Sunday, February 12, 2012

Birth Control Bill Debate

I wasn't going to touch this story because it is such a hot-button issue for members of my family, but after I had a conversation with my mom about it all, I decided I needed to voice my opinion.  Basically, my opinion is that everybody should have the same rights and access to health care.  But here are the details...

What does the bill say?  It is a policy that would make contraceptives available free of charge as preventive care for women enrolled in workplace health plans.  The big debate is how the rules would apply to nonprofit organizations such as hospitals, colleges, and charities that are affiliated with a religion but serve the general public.  The bill was not going to require churches, synagogues, mosques or other houses of worship to cover birth control.

In an article Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar wrote for the Associated Press, he addressed some of the bigger questions and I'll quote his information here.  What was going to change for hospitals and charities?  "Previously the administration had said that such affiliated institutions were basically going to be treated like all other employers and insurance plans.  They would have to cover birth control as part of a package of preventive services for women.  Obama has now walked that back.  Employers affiliated with a religion will not have to provide birth control coverage if it offends their beliefs.  However, the insurers that cover their workers will be required to offer birth control directly to women working for the religious employer, and do so free of charge."

Insurers are going to pay for birth control themselves?  "An administration report says the cost of providing birth control should be a wash for insurers.  It's a lot cheaper than paying for labor and delivery."  "A government report suggests the average cost to insurers ranges from $26 to $41 a year per woman for providing the coverage."

What is the reaction to Obama's concession?  "Some conservatives say it doesn't go far enough.  They would like a conscience exemption for any employer, not just religious ones.  Women's groups are relieved that Obama has proposed a plan that maintains access for all women.  Catholic hospitals are saying they can support the compromise, as are anti-abortion Catholics who helped pass the health care overhaul in Congress.  The bishops say they're still concerned but are reserving judgement until they talk with the administration."  (I'll get to their responses later.)

Here I must interject and say that this makes complete sense to me.  The bill is just making sure that all women have access to the same health care, regardless of where they work.  Catholic hospitals do not just employ Catholics - why should the people that work there have to adopt the religious morals of their employer?  Nobody would be required to actually take  birth control pills if they don't want to, they would just be able to have insurance pay for them now if they take them.

Another article in USA Today, by Nicholas Kristof, had some additional interesting numbers.  "Every dollar that the United States government spends on family planning reduces Medicaid expenditures by $3.74, according to Guttmacher.  Likewise, the National Business Group on Health estimated that it costs employers at least an extra 15% if they don't cover contraception in their health plans."

Shouldn't we be in support of that?  If our employers can save money in the long run on health insurance costs, they'll be less likely to lay-off workers, and may even hire more!  Makes sense to me.

The last article I found was sort of a truth-o-meter for the study the bill referenced as its main source of facts that support this issue.  It looked at what the bill supporters claimed, what the bishops argued, and what the study actually found.  From Becky Bowers, Tampa Bay Times:

"The White House, defending a decision requiring many Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities to offer contraception coverage to employees, argues that most women - including most Catholic women use birth control.
The study, 'Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence of Religion and Contraceptive Use' is based on government data collected in the National Survey of Family Growth.
The survey has been conducted seven times since 1973 by the National Center for Health Statistics, with the most recent cycle in 2006-10.  The survey includes women ages 15 to 44.  Researchers conduct personal interviews to gather information on marriage, divorce, contraception, infertility, and health of women and infants.
The source is regularly used for studies on contraceptives and religion, including one we found published by the Catholic Medical Association.  (The 2001 article found the high rate of contraceptive use by Catholic women 'not new or surprising.')
Researchers ask women for their religious affiliation, including details about how important a role religion plays in their lives and how often they attend religious services.
Guttmacher's study relies on data from the survey's interviews with 7,356 women between June 2006 and December 2008, focusing on those who called themselves Catholic, mainline Protestant, and evangelical Protestant.
The numbers are stark, according to the study:
'Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning.  This figure is virtually the same, 98%, among sexually experienced Catholic women.'
(Interestingly, the Guttmacher study noted that 'attendance at religious services and importance of religion to daily life are largely unrelated to us of highly effective contraceptive methods.')
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded with a post of its own on February 3.  It didn't directly dispute the 98% statistic.  But the post did  argue that it was irrelevant and used in a misleading way.
The study says 98% of 'sexually experienced' women, a distinction the White House didn't make. (Sexually experienced women accounted for most of the women in the sample, including 70% of never-married Catholic women.)
The more relevant Guttmacher statistic would be use of 'highly effective' methods of contraception covered by the new rule, such as the pill, IUDs, and sterilization among sexually active women who don't want to become pregnant - 68% of the Catholic women and 69% for all women."

The Tampa Bay Times article found that what everybody is claiming is accurate; the different parties just pull out the information they like and quote it instead of using all of the information.

I think it's also important to note that according to the EWTN, the Global Catholic Network, the Humanae Vitae** says, "unnatural and artificial means of birth control are immoral and blameworthy."  It says, "equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary whether of the man or woman." (Humanae Vitae, 14) This condems tubal ligations, vasectomies, and the Pill. "Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible." (Humanae Vitae, 14) Such unnatural forms include the Pill, intrauterine device, foams, diaphragms, condoms, withdrawal, mutual or solitary masturbation and sodomistic practices."  

The Humanae Vitae says that they only moral forms of "birth control" are using breast feeding as a way to space babies out, and Natural Family Planning, wherein a couple uses such things as cervical mucus testing and basal temperatures to determine fertile times, which would then allow a couple to either have more intercourse during fertile times in order to have a greater chance of conceiving, or avoid intercourse during fertile times to avoid conceiving.

It's interesting to me that the Humanae Vitae condemns withdrawal as much as the Pill. I have know many religious people who think that withdrawal was an appropriate and religiously moral form of birth control. 

Part of the reason I wanted to write about this was because of a conversation I had with my mom about this subject. She told me that back in the sixties, after my grandparents had had six children and multiple miscarriages, my grandmother decided that she could not have/did not want to have any more children. She talked to her priest about it and her priest approved of her going on the Pill to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. If it was okay for her, as deemed by her priest, why is it not okay for any other Catholic woman to have the choice?

If you believe in the teachings of the Catholic Humanae Vitae and practice Natural Family Planning, good for you. If you don't believe in it and want the option to take the Pill or use a condom, good for you. What is so great about our country is that we are free to choose! We don't have to abide by others beliefs here. We are free to practice our own religions and get the health care we want. I would never force my beliefs on somebody else and I don't want their beliefs forced on me.  

**For those who don't know what it is, Humanae Vitae (Latin Of Human Life) is an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI and issued on 25 July 1968. Subtitled On the Regulation of Birth, it re-affirms the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church regarding married love, responsible parenthood, and the continuing proscription of most forms of birth control.

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