I’m referring, of course, to the explosive and ongoing battle that’s erupted over whether or not faith-based institutions – such as universities, charities and hospitals – should be required to make contraceptives available to their employees for free as part of their employer health-care plans.
In a year when a presidential election was supposed to be all about jobs, it’s somehow — as Anne Taylor Fleming noted recently in Politico — ended up being about the female body instead.
On Friday, after several days of severe criticism from the Catholic Church, Republican congressional leaders, all four Republican candidates for president and even some liberals, President Obama released a compromise measure that would shift the requirement to provide free, preventative birth control to the insurers of such institutions.
But, apparently, that’s not enough for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which still finds this latest compromise “unacceptable.”
The bishops have vowed to carry on their fight against the compromise measure on both moral and constitutional grounds. The moral argument is that faith-based institutions and insurers are still being compelled by the government to make a service available that — directly or indirectly — violates their religious beliefs.
As such, the religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment is threatened.
We could debate the morality point. Writing in the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse has pointed out that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraception at some point in their lives — so this alleged ethical quandary isn’t such a quandary after all for most adherents to Catholic doctrine.
Moreover, she notes, the 629-strong Catholic health-care system that employs 14 percent of hospital staff in this country is — like Catholic universities — already firmly ensconced in the public square, open to all and, in the case of the hospitals, serving one out of every six patients in America.
To exempt these institutions from the contraception requirement while continuing to allow them federal funding would arguably be to privilege their “consciences” by giving them special treatment over and above the law.
One could also invoke the age-old moral arguments for using contraception as a means of preventing unwanted pregnancies and abortions (if that’s really the moral issue lurking underneath all this.)
But none of that’s the point. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the First Amendment issue really is the problem here. It’s not that I don’t see the resonance of the constitutional reasoning as laid out by my colleague Melinda Henneberger and others. I think they’re right, (although that argument is much less persuasive following Friday’s compromise).
But the thing is, I'm tired of hearing members of Catholic hierarchy talk about morality and sexuality and ethics. So even if they have a reasonable intellectual case to make on this issue, I'm responding emotionally — and rejecting it.
After the sex abuse scandal and the opposition to ordaining women and the church’s rigid opposition to things like civil unions and restrictions on abortion, I’m done listening to the Catholic hierarchy even when it might be making sense in some other part of my brain.
Instead, I find myself relating to the singer Sinead O’Connor, who once made herself famous by tearing up a picture of the pope on stage. O’Connor still considers herself a Catholic — she was ordained as a lay priest by an independent Catholic group in 1999 — but she remains proud of standing up to the pope and the rest of the hierarchy.
I’d never rip up a picture of the pope out of respect for all of my family and friends who continue to believe in church teachings. Nor am I a practicing Catholic any longer.
What I am is a disaffected, alienated and angry female ex-Catholic who can’t believe that I’m still having to listen to this church preach to the rest of us about morality. If I wanted to hear what they have to say, I’d still be going to church.