Thursday, February 09, 2012

Birth control, insurance, and Catholic hospitals/employers....

Reposted from Slate, by Amanda Marcotte:

"With all the fussing going on over the Obama administration's sensible refusal to carve out huge exceptions in their new contraception rules for religious-affiliated institutions that serve the public, I fear that there are a lot of misperceptions floating about regarding what it is that Catholic-affiliated hospitals and universities are really like, or how actual Catholics feel about this situation. Some numbers are helpful.

Twenty-eight states already require religious-affiliated institutions that serve the public to offer equal insurance coverage as non-religious institutions offering the same services. The tragic results predicted by anti-choice hysterics have not come to pass because of this. The notion that Catholics as a group are offended by these regulations is also false; a poll run by Public Policy Polling found that 53 percent of Catholics support the administration on this, which isn't substantively different than the population at large.The group who actually opposes the ruling are evangelical Christians, as a poll from the Public Research Institute found. Only 38 percent of evangelical Christians want the coverage.

So the divide here isn't between Catholics and non-Catholics, but religious fanatics and non-fanatics. You might not realize it from all the wailing about how Obama offended the Catholics, but most Catholics aren't actually sex-phobic religious fanatics. They use contraception and have abortions at the same rate as everyone else, in fact. The hyper-conservative representatives of the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops cannot be equated with American Catholics, any more than the Branch Davidians can be considered representative of Texans as a group.

The notion that the culture of Catholic-affiliated universities and hospitals is substantively different than secular or Protestant ones, and thus deserves some kind of special dispensation from having to obey the law, is something that direct experience with these institutions should immediately disprove. I personally went to a Catholic-affiliated university, and the reason that it was a fine fit for my atheist self was that "Catholic-affiliated" is basically meaningless when it comes to the daily business of a university. Culturally, there was no real difference between my school and a secular school. We had a LGBT group, co-ed dorms, no curfews, and while I was there our school theater did a performance of The Rocky Horror Show. Half the students and staff weren't even Catholic, and of those who were, most were like self-identified Catholics everywhere, which is to say not particularly interested in the church's extremist doctrines. The cafeteria served meat on Fridays during Lent. Campus entertainment, such as free movies and parties, was exactly like at secular universites. I remember sitting on a blanket on a warm summer night watching Pulp Fiction as it was projected on a wall on campus. My friends who went to private Catholic school in high school would often joke that they had better sex ed than you get in public schools. The only thing from the secular world that the USCCB cares to take a stand on is contraception, which suggests that this isn't about religion at all, but just about controlling women."


Anonymous said...

I couldn't leave this without a rebuttal. The ladies linked above do a nice job. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, an old-school liberal Catholic, offers an easy compromise in his op-ed. Basically, it's akin to walking into a kosher deli and asking for pork, and the guy behind the counter telling you where to find the closest affordable ham sandwich. Freedom of religion should extend up to the point where you violate someone else's natural rights, and a compromise of this sort would not. Catholic women have and always will have the free will to choose contraception, abortion, and any sort of forbidden fruit we so choose (legal, illegal, minor or serious), regardless of what we are told in church. The directors of religious institutions should also be allowed to choose not to pay for a practice that violates their convictions, as is their Constitutional and natural right.

Would you be okay with a requirement for employers to reimburse FGM (a.k.a. female genital mutilation or female circumcision)services for their employees and their children if it was culturally acceptable and common practice in your area?

Georgette said...

FGM is illegal. Whether I live in a predominantly African neighborhood (where, depending on which country the folks emigrated from, FGM might be a culturally acceptable and common practice) or any other neighborhood in the US-- FGM is illegal. So no, I wouldn't be okay with it.

I'm not all that familiar with all the arguments pro and con on this one. I just wanted to toss this article out there because I'm a heathen Catholic who doesn't mind birth control or the freedom of choice, and I did suspect the brouhaha was more along political lines than religious ones. But I so appreciate your comment, which gives me food for thought in a nice respectful way... :) :)

Tony said...

I think a better analogy is this:

A traveling employee of a "kosher" employer will only be given reimbursement for kosher portions of meals that are expensed.

I typically side to freedom and non-discrimination. However, my gut is to tell the Catholic orgs to STFU. I think this is more due to that church not practicing what they preach.

SavageKitsune said...

I used to work at a Catholic hospital. We were not allowed to use or allude to the word "masturbation", although our laboratory performed semen analyses whose collection required.... well. So we were not allowed to explain how the specimens needed to be collected.

Georgette said...

As a Catholic (though not practicing all of the facets of my faith) and one who is going through fertility "issues" I can say this-- Catholics (and some believers in other religions too, I think) are supposed to wear a special kind of condom that does not have lubricants or spermicides. It has to have a pinhole poked in it as well. That way, the sexual act is procreative (possibly) as well as unitive in nature.

