Protecting Women’s Rights in a Religious “Right” World


Photo of President Obama by Flickr user lednichenkoolga used under Creative Commons 2.0

Photo of President Obama by Flickr user lednichenkoolga used under Creative Commons 2.0

Threats to women’s reproductive rights have been making headlines for the past few years but women received a small victory yesterday when the Obama administration announced that most employers will have to provide contraceptives at no cost to their employees.

While this is a victory to women’s reproductive rights, there are still a few things women’s rights activists need to consider. First, there is still a loophole for religious nonprofits. According to ThinkProgress.org, “Only houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith will be exempt.” For women like me, who used to work for a religious nonprofit, this may not be terrible news since abstinence-only and purity teachings are widespread. However, married women who may not want to have children immediately, or at all, may still have trouble accessing contraceptives due to the financial cost. And due to the fact that many religious nonprofits and houses of worship still hold the belief that women are to be mothers first, and human beings second.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, are the Roman Catholic bishops who are behind the lobbying that’s threatening women’s access to abortions and contraceptives. These men are simply not going away, nor will they stop lobbying just because they were defeated by the Obama Administration on this small matter. Laura Bassett writes in The Huffington Post

But the erosion of women’s rights didn’t begin with the GOP takeover. President Barack Obama’s health care reform law contained some of the most restrictive abortion language seen in decades.

Lift the curtain, and behind the assault was the conference of bishops.

“It is a very effective lobby, unfortunately, and now they have an ally in the Republican majority because both groups find this a means by which to fight women’s health issues in general,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a member of the House Pro-Choice Caucus. “The bishops carry a lot of clout.”

“We consider the two biggest opponents on the other side the Catholic bishops and National Right to Life,” said Donna Crane, policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “They are extremely heavy-handed on this issue.”

And what do the Bishops have to say on the matter? 

“By refusing to broaden the exemption, “in effect the president is saying that we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” complained Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops” href=”http://www.latimes.com/topic/religion-belief/christianity/roman-catholicism/united-states-conference-of-catholic-bishops-ORCUL000006.topic”>U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairwoman of the board of Franciscan Alliance Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals, said, “This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and 1st Amendment rights.”

When are my rights as  a women more important than the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? When religious leaders begin to flaunt money, power, and the threats of “a direct attack on religion and 1st Amendment rights” it seems that we may have a problem on our hands. I have news for the Catholic Bishops and those who choose not to dignify women’s minds, bodies and souls: your religious “rights” end when my reproductive rights are threatened.

The Religious Right has snagged many proponents in the Pro-Life movement by feeding them twisted ideologies while they sit in the Church pew, pushing their power as ‘Authorities from God’ in the pulpit. Isn’t this in direct violation of nonprofit law? Not exactly. According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation

Churches have been actively involved in many recent controversial ballot initiatives and referenda in numerous states across the country. Under the law, this is permissible activity because ballot initiatives are considered to be “legislations” and thus, are lobbying activities, not “political” activity. For example, a priest is allowed to tell his congregation to support a referendum denying equal marriage rights to gay partners, and to include church support or opposition to referenda in church bulletins.

However,

A 501(c)(3) organization, including a church, is allowed to engage only in “insubstantial” lobbying. In other words, a 501(c)(3) could lose its tax-exempt status if it engages in substantial lobbying; however, the definition of “insubstantial” is amorphous.

So maybe the Catholic Bishops aren’t in direct violation of any nonprofit laws, or if they are it would be rather hard to prove, but that means many of congregants donations to religious nonprofits may be spent lobbying and not helping the poor and the needy as the Bible commands. If you are part of the Catholic body (or any religious body), you should be asking where your money is going and get the answer in writing.

Sadly, patriarchal religion doesn’t seem to be stopping when it comes to gaining political ground and supporters and this means neither will the war on women’s health issues. In many religious institutions, the war on women has been waging for thousands of years and the only way to stop it is for women to do a little digging in what their spiritual leaders are saying about their gender.


