Since the rise of Christianity, the Catholic Church has played a leadership role in nearly every part of the civilized world and its influence extended beyond Europe into South America and during the Crusades touched the lives of Muslims in the so-called Holy Land. During the Tudor dynasty under the reign of Henry VIII, the Reformation blunted the Vatican’s reach in England but it has maintained power and influence in Europe and South America. When John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was running for the presidency, there were unfounded fears that if he was elected the Pope would control American policy but those fears were squashed when a gunman’s bullet entered the young Catholic president’s brain. Fast forward to today, and the Catholic Church is exerting influence in American politics that began in earnest with California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage and now, the Church is influencing the United States Congress and nearly half of all 50 states.
When the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) followed the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to include contraception in a list of preventative health services for women under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Republicans in the House proposed a bill (HR 1179) called “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011.” The bill, introduced by Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb), allows health care providers and pharmacists to deny birth control to women if it conflicts with their religious or moral convictions. The bill, with 44 co-sponsors, has not seen any action since its introduction in March, but now a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Roy Blunt (R-MO) that mirrors the House bill and so far it is co-sponsored by Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). The bill is another back-door attempt at circumventing Roe v. Wade and takes the personhood amendments to their logical next step.
The decision by HHS to include female contraceptives in the list of preventable health services for women has elicited opposition from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The Catholic Church opposes contraception, and on their website they state, “In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, “Human Life”), which reemphasized the Church’s constant teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.” So Republican legislators in the House and Senate are taking direct orders from the Vatican and imposing an edict from Pope Paul VI on every woman in America. It is bad enough that Republicans have been on a rampage to deny women the right to decide their own reproductive health, but for American legislators to take direction from the Vatican shows how much danger this country is in from Dominionists.
Apparently, the personhood amendments in 26 states that define a zygote as a human being are not severe enough for the forced birth crowd, so they have determined that the act of sexual intercourse is now a human being. The Catholic Church goes so far as to condemn coitus interruptus as sinful because it prevents insemination, thus preventing life from forming. It is a perverse control mechanism for any religion to dictate how and why a man and women engage in sexual intercourse, but for United States legislators to impose the Vatican’s prohibition on contraception is not acceptable. The bills’ sponsors had better have a child for every year they have been married or else they had abortions or used contraception; unless either partner were sterile. Since the bills’ authors have children, it is assumed they are not sterile and utilized some form of birth control.
The bigger issue for all Americans is the bill’s allowance for medical providers and pharmacists to withhold a prescription or procedure if it conflicts with their “moral or religious conviction.” Under the bill’s provisions, there are no specific procedures health providers such as a paramedic, EMT, or nurse can object to if it conflicts with their moral or religious conviction. For example, if a paramedic comes to an accident scene and their religious or moral conviction prohibits them from saving the life of an African American, they can sit idly by and watch the person bleed to death. If an operating room nurse or heart surgeon’s moral or religious conviction prohibits them from operating on a homosexual, they can walk away and let the patient expire and they are protected under the law. There are myriad scenarios that empower bigots and religious fanatics to assist in a person’s death if administering treatment conflicts with their religion or moral conviction.
The legislators have not objected to medical professionals prescribing erection pills for men, or opioids for pain management, but if a pharmacist objects to drug dependency, they will be allowed to deny a patient sedatives or tranquilizers. What will happen if a Scientologist is asked to fill a prescription for a patient with a mental disorder and they refuse based on their religious conviction? What if a Senator or their family member needs a prescription filled for an antibiotic and the pharmacist belongs to a religion that doesn’t believe in using penicillin? There are any number of scenarios where a moral conviction may cause a healthcare provider to resist administering a drug or lifesaving procedure because this bill does not differentiate between contraception, CPR or heart surgery. It only says that any provider can “decline coverage of specific items and services that are contrary to the religious beliefs of the sponsor without penalty.” In the case of these two bills, the religious beliefs are those consistent with the Catholic Church.
The question arises; will the Catholic Church, evangelical fundamentalists, or any other morally superior medical provider raise the children that result from lack of contraception? This is forced birth and nothing else. It is also an opportunity for racists to withhold lifesaving measures from any ethnicity, or bigots from administering aid to gays; without penalty. There is nothing good that can come from this type of law if healthcare providers have the right to arbitrarily administer service, and the prospects for abuse are unlimited. Based on the level of racism and bigotry in the population, contraceptives are the least of the problem, but it is a big problem nonetheless. The law is specifically meant to control women and that is an ongoing narrative in the Republican Party. This is part of the war on contraception that people like Michele Bachmann is waging and the reason Planned Parenthood is a target of Christian conservatives.
There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the Vatican or the USCCB the authority to issue directives to legislators on the laws they author. There is also nothing whatsoever in the law that says every act of intercourse must result in a pregnancy; at least not in United States law. However, the Vatican has decided that every act of intercourse results in pregnancy and instead of only controlling adherents of the Catholic faith, the Church is now on a path to controlling American women. The House bill’s author, Jeff Fortenberry is a devout Roman Catholic who is 50 years old but only has 5 children instead of 25-30 depending on how long he has been married; assuming he has been intimate with his wife more than 5 times, they must have used some form of birth control.
The ongoing assault on a woman’s right to choose their reproductive health has escalated to this point and there is no end in sight. The Catholic Church funded the efforts to define a zygote as a human being, and now they are defining intercourse as a human being. At what point will these religious maniacs stop passing legislation based on the bible, or a specific church’s dogma? Apparently there is no stopping them, and one can only hope that a medical professional does not arrive on an accident scene where one of these religious zealot legislators is bleeding to death and choose to withhold aid because their moral or religious conviction restricts them from saving the life of an asshole. However, according to this bill, they can deny treatment for any reason and that is why it must never become law.