In the News 2012

Taken for granted no more


It’s been an explosive week for women’s reproductive health with two events reaching new depths of outrageousness and a third prompting pundits to call on a silent voting bloc to defend its practices on contraception.

The biggest story of the week was the Susan G. Komen Foundation stripping Planned Parenthood of its grants for breast cancer screening on the stated reason of Planned Parenthood undergoing a Congressional investigation. Komen’s new vice president, Karen Handel, is a known conservative political force who swore opposition to Planned Parenthood for its 3 percent of services going to abortion.

Yet, before week’s end we who were outraged at Komen and vocal about it saw a reversal of the decision. Komen announced that their new policy will sanction only those facing “criminal and conclusive investigations.”

If only Republicans advocating for smaller government would heed such pared down parameters. In five state houses Republicans have passed laws that should make critics of Obamacare blush: requirements for vaginal-probe sonograms on women on the day ahead of abortions. This is rationalized as an informed consent measure, though I for one have not seen this degree of intrusion before for my two lung surgeries, and a call to an abortion counselor (asking to be unnamed) revealed that the vast majority of abortions have no medical need of a vaginal ultrasound (as topical ultrasounds are routine). So this measure smacks of the long arm of the law reaching into a woman’s most private place to deliver ideology, with the doctor also being used against medical tradition and practice. American women, ask: whose uterus do these small government folks think it is — the woman’s or the state’s?

Since this drama has reached Kafkaesque absurdity, state senator Janet Howell of Virginia attached a protest amendment to a sonogram bill moving through her state house, a measure requiring men also to undergo a bodily probe ahead of getting erectile dysfunction medication. Her amendment lost by an impressively small margin with 13 male senators in support.

All’s fair in love and war, so social conservatives are also feeling the pain, due to the Obama Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services having stated that Catholic institutions serving and employing the public must adhere equally to rules of the Affordable Care Act granting women equal access to birth control with no co-pays.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had asked for a conscience clause, complaining that they cannot be made to pay for birth control. Meanwhile 98 percent of sexually active Catholics are said by the Guttmacher Institute to use birth control, meaning that the laity and the clergy of the church have radically opposing views of how to populate a family and maintain women’s health.

Catholic leaders doth protest too much in squawking on behalf of their religious freedom, suggests Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice — whose stand is that the conscience of women rules. The church has failed to convince Catholics in the pews, so the clergy should own that failure rather than attempt to control distribution channels that impute extra costs to insured women who are often not even Catholic.

On the politics, Chris Matthews on “Hardball,” said that Catholics like him are swing voters and Obama has blown his chance with them. However Jon O’Brien says his group and its allies “expended a huge amount of resources mobilizing the public on this pivotal issue” of no co-pay birth control. And with Joan Walsh of Salon advising fellow Catholics to “preach what they practice” and defend the president, we shall see if Catholics defend their widespread practices or remain hiding in the shadows.

Crises are times for taking action when comfortable practices can no longer be taken for granted. Planned Parenthood was gifted with nearly a million dollars in 24 hours of the Komen news, and also won a reversal — good. More importantly we all need to see that protecting women’s health where it intersects with reproductive freedom (not to mention a sound doctor-patient relationship) is no longer a spectator sport. We need to be activists, because as the right wing dreams of personhood amendments, flirts with banning birth control, and legislates body probes, we see that the American Taliban wears a prim sweater vest and expensive suits, with hopes to attract million-dollar super PAC’s.

This article was originally published in the Daily Camera.

Catholics for Choice