Years ago, I was a young church member who was “saving myself for marriage” even though I was in my mid-twenties. I voted according to what my minister suggested my morals should be, because I thought that was what a good Christian did. I bought all of what was taught to me: hook, line and sinker. Fortunately, I’m no longer part of that church, nor am I religious, but I didn’t start questioning some of their political endorsements, their narrow ‘moral’ views, or where their money went until long after I quit my membership. I didn’t become a feminist until I was in college, later in my twenties and when I did, I felt there was no other option for me than to leave the church.

I wonder what would happen if more individuals would dig a little bit deeper into the lobbying efforts and financial records of their church. What types of activities would they find and would they support them? For women in particular, I wonder if they would say as I’ve said: Your religious “rights” end when my reproductive rights are threatened.

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  • waterjoe

    Catholic organizations may or may not have a “right” to refuse to cover contraception under their First Amendment rights – the courts will ultimately decide that.  Access to contraception, however, is not a “right” under the Constitution.  At best, it is a privilege under the health care reform law.  Overstating the interest involved will not help the cause.

  • colleen

    Access to contraception, however, is not a “right” under the Constitution.

    If you follow that argument the only right accorded women in the US constitution is the right to vote and that amendment, not even a century old, is still being disputed by  some US conservatives.

    You know what we DO have? The absolute and inalienable right to choose our own religious beliefs and not have them forced upon us by pedophile enabling bigots.

  • crowepps

    In Griswold v Connecticut the Supreme Court did rule specifically that married couples had a constitutional right to use birth control if they wished to do so, because the government had no right to intrude into their home and the privacy of their marital decisions.  I think it is unlikely that they would recognize the Catholic Church as having a right to so invade the lives of people who don’t even belong to their religion.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0381_0479_ZD.html

    Catholic organizations are objecting to the inclusion of contraception on the basis that it isn’t congruent with the tenets of the Church, and asserting that their philosophical/moral disapproval should be given more weight than the compelling government interests of promoting maternal and infant health, decreasing birth defects, and reducing government expenses for supporting the poor and abused/neglected children.

    In addition, allowing the Church to coerce non-Catholic employees, associates, students, patients or customers into following Church teachings on pain of financial penalty would be giving the Church a right to control the activities of people with different religious beliefs.

    If including birth control caused the rates paid by the Church for insurance to increase, there might possibly be an argument, however in the many states where state laws already require policies to include birth control (and where even today the Church is paying policies that do exactly that), the inclusion of birth control has been found to be revenue neutral, with no increase in rates necessary.  The small costs for the addition of birth control are offset by reductions in claims for prenatal care, treatment of pregnancy complications, medically necessary abortions, deliveries, ceasarians, neonatal intensive care and treatment of birth defects.

  • freetobe

    and in it called women “dogs” (yes no better than the islam sharia terrorists who also have called women “dogs”.) I would not give the assholes another thought or second of my time.

    The catholic faith ruined my life I was forced into it by my parents. They HATE women plain and simple any other garbage they might say to try to get out of it is for money and power and their holier than thou crap. They are nothing but a satanic cult of women haters and child rapers!

    • luciflo

      I’m very sorry that your parents “forced” you into the Catholic religion while you were a child. I guess they wanted you to be the best person you could be and have some morals and values as the foundation of your adulthood. Obviously, they failed. But they didn’t fail because of the religion they chose, but because you’re making a generalization based only on your experience, not necessarily the whole story.

      I too grew up in the Catholic church. It was so close, I could walk to the church and back in less than 5 minutes. I imagine you went to public school, I didn’t. I went to a non-Catholic Christian school, which meant that all of the teachings of the Catholic Church were put to the test every single day. I was never forced into attending either one Church, but at the end it was MY decision as an adult to go to one church or the other and I chose the Catholic Church.

