For about a month now the culture wars have become the new epicenter for political controversy. The media for the time being have shied away from Jobs and Deficit talk to shit-kick social conservatism and the rights of religion, and briefly took time to mention things like gas prices to keep the public’s blood at a simmer for President Obama. There is nothing like election season for those who want to sound the alarms for social issues and this has been an Indian summer. With the Republican race drawing to a close, and the candidates, having exhausted what little they have to offer on economic policy, turned to topics of social conservatism in education. Rick Santorum has been calling Obama a snob for wanting everyone to be able to go to college or trade schools. This type of anti-intellectual sentiment is fuel for the conservative fire, and in particular the red states that have the lowest student competency rates. Reproductive rights have been making the headlines. The discussion on invasive trans-vaginal sonograms for women choosing abortion, have created uproar in the states implementing that policy into law. And now, the new topic is about contraception.
Most of us under the age of 35 have received some level of sex-ed in school. I can almost vaguely remember through the fog of teenage indifference, some elderly health teacher demonstrating how to put a condom on using props. And while perhaps the message itself may have been lost on the students in class, the conversation was there and it was not taboo for teens and pre-teens to discuss the parameters of sexual relationships. It was in this generation that adults stopped being willfully ignorant of teenage sexuality and started to address the problem with education and forwardness at home. Parents were being encouraged to have the talk with their teens and pre-teens regarding the responsibility that sex requires to be practiced safely. “I don’t care what you do, just use a condom,” my dad told me when I was 12 or 13, “If you need me to, I’ll buy them for you.”
So here is how the story goes: Under Obama’s healthcare reform employers are mandated to offer contraception to their employees. This includes religious organizations. I’m sure you can see the issue already if you haven’t heard about or read about it by now. Conservative organizations and companies that often employ secular workers, such as schools, have reserved the right to withhold the coverage for contraceptives in all their forms because it conflicts with their religious values. They also claim that not paying the insurance companies for contraceptive coverage lowers their premiums, ultimately saving them some pence on the pound. The evidence for this is inconclusive and speculative, and there are lots of conflicting reports as to whether or not this claim is accurate in the numbers. Regardless, the main defense for the conservatives was the economic basis for having to offer coverage for contraception, and by comparison, little was focused on the moral issue. Well there is a reason for that.
I think most people are familiar with what church doctrine has to say about contraception. While the bible doesn’t mention anything about latex condoms, some historians believe there were tonics and other rituals practiced as means to have sex without conceiving that predate the beginning of the Common Era. It wasn’t until 1968 when Pope Paul VI wrote the Encyclical Letter entitled Humanae Vitae where the magisterium of the church officially condemned the use of birth control. It says, “We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.” So it follows that Catholics cannot use birth control as it goes against God’s law. Related to this is an interesting statistic that’s been making its rounds both in public discourse and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used it on the senate floor: 98% of American Christian Women have used contraception. Some media outlets have taken the liberty of making the number 99% in the wake of that numbers new significance. The study that produced this number has come under some fire because it is so overwhelmingly one-sided making many people skeptical. The most accurate way to word the findings is, “Data shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced women of child-bearing age and who identify themselves as Catholic have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point in their lives,” according to a spokesperson for the study itself. Regardless, even if the number was around 50%, that still is a substantial amount of women who have used contraception at least once, and that goes against the Catholic Church. This can mean one of two things. The first is that a super majority of women and presumably men think they know better about their belief system than the authorities on the topic, i.e. the Pope. Or, that the actual rules set by their faith are less important than the professions and image of upholding their belief system. Everyone becomes a type of apologist because they can rationalize their excuses for not being a slave to their faith and using practical means to ensure a safe and healthy lifestyle.
So senate republicans tried to repeal President Obama’s ruling on contraception coverage. After having held a hearing comprising of almost all religious men, they decided it was necessary to reverse the mandate on moral grounds, but argue it in terms of economics and the right to offer what ever coverage they saw necessary. Besides, if a secular person wants to work in a catholic school, shouldn’t the just accept the conditions? Well perhaps, but why shouldn’t the organizations just offer the coverage and leave the devices of contraception usage and sin up to the employee. The devout wouldn’t be using them anyway presumably. And then the argument went to its logical end when it was brought up that any form of payment could possibly lead to the purchasing of contraception, for which the religious organizations would be facilitating anyway. In the end, the real dispute became about allowing religious organizations to have more immunity (or amnesty) from the common laws of men. The repeal was defeated 51 to 48 in the senate with party lines intact. Only one republican voted against the reversal, the departing Olympia Snowe of Maine.
One woman was allowed to testify for the case to uphold the mandate. Her name is Sandra Fluke. The woman of whom Rush Limbaugh undeservedly stole 15 minutes of fame from by calling her a slut and a prostitute, referring to his fact that the taxpayers would be paying for her to have sex. Her testimony is attached here, it explains pretty thoroughly the importance of equal coverage for everyone with regards to contraceptives and why it has become a need.
I think we do have a right to casual sex now. Maybe it’s not so clean cut as that sounds, but we, in practice, exercise this freedom rather vigorously. This is independent of whether or not you repent for it afterwards. For the prudish organizations of our culture to claim the right of exemption on the premise of divinity has long outlasted its nuance. What is worse is when they seek immunity so they can limit the freedoms of their loyalists or at the very least, their workers. For the first time in this century, and the second time in American history, sexual freedom is a form of rebellion. This time, we reserve the right to be able to do it safely.