In the old days, the Catholic Church said that sex had to be purely procreative, so you'd get these poor families where the woman would risk her life if she had another baby, and then they had to be celibate the rest of their lives!

Anonymous said...

? has birth control been offered by employers in schools and hospitals connected to the catholic church in the past and at present??

Anonymous said...

Um, what church authority told you that? Your priest?

SavageKitsune said...

In the old days, the Catholic Church said that sex had to be purely procreative,
Does that mean that once you were past the age of fertility, sex was completely off limits for the rest of your life?

Georgette said...

@anonymous1- no, Catholic hospitals did not/do not offer birth control. Even if you're brought in as a rape survivor and you want the morning-after pill (I'm a sexual assault crisis counselor so I know this for a fact.) As for Catholic employers, I can't say for sure. I do believe, based on what I've read, that many "Catholic" universities offer birth control beyond NFP (natural family planning) classes.

@anonymous2- no, I don't really have chats with "my priest"-- I learned that all on my own by reading history.

@Kitsune- I think in the "really" old days most people didn't live too long past their fertile years so it wasn't really an issue. I also think female mortality was higher at younger ages due to the rigors of birth, so more men had several wives. I have a suspicion that because of these factors, being "past your fertile years" wasn't an issue. Plus, while I'm sure some women enjoyed sex some of the time, there was not a big push for men to make it enjoyable for women (the female orgasm wasn't discussed or even acknowledged by many men and women) and so I'm sure women put up with it more than they sought it out.

But I'm not a historical expert on sex or the Catholic church so take my $.02 with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

I'm very disappointed in you. You are a smart, educated professional woman. The statement you made about the Catholic Church saying Catholics are supposed to use non-lubricated condoms with a hole pricked in it is something I would expect to hear from an uneducated, illiterate priest in a rural part of the third world, not from someone like you! Please look up actual Church documents before putting this stuff out on the internet. Many non-Catholics are already hostile to the Church because of the sex-abuse scandals, understandably so, and Catholics are leaving because they don't understand their faith. I try not to foster the image of us Catholics as sheep who can't think for ourselves.

I have a long-standing argument with a very sincere guy I grew up with, who has already been to theology school and will be a priest in a few years, about contraception, sex, and love. Obviously, the Church is not against sex as an expression of love within a marriage. Otherwise, how could it justify its advocacy of natural family planning as a method of contraception? This method explicitly states that the couple should have sex when they cannot procreate and abstain when they can, in order to avoid having children. (I cannot attest to its efficacy, myself. A friend of mine said it works if you wake at the exact same time every day and take your temperature right away.)

The Church condemns the use of condoms. With or without holes, lubricants, and spermicides. And other forms of artificial contraception. I think that in a few hundred years, it will come around and accept artificial contraception the way it does NFP, that is, within the confines of a marriage. I don't see a difference between the two, except that one is really inconvenient. Recently the Pope gave an interview in which he said condom use would be appropriate in a case such as male prostitution, in order to prevent HIV transmission. Notice that he chose an example that the Church does not approve of to begin with on several counts, 1. sex outside of marriage, 2. homosexual sex, 3. prostitution (sex neither for procreation nor love), and the use of a condom in this case doesn't make the act okay in the eyes of the church, only recognizes the sanctity of life by not infecting a partner with HIV.

Georgette said...

I obviously wasn't being clear. This was a response to the comment about masturbation. The Church says for fertility testing purposes (and IUI) that a sample is to be obtained by use of such special condom. Thus, instead of masturbating (purely sexual release) one has a sexual act with one's wife, which (because of the pinhole) technically still allows for the procreative purpose.

SavageKitsune said...

And for the purpose of semen analyses, a specimen collected in that fashion is suboptimal if not wholly impossible to work with.


Georgette said...

Kitsune-- that's not what I was told by the lab..?? Tell me more.

Not that it matters for us-- we're not so hardcore Catholic that we're going that route for "sample collection." But my understanding was that in these special condoms (no lube, no spermicide) you get the same semen sample as if you masturbated into a cup. As long as you keep the sample at body temperature while you transport it to the lab, within a reasonably short (<30min) timeframe, it should be fine. No?

SavageKitsune said...

One of the important things we want to know is the quantity of the semen ejaculated. If it's been deposited into a condom, and had some spilled during pullout, and some more spilled while trying to get it into the cup, and half of it left smeared on the inside of the condom, the total I have left to work with is usually a fraction of what was actually produced. Not only does this give an inaccurate idea of the quantity, but the less semen there is to work with, the harder it is to perform the remaining tests. Sometimes there isn't even enough to perform all the other testing. The most important portion of the specimen is the very first bit, which is often the portion we lose in these sloppy collections.