      Now, you say that Catholics are “woman-haters” and “child rapers”. If that is the case, how come there are millions of women that follow the Catholic faith? Are you to say that all Catholics, lay and clerics, are “child rapers” (Pedophiles)? I imagine your answer is “No”. If so, then why are you generalizing? Who are you to judge people because of the mental issues others have? Why would you or anyone else say that all Catholic Priests are pedophiles when that is certainly not the truth? I don’t condone in any way, shape, or form the wrongs all those men did to their victims. I don’t agree either with some of the actions the Church took when the scandal broke in regards to those Priests. But I can’t generalize and go about saying that all Priests are pedophiles based on the actions of a few. There are thousands of Catholic Priests around the globe. Generalizing is not only not fair to them but wrong and it diminishes the good all other Priests and Nuns have done for the less fortunate around the globe.

      If you believe your parents ruined your life by “forcing” you into being a Catholic, then so be it. But ranting and calling all Catholics “woman-haters” and “child rapers” is not only wrong, it is unfair to the Catholic community that has done nothing wrong and only decided to follow this faith.

  • crowepps

    In Quest to Grow, Catholic Hospital System Pares Religious Ties

    Jan 23, 2012

     

    Catholic Healthcare West, one of the nation’s largest hospital systems, is ending its governing board’s affiliation with the Catholic Church and changing its name, two steps intended to help the system expand throughout the states in which it operates — California, Arizona and Nevada — and beyond.

    …In the past few years, proposed mergers between Catholic and secular hospitals in Louisville, Ky., and Sierra Vista, Ariz., have collapsed in part because of concerns about the church’s bans on abortions, in-vitro fertilizations and sterilizations. Other mergers have succeeded only with the help of unusual contortions, such in Troy, N.Y., where a separately licensed maternity ward free from Catholic doctrine was created on the second floor of a secular hospital taken over by a Catholic system. In Seattle, Swedish Medical Center last fall agreed to fund a Planned Parenthood office next door to quell objections about its planned affiliation with a Catholic system.

    Lloyd Dean, the president and CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, said the concerns about his system’s Catholic affiliation have hampered some potential deals. “I have been contacted over the last couple of years by many, many different constituencies who have an interest in Catholic Healthcare West and what we have accomplished,” Dean said. “But one of the things when we get down to what I’ll call the real discussions as they confer with their boards is, ‘What does the future mean if we’re a non-Catholic entity? Will we have to become Catholic? What will be the Catholic influence?’ “

    …”The number of mergers is on the uptick. It’s no different for Catholic hospitals,” said Lois Uttley, the director of The MergerWatch Project, which seeks to protect reproductive services in places where religious and secular hospitals propose mergers. “What we are seeing on the Catholic side is a willingness to let the secular partner develop a way to keep the services intact.”

    http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2012/January/23/Catholic-Healthcare-West-Pares-Religious-Ties.aspx

  • waterjoe

    The court did rule that couples have a right to use contraception, but that is not the issue here.  The issue here is whether it needs to be provided by employers, government or anyone.  There is no legal right to receive contraception.

  • crowepps

    The issue is compelling government interest.  There certainly is a legal right to not be PREVENTED from receiving contraception when it serves a compelling government interest.

    • Regardless of their religious or moral beliefs, employers can be required to conform to the standards in various Building, Fire Safety and Building Occupation Safety laws because their doing so serves the compelling government interest of preventing deaths and injuries.
    • Regardless of their religious or moral beliefs, employers can be required to carry bonding, liability insurance, malpractice insurance and other insurances that cover the various risks their business will encrue.
    • Regardless of their religious or moral beliefs, employers can be required to conform to the standards in the Occupational Health and Safety Act because their doing so serves the compelling government interest of preventing deaths and injuries.
    • Regardless of their religious or moral beliefs, employers can be required to pay for Workman’s Compensation Insurance because it serves the compelling government interest of treating and compensating employees for injury.
    • Regardless of their religious or moral beliefs, employers can be required to pay for State and Federal Unemployment Insurance because it serves the compelling government interest of preventing dependence on the taxpayers.

