Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sticking My Hand in a Blender

I typically try to stay out of political debates. No one has time for nuance. There are only loud voices yelling half-correct mean-sounding statements.

The only child in me finds the confrontation anxiety-inducing. The Texas gal in me finds the tones of voices used to be uncivil and quite distasteful. The semi-educated person in me is embarrassed to admit that I haven't read all of the primary source material and don't know what's half-correct and what's just mean. I find our current expression of modern politics to be absolutely detestable for these reasons.

There are reasons that I'm a registered Independent. BestestHusband would say that it spares me a lot of robocalls around election time. He might be right. But that's obviously not the main reason...

I'm a preacher's kid from Texas. I was raised in the Bible Belt. In my experience, the people there are friendly, generous people who care deeply about our society and want to ensure a bright future for our future generations.

I was educated in a liberal arts university in New England. I was (and am) surrounded by a lot of smart people. In my experience, they are well-read and passionate people who want to make the world a better place for future generations.

Why can't we all just get along?

I get offended when the people who share my cultural roots are called ignorant, small-minded, and bigoted.

Likewise, I get offended when the people who share my current life are called elitist, socialist, and anti-American.

I'm guilty of fence-sitting. Call me a pansy for not picking a side. But I don't like my options. And I can't manage to convince myself that one side is "right" and the other is "evil".

But I'm going to stick my hand in a blender. Yes, I'm going to willingly do something stupid and painful. I'm going to comment on the Affordable Care Act as it applies to providing women's reproductive health and contraception options. More specifically, I'm commenting on the religious exemption.

In general, I agree with those who think that all women should have access to affordable family-planning options, including birth control. I think that, in instances that you don't want to conceive children, preventing conception is a good idea. I believe that children are a gift from God. I also believe that fertility is a gift from God. If have the gift of fertility but don't want your family to resemble the Duggars, you might want to consider available family-planning methods. I personally consider it to be good stewardship of my uterine resources.

The problem with some of the birth control options out there is that the biochemists behind these drugs aren't exactly sure HOW they work. BestestHusband works in drug discovery, and says that this isn't uncommon. Most of us only care about IF a drug works, not HOW a drug works. (The HOW doesn't help sell a drug, so drug companies don't always do the extra research to get that data. And some of the research is so difficult to do with our modern ethics and research design that they just cut their losses. ) Unless we're talking about birth control. BestestHusband and I discovered this for ourselves. We considered multiple options after having MeToo. (Just because I CAN get pregnant 6 weeks after having a baby doesn't mean we think it's a good idea.) We looked at the primary documentation for multiple options on the market. Does it prevent conception and a pregnancy we're not ready for? Or does it prevent implantation of a fertilized egg that's rapidly becoming a small person, and end a pregnancy that's already started? One is considered to be good stewardship of uterine resources. The other is considered to be abortion. (A fine line, but an important line to us.) The literature on some of the options was unable to provide clear evidence either way. The ASSUMPTION is that they prevent conception. This is what most people would prefer to hear. Including us. But my scientist hubby works in research and writes articles. He can read between the lines. So to maintain a clear conscience, we had to rule out options that would otherwise be quite convenient and effective. 

This is one of the issues behind the religious outrage behind a narrowly-applied religious exemption. Not only are some birth control options seen as preventing implantation of an already-dividing egg, some are known abortifaciants. And then there are also surgical abortions. The law would require very religious people to pay for something they consider to be a sin. How would you feel if you were told, "I know you think that this is an affront to everything you believe, but you must pay money to provide this to everyone who works for your organization. You're not a church and you serve people outside of your faith. So you don't get the same exemption as a church or synagogue."

Imagine this in a different scenario. Imagine that the NRA manages to get a law passed that would require all employers to pay for firearms training and a gun for all of their employees. Now, many people in my non-hunting neck of the woods might say, "That's ridiculous! Guns kill people!!! I'm not paying money so everyone can have a gun! Children will die!" They would protest that their beliefs are being trampled. That they're being forced to pay for something that is morally wrong. The pro-gun people might reply, "No, the right to have firearms is in the Constitution. It's a basic human right. How could you deny a person the chance to protect themselves and hunt their own food? And what about those who can't otherwise afford guns? Don't you care about giving equal access to safety and fresh meat?"

