Does religion beat out women’s rights?

Graphic by Bill Portoghese | The Oswegonian

Access to affordable birth control is a human right. Study after study has shown that the poorer a woman is, the more likely she is to have an unplanned pregnancy. More studies show that the main cause of this is the use of birth control. Women in the middle and upper class are more likely to use birth control (and to use it properly) than women in the lower class.

You may have heard a lot of rhetoric in the news recently regarding whether Catholic organizations should be required to include contraception in their health insurance plans. The Obama administration insists that every woman in America should have access to affordable birth control, while the Catholic Church insists that any organization with any ties to it should be able to deny this right to their employees.

Sometimes in life two human rights are in conflict with each other. The right to practice one’s own religion is also a basic human right, and this must be considered. But if the right to practice one’s religion interferes with a woman’s right to control her own body, which right must prevail? What have we decided as a society in the past when this question came up?

We can think of obvious examples when the right to practice your religion should be trumped by other human rights. Human sacrifice and ritual stoning are good examples. Even animal sacrifice is going out of fashion, despite being the worship-method of choice in the Old Testament. Obviously, if those religious beliefs cause physical harm, the human right of safety should prevail. But the Catholic Church would argue that no one is hurt by its policy. The Catholic Church argues that a woman who practices abstinence instead of using contraceptives is just as likely to succeed in life, and that any woman under their influence should abide by those rules.

Even if you assume the Catholic Church is right, does its right trump women’s rights? If the only standard is that no physical harm must be caused, polygamy would still be legal. There are more subtle and less obvious damages that are caused by policies such as the Church’s, and they do indeed violate women’s human rights.

The Vulcan philosopher Surak once said: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) Although this philosophy is somewhat utilitarian, I have found it very useful when no other philosophy seems to work. Although I would never say that religious freedom is less important than freedom over one’s body, the freedom of all women should prevail over the freedom of one particular religion.

As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in his column on the issue, what if Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted that their health insurance not cover blood transfusions? Or if Muslim or Jewish organizations insisted that their employees are only treated at sex-segregated hospitals? Even the Christian Science Monitor (which is a Christian Scientist organization that does not believe in modern medicine) offers a standard health insurance package. So what makes Catholics any different from any other religion?

6 thoughts on “Does religion beat out women’s rights?

  1. The Catholic Church must be stopped on this one. I am Catholic, most of my friends are Catholic. We all use birth control. My very catholic mother used birth control after 6 kids, when the pill was finally invented. They have a doctrine “no birth control”, but very few Catholics follow it. Just because you are employed at a Catholic School or Church, they have no right to make it unaffordable to you, if everyone else has it affordable to them. No one has to use birth control just because it exists. No one will be forced to use it. If someone wants to abide by the Catholic docrine, then simple, don’t use it. That is their free will. The Catholic Church is overstepping here. I think this issue will definetly get Obama re-elected. I know many strict repulbican catholics that are finally seeing the light and realizing Obama is for a president for the people – all people.

    1. I forgot to mention – I am a 52 years mother married with two children. My friends i speak of are of the same demographic. Virgin until I got married. (not a college student)

  2. reporter tim james should do his homework before writing. contraceptives are free at any planned parenthood location, are free at many highschools through their health departments, (without having the parent knowing about their kids requests) so this obama every woman should have affordable birth control already exists. and also tim, who says birth control is a human right, you begin with an assumption you percieve as a fact. I am a graduate of Oswego (1985) and am here to help you with your reporting career.

  3. Mr. Barr, I set my basis for why I believed access to birth control was a human right in the first paragraph. It’s an issue of poverty. If a woman does not have the freedom to decide when she will have children, she cannot effectively invest in her human capital. It puts her at a disadvantage to men which is completely avoidable. If a woman chooses not to take birth control that’s her choice. But it is never right for an employer to take that right away from women.
    And you seem to think that this law only applies to teenagers. The truth is that many many women do not have access to a planned parenthood or a “high school health department” either because it’s too far away or they don’t qualify for free contraceptives.
    Even if a woman did have access to free birth control from Planned Parenthood, the procedures for getting it are convuluted and complex. There are both and time and money costs associated with that. Thus, this new provision will lower the opportunity cost of birth control to most women.
    And thank you for your offer of help Mr. Barr, but I’m an Economics and Finance double major. Your probably vast knowledge in the field of journalism will probably not help me much in my career.
    Outof, thank you for a thoughtful response. I’m not surprised that many catholic women use birth control. When I researched this article, I found out that 98% of catholic women reported using some form of contraceptive at some point in their life.

  4. Mr. Don Barr should realize that it is not the point that we can get around the suppression and control of women that the catholic church so strongly clings to based on a religious non-fact based belief by going elsewhere for their “contraband”. It is the principal of the matter that they are denying women a medical treatment that was so beautifully put by Tim James in his comment to you in actuality a human right. You say accesses to birth control is not a human right, then I could use the same logic and say denying women the ability to access it is not a right the church should be able to practice either. The church denies women access to birth control based on religious belief, which religious beliefs are human rights and should be protected. Then a women’s right to choose birth control as form of contraceptive is a human right a well, the right to choose what is best for the individual and the right to have access to what an individual chooses, which should also be protected. I agree with Tim on this one, especially because I am a women.
    Go ahead and band contraception from health care plans catholic church, you have that right, but your asking for a world of problems all around including strong opposition to the church, increase in poverty, increase in dependancy on government handouts (which will lead to budget problems), increase in an already struggling population, and further harm to the economy. But what does the catholic church care about the repercussions of their actions, they are rich for the most part and do not get taxed, so they will most likely be fine. And that is the problem they won’t be held responsible for their actions because financially speaking they can’t be touched.

    1. Jennifer and Tim,
      both of you are under the assumption birth control is a human right. A human right is everyone should be free, no one should be discriminated against because of color or sex. any career is open to anyone…A woman has a choice to use birth control or not, same as a guy. Birth control is free at any planned parenthood, your taxes pay for it. (they pay for free abortions too but that is another story) A womans rights is the same as a mans rights. not one has more than the other. The real issue here is whether you believe a government can force an independent or private organization, religious or otherwise, to provide birth control. you see, the government already does that, so why is it o to force it It has nothing to do with does religion trump womens rights, Birth Control is a choice, not a right. Yes, many Catholics use birth control. and Jennifer, you have a choice to use birth control, just like tim has a choice to use a condom. they are not rights. Does government have the right to force places not to offer french fries, or force them to be “green” or force cigarette makers to pay billions to states so they don’t get sued.

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