by: Andrew Tripp
For the first time in quite a while, I am honestly pleased at something Barack Obama has done.
Recently, as part of the new healthcare legislation that has been passed, it has been mandated by his administration that all employers must provide insurance options that cover contraception for women, making it so every woman in America can have access to “co-pay or deductible-free well-woman visits, screening for gestational diabetes, breast-feeding support, domestic violence screening and all FDA approved birth control methods — including emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill.” Again, that is free and available women’s health support to every woman who has insurance. Admittedly, there are still far too many people without insurance, even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, but it is quite frankly an unprecedented step for American politics, namely, that they would care about women being healthy, or having control over their own bodies. It’s the kind of awesome thing that the more optimistic types expected from Obama at the start, but never happened. Better late than never, I suppose.
Of course, in the face of this, the hordes of women-haters from the American right wing and their buddies in the religious establishment just will not stand for freedom for anyone but themselves. They have tried to frame this issue, hilariