Mammograms, Contraception, and Abortion are Always Political, Even Religious. We Ignore This At Our Peril


“Keep politics out of women’s health.”

In the extraordinary amount of activity surrounding the Komen’s foundation decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood for mammograms, you have probably heard something along the lines of “keep politics out of women’s health.” Komen was frequently criticized for making a politically-motivated move.

Of course it was a politically-motivated move. My question to us all: is it not also a political move to restore the funding? Is not funding mammograms for poor women inherently a political act?

You see, I believe that the personal is always political.  I believe that all of our acts are rooted in our values and deepest held beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong.  It’s impossible not to be ‘political.’  What you do as a human being on this earth inevitably makes a claim on what you believe and what you believe is good and right, and what you believe is harmful and wrong. 

Similarly, many of us in prochoice and reproductive justice communities rejoiced at the Obama administration’s recent decision to require health plans to fully cover contraceptive services for employees, including many religiously-affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities.  Only not-for-profit employers who have “the inculcation of religious values as their purpose, primarily employ individuals who hold certain religious beliefs and primarily serve a population with those religious tenets” are exempt.

Obama was applauded for resisting “religion’s” influence on policy and women’s health.

But,  you see, it’s impossible NOT to have religious or spiritual beliefs (humanism and atheism included) affect decisions, whether you are a toll-booth operator or a politician in office. Perhaps this is why Obama said his Christian faith guided his policy decisions.

Furthermore, statements about keeping religion out of women’s health seems to assume that all religion is antagonistic to women’s health.  But what if my values, morals, even my religion is exactly what commands me to support contraception, mammograms, and accessible abortion, particularly for those impoverished and marginalized?  Once again, the Left implicitly cedes the ground of ethics, morality, religion and spirituality to conservatives.

I get so frustrated as I routinely see Liberals and Lefties clutch onto the crumbling modern tenets of the secular vs. the religious. 

Do we not realize that what many of us call secularism in the United States is actually referring to the values and culture of White/Anglo (men’s)-Protestantism?  The separation of church and state was a religious concept developed in Puritan communities to protect churches from the corrupting influences of government.  The idea of secularism is rooted in the Calvinist notions of adiaphora or “things indifferent,” from which John Locke developed his powerful and influential ideas of government. “Things indifferent” for Calvin and his interpreters, and for Locke, includes anything in the world that is not necessary for “salvation.”  What falls under the power of the state as opposed to the power of religious faith?  Things indifferent–things not necessary for salvation.

I will not bore you further with theological or Christian doctrine but to say that our secular ideas were born out of Protestant Christian ones.

My religious tradition disagreed with those Calvinist tenets and states that everything matters for salvation–for healing and for justice.  And therefore, all that I do and believe is a matter of my values, my morals, my religion, and my spirituality–including my beliefs that all people have an individual right to conscience and the means for fulfilling that conscience.  Which means that I believe women should have unfettered access to contraception, mammograms, and abortion, regardless of financial resources.  

Many secular folks on the Left deny claims that our nation is a “Christian” nation.  Yet, if you ask a Jew or a Muslim or Hindu, I bet they would agree that, in fact, the United States is a Christian nation.  By failing to acknowledge the dominance of (Protestant) Christian culture and values, we on the Left hinder our abilities to fulfil liberal dreams of a pluralistic and just society.

The Left will not achieve it’s goals by making dated and problematic arguments regarding secular and the religious, or by arguing for keeping “politics” out of women’s health.  We will not achieve our goals by arguing that we are somehow universally right.  We will win by arguing that our policy proposals are most effective at minimizing unnecessary suffering in this world.

Women’s health is inherently political.  And dare I say, women’s health is inherently religious.

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  • exdem

    Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms. Please correct your text accordingly.

  • exdem

    Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms. Please correct your text accordingly.

  • jennifer-starr

    To say they don’t provide them, exdem, is more than a little dishonest.  Even if they refer and don’t provide on-site they still subsidize the referral with funds from Komen. Many people go through the same procedure if they’re referred by their ob/gyn for a mammogram.  So in a very real sense yes, Planned Parenthood does provide mammograms. 

  • freetobe

    was not an issue for the catholic church? After all as far as I know it is for one purpose sex. So if that is the case then why is it that it is not right for women to have sex but men can all they want and not be punished? In the bible I think God meant BOTH the sexes are to obstain from sex not just the women.

    I already know the answer to above just think it is wrong and that womens health should not be a religious value at all. Why? because modern medical science has changed the world as we know it. people are not dying and almost all the premature infants are being saved. is that not interferring with God’s plan and why is that not an issue? Why is it ok to keep people suffrering with cancer whom want to die but are not allowed to by the catholic church? Their suffering is only extended by modern medical science. Why is in- vetro fertilization and other artifical means of contraceptives ok by the catholic church? That is interferring with God’s plan. There is so much that medical science interfers with but is not fought against. I guarentee you if the pope needed an operation to save his life he would get one.