    Following that logic, regardless of their religious or moral beliefs employers of large numbers of people can be required by the government to provide insurance to their employees as a cost of doing business, because it serves the compelling government interest of funding medical care that will promote a healthy citizenry, and that insurance can be required to include all the various different kinds of preventative care which have been proven scientifically to provide best public health results, including contraception.

    Persons or organizations who refuse to provide any of the above mandated prerequisites for opening the doors are free to stand on principle and refuse to do so and to not have businesses which require those prerequisites but instead to choose some other way of making money.  When a person or organization stands on principle there is a price to be paid for doing so, and that price cannot be shifted to others but instead is always properly paid by the person or organization.

  • luciflo

    I can’t say I’m in favor or against the use of contraception. I can understand the use within a marriage to avoid having unplanned kids that you can later not afford to feed. I can understand even when the government wants to provide contraception to low-income women and those that keep on getting pregnant without any regards to the safety and well-being of the children.

    But I think the problem lies somewhere else… We need to teach our children and even some adults to be smart about sex! They know the consequences of having unprotected sex, but they don’t care as they see that the government “can take care of them”. That’s where the problem is. If the government was to decide to cut that umbilical cord and not fund their irreponsible behavior, they would stop being stupid about sex. We all make mistakes, but we need to teach the younger generations that having sex will have consequences on YOUR wallet, not mine! Why do I have to pay for the irresponsible behavior of others? Teach them to be REAL WOMEN and REAL MEN.

    If you want to have sex, you have to be ready to take responsibility for your actions. If you want to hang out and party, you better be ready to keep your clothes on and say “NO”.

    As far as abortion is concerned, I’m pro-life as no one has the right to kill another. I do think there are other options, especially for rape victims and incest cases. Now, if you chose to have unprotected sex and got pregnant, sorry but the baby can’t be returned and if you don’t want it, there are others that will take him/her from you and give the baby a good home. Suffer through the whole pregnancy and delivery. Maybe then you will be smart enough not to do it again until you are ready to be a parent. Why would the government or anyone else have to pay for your irresponsible behavior? If you want to have sex, you need to be ready to assume all the responsibilities that come with it. If not, stay away from it!

  • person-0

    Suffer through the whole pregnancy and delivery. Maybe then you will be smart enough not to do it again until you are ready to be a parent. 

    So, forcing a woman to gestate and birth against her will should be punishment for getting pregnant. Got it. How sad that you view women that way, not to mention the fetus. So warm and compassionate….

    Having an abortion is one way of handling an unwanted pregnancy responsibly. It matters not whether you approve since it’s none of your business.

  • jennifer-starr

    So you think that a woman should be forced to suffer through pregnancy and delivery in order to provide someone else with a baby….as a punishment. Yeah, that’ll teach ‘em, right?  It’s nastiness like yours, Luciflo, that helps to remind me of why I am prochoice. 

  • freetobe

    I had wonderful adopted parents who thought they were doing the right thing for me. It was NOT their fault. I think you were also assuming as well.

    I have issues with men as I did not have a real father until I was 5 and have had trust issues. i lived in a catholic orphange until 6 weeks of age and then went to catholic schools until I was confirmed. I hated every minute of it. Why? Well now all you have to do is read the Old Testament and it will quickly answer your questions as to why I hate the catholic religion and all religions yes ALL. They are books written by angry, mean, arrogant men. All my life all I wanted was to be a human being NOT a sex object,a reproductive machine,a butt of the others jokes and ills of the world. i wanted to just BE I wanted to just learn without being judged and eyeballed. Maybe most women don’t have this issue but I DID and still do to some extent although now that I am older and much wiser I do what I want and to hell with what others think. As long as I hurt noone else who cares.

    The women who follow the catholic faith have not lived in my shoes or walked in my path. I was married to an abusive man for 9 years much like one of the Taliban members oh yes he was that bad. Never again will any man rule over me i don’t care what it says in the bible. God is NOT a man but a spirit Whom has no discrimination for women or blacks or anyone! if men were truly following what they preach we would all be equals in this world but they choose the easy road and follow satan.

