The Lib­erty Pill

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - Jane Eisner

Re­spect our re­li­gious free­dom to use con­tra­cep­tion, de­mands Jane Eisner.

When the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­naled its re­cent in­ten­tion to can­cel the fed­eral re­quire­ment that many re­li­gious em­ploy­ers of­fer birth con­trol cov­er­age in health in­sur­ance plans, it was framed as a vic­tory for re­li­gious free­dom.

As in, I’m a boss, and my faith teaches that life be­gins at con­cep­tion, and there­fore pre­vent­ing con­cep­tion is akin to mur­der, and there­fore I shouldn’t have to sub­si­dize my (fe­male) em­ploy­ees who use birth con­trol for what­ever rea­sons, es­pe­cially those I dis­ap­prove of.

Tom Price, who is the sec­re­tary of the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and is (mys­ti­fy­ingly) a physi­cian, said that this ac­tion safe­guards “the deeply held re­li­gious be­liefs of Amer­i­cans who pro­vide health in­sur­ance to their em­ploy­ees.”

Guess what, Dr. Price? Some of us have deeply held re­li­gious be­liefs that sup­port en­sur­ing ac­cess to birth con­trol.

It’s about time that those of us who be­lieve in the moral im­per­a­tive to pro­vide ac­cess to birth con­trol use it. For too long, this de­bate has been framed as if it’s the faith­ful ver­sus the god­less.

Not so. Many of the world’s largest re­li­gions ac­cept birth con­trol in one form or an­other. There is no ban in Hin­duism. It’s al­lowed in Is­lam and Bud­dhism. The Sikhs of­fer no ob­jec­tion. Protes­tant move­ments vary widely in teach­ing and prac­tice, and even many evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian lead­ers ap­prove of us­ing con­tra­cep­tion within mar­riage.

Catholic teach­ing, on the other hand, stip­u­lates that the only birth con­trol per­mit­ted is ab­sti­nence. But in 2015, Frank Bruni of The New York Times asked Gallup to break down its Val­ues and Be­liefs sur­vey; he learned that 86% of Amer­i­can Catholics be­lieve that birth con­trol is “morally ac­cept­able” — com­pared with 90% of the pub­lic as a whole.

“They’re well aware of the Vatican’s pro­nounce­ments,” Bruni wrote. “They just pre­fer to plug their ears.”

So Don­ald Trump — ar­guably the most ir­re­li­gious pres­i­dent in mem­ory, who has vi­o­lated more com­mand­ments than any­one can count — has sud­denly be­come the cham­pion of an ex­treme po­si­tion held by only a mi­nor­ity of faith­ful Amer­i­cans. He can do this, in part, be­cause he’s Don­ald Trump.

But also he can do this be­cause he has the tacit sup­port of other faith groups that dis­agree with the Catholic Church on this is­sue but claim there’s a broader im­per­a­tive at stake here. As Nathan J. Di­a­ment, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for pub­lic pol­icy of the Or­tho­dox Union’s Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter, told the New York Jewish Week, “While Ju­daism has a dif­fer­ent view with re­gard to use of con­tra­cep­tives than the Catholic Church, what we share in com­mon is the view that re­li­gious lib­erty should be as ro­bustly de­fended as pos­si­ble.”

Well, Ju­daism does have a dif­fer­ent view in this re­gard, and if Di­a­ment can use the re­li­gious lib­erty de­fense, so can I.

Many of the world’s largest re­li­gions, in­clud­ing Ju­daism, ac­cept birth con­trol in one form or an­other.

First, there is the fact that con­tra­cep­tives are of­ten used by women for health rea­sons that have noth­ing to do with sex and pro­cre­ation. As the ( Jewish) writer and di­rec­tor Lena Dun­ham re­vealed in the Sun­day New York Times, many women like her rely on con­tra­cep­tives to con­trol chronic and de­bil­i­tat­ing pain.

“More women in this coun­try are pre­scribed oral con­tra­cep­tion for med­i­cal rea­sons than for preg­nancy pre­ven­tion,” she wrote. “If the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Repub­li­cans in Congress suc­ceed in… giv­ing em­ploy­ers carte blanche to deny women nec­es­sary med­i­ca­tion un­der murky no­tions of moral dis­dain, all paths to health and well­ness will dis­ap­pear for a huge swath of Amer­i­cans.”

My reli­gion obliges me to care for the sick. With­hold­ing le­gal med­i­ca­tion vi­o­lates that obli­ga­tion.

Sec­ond, there is the fact that rolling back this man­date could dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect hun­dreds of thou­sands of women who rely on health in­sur­ance from their em­ploy­ers for their of­ten costly birth con­trol.

Many of th­ese women have no other re­sources. My reli­gion obliges me to care for the needy. This fits that de­scrip­tion.

Third, and more specif­i­cally, there is the fact that Ju­daism has no law pre­vent­ing use of con­tra­cep­tion, and — even in Or­tho­dox com­mu­ni­ties — per­mits its use within mar­riage for cou­ples who for fi­nan­cial, psy­cho­log­i­cal or other rea­sons wish to de­lay hav­ing chil­dren, or hav­ing more chil­dren. Deny cou­ples birth con­trol, and you deny their re­li­giously sanc­tioned au­ton­omy to pre­serve their mar­riage.

And since a man must sex­u­ally please his part­ner — yes, it’s in the Tal­mud — block­ing ac­cess to birth con­trol could mean that he can’t ful­fill his obli­ga­tions.

So, Dr. Price, you have your re­li­gious ar­gu­ments and I have mine. I ac­knowl­edge yours, and I wish you would ac­knowl­edge mine.

Then we can de­cide that per­haps the re­li­gious ar­gu­ments can­cel each other out, and we are left where we should have been in the be­gin­ning: con­sid­er­ing how a fed­eral pol­icy af­fects na­tional well-be­ing. In this case, the ev­i­dence is over­whelm­ing: Ac­cess to free or low-cost birth con­trol helps the sick and needy, low­ers the abor­tion rate, im­proves women’s eco­nomic sta­tus and en­hances fam­ily life. As Ce­cile Richards, pres­i­dent of Planned Par­ent­hood, told the For­ward by email, “Peo­ple from all walks of life — re­li­gious and non­re­li­gious — use birth con­trol for a host of health care rea­sons.”

So if you don’t be­lieve in con­tra­cep­tion, don’t use it. That’s as far as the re­li­gious dic­tate should go.


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