On February 16th, the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hosted a hearing entitled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" (see here and here). The hearing followed a decision by the Obama Administration regarding contraception coverage by religious employers, which drew anger from some conservative religious figures. Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California, 49th District) drew fire from committee members and commentators over the hearing's preponderance of male witnesses, as well as his insistence that the hearing was about religious freedom rather than reproductive issues.
In the second half of the hearing, the committee heard testimony from additional speakers, including John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America. At the 10:05 mark, Garvey argued that the contraception coverage policy would force the university to contradict its own moral stance.
"We teach our students in our classes that marriage is a sacrament in which spouses share in the creative work of God. We teach that it's wrong for couples to close themselves off to the possibility of life. We teach that abortion is a grave wrong ... The rule forces the university to violate its convictions in two ways. First, it requires the university to pay for drugs and procedures that we view as morally wrong ... Second, the rule forces us to deny in one part of our operation what we affirm in another. We teach our students in our classes, in our sacraments, and in the activities of student life that sterilization and contraception and abortion are wrong. The rule requires our staff to offer these very services to our students as part of our health insurance program. It makes hypocrites of us in our moral teaching."Garvey addressed the claim that wider contraception access would lead to fewer pregnancies and greater productivity, thereby saving money and offsetting the money a religious employer spends on contraception coverage. Not surprisingly, he dismissed this claim as a "shazam theory," insisting that the proposed cost savings were illusory. To boot, Garvey argued that the cost savings do not matter, since contraception coverage is still morally wrong in his eyes.
Another panelist, East Texas Baptist University president Dr. Dub Oliver, repeated a common misconception about emergency contraception. At the 31:18 mark, he mistakenly claimed that emergency contraception causes abortion.
"While many Christians do not share the Catholic beliefs against contraception, there is wide agreement that abortion is wrong, and we believe, based on the Bible, that life begins at conception. The administration's mandate covers emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and Ella, which even this administration admits interfere with a human embryo. Our faith and the most recent science tell us that these drugs cause abortions, but under the administration's mandate, my university will be required to buy insurance so that our employees can obtain these drugs for free, as if there is no difference between these drugs and penicillin. We believe that is wrong."Oliver was not the only panelist who cast emergency contraception in a negative light. Dr. Allison Garrett, senior vice president for Academic Affairs at Oklahoma Christian University, also criticized the mandate to cover alleged "abortion-inducing drugs." Dr. Laura Champion, medical director health services of Calvin College, noted that Calvin College's student health plan does not cover Ella or Plan B. At the 42:51 mark, Champion insisted that "requiring coverage of abortion-causing drugs is a direct violation to the spiritual and behavioral standards that Calvin College expects of ourselves and our students."
However, according to Princeton University's emergency contraception website, emergency contraception prevents conception but does not abort an existing pregnancy.
As the panelists waxed poetic about religious freedom, I found myself asking, What about female employee's freedom to not get pregnant? What about couple's freedom to decide the size of their families? What about sexual assault victim's right to access emergency contraception? By narrowing the scope of the discussion to religious freedom, the panelists neglected the larger moral implications of their anti-contraception stance. To my disappointment, what could have been a nuanced panel discussion of faith, policy, and reproductive justice neglected key issues.
For additional commentary, visit the following links.
ACLU: House Oversight Holds One-Sided Hearing on Contraception
AlterNet: Ten Deep Thoughts on the All-Male Panel on my Vagina