  • freetobe

    in general (which is the only real religion I know about) I cannot be a part of a religion that says women should die over the life of their fetus. In other words they want the women to be martys for their fetus’s. What they fail to realize is that you cannot be a true martyr without THE CHOICE to be one!

    They have taken that choice away. They meddle and interfere way too much with our Government all these anti-women bills are coming from the catholic bishops and another religious right group. SEPERATION OF CHURCH AND STATE is just that SEPERATION! No church or religion shall interfere with our government or the freedom to practice religion of ones choice is violated!

    I choose NO RELIGION why do I have to be subjected to a religious beleif i do not agree with?

    I am also NOt and Atheist as i do bleleve in Jesus. He was the only spirit/human that was FAIR and nondiscriminating and women kissed his feet because of it. He treated them with respect and dignity. Not like the catholic releigion which allows women to be back of the bus, only useful for breeding as cattle. you see it took someone outside the church to show me what was really going on. Your being brainwashed. They need your money.

    Now i do not think all the churches or the priests are bad in fact there are many that are really, really good and decent people BUT they associate with the Vatican they are part of a very corrupt institution that has been since 100 years after Jesus death.

    They will NEVER see women as equals and of value and I will not be a part of that group because they are wrong. By boycotting I am making a statement in the only way I can and will continue to tell other women how badly they treat and think of women and always have.

    Remeber the quote “well behaved women rarely make history”

     

  • prochoiceferret

    I’m very sorry that your parents “forced” you into the Catholic religion while you were a child. I guess they wanted you to be the best person you could be and have some morals and values as the foundation of your adulthood.

     

    Why are you generalizing Catholicism/Christianity as the sole source of “morals and values?”

     

    I was never forced into attending either one Church, but at the end it was MY decision as an adult to go to one church or the other and I chose the Catholic Church.

     

    Sounds like you had a rather limited set of options to choose from.

     

    Now, you say that Catholics are “woman-haters” and “child rapers”. If that is the case, how come there are millions of women that follow the Catholic faith?

     

    Perhaps because they, like yourself, didn’t have a better option available to them?

     

    Are you to say that all Catholics, lay and clerics, are “child rapers” (Pedophiles)?

     

    No, but that certainly won’t stop you from proceeding as if she did so that you have a nice strawman to knock down. Take that, strawman!

     

    If so, then why are you generalizing? Who are you to judge people because of the mental issues others have?

     

    You must really get worked up about anti-choicers parading women who “regret their abortion” as a rationale for abortion restrictions, I’m guessing.

     

    Why would you or anyone else say that all Catholic Priests are pedophiles when that is certainly not the truth?

     

    Who here has said that all Catholic priests are pedophiles? I’m sure there are a few non-pedophilic priests out there, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to take my chances being alone with some random priest who may want me to help with their “special sacrament.”

     

    There are thousands of Catholic Priests around the globe. Generalizing is not only not fair to them but wrong and it diminishes the good all other Priests and Nuns have done for the less fortunate around the globe.

     

    Do you think that “the good all other Priests and Nuns have done for the less fortunate around the globe” in some way diminishes the Church’s sheer depravity in handling the sexual abuse scandal as it has?

     

    But ranting and calling all Catholics “woman-haters” and “child rapers” is not only wrong, it is unfair to the Catholic community that has done nothing wrong and only decided to follow this faith.

     

    Who ever said anything about “all Catholics” or “the Catholic community?” This is all about the Catholic hierarchy, and its ordained ministers. The laity has a much better grasp of morality in general (sorry).

  • prochoiceferret

    I can’t say I’m in favor or against the use of contraception.

     

    “Mommy!!!”

     

    But I think the problem lies somewhere else… We need to teach our children and even some adults to be smart about sex!

     

    So you support comprehensive sex ed? Great! Join us in fighting against abstinence-only sex-ed programs that keep young men and women ignorant about sex.

     

    They know the consequences of having unprotected sex, but they don’t care as they see that the government “can take care of them”

     

    No, actually, they sometimes don’t know the consequences of having unprotected sex. And I don’t think the prospect of waiting in line for a government check is on the radar of most teenagers.

