing one’s belief system on others. It simply means that one is protected in the personal practice of one’s religious beliefs. That is, no one can legally dispute your right to pray or prevent you from worshipping, organizing a congregation, building a sanctuary, etc.

    “Religious liberty” is all about YOU — what YOU do or don’t do; how YOU follow your conscience and the dictates of your church; whether YOU are living your life in accordance with the tenets and teachings of your religion.

    Many religionists make arguments like this one: “. . . there are millions of Catholic women who, along with their church’s leaders, object to subsidizing contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs, whether they are employers providing them via insurance to employees or employees having the cost passed on to them.”

    The problem here, of course, is that said Catholic women are attempting to circumscribe behavior for those who don’t believe as they do. The church requires each Catholic woman to abjure the use of contraception; it does not oblige her to make sure that no other Catholic woman uses it.

    Living one’s conscience doesn’t always mean getting the government to accommodate you. Sometimes it means following your conscience and accepting both

  • lynnlm

    Social commentator and former alter-boy George Carlin sums it up, “Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bull*** story. Holy S***!”

  • Kingofkings1

    Allright, church and mosque ladiy – you have no problem giving up your right to control your fertilization process in this day and age. How very nice…. but remember there are a significant number of females who want to retain that right

  • Secular1

    KOK1 i would have thought you would be very pleased with that, aren’t you?

  • Secular1

    Now that is the philosophy i can get behind.

  • Kingofkings1

    Allright, church and mosque lady – you have no problem giving up your right to control your fertilization process in this day and age. How very nice…. but remember there are a significant number of females who want to retain that right

  • Kingofkings1

    Giving men the power over minutest things regarding women is not my idea of a happy co-existence. I believe controlling a woman’s reproductive process (at least in regards to birth control, but not necessarily abortion) is going beyond even what God recommends in the scriptures that are available to us from the world’s faiths

  • schnauzer21

    MY body and MY healthcare do not belong to YOUR god. You are free to do what you wish with your own body, but keep your fairytales off of MINE.

  • TopTurtle

    mmarie24,

    The people who actually swallow the religious freedom spin on this issue are vastly overrepresented in the press.

  • ccnl1

    From a “sex is great guy” as long as you are not stupid about it.

    The RCC’s position on contraception is a minor topic with respect to the following:

    The reality of contraception and STD control:

    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. …

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    “Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    “Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active “post-teeners”: Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    “Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halper

  • SODDI

    Georgetown is a BUSINESS owned by the Catholic Church. Businesses must adhere to the law of the land.

    They can opt out at any time by changing Georgetown’s status to that of religious institution, restricting teachers and students to practicing Catholics only and forgoing any governmental aid.

  • SimonTemplar

    God is not invisible so much as ultra dimensional. He does not “live in the sky”. He doesn’t need to watch everything we do because he knows everything we do. God doesn’t need our money; the church needs money if it is going to function in a world which requires monetary transactions.

    I wonder who “Religion” is. Curious that he pays no taxes. I know as a Christian, I pay my taxes.

    Being a former alter boy qualified Carlin for a career in comedy but it didn’t give him a very clear understanding of Christian theology. Perhaps he got his theology from “The Divine Comedy.”

  • mrsm117

    No one is preventing you from your right to purchase contraceptives are they? This is not an issue about contraceptives, it’s an issue about the government forcing religious institutions to violate their conscience.

  • mrsm117

    For George Carlin’s sake I hope that he had an opportunity to repent before he took his last breath.

  • mrsm117

    Thank you for saying this and for defending the millions of women who feel just as you do.

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