Sperm are very fragile little critters- exposure to air, certain plastics, vaginal secretions, people's dirty fingers, temperature changes, and all the other things it is exposed to while doing a messy collection like this chance killing the spermatazoa.

Additionally, all the abovementioned exposures introduce bacteria and other contaminants into the semen which can complicate the analysis.

Not to mention that couples usually don't want to have sex in the laboratory bathroom, so they are bringing the spec from home. Literally every minute the analysis is delayed compromises the specimen.

The ideal specimen is produced in the lab bathroom, deposited immediately into a clean cup without coming into contact with anything else, and on my scope within minutes.

Anonymous said...

Reeeeeally? I am very curious about what you read about this supposed Catholic method of taking a semen sample.

If a man masturbates in order to provide a sample so that a doctor can get him healthy enough to procreate, I think there is an argument that he's not doing it for pleasure, even if that's incidental, and that may be acceptable within the Catholic context of a marriage.

And as far as IUI is concerned, this is what the Church says, "[fertility] Techniques involving only the married couple are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable." So, the way the sample is collected really doesn't matter. The Church frowns on the whole process. Yes, one more thing the Church disapproves of.

So many people are misinformed about Catholicism. If people are going to ridicule my faith, I am okay with hate and ridicule over what the Church really says and does. Being bashed for what uninformed people think the Church said, but didn't, is frustrating.

Ref. Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2352 on masturbation; 2373-2379 on the gift of a child

Georgette said...


Homologous artificial insemination within marriage cannot be admitted except for those cases in which the technical means is not a substitute for the conjugal act but serves to facilitate and to help so that the act attains its natural purpose.

The teaching of the Magisterium on this point has already been stated.(51) This teaching is not just an expression of particular historical circumstances but is based on the Church's doctrine concerning the connection between the conjugal union and procreation and on a consideration of the personal nature of the conjugal act and of human procreation. "In its natural structure, the conjugal act is a personal action, a simultaneous and immediate cooperation on the part of the husband and wife, which by the very nature of the agents and the proper nature of the act is the expression of the mutual gift which, according to the words of Scripture, brings about union 'in one flesh' ".(52) Thus moral conscience "does not necessarily proscribe the use of certain artificial means destined solely either to the facilitating of the natural act or to ensuring that the natural act normally performed achieves its proper end".(53) If the technical means facilitates the conjugal act or helps it to reach its natural objectives, it can be morally acceptable. If, on the other hand, the procedure were to replace the conjugal act, it is morally illicit. Artificial insemination as a substitute for the conjugal act is prohibited by reason of the voluntarily achieved dissociation of the two meanings of the conjugal act. Masturbation, through which the sperm is normally obtained, is another sign of this dissociation: even when it is done for the purpose of procreation, the act remains deprived of its unitive meaning: "It lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely the relationship which realizes 'the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love' ".(54)"

And a link to the document....

Anonymous said...

Well, sounds like they don't want anyone masturbating in a clinic. I wouldn't be surprised if the Magisterium had a spirited debate before publishing that, though.

Georgette said...

Yes, please, don't get me started on my opinions about fertility treatment and Catholic teachings on same.

I find that at least when it comes to making babies, women generally are far less sentimental and emotional than we're given credit for. We are cold-blooded, rational, pragmatic beings. We put up with countless needle sticks, ultrasound wands up our hoo-has, conversations about cervical mucus, temperature-takings every morning, hormone shots, etc. I would venture to say that women will put up with whatever it takes (in most cases) to conceive and carry a child to term. It seems like the Magisterium was probably entirely male. A group of women might have said "whatever it takes."

Then again maybe I'm fostering the image of Catholics as sheep who can't think for themselves, and I should shut up ;)

Anonymous said...

No, I don't want to get you started.
This semen collection thing sounds ridiculous. I think better to say all fertility treatment is wrong or all is right or have some blatantly logical distinction between those that are and those that aren't. Most people, for example, can understand why abortion is reprehensible to others, even if they themselves think it should be legal. It's a clear disagreement on when human life starts or whether ending it should be allowed. The distinction between natural family planning and other forms of birth control-- well, I just don't see it, and can't explain it to my friends because it doesn't make sense to me.

I just wish people who flaunt church rules wouldn't feel that this worldwide institution that's been evolving very slowly for 2000 years should suddenly agree with their point of view or change to suit the times. The basic principles have never changed, and the evolution of doctrine to address issues that Christ and the disciples never preached about, like IVF and other modern developments, is made by a bunch of devout guys trying to make heads and tails of it all. They might be wrong, but I don’t think they get together, decide that women should be repressed, and call it a day. Having been formed in an ancient patriarchal institution, they are just not going to have the perspective of most laywomen on certain matters. You might choose to call them misguided (or worse). I do think the younger generation of priests who joined after the recent scandals are going to do a much better job that the old hierarchy when they reach that point, though they seem also to be more conservative, so I don’t think doctrine will change much. In the West, at least, most of this new generation is not ignorant of what they are giving up when they take vows, and have grown up with strong women.

