I’ve given myself a few days to cool off before I write about this issue, because on Sunday I was fuming over it. The problem is, I’m pretty mad at both parties over it. Who can tell me what to do with my body? Who can tell my Church what they can do?
Let’s back up. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Catholic Church’s teaching on birth control, artificial birth control such as condoms, contraceptive pills, etc. are considered immoral because they take the act of sex from being unitive and procreative to solely unitive. Since contraception discounts half the purpose of the act, it isn’t doing what it was meant to do. Now it doesn’t have to be procreative – it’s still OK to have sex when you wouldn’t get pregnant, i.e., not ovulating, infertile, post-menopausal. Additionally, it’s OK to use contraception for medically necessary purposes, that is taking the pill for painful periods or endometriosis, or using a condom to not give your partner HIV.
As I’m sure you all have guessed, seeing as how I’m Catholic and married for 1.5 years and have yet to pop a baby out, I’m on the pill. (Shock! Awe! Fainting! The smelling salts, please!) I know I usually only write about my bladder problems, but those are just the tip of the iceberg and some of the other issues I have mean birth control means my life is a whole lot easier. Discussion closed, please refrain from commenting on it.
Additionally, I have issues with how the Church came to the conclusion that birth control is immoral. The thought behind sexual ethics has evolved over time. Not to bore you but the gist of it is that Aquinas philosophy used to think sex was only procreative, even the rhythm method used to be banned, and the committee formed by the Vatican to assess the morality of the pill deemed that it did not go against Catholic teaching (source). Humanae Vitae, the letter which banned the pill for Catholics, was largely away to slow down the rapid progression of the Church which was becoming much more liberal.
The funny thing is though, even though I disagree with these interpretations of Catholic teaching, I don’t think I’d be using the pill if I didn’t have to. Not because of “scary side effects” that are pretty much common with any prescription, but because I appreciate my body and what it can do and don’t like the idea of artificially altering it. But I don’t think that using the pill means that sex is closed to the possibility of life either.
Back to the controversy.
Recently, Pres. Obama’s administration has required that all employers cover contraceptive medicines and procedures (not abortion though) under their insurance plans. While this plan did include a religious exemption, it was limited to organizations whose primary purpose was faith instruction and primarily hires members of its own faith. That is, actual churches. The Catholic Church though is huge and has many organizations – universities and charities, that anyone can work for. The Catholic Church feels that this requirement to cover birth control violates their religious freedom. While the government’s response is that this mandate doesn’t require anyone to use it, the Catholic Church feels that allowing it is still going against God’s will.
Here’s why I’m conflicted.
Like I said, I need to be on birth control and it hurts that my Church wouldn’t want to support my health care needs. Now some people have said that they would still cover medically necessary contraception, I have yet to hear anything from the Church to support that claim. It’s not a sin for me to be on the pill, but this stance still leaves me feeling like a second class citizen, that I’m still not good enough, that they don’t care about the pain I’m going through. Okay, I realize that sounds dramatic, but it nevertheless hurts to feel that the Church things that they don’t have to be concerned with people who have problems like yours.
I don’t like the precedence this creates. While the Church doesn’t generally see contraception as “health care,” the rest of the medical world does. So if they have the right to decide what kind of health care to cover, what other decisions can they make? They don’t need to cover pre-natal care for single moms? AIDS medicine for homosexuals? While I don’t think they would take it that far, the equation of health care and morality is troubling.
On the other hand…
While I disagree with how the teaching is interpreted by the Church, I agree with the philosophy behind it and respect it. It makes me uncomfortable with how this teaching is generally viewed by the rest of the world. It’s not necessarily backwards and oppressive, although it does ask for a tremendous sacrifice from women. I’m sure you have heard over the last few days that the vast majority of sexually active Catholics attempting to avoid pregnancy use birth control. But I don’t think that’s a reason to ignore the teaching. If the majority of Jews don’t observe the sabbath, can a federal employee still be forced to work on the Sabbath? Does overall adherence really determine the degree to which we respect religious freedom? Again, I feel this is a disturbing precedence. On a more political level, I feel this is a poor move of the Obama campaign, which had a chance at bringing more Catholics back to their traditional Democratic roots, especially those disgusted by Gingrich and Romney’s uncaring attitude to the poor.
The truth is, I don’t think that God will hold a Catholic paying into an insurance policy ultimately responsible for any babies that are unborn. And I don’t think that if I have to end up paying for my own birth control it will break the bank. If need be, I can always go to Planned Parenthood to get it for free (Shock! Awe! Fainting some more!). But I’m still disappointed. I’m disappointed the White House has treated the Church so flippantly, and I’m disappointed the Bishop here threatened to drop health care coverage for all employees in the Diocese if forced to cover birth control. I’m supremely disappointed that people at mass on Sunday clapped and cheered for that announcement.
I don’t know where to stand. It’s an issue that has been handled poorly by both sides. Yes, there are costs more expensive than birth control but there are also many worse infringes on religious freedom in the world. So let’s all take a big step back, a deep breath, and realize this is not the end of the world.