Yesterday was an odd day. Not because of school, or anything relating to my job, but really because of an issue, the internet, and our ability to argue with one another. And how this made me, for 30 seconds at least, feel sort of internet famous.
It all started with the one news show I actually watch, Al Jazeera English’s The Stream. The Stream is a news show that, while I don’t think it intentionally caters to “the young”, seems to be made for them. Its content is highly dependent on the “stream” of dialogue the show’s producers and hosts have with their followers, mainly on Twitter, and what the issues of the day are. They try to cover the things these followers suggest as compelling or interesting, and go from there. Well, yesterday’s issue was birth control and the Catholic Church.
If you manage to live life ignoring politics, you’re probably a pretty happy person. You probably also are unaware of the health care mandate going into effect in the US that requires employers to provide contraception to all employees as part of their health care plans. Now I’ll be the first to confess I don’t know every single detail here; what has been the cusp of the issue for many, though, is that Catholics in particular don’t want to pay for something they see as unnecessary, immoral, and not worth their money.
The more vocal Catholics have been saying that contraception is basically encouraging sex and there’s nothing else to it. Others have jumped on board, most notably Rush Limbaugh, calling an educated woman a slut for defending her friend who had an ovary removed because she couldn’t afford contraceptives to treat her ovarian cysts.
As someone who’s been diagnosed with 3 different uterine conditions after nearly a decade of menstrual pain, you can probably imagine that I have a problem with that.
When The Stream tweeted a request for comments this afternoon, I jumped in, took a few minutes to compose my thoughts, and responded.
‘”Birth control” has many uses. These health insurance providers seem to be decades behind on medicine, it’s truly worrisome.’
For clarity, I meant the Catholic groups, like businesses and universities, which have limited or even cut health care entirely for people because they refuse to help pay for birth control- people including the young women under 30 who most use this medication for other uses. And by uses I mean the treatment of menstrual pain, endometriosis and other causes of irregularity, hormonal imbalances, acne, and many others. It works for a lot of people; it didn’t for me, but that’s another story.
Well, I went about my business; 5 minutes later, they tweeted back to me. The Stream want me to post a video comment. Me. On television (sort of). So I asked how, they sent me a link, and I went for a run to gather my thoughts. When I got home I showered, dressed, made myself presentable, and filmed a 30 second clip. I did so 6 times, actually, until I felt satisfied that I’d spoken well without leaving anything important out. The told me they’d gotten it, and I looked forward to seeing it.
The show wasn’t for several hours, but when it came on, I have to admit I was pretty pumped. The guests were(From the Stream website): Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network; Janet Smith, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary; and Mary Rose Somarriba, chief operating officer of Catholic Information Center.
They started off the main show with none other than my original tweet. I confess I expected some very conservative views from some of the guests, but what I saw as the show unraveled astounded me. Here is the video (see someone you know?)
Having viewed it(or part, or not), I want to point out to you the main things that offended/bothered/worried me about some of the guests, and to also draw your attention to what I admit almost turned into rage tweets on my part.
1. When my video was shown, Sister Simone said that my point was exactly right; however, Dr. Smith deflected the question, talking about the fact that women using contraceptives for “these reasons” were not the issue. How are we supposed to “prove” a woman is taking contraceptives for an acceptable reason? I didn’t get a real diagnosis for my endometriosis until I was 23 years old; I had been having extreme symptoms since I was 15, if not earlier. The fact is that a “real” diagnosis takes surgery, and it took me several years and 3 gynecologists to find someone willing to take my pleas for surgery, both investigative and otherwise, seriously. I was told as a teenager that it was just a part of periods. I was told even after reaching age 18 that , for any sort of surgery or non-contraceptive solution, I should wait until I’d had babies. I was told this for years. I was told this by medical professionals. While I was given birth control at age 17 for these problems , what would have happened if my dad had been employed by a Catholic? There’s no way we would have afforded the medication, or been able to produce it had I needed “proof” of some kind.
