Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blood Transfusions and Birth Control: Why Birth Prevention is Not Technically Health Care

In the wake of the narrow 5-4 Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, there has been a great deal of discussion surrounding the larger implications of the case. Some have even declared that America should "wake up" because a women's "reproductive health" will no doubt be in jeopardy after this decision. I cannot guarantee that this will not in fact happen, but what I can say is that before the mandate went into effect, no one worried at all about a woman obtaining her "reproductive services". But now because the Supreme Court says that a company cannot be forced, on their own dime, to provide these drugs, that therefore means that birth control will inevitably become illegal? How, pray tell, will this come about, apart from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? Does this seem even remotely possible in our day and age. The majority of Catholics don't even practice Church teaching on this issue, and still you say that birth control is going to be outlawed? The only way birth control has any chance of being eliminated is if the number of Eco-Feminists increases drastically, subsequently raising social awareness of the potential dangers that artificial hormones have on a woman's body (Does that make me an eco-feminist?).

In the end, the court's majority opinion concluded that based on the "sincerely held religious beliefs" of the company, supported by the 1st amendment of the Constitution, and re-enforced by a law passed by Congress in 1993 called RFRA, "closely held" corporations, in this case Hobby Lobby, can opt out of providing birth control based on the grounds of religious freedom. However, some Christians (mainly Catholics) have argued that, while they agree with the ruling, they disagree with what they call Justice Alito's flawed reasoning in coming to this conclusion.

From a Catholic point of view, it is not purely on religious grounds that one should reject the birth control mandate as if one could simply justify any wild position because it was "deeply held" (this was actually pointed out in the dissent). Rather, their objection is based (at least in part) on a simple biological fact. Religion states that you cannot murder any human being because of their inherent dignity and worth. Science states that a human life begins to exist, DNA and all, at the moment of conception. Therefore, if some forms of birth control act as abortifacients (i.e. they can potentially end a life at its earliest stages), then the question is not simply one of religious sentiment alone, but rather one of biology as well. In this sense then the "life question" trumps the question of religious liberty, for one cannot have liberty unless one first has life.

However, in spite of the concerns that these individuals raise, what I find most galling about the back forth, is the stunning irrationality of those who oppose the ruling. From grumblings about men and Viagra, to crazy accusations about Christian Scientists denying everybody blood transfusions (I never knew Christian Scientists wielded so much power), to all kinds of Doomsday scenarios that imagine women in chains, this really is an "everything but the kitchen sink" kind of row. In her dissenting opinion, Ruth Bader Ginsberg puts Pillmegeddon this way; "because of their employers religious belief, legions of women will be denied contraceptive coverage." Legions, I tell you! You would think by the way that she is taking about it, the Supreme Court had threatened to take away everyone's right to food and water! Though I suppose from Ms. Ginsberg's perspective, birth control essentially amounts to the same thing.

One of the biggest problems with this whole debate is not the definition of "closely held corporations," or the fact that companies cover Viagra- but not IUDs. Rather, the real problem comes down to our very flawed and hopelessly narcissistic definition of "health care". The truth is we could solve this issue much more easily if we actually treated health care as, well, "health care". There is a very simple reason why denying "blood transfusions" would not ultimately fall under the same category as birth control. Blood transfusions, if needed and performed properly, actually bring the individual patient to perfect health. After all, that should be the actual litmus for defining health care, not simply any drug or surgery that one wishes to obtain. Birth control, especially as it relates to preventing a birth, does not ultimately fall under the same category as the former, for it shuts down/disrupts a naturally functioning system, rather than healing it. That would seem to me to be the opposite of health care. A company may choose to provide that "service" or not, and the government may even see a compelling interest in doing so themselves. But even if none of these institutions or bodies choose to provide these "health services" (which seems less and less likely these days), all of these pills and devices would still be available, no questions asked, at your local pharmacy.

Some argue that the problem comes down to sexism. Men get their Viagra, while women are denied the same treatment. And I agree with them on this account. This is part of what's wrong with how we define health care in our country. Instead of focusing on the necessities, we get all bogged down- both financially and philosophically- in a whole variety of peripheral concerns (like cosmetic enhancements, for example). Once again, I agree that it is ridiculous that men should receive Viagra as part of their health care plan. But that is ultimately up to the prerogative of their particular employer (and the same goes for birth control as well). Yet even were Viagra covered by every single health care provider in the United States, and birth control were not, it would still make far more sense. For Viagra at least allows nature to operate as intended, while the goal of the Pill is precisely the opposite.

Some will contend (as Ruth Bader Ginsberg did on Monday) that many women take birth control for reasons other than "birth control" (ironic isn't it?). The primary function of the artificial hormones in birth control is to prevent ovulation, but it is also true that as a secondary function, these drugs sometimes offer residual health benefits (i.e. clearing up acne and creating less painful periods). Obviously when Ginsberg, and others, express their concerns about limiting access to these drugs, they are not directing it solely at Hobby Lobby, for, as it has been reported, Hobby Lobby does in fact provide the majority of FDA approved birth control. However, even the Catholic Church does not technically rule out the use of the Pill prima facie- if it is used for legitimate medical purposes, and ultimately functions along the lines of medicine, and not as an avenue for sexual license. Hence, when all the dust is settled, the whole debate really does come back to your definition of "health care."

From a Ginsbergian point of view, Birth Control is the key to Women's Health (I am referring here to ideology, and not a woman's literal health). Indeed, it is the key to her autonomy, which trumps every other concern- including, but not restricted to, a woman's actual physical and psychological well-being (for further evidence see the commercial below). Anything that would in any way undermine this value, or seek to counterbalance it with other goods, is to be eradicated, regardless of its merit. The Pill is God. If you were to put a birth control wheel in a monstrance, these individuals would bend down and worship it. However, from the point of view of the opposing side, one might argue that in order for something to truly be called "health care," it must not disproportionately undermine, or destroy, the very health that it is is purporting to safeguard.

It is certainly possible to asphyxiate yourself (i.e. hinder your breathing) in an attempt to increase your experience of sexual pleasure, but few would argue that it is a worthwhile endeavor, much less a moral one. Well, some have died of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms in much the same spirit, using birth control devices which aim to deliver sexual freedom, all while obstructing the natural function of a woman's reproductive system. Thus, in the name of secondary health benefits, we have concluded that it is worthwhile to put at risk the primary one (i.e. living). All the same, we hear no mention of this from women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who claim to be singularly devoted to women's health issues. At minimum, these women should at least acknowledge, as the following commercial does, the litany of potential health risks that attend any woman's foray into willful barrenness. We operate here on the law of non-contradiction, and no matter how emotionally compelling, or how apocalyptic their claims may be, it cannot overturn the inconsistency of their argument, which states, in essence, that the gravest existential threat to a woman's health is her body functioning as it ought.    

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