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Sexularism and the Religious Wars on Women


I do not get it. The Obama administration has proposed a "compromise" of the Affordable Health Care Act that allows church and religious groups to exclude birth control from insurance they provide employees. Insurance companies are instead expected to cover the cost. (How exactly this works is not at all clear.) I thought this had been resolved and that women, especially young women voted overwhelmingly for Obama because he stood with them and their sexual rights.  

Obama sided with women against the "war" that the Republicans launched against us. Why are we back at it again in new wolf's clothing? The phrase "war on women" was chosen in part by reproductive rights activists to depict the continual Republican assaults against women's rights to abortion and health care more generally. After the mid-term elections, more than 1,100 provisions restricting women's access to abortion on the state level were initiated. 

Mandatory ultrasounds were discussed in Virginia, Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Alabama. Catholic Bishops led an assault on health care provisions in the Affordable Care Act that would require contraceptives to be paid for by insurance companies. An all-male panel was convened by Darrell Isa to consider the validity of contraceptive mandates. 

The Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, was disallowed from speaking before the panel. Rush Limbaugh called her a slut and prostitute and suggested that contraceptives are necessary for women who just want too much sex. The federal funding for Planned Parenthood was once again fodder for right-wing anti-abortion activists, and it even invaded the well-known breast cancer Komen foundation, supposedly dedicated to women's health. 

A majority of women in the US use contraception at present or have in the past or intend to in their future. Although the numbers are always debated, some studies show that as many as 95 percent of Catholics have used a kind of birth control at some point in their lives. So what gives?                                   

(Religious) wars on women 

Progressives, and especially women of all colours, stood against the Republican "war on women" in the 2012 election and voted for their sexual/bodily rights. This includes an indictment of religious creeds that are patriarchal and misogynistic. It then seems outrageous that "religious freedom" or "religious liberty" appears to be a trump card in the denial of free coverage of birth control for US women. This is a direct negation of women's rights to their sexual selves as a human/secular right.

Freedom of religion derives from the first amendment. But this simply means that there can be no prohibition on the free exercise of religion. It does not mean that particular stances of religion be endorsed by the state; or that religion has "special standing" above all other rights; or that it be automatically privileged against all other competing commitments; or that it get a ready pass of its outdated patriarchal coda with no argument. I am all for freedom for religions just as long as they do not get sway and power over the public and private domains that allow for women and girl's sexual agency and rights.

I find the automatic deference to "religion" deeply disturbing. It leads to capitulation and not compromise. Compromise presumes a level playing field. It is interesting that western religious leaders are so ready to see religious oppression of women elsewhere - in Afghanistan, or Algeria or Egypt. And although there are egregious violations in these instances, the oppressiveness of religion also deeply exists in its own forms towards women here at home.