The explosive debate surrounding the Department of Health and Human Service's mandate that requires Catholic employers to pay for contraception, abortifaciant drugs, and sterilization is increasingly being framed as one of women versus the male hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
The other side is claiming that women's most basic health needs are staked on this mandate. In the words of Senator Barbara Boxer at a press conference yesterday defending the mandate:
"We're here to stand up for the women of America...When a woman goes on birth control, she gets great benefits, and her child...It leads to healthy families, planned pregnancies, and healthy babies...and now Republican leaders at the highest levels want to take away their healthcare."
All in all, this debate is increasingly becoming about contraception and women's health.
Admittedly, the Catholic Church is overwhelmingly represented by men in the media, so as a Catholic woman, allow me to clear something up. This is not about birth control. This is not about denying women anything. And this is most certainly not a war on women's health.
This debate is about religious freedom. This is about the Obama administration waging war on the Catholic Church, including the millions of Catholic women in America. This is about the political left, or some extreme segment of it, attempting to smush all American women into some amorphous block that will somehow wither away if they have to go another month spending 10 to 30 dollars on their pill-pack co-pay.
I guarantee you that the average woman spends more than that every month on magazines and martinis alone. But that's beside the point.
As a woman, I find it offensive the way women like Kathleen Sebelius and her friends in the media portray women as a pitiful group suffering because we can't "afford" or "access" contraceptives. And almost comical when juxtaposed with stories about colleges installing vending machines to dispense Plan B birth control in dormitories.
Let's see, do I want a soda or an abortion today?
I am only surprised that Aldous Huxley did not come up with that contraption first.
Birth control vending machines aside, what is truly tragic is that there is a women's health crisis going on right now. Female levels of anxiety and depression are at all time highs, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HPV is through the roof, heart disease and lung and breast cancer are killing women left and right, and one-third of teenage girls are getting pregnant before age 20.
But by all means, let's make a nun pay for the Nuva Ring. That will help advance the cause of women's health.
According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, contraceptives "have significant benefits for [women's] health, as well as the health of their children."
That is a claim that she is entitled to make. Given the fact that many hormonal contraceptives are considered carcinogenic by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research, directly linked to raising one's risk for certain cancers such as cervical cancer by the Center for Disease Control, and considered by the pharmacological industry to be "Category X" drugs (meaning that using the product while pregnant increases the risk at the highest possible level of miscarriage and birth defects in the unborn child), one could be forgiven for wanting to disagree.
But that is an entirely separate conversation.
Whether we need more access to contraception in this country and whether it should be free are entirely separate debates from the one we face now: whether or not a religious employer should have to pay for something that violates his or her core religious tenets.
Judith L. Lichtman, a senior adviser with the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, one of the groups that pressed the Obama administration to minimize religious exemptions, said before the issue blew up:
"Contraception is not a politically controversial issue in this country," she said. "It's an energizing issue for all women reflecting all demographics."
This was the miscalculation of the century.
In fact, the contraception mandate has "energized" Catholic women and all women who don't think the government should be in the business of telling religious employers to pay for something they teach is wrong.
I, for one, am a woman who objects to be lumped into a category and objectified for a political agenda just because I am a woman. I am a Catholic who finds the assault on my faith and my Church offensive.
Mr. Obama, Ms. Sebelius et al, I object.