     

    That’s where the problem is. If the government was to decide to cut that umbilical cord and not fund their irreponsible behavior, they would stop being stupid about sex. We all make mistakes, but we need to teach the younger generations that having sex will have consequences on YOUR wallet, not mine! Why do I have to pay for the irresponsible behavior of others? Teach them to be REAL WOMEN and REAL MEN.

     

    So the homeless and indigent are REAL (WO)MEN, then?

     

    If you want to have sex, you have to be ready to take responsibility for your actions. If you want to hang out and party, you better be ready to keep your clothes on and say “NO”.

     

    A lot of folks are quite fine taking responsibility by getting tested, using contraception, and aborting any unwanted pregnancies that get through.

     

    As far as abortion is concerned, I’m pro-life as no one has the right to kill another.

     

    Sounds more like you’re anti-responsibility. And I bet you’re real popular with the NRA crowd, too.

     

    I do think there are other options, especially for rape victims and incest cases.

     

    And if you are ever the victim of rape or incest, you might just learn firsthand how flat-out monstrous it is for other people to declare that you may not have an abortion, but instead have to choose from a limited set of “other options.”

     

    Now, if you chose to have unprotected sex and got pregnant, sorry but the baby can’t be returned and if you don’t want it, there are others that will take him/her from you and give the baby a good home.

     

    You can’t “return” a baby, but you can have an abortion. You may choose not to have one, but that’s your own personal choice. You can also choose to give up a baby for adoption, but that’s kind of a moot issue if you choose not to have a baby in the first place.

     

    Suffer through the whole pregnancy and delivery.

     

    Sorry, but if you want schadenfreude, I suggest you watch re-runs of The Apprentice.

     

    Why would the government or anyone else have to pay for your irresponsible behavior?

     

    Because contraception and abortion are a lot cheaper than unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children.

     

    If you want to have sex, you need to be ready to assume all the responsibilities that come with it. If not, stay away from it!

     

    Only in your sad little mind does “responsibility” equate to “suffering through the whole pregnancy and delivery.”

  • freetobe

    Suffer through the whole pregnancy and delivery- oh like it says in the woman bashing bible your kind loves to go back too!

    What makes you think a single woman who is pregnant can afford another child either? Maybe she is not emotionally ready to give her child up for adoption? You people are really thinking in a box. You obviously have never lived in the REAL world. Nor would you bother to find out.

    Adoption is just as painful a decision as abortion for your information. You think all these pregnant women are suddenly going to release their children to people like you? HA think again. The world has changed there are now 7 billion of us destructive greedy ones. Women don’t have to give up their children if they don’t want to. So don’t hold your breath for one.

    Whats up with all this government talk? I did not ask the government for permission for anything I don’t know what world you live in. The government and the states need to butt out of womens uterus’s they are NOT property of anyone but the women. niether are her fetus’s or her born children that all you child slavery wanters want.

     

  • ahunt

    If you want to have sex, you have to be ready to take responsibility for your actions

     

    So married women are under no obligation to have sex with their husbands unless they are willing to be pregnant…correct, in your view?

  • mindy-mcindy

    Good thing I’m a lesbian, and me and my wife can “party” and have as much sex as we want and not get pregnant. I bet you’re against that sort of thing too, though.

    As someone who has been sexually assaulted on multiple occasions, I am especially disgusted by your comment that there are “other options” for incest and rape babies. Yes, because the victim needs to be reminded that, despite the horror of her experience, her feelings and needs are moot and she needs to accept the fact that she is just a vessel for a preddy widdle bay-bee. Well screw that. I am lucky that I didn’t get pregnant from my assaults, but you better believe that if I had, I’d have been first in line at the clinic when I found out I was pregnant. If it was illegal, I would have done everything possible to get one. And if I was unsuccessful, I would have killed myself. It is a sick, sad little world you live in where you think that babies are adequate punishment for a woman who dares to have sex, and that a woman who was impregnated under duress should just grin and bear it.