This Dangerous Hobby

I had the enormous good fortune to pick up my birth control on the day the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. decision came down.

The woman in front of me was also picking up her birth control. I could tell by her crossed arms and her tapping foot and the way she barked “I know” as the pharmacist began to say “Ma’am, I should warn you about how much this will cost.” “You know, there’s a generic,” he said. “Since when?” she said. “Only a month,” he said, now slightly afraid of how she might react. “Well, no one told me and no one told my doctor,” she leaned in and whispered, “because they want to charge us a shit ton, right?” The pharmacist was silent for a moment. “You can swipe your card.”

As much as I empathized with the woman in front of me, I followed my normal procedure of trying and failing to persuade my insurance company to pay for my prescription and then telling the pharmacist that yes, – sigh – I’ll pay for it, even though it costs more than my groceries for a month.

Don’t get me wrong; I was completely furious.

All day I had been leaping back and forth in my mind about this decision. Yes, its most sweeping repercussions will be in the realm of religious freedom. If we allow for some Christian beliefs to merit an exemption from federal mandates when we have upheld the responsibility of other faiths to adhere to the law (McKown v. Lundman), what does that say about how equal religious equality actually is in this country? Which is not at all speaking to the sticky wicket of giving corporations religious freedom. But, being that I am a feminist and that contraceptives were specifically being targeted in this case, I couldn’t help but fret over why this case of all religious discrimination cases made it before the court.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes that many cases of religious freedom that should, under the court decision’s logic, be worthy of affirmation in the Supreme Court were previously summarily dismissed because “‘courts must not presume to determine … the plausibility of a religious claim.‘”

If you ask me, this case got to the court and this ruling was issued because contraception and reproductive rights have become a sticking point for voters. The ruling came down much like arguments on this issue play out among pundits and pedestrians: my religious freedom versus your right to govern your medical care.

This thought reminded me of a story that my mother likes to tell about my grandmother. My grandmother was a Spanish Roman Catholic. One Sunday, my mom attended mass with my grandmother and as they were leaving a few women were handing out rosaries to pray for all of the aborted fetuses and the women who gestated them. My grandmother, my mom recalls, took one of the rosaries and dropped it on the ground. In her still somewhat thick Spanish accent she said to them, “I fought for each of my children and I believe in a woman’s right to choose.” I thought, now if my grandmother who was a devout woman raised in very Catholic countries could recognize that a woman has a right to bodily autonomy, why can’t this corporation and others like it?

Now before you take to the comments, I understand that this is not as simple as Hobby Lobby denying access to birth control. What they have asked for is that they not receive a tax penalty for not paying for sexual health coverage that they “believe” to be abortifacients because that infringes upon their right to the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

That’s right.

These four contraceptives in question are not in fact abortifacients as most medical professionals would define them (that is, substances that induce spontaneous abortion or miscarriage), but rather substances that prevent conception from occurring by preventing implantation. Despite what science says and that most in the pro-life movement would tell you that “life begins at conception,” it is unimportant that the substances do not destroy a life that has been conceived and what is important is that the plaintiffs believe that that is the case. So, if you take this to its basic physical facts, what Hobby Lobby finds objectionable is that a sperm might enter a uterus, may even implant itself in an egg, that potentially fertilized egg will not attach to the uterine wall, and no fetus will form. That this happens naturally is of no consequence. That this should happen with the aid of contraceptives makes it an “immoral act” as Justice Alito alluded to in the court’s decision.

Whole lot of hooplah for these tiny troublemakers.

But, I digress.

I tried to cut through the political game afoot and get to the root of all of this. This was not as major a sweeping oppression for women as it was for religious minorities. Women now are at more risk for being economically barred from receiving the reproductive health care they need, but sadly we are simply being kicked while we are down. The court decided that buffer zones outside of abortion clinics were detrimental to protesters seeking to harass patients and now your employer can decide which healthcare options are available to you based on their religious convictions. Obviously, reproductive (read: women’s) rights were being used as the most convenient scapegoat. Why?

It all comes back to how we talk about and treat sex.

Let’s take it to a very real place: I take birth control because I am sexually active. That’s it. Boo! Scared yet?

