Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Could the Government Limit Your Access to Birth Control?

The answer is "You bet."

I've been wearing a button that says 1/20/09 for some time now. I've had people ask me if it's my birthday or anniversary (and even in one case, someone ask if it's when my baby is due!)...I ask them to think about what it might mean...and mostly people get it slowly, and most people nod in relief. With President Bush's approval ratings at their lowest ever, it's not even a risky act.

A lot of us who care about social and sexual justice (as well as the War and other issues) are counting down until the last days of this administration. It's been a long 8 years of fighting attacks. But lest we think that they might be too busy to worry about sexuality issues in their last six months, think again.

Yesterday, in a report in the NY Times, we learned that the Bush administration is offering one last significant offering to those who oppose abortion. To quote the NY Times:

"The Bush administration wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control." Those types of birth control -- the ones that about 40% of women use, such as birth control pills, patches, rings, IUDS, and emergency contraception. Those federal programs could unbelievably include family planning clinics, hospitals that provide emergency contraception to rape victims, prenatal clinics and the like.

The proposal defines abortion as "the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation." Because certain birth control methods may prevent implantation, they would be included.

Other of my colleagues at sexual and reproductive health organizations will tell you why this is bad medical practice and why it will hurt poor and uninsured women. But, I am also appalled that once again this administration is trying to codify and privilege the teachings of some religions on when life begins over others.

The fact is that religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, including when human life begins. Like many religious leaders, I do not believe that a fertilized ovum, zygote, or embryo is "the life of a human being" as this new federal definition would provide. But more, I find it (excuse the wording) inconceivable that those who oppose abortion are now making headway to oppose birth control methods that prevent unplanned pregnancies, with the support of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Surely if there is common ground between those who are pro-choice and those who oppose abortion it is that we should support the widespread availability of all medically safe methods of contraception. This proposal demonstrates how hollow those calls for common ground might really be. Let's see how quickly those who call for common ground on abortion to speak out into this latest attempt to control women's moral agency and rights.


Bill Baar said...

The fact is that religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, including when human life begins. Like many religious leaders, I do not believe that a fertilized ovum, zygote, or embryo is "the life of a human being" as this new federal definition would provide.

These beliefs established long before science told much about what happens in the womb.

Science says an embryo is the first stage of our life. We grow, are born, become child, become adult, aged, then die.

What tells you the moral value of our lives at any of those stages?

That one stage would be of any more value than another?

Science can't say, but what set of values allows to calibrate these moral valuations on life?

Sometimes our rights clash, and a mother should not be coerced to bear the risk of giving birth to another life. She has the right to control her body and care.

But what system tells you one life is of higher moral value than the other?

Hubert Humprhy told us, It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped

The same test could be asked of us as UUs. If we're giving the different stages of our lives different moral values, we best know we're being tested. We're going to have to answer. HHH's ghost won't give us a pass.

Anonymous said...

In response to Bill:
Various authors and philosophers have given us a variety of ways to test our value as a society. These also include how we treat criminals and animals. Asking which we should use and which we should enforce are two very different questions.

baby221 said...

Bill, that comment would be more relevant if it were a proven fact that hormonal methods of contraception can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting within the uterus. Nobody has conclusively proven that's how it works, though, so the redefinition doesn't do anything except unnecessarily and arbitrarily limit women's access to reproductive medicine.

People can believe all they want that life begins at conception, but when they start trying to tell me what I can and cannot do to control my own reproductive life based on false/unproven information, that's the point at which I stop listening. When they start trying to pass laws to undermine my reproductive freedom, that's the point at which I go to war.

Besides, if we're going to consider the failure of an embryo to implant in the uterus an abortion - what does that mean for the percentage of embryos that naturally fail to implant? If we're calling the intentional prevention of implantation abortion, and therefore murder, does unintentional prevention become some degree of reckless/negligent homicide?

By the way, I'm glad this blog is covering the issue. There's been far too much silence about it in my corner of the internets.

Anonymous said...

Health care providers' conscience rights are still important. Just because some people believe that embryos or fetuses are not "persons" deserving of medical care or protection doesn't mean that those who DO believe that they are persons should be denied the right to practice medicine, if they are otherwise trained to do so. They should not be denied the right to practice medicine or obtain certain jobs any more than homosexuals - or anyone else with unpopular views in some quarters - should be denied the right to teach or serve in the military or hold any other job...or anyone else!

Think about it in terms of other conscience rights that we wouldn't think of objecting to. What if as a society we decided that - you pick the ethnic background, or disability status - some class of already-born individuals were not really "persons" for the purposes of having a right to life (as was the case of Jews in pre-WW2 Germany and slaves in pre-Civil War America). If a medical doctor or midwife or nurse, in good conscience, felt compelled to provide care that preserved the life of a vulnerable member of a minority group or a person disabled in some significant way, and refused to provide care that would terminate the life of that ethnic group member or disabled individual, should that necessarily invalidate the health care provider's ability to practice?

Discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs - or in the secular humanist belief in the dignity of human person from conception to natural death, a belief that contrary to some assertions here is NOT necessarily tied to a particular religious belief (see the atheist Nat Hentoff's defense of his pro-life views) - should not be countenanced, and allowed to limit individuals' right to practice medicine.

It is easy to claim that anti-discrimination clauses such as the one proposed by the unpopular Bush administration in this case are about limiting women's "choice." However, the belief that a fetus or embryo is NOT a person is just as ideologically-driven as the belief that one IS a person. Since as a society we cannot PROVE the personhood of a fetus or embryo either way (and therefore as a default, have determined to make an individual's right to life contingent on his or her "wantedness" - see the many poor children who die in poverty, unwanted - their personhood and right to life are just as much in question as the unborn, due to their unwantedness by society), we should provide equal rights to practitioners who believe that unborn life has value and should be protected, as to practitioners who do not hold this view.