    Now why is it wrong to save the life of a dying mother who’s fetus is killing her? Is that not killing in self defense? Allowed in the bible. The church is just bias and hateful of women always have been. That is why I wish they would stay out of our government and out of the right wingers heads! The vatican was responsible for many of those horrible anti-women health bills in congress. Is that not shoving themselves into our government? This needs to stop. Women are just as much human as men I do not care what any church thinks. Scientifically we are HUMANS and deserve the same treatment and care as men and that is where we need the government to protect our human and civil and reproductive rights because some men and women think it is ok to discriminate based on religious bias.

    I guess it always will be a political and religious battle.

  • billfalls

    Your posts are always challenging and thought-provoking and I’ve been missing them. In this case I’m having a hard time swallowing the thought that my ethical positions, which I think are close to yours, are essentially Christian, which I certainly hope I am not.

     

    Still, your reasoning is hard to argue with. Call it “creative discomfort” – you give us a lot to think about and maybe learn from.

  • johann7

    There’s a difference between values that are unique to or first postulated by Christianity and values that are more widespread or even universal that Christianity (or certain versions thereof) adopted, and TrustingWomen is conflating the two. I’m writing a more general critique of the positions TrustingWomen takes in response to your post, billfalls, because you expressed skepticism with respect to the claim that secular values are “Christian”, and you’re quite correct to do so.

    But what if my values, morals, even my religion is exactly what commands me to support contraception, mammograms, and accessible abortion, particularly for those impoverished and marginalized? Once again, the Left implicitly cedes the ground of ethics, morality, religion and spirituality to conservatives.

    My argument would be that it’s not your religion at all that’s guiding these decisions, since most denominations of most major religions are hostile to women in general and sex specifically and women’s sexuality even more specifically. I would guess that you’re engaging in a post hoc religious rationalization by selectively interpreting religious texts as literal or metaphorical in order to fit ethical and moral frameworks that you developed as a result of being human and particularly being human in a particular society and historical period. Seriously, if I get to decide which portions are literal commands from Yahweh and which are metaphorical or intended only for the historical period in which a given section was written, I can make the Christian Bible, for example, support any position I want (including skeptical agnosticism/functional atheism), aided by the contradictory parts. I don’t agree at all that we implicitly cede moral arguments to Conservatives; that position only holds if one thinks ethics cannot operate without any or a particular god.

    I will not bore you further with theological or Christian doctrine but to say that our secular ideas were born out of Protestant Christian ones.

    This is the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. The belief that the exercise of political power should be rooted in demonstrable cause and effect based on real-world evidence and concerned with demonstrable real-world effects of public policy may be common to both atheist and certain Protestant worldviews, and secularism in the Protestant may have developed as a protective mechanism for particular faiths, and the atheist argument may have come after the Protestant one, but that doesn’t mean that the Protestant model is the cause of the atheist model of secularism. It’s entirely possible that there’s a common cause for both arguments for secularism that doesn’t rely on any particular religious faith but was appropriated by people both religious and areligious, perhaps a recognition that if one is attempting to establish rules for a wide range of people of different religious (or not) inclinations and cultural backgrounds, secularism is an extremely effective way to avoid sectarian fighting (both rhetorical and physical) in the populous as people strive to control the political discourse.

    My religious tradition disagreed with those Calvinist tenets and states that everything matters for salvation–for healing and for justice.  And therefore, all that I do and believe is a matter of my values, my morals, my religion, and my spirituality–including my beliefs that all people have an individual right to conscience and the means for fulfilling that conscience.

    Again, not “therefore” – everything is political irrespective of what faith one follows. That fact is a function of the nature of social organization – humans do not live in isolation (in fact, we cannot survive alone, as we are extremely susceptible to attack from stronger predators on our own), so every action that we take impacts those to whom we are socially bound, at the very least. That your religious tradition recognized this fact does not make that fact nor recognition thereof specific to your religious tradition. There are other ways to arrive at the same answer, and in this case, you have the order of reasoning backwards.

    Many secular folks on the Left deny claims that our nation is a “Christian” nation.  Yet, if you ask a Jew or a Muslim or Hindu, I bet they would agree that, in fact, the United States is a Christian nation.  By failing to acknowledge the dominance of (Protestant) Christian culture and values, we on the Left hinder our abilities to fulfill liberal dreams of a pluralistic and just society.

