Deja Vu All Over Again

For reasons only sociologists will understand, Americans have chosen this particular time to revisit issues about the status of women that I thought we’d settled decades ago.

There are a lot of parallels with racism. We elected a black President, but–faced with that stark evidence of progress–the not-inconsiderable numbers of remaining bigots crawled out from under their rocks. So this President “isn’t American” “wasn’t really born here” “is Muslim”  and must be defeated at all costs, even if that means opposing measures that are demonstrably good for the country.

Here in Indiana, gubernatorial candidates have each selected a woman running-mate. At the federal level, our Secretary of State is a woman; when the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, a woman (gasp!) was Speaker. Everywhere you look, there’s evidence that women really have “come a long way, baby”–a long way from the days I still remember. When I went to law school, women couldn’t even have credit ratings separate from those of their husbands, there were still cultural barriers to women entering the workforce, and young women had few if any role models if they wanted to be anything other than wives and mothers.

Equal pay for equal work? Forget about it!

Family planning? Well, there was the rhythm method and condoms….

What really set women free, what really opened opportunity and set us out on a road to equality was an invention called the Pill. When women had access to reliable contraception, when we could control our reproduction, the world changed.

But just as the election of a black President horrified the throwbacks still clinging to white privilege, women’s steady progress has infuriated the throwbacks clinging to male privilege. (Not that the two categories are mutually exclusive.) There is no other explanation for the eruption of legislation aimed at rolling back the clock. That legislation has attacked women’s rights on multiple fronts (including, unbelievably, equal pay laws), but it is no accident that most of the assault has aimed at our ability to control our reproduction. That ability is the foundation of our equality, and the old men who resent that equality know it.

In this morning’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd takes on the Bishops of her own Catholic Church over their claims that HHS regulations requiring health insurers to provide birth control violates their religious liberty. The column is well worth reading, but her final sentence really sums it up:   “And the lawsuit reminds the rest [of us] that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.”

Jefferson was right: liberty requires eternal vigilance. Those of us who thought the fight for women’s rights had been won had better go dig out our battle gear.


  1. Iit’s no mere coincidence that this happens at the same time the bishops have chosen to draw on the nuns. Sisterhood, after all, is powerful, however you look at it.

  2. I read through the Notre Dame lawsuit, and I realized something that surprised me a bit. Notre Dame might be partially correct regarding the contraception coverage. Notre Dame is self-insured when it comes to employees’ coverage, so I now can see that ND’s objection to having to pay for contraception has some merit. Notre Dame’s student coverage, however, is through AEtna, so in that case its objection wouldn’t have merit. This does present an interesting conflict for civil libertarians. I do not think the government would have the authority to require a religious organization to do something contrary to its teachings. But recognizing that liberty interest means that the liberty interest of women in deciding whether and when to conceive a child is in jeopardy. Balancing the two will require some real hard and careful work. (Please do not mistake my thoughts as supporting the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraceptives. I think it’s illogical and outdated. But, the hierarchy has the freedom to be illogical and outdated. If religious liberty is to mean anything, it means we as a free society are going to have to tolerate ridiculousness, illogical thinking, and outdated mindsets.)

  3. I think it’s unfortunate that too many of my friends on the left want government in the business of deciding which relgious views are worthy of legal protection. That’s a might dangerous slippery slope to go down.

  4. Most of this “new” war on women with, birth control appearing to be their primary target, makes me question why Medicare and many health care insurance providers cover erectile dysfunction supplies. Maybe I am the one with the problem; I am 75 years old and still looking for logic and common sense in government.

  5. Thanks to Bill Wilson for shedding light on Notre Dame’s lawsuit and their insurance coverage.
    His sensitivity to constitutionally protected civil liberties is also noteworthy.

    The university is not the church, It teaches students for many different vocations, only one of which is service to the church. One can make an argument that in that area alone, the university MIGHT have discretion to impose religious doctrine on its teachers and students. But even there, I draw a distinction between what the church is free to espouse – a right clearly protected by the constitution – and what they have a right to dictate and impose on others.

    The Obama administration has said the church
    cannot be required to pay for contraceptive coverage. That protects the church’s liberty to adhere to its own doctrines. But the govenrment has also said the church is not at liberty to deny liberty to others by denying certain health care coverage that the church (or university) does not pay for. The Obama administration found a way to protect the church’s liberty and pocketbook while also
    protecting the liberty, lives, and pocketbooks of individuals.

    Pregnancy and child-bearing are potentially life-threatening for all women. Additionally, contraceptive medications are used for a number of other medical conditions (such as ovarian cysts) which can also become life-threatening. If a woman and her physician decide she does not have to take the risks of pregnancy or needs contraceptive medications for treatable medical conditions, they should have the liberty to utilize those medications and the insurance to cover them – especially if it costs the church nothing for such coverage.

    Most of us are familiar with a picture of Jesus knocking at a door with no handle to enter it. It’s symbolic of the Bible’s teaching that God gave us free will on whether or not to open the door to his presence in our lives. Hopefully church leaders will change course where needed to remain true to this biblical guidance.

  6. RE: the Notre Dame lawsuit and other such religious liberty objections. What about the religious liberty of the INSUREDS to make their own individual choices? Aren’t these Catholic institutions participating in an essentially secular activity, either education or health care, and should not their secular employees and students have the same rights as other employees of secular institutions?

    This strikes me as “We cannot enforce our own doctrines on our own members, so we want the law and government to do it for us”. THAT hits me hard as religious tyranny.

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