by Erin Gloria Ryan
In yet another display of just fuckin’ clue free the GOP is today on Capitol Hill, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform assembled a panel to discuss the birth control mandate in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Specifically, whether or not requiring insurers to cover birth control violates religious freedom of people who don’t believe in science. The committee, chaired by a male, consisted of eight men who felt personally persecuted by the requirement. And that’s about the least depressing aspect of the whole circus.
The Obama administration was initially going to require non-houses of worship to subsidize the cost of birth control for their employees regardless of the religion’s stance on contraceptives. When holy rollers from coast to coast clutched their rosaries and Bibles in protest, the administration offered a compromise that wouldn’t require religious institutions to pay for the prescriptions themselves, but rather the insurance companies providing the institution’s health care plan. This compromise suited many religious organizations just fine, but hard-liners persisted, and Republicans seized on their chest-thumping claims that they were being persecuted in the hopes that the issue would convince voters that somehow the President is declaring war on religion.
California Republican Darrell Issa chaired the panel, and because Republicans hold a majority in the House, he was able to choreograph the entire proceedings. He thoughtfully assembled a diverse group of men who don’t necessarily have any real, fact-based reason to oppose birth control except for the fact that it made them feel icky. Invited to testify were five men. And no women. The whole thing was, to put it as succinctly as possible, depressing as fuck.
From Issa’s opening statements that “a man’s conscience” should guide laws in America (and his failure to see the irony in using masculine nouns in a hearing that was ultimately about female parts) to his interrupting of DC’s Eleanor Norton when she angrily requested clarification of rules, the entire hearing was was a tone deaf symphony that showcased just how delusional religious men who feel persecuted by the wide availability and accessibility actually are. Following a circus-y opening to the hearing that eventually led the Democratic women to reportedly walk out in protest, Bishop William Lori opened the testimony with a bit of truly dumb analogy making.
I’ll put this as fairly as I possibly can: he compared insurance companies subsidizing the cost of birth control to the government forcing kosher delis to serve pork. Unbeknownst to him, failure to take pork every day cannot lead to pregnancy, bacon does not regulate periods, and a ham sandwich cannot decrease the number of abortions or promote women’s health. The comparison of birth control to cooked pig parts was effective in one way, though— it showed that the Church utterly devalues women, and views their health care as a recreational afterthought. Want to have some honey glazed ham? Wanna keep from getting pregnant? Same thing!
The rest of the panel continued their Official Whining. A Baptist spoke. A Lutheran said that his conscience was being “martyred” by this rule (killed! Killed by a tiny pill taken by ladies so they don’t get pregnant!), and the one Jewish guy who is against birth control appeared to make his case.
The overwrought reaction of the right would be comical if it didn’t threaten to actually hurt women, and freedom of religion does not grant organizations the right to act in ways that are detrimental to public health.
Further, it’s a good thing these dudes are religious leaders and not economists, because believing that you can circumvent indirectly funding something that you don’t like exhibits either ignorance of capitalism or willful refusal to acknowledge how it works. Here’s an example: my former employer was a large brokerage house that famously fucked up during the financial crisis. Consequently, we received a bailout. The bailout allowed the house to continue to exist. Meanwhile, our insurance policy paid for birth control like it was any other prescription and covered 90% of the cost of an elective abortion up to legal viability. Taxpayer money wasn’t directly funding abortions per se, but it was supporting a company that provided employees with abortions. In the eyes of the bishops, this is somehow a violation of taxpayers’ religious freedom. Except it’s totally not.
Generally, listening to a Congressional hearing is listening to a bunch of incredibly annoying lawyers argue with each other, but this one is particularly offensive. It showed the particular brand of contempt, disdain, and dismissiveness with which the right wing and some religious leaders approach women’s health. And until the government attempts to force Pfizer to develop morning after bacon or manufacture RU-486 in the shape of communion hosts, it’s time for religious men to butt out.