    This is a conflation of two distinct uses of the phrase “Christian nation”. Believe me, we atheists/skeptics/freethinkers/secular humanists are fully aware of how great the extent of the Christian majority is and to what extent Christian worldviews inflect public discourse. We don’t fail to notice the dominance; in fact, most of our activism is directed at actively fighting that dominance. When we say that our country wasn’t founded as a “Christian nation”, we’re refuting the lies that 1) the (wealthy, slave-owning, White, presumed-cisgendered, presumed-heterosexual – though cisgender and heterosexuality didn’t actually exist as identity/identifying categories when they were alive) men who created our constitution were mostly practicing Christians (or what we’d identify as “Christian” today) and 2) that they intended for the USA to be an explicitly Christian nation that codified explicitly Christian values/practices into law. As far as I know, a majority of people in this country (USA, not the land area, which was inhabited for thousands of years by people who had never heard of Yahweh) have always identified as Christian, but that’s different from the socio- political construct of the country being intrinsically Christian.

    The Left will not achieve it’s goals by making dated and problematic arguments regarding secular and the religious, or by arguing for keeping “politics” out of women’s health.  We will not achieve our goals by arguing that we are somehow universally right.  We will win by arguing that our policy proposals are most effective at minimizing unnecessary suffering in this world.
    Women’s health is inherently political.

    I agree with this completely – calls for some sort of impossible pluralistic compromise bother me quite a bit. One cannot have a religiously-pluralistic society when various religious sects explicitly call for the eradication of all people not identifying as part of that sect. Likewise, insistence that anything can be apolitical obfuscates the nature of the operation of power and makes addressing problems with that operation that much harder to address. Too, given the contextualized nature of meaning (and therefore truth – I’ll get into a defense of postmodern contextualized epistemologies if I must, but for now I’ll just say that they’re more robust than you may realize, as they’re frequently presented, poorly, by people who don’t really understand them – for now just realize that I’m not saying 1+1=2 isn’t True, just that such a claim functions as part of an abstracted model, in this case math, of how reality functions, and that model, being imperfect, cannot be universalized to all experiences of reality), any claim to ‘universal’ truth is false on its face and can be summarily dismissed. Measurable impacts based on evidence are the ONLY effective method for forming public policy – I completely agree with your statement to that effect.

    And dare I say, women’s health is inherently religious.

    You obviously dare, and that statement is probably true for any religious person, but since not everyone is religious (10.3-16.1% of the people in the USA are not, according to the last count: http://religions.pewforum.org/reports), and since I’m pretty sure the case against the truth (in terms of the utility of a given model of reality to both describe and predict reality as it is experienced by as many observers as possible) of any particular religion is far stronger than any case for it, I reject the idea that women’s health is INTRINSICALLY religious.

  • crowepps

    Women’s health is inherently political.  And dare I say, women’s health is inherently religious.

    I’ll accept that as a premise if  the corollary is accepted that preventing women from accessing what they need to be healthy is also inherently political and inherently religious.  Religion has always had women as its preferred victims.  Any time religion has the power to enforce its edicts, the effect for women is being sold into arranged marriages where they are forced to breed until it kills them, imprisonment for life in convents, and for those that resist, torture and death.  Absolutely, women’s health is “inherently religious”, healthy women apparently being so offensive to God that the religious make it their aim to destroy that health by any means possible.

  • trustingwomen

    A few thoughts reading over comments:

     

    Many people, particularly women, have suffered in the hands of religion.  No argument from me.  Unfortunately, many people, particularly women, have suffered in the hands secular states and racist medical practices.  I do not see secular belief being attacked because of those violences and oppressions.

     

    Religion and spirituality have served many people in their struggle for liberation and justice.  While religious institutions have oppressed many,  religion is much more than formal institutions.  I think the left obscures the history of liberal and liberatory religious communiteis that have used their religious resources to counter dominant practices of oppression and intolerance.  This is particularly problematic because we on the left consciously or unconsciously believe that morality, spirituality, religion, even God, is on the side of conservatives.   We do have not have a confidence in our moral/spirituality/religious authority.

     

    @Bill re: your creative discomfort at somehow being ‘Christian.’  I have often heard about folks being culturally “Jewish” but not religiously.  I think many of us are culturally Protestant and do not do enough to examine how our ethics can still be implicitly connected to that particular religious communities.  And there are some good things Christians have done– think about the tradition of MLK….

     

    Again, many thanks for rich engagement!

  • dapapabear2

    You have nailed it.  And it’s a discomforting fact for the ones who don’t see that they practice their “anti-religion” religously and to the same degree of fanaticism as some of the far right’s so-called Christians.  Whether bigotry and discrimination come from a religious or a secular source they are equally as devestating to those they are aimed.    

  • crowepps

    Many people, particularly women, have suffered in the hands of religion.  No argument from me.  Unfortunately, many people, particularly women, have suffered in the hands secular states and racist medical practices.  I do not see secular belief being attacked because of those violences and oppressions.