2. When other viewers compared birth control to Viagra, which is not being contested the same way, Dr. Smith deflected this argument as well. She said Viagra helped married men have sex who couldn’t, and “the church is not against sex”. Wait a minute– no one asks a man getting Viagra if he’s married. As far as I know, that’s not something you’re asked to prove when you pick up any sort of medication, no matter who your employer is or what you’re getting. If an unmarried man can buy Viagra, that same man can go have sex with a woman on contraception. The problem is, if they’re both employed by Catholics who don’t have to provide birth control coverage, she’s paying for her medicine out of pocket; he’s not.
3. Dr. Smith then went so far as to suggest that Viagra treats a medical problem, whereas contraceptives do not. Which was the entire point of my earlier tweet and video (not like I expected her to be paying attention). Every step of the way in my own medical journey, the biggest treatment I’ve been recommended is contraception. It does treat multiple health conditions (which she actually sort of admits early in the video, I guess she forgot what she’d said by the end), although I and many others would regrettably admit that it doesn’t solve everything. And contraceptives have their own set of side effects, but then so does Viagra. The comparison is a valid one, whether you personally use or approve the use of either of these drugs or not.
4. ( Not like I expected other than this either, but ) Both Smith and Somarriba argued against another viewer’s point that Viagra doesn’t relate to women’s rights, while birth control does; and who asked the cheeky question of “How many women in the Vatican?”. It might be hard to stomach, but patriarchy exists in every culture and religion is no different. Saying you don’t feel women’s roles are questionable while representing a group that has for centuries been run only by men is sheer delusion. Even if you don’t have a problem with it yourself, you have to be willing to admit that people of other traditions won’t see it that way.
5. In what I can personally only see as a desperate attempt to show diversity, one of the guests (I believe Smith) argued that “other groups” which included Jewish groups, were bothered by this as well. She wasn’t clear on details of these groups and who they are within Judaism, but here is what I know on the topic: Judaism has always had a place for birth control and abortion; even numerous Conservative and Modern Orthodox rabbis (I won’t say all, most, or even many, I don’t claim that sort of knowledge here) have stood by the belief that birth control is important for medical use and family planning. Yes, that’s right, suggesting that even married people might use contraception(I know, shocker). After all, not all married couples can have infinite children. Or to paraphrase one Jewish writer (whose name escapes me presently), children are treasured in Judaism- when they are wanted and can be cared for. So I don’t know what “Jewish groups” she referred to, but I would have liked more specifics there, at the very least (for one of several articles I’ve read on the topic, click here).
6. Other viewers pointed out that their tax dollars paid for wars they didn’t support; why shouldn’t Catholics have to support health care they question? Somarriba’s response was that she personally doesn’t support Planned Parenthood, which also gets tax dollars, either. And she had a problem with that; apparently she doesn’t realize that PP, in addition to abortions, helps women with the following problems according to their website:
- anemia testing
- cholesterol screening
- diabetes screening
- physical exams, including for employment and sports
- flu vaccines
- help with quitting smoking
- high blood pressure screening
- tetanus vaccines
- thyroid screening
Not to mention other women’s health issues, from breast cancer screening to yeast infections and infertility.
Now, last time I checked my Bible, even women who serve G-d can be infertile(Sarah, just for starters), and according to medical records, Catholics can get all of these conditions too; they have nothing to do with birth control. Not liking a medical problem doesn’t make it go away; not liking a group that treats a medical problem is ignorance. Which is probably enough time spent on that point.
So what is my point? It’s hard to even put into words, but I’ll try: Education would be a solution to many of the world’s problems, including this one. At multiple points during this show it seemed to me that various guests had no idea what they were talking about beyond their own worldview, which is fine, but when you’re trying to impress the values of that worldview on others and say it’s okay, that’s not. Furthermore, at times like this we all need to remember that the United States was begun by a group of monotheists- many of them Christian- who accepted that their own religious beliefs and laws were should not be passed on to society as a whole to limit it; nor should they be preserved against the laws and make they, the believers, exempt from the laws of society.