Or maybe you don't mind guns, but are passionate about feeding your children an all-organic or vegetarian diet... Imagine that when you enroll your child in public school, you discover that you must pay a monthly lunch fee. Due to the high rate of allergies in students these days, children are no longer allowed to bring in their own food. They must all eat from the school cafeteria menu. You might say, "That's insane! There are unregulated substances in that food! We don't eat animal products! I don't want that for my child! Why can't I feed her the food that I feel is healthiest for her? This goes against all of my dietary beliefs!" But the other side might say, "But this is the best for the student body as a whole. What about all of the children with allergies? What about all of the low-income children who need subsidized meals? We can only afford to feed them if everyone pays in to the system. Don't you care about the health of the kids with allergies? Don't you care about the children who come from low-income families? You must not care much about other people's kids..."

So to my religious friends, the anti-exemption people aren't evil. They just want all women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health services, even if they work for religious charities or a church-affiliated school or healthcare center. They see birth control as something that can disrupt cycles of poverty and prevent a broad range of social ills. They might be right. 

And to my pro-Planned Parenthood friends, the broadened-exemption people aren't stupid women-haters. They just don't want to pay money for something they consider murder. They see the issue as one step away from the government telling churches who they can hire and what they can teach. They might be right, too. 

Can we all agree that we all value women and their reproductive health? And can we all agree that our current healthcare situation is not ideal? 
I think last week's decision on allowing some religious exemptions is a good start (get ready for some references!):
http://www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines/#footnote2 (see the last footnote)
They don't cover all religious organizations, and that's where the ongoing debate stems from.

So how do we all stop shouting mean half-truths at each other and serve the needs of women without observant Christians and Jews feeling like they're breaking the 6th Commandment?


  1. Hey Joy,

    How are you? I'm sure you can guess where I fall on this issue without reading my post ;) but I just wanted to make a couple of points.

    First, I really can understand both sides of this debate, and I think your point is well taken about the unfair judgments people pass on others with differing opinions. However, while I understand what you're getting at with your analogies, I don't really think they're accurate. The equivalent of the gun analogy would be like a company forcing employees to take a seminar about contraception and then giving out packs of birth control pills. Same thing for the analogy about the kids' lunches. In both of those examples, people are being forced to consume something they believe is wrong.

    I see this issue as more along the lines of parents being forced to pay the lunch fee they know provides nonorganic lunches for other kids, but still allowing each child to bring a lunch from home. The organic parents might not like it, but would hopefully understand why it's needed for others to have the opportunities they deserve. This issue is about allowing people the opportunity to make choices about their own health.

    That said, I understand why people don't want to pay for something they believe is wrong, and I agree that the exemptions being considered may be a good compromise. There are other issues in the recent news surrounding women's health that make me far angrier (such as the law in VA requiring women to get an unnecessary ultrasound before having an abortion!) And while I believe the vast majority of people who oppose this health care bill for religious reasons do value women, I cannot say the same for the loud, male politicians who are spouting 1950's rhetoric and publicly making tasteless jokes about women's health. I am appalled, disgusted, and frightened by some of the comments people have been making, while claiming a "moral" high ground in the name of religion.

    Anyway, sorry for the lengthy commentary. :) I hope all is well, and I'd love to catch up sometime soon!


  2. Joy:

    Your solution seems so simple. Like you, I can't for the life of me figure out why respecting others' positions is so difficult. Complications and rancid political climate so frequently ensue for no good reason. Well said.

  3. I think everybody has to pay taxes for some things they don't like. It irks me that I have to write programs for 2 hours a month (more or less) so that we can continue to occupy the middle east. Nobody would force a given doctor to perform a surgery they were morally against. The patient would have to use another doctor.