I don't plan to convert, so I stay pretty defensive about my faith, and try to limit discussions about its Byzantine ways to just my friends because doing so takes such an investment in long explanations and because I do have some disagreements. (I have totally failed that in this instance.) I don't consider myself a good Catholic, though. I think people who want significant reforms like married priests and homosexual marriage should convert or leave the Church instead of wanting to force it to change. They have plenty of options, some of which are fairly similar, like the Episcopal church, so there’s no point in staying Catholic if you really have a problem with its views.

As I stated in my first post, all of us have the God-given gift of free will. We may do as we choose, and when we cross to the other side of life, we will find out who is right and if these things even matter.

SavageKitsune said...

"Evolve or die" is a reality of biology that carries over into pretty much everything, I think. The world has changed- culturally and otherwise. It will continue to change. It will never move backwards. If the church refuses to evolve, it will not survive.

Anonymous said...

The church has evolved. Catholic theology has a very rich history, and is hotly debated within the church today. Evolution can be hard to see if you don't study the animal in question. The church places a higher priority on truth than on survival, which can also hard to see.

What saddens me, as a Catholic, is that most of us are ready to debate controversial issues like contraception or masturbation, but can't answer fundamental questions about what we supposedly believe in, like whether the church approves of sex as an expression of love in a marriage. That should be basic. It's the Church's fault that it didn't teach a generation of Catholic kids this stuff in Sunday school. I almost learned nothing there. And, by the way, in medieval times, women were considered more highly sexed than men. An example of this attitude is the Canterbury Tales. And, in the medieval age, the church had a serious problem of ordaining village priests who were unable to read the bible or catechism, totally ignorant of theological matters, and had the same prejudices and attitudes of the people around them. They would tell their parishioners things that were completely untrue and even counter to Church teaching because they knew no better. Read anything about the Church in the 1300's - 1400's, and you can see it was totally f-ed up. No wonder the Protestant reformation happened.

So, even today, what a priest says, and what a lay Catholic says, and certainly what a journalist with no interest in putting the church in a good light says, should always be compared to the most recent Church documents available on the subject. Since doctrine does continually evolve. As Georgette pointed out, my reading of Church documents on fertility treatment was outdated, and has apparently been superceded by stuff published on the vatican website. What do you call that, if not evolution?

SavageKitsune said...

Some good points. I appreciate your thought-provoking discussion.

Ryan said...

" my reading of Church documents on fertility treatment was outdated, and has apparently been superceded by stuff published on the vatican website. What do you call that, if not evolution?"

I call that sad. If you truly believed the doctrine before, what changes now that the church has evolved? Why are you not arguing against the Magisterium?

As a previously practicing Methodist I found a whole host of things I disagreed with among the church, among the priests, and among the bible. I spent (in my opinion, wasted) a solid 9 or so years from my childhood, until just last year, believing in something I fundamentally disagreed with the whole time. Then one day I woke up and realized (much like the Magisterium did in regards to your quote) I was wrong. I don't need a religion to explain right from wrong to me, I don't need other men with invested interests telling me I need to donate money to their cause, I don't need the outdated and bias doctrine of the church. I don't need the church. I don't need , or believe in any of it.

Simply because I think for myself. Don't let the Magisterium think for you, think for yourself. I'm not trying to be hostile against your faith, I respect someone who believes and has conviction, but I am hostile against any organization that represses and manipulates people.

I sincerely mean no offense, I just wanted to throw that out there.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, Do you make your decisions in a vacuum with no context? Did you decide you were wrong because of an epiphany that came from nowhere, with no feedback from everything occurring outside your own skin?

I don't think I said I agreed or disagreed with the Church's doctrine on fertility treatment. I was simply stating what it said in the Catechism. My beliefs are formed through my own conscience, with input from my experiences, from the values, religious and otherwise, imbued in me as a child, and from the opinions of people I trust and respect, one of whom is well versed in theology, but most of whom couldn't care less about Church doctrine.

I think fertility science is really amazing technology, but if I'm going to give birth to a child, I want to enjoy conceiving it with the man I love, not with the man I love and a bunch of doctors and lab techs or God forbid, donors. If that's not possible, then I can live with the fact that my life's path didn't lead to children (unless I adopt some), as it hasn't led to other things I used to take for granted. Therefore, I haven't paid attention to the nuances of Catholic doctrine on fertility, because I don't consider it relevant to me. The newer interpretation of doctrine that Georgette cites sounds to me like someone made it up to discourage Catholic couples from pursuing fertility treatment, which led some bright person to come up with the condom method of sperm collection, which sounds so ridiculously silly, I'm amazed anyone would take it seriously. But I really don't know how that piece of doctrine came to be.