Sure, when I started taking birth control my crippling cramps went away and I didn’t have to worry about fainting, cold sweats, chills, and vomiting any more at that special time of the month. My health is markedly better now that I am not out of commission for one day a month, every month. But, if I’m being honest, the primary reason I started taking birth control was to engage in the sexual activity I was already engaging in without the concern of unwanted pregnancy. And there are millions of women like me in addition to the millions of women who need birth control to quell the symptoms of poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and other hormonal imbalances.

And, you know what? Using birth control to prevent pregnancy is still a perfectly legitimate health decision and I have the right to choose the best treatment for my body and lifestyle with my doctor without being discriminated against by my employer.

Or, at least I used to.

It seems to me that all of us who argue against this decision are a bit afraid to make that statement. We come out guns blazing to remind that even those four contraceptives that Hobby Lobby did not want to cover are used as treatment for health problems beyond pregnancy. There is always the ghost of sex in the conversation. We know, not even subconsciously, that if we argue that women have the right to use birth control to prevent pregnancy when they are sexually active that we, in some way, weaken our argument.

Why?

Because in our culture, admitting that you have sex for fun and for pleasure – even to non-religious people – is a faux pas. Wait, I’m sorry, I wasn’t quite being specific or accurate because men …

… love sex and they need to have it. So, they can talk all they want about how much they like it and do it just for fun. Do men even discuss having sex for the pure mission of procreation?

Curiously, as has been covered just about everywhere, Hobby Lobby and many other companies feel no moral conflict over providing insurance coverage for cialis, viagra, and other male sexual enhancement drugs that can treat other health problems, but are primarily to aid in their sexual conquests.

HEY-O!

This, of course, is because even though we feel no spiritual burden for encouraging men to go forth and sow their seed, we will force the women in which they plant to carry the burden of judgment.

That’s what I thought about in the CVS that day. I thought about the scores of women that I have stood behind picking up their contraceptives and the men that some of them were having sex with. These women, I thought, have to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of pills or shots or patches or plastic rings or copper inserts while the men with whom they enjoy beautiful, consensual, pleasurable sex may purchase fifty dollars worth of condoms over the course of a year.  The women come to CVS in a public pilgrimage every month and the men buy condoms in the bathroom.

And this we consider the most liberated and equal possibility without another thought.

It seems to me that at the root of this cycle we’ve created of making reproductive health resources scarce and limiting social welfare and limiting sexual education and making reproductive health resources scarce is the treatment of sex for pleasure as an indulgence instead of a fact. It’s not that men are to blame or that they aren’t aware of this problem, it’s that women take all of the blame and public humiliation for the biggest public secret in human history.

Humans. The vast majority of the times those of us who have sex will have sex will be to feel good. It’s ok. Let’s tell everyone!

In the hopes of moving past this ruling and working on how to affect positive change, I turned to an article in Pacific Standard that I perused last week about how raising our children with the notion that sex is both for pleasure and procreation might change society. The more I think about it the more I think that so many things that I find reprehensible about society could be curbed by a large scale movement in this direction: rape culture, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and access to contraception. I, for one, will tell my kids that sex is mostly for pleasure because that’s how they’re going to experience it – I hope – for the first decade or so that they are sexually active. Why not hit them where they live, so to speak? Then I can say, “Yeah, it’s totally fine that you want to do this! Just make sure your partner is also down and that you are being responsible with your body by using contraception.”

What I want for my kids is what I want for myself and what I want for every person in this country: that when they have kids that those kids are supported, loved, wanted, and prepared for. It’s good for all of us.

So, when I bring my spawn into a doctor’s office a few decades from now to discuss their options for sexual health, I can only hope that by then I won’t have to worry about my employer dictating how I raise my child and how they manage their own body. As Justice Ginsburg so astutely quoted “Your right to swing ends at the other man’s nose.”

Though, now that we’ve determined that’s not how things work here anymore, I wouldn’t mind getting in a few good hits.

 

One thought on “This Dangerous Hobby

  1. Although I agree with the decision handed down – and support the ideology of Hobby Lobby, you have made better points than any other poster I have read.

    Your argument is sound, it is not laced with vulgarities and it sticks to the facts.

    Excellent post.

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