    Yes, indeed many women and many men have suffered at the hands of secular states, because of racists, and I would add because of many other secular institutions like schools, and also because of class which finds some people’s children more deserving of not just education but also medical care and basic support, and people have also suffered at the hands of financial speculators who blow up the economy, even promote and start wars, to allow some people to amass riches by ruining the lives of others.  It’s a little weird that you’re not sensitive to all of those institutions being criticized, since there are well organized campaigns to reform and improve all of them, including the extremely noise Occupy movement.

    The problem with religion is that while they almost all incorporate the universal moral beliefs about fairness and social cohesiveness and kindness held by all humans, including those who don’t believe in any gods at all, they also incorporate, as foundational beliefs, that one purpose of their tenets is to control human’s sexuality and gender expression because God set in place the customs of the tribe, and so that there is one ideal womanhood and one ideal manhood and God demands everyone conform scrupulously to one of those patterns.  In addition, disproportionately male power structures invariably come down much, much harder on the powerless women and girls who violate their rules, while simultaneously shrugging their shoulders about how the men and boys who break equally important rules just can’t help it.

    As someone whose hobby is history, I am very aware of the huge moral advances and tremendous momentum towards equality in part promoted and made acceptable by those whose motivation is religious, but I am also very aware that in almost every single instance, that religious impulse was individual and nonconformist, and that the organized standard bearers of the institutional church fought the reformers tooth and nail until  forced to accept them.  Certainly Martin Luther King had to overcome those who denegrated him and told their congregations he was a troublemaker, that listening to him would get them all killed, let’s be patient, let’s not upset The Man, Jesus will give us our reward in heaven so continue to suffer for His sake unfairness and discrimination, blah blah blah.

    I am also aware that relatively egalitarian societies like the Roman one, where there was in practice fairly widespread religious freedom so long as one respected others’ beliefs, where racism was unknown and class was all important, but where upward class mobility was available to those who were hard workers, and even the ubiguitous slaves had the legal right to save up and buy their own freedom, were followed by a descent into repressive, horrible societies based in superstition, where knowledge was hoarded because doing so increased the power of a few,  and the greater part of humanity was told they deserved their miserable servitude with no hope of escape because that was how God designed things.

    One problem with American education is its promotion of the Progressive Narrative, where advances in freedom are not just inevitable, they are ordained and therefore irreversible.  There have been great advances in extending the franchise and expanding personal agency and freedoms in America, but these are in no way irreversible, and there is now a well funded, well planned, very serious effort by conservative religious organizations and conservative political organizations to exclude *those people* from voting, reduce personal agency and get people *back under control*, enforce social conformity and stamp out personal pleasure.  They are *serious* about getting women out of colleges and careers, restricted to the home taking care of their 12 children, and their equally serious effort to eliminate birth control is the mechanism by which they plan to reduce women once again to mere breeding stock.

    If you agree with the conservative branch of your faith that a woman’s purpose in life can be reduced to possession of a functioning uterus, and God wants her to stop thinking so much, shut up and let the men tell her what to do, things are right on track for most women to end up back there, herded together, propagandized and punished for nonconformity by conservative women acting as “drivers” in order to be personally exempt from the rules and receive special privileges.  I will agree with you that there is nothing in Christ’s egalitarian, non-sexist teachings that justifies any of this, but the Sermon on the Mount hasn’t been the primary focus of the Church for decades.  Criticizing the opinions and motives of religious  conservatives isn’t the same thing as criticizing The Faith, and confusing the two plays right into their hands by removing women’s ability to defend themselves.  Bishop Olmstead may claim he is speaking for God, as may Pastor Stephen Broden, Ryan Scott Bomberger and Fred Phelps, but based on the Gospels I categorically reject their claims.  They speak only for themselves, and they all despise women.

  • colleen

    Religion and spirituality have served many people in their struggle for liberation and justice.

    But never women. This is particularly and increasingly true of those religions which are strictly hierarchical and exclude women from any leadership role.

    There is no widespread, organized ‘left’ wing Christianity  especially when it comes to the basic civil rights of women. Jim Wallis (who keeps insisting that he is the rightful spiritual leader of women like me) is just as sexist and  anti-choice and jealous of his spiritual ‘authority’ as anyone in the Catholic hierarchy.

     

     

  • maiac

    While your general point in this post (and above) is accurate, I do take issue with one thing…

    While it is true that left/liberal Christianity is not widespread or well-known (certainly not as compared to the radical religious right), it does exist and is organized (United Church of Christ, Quakers, Unitarian Unviersalists – though they are Christian in heritage rather than practice, and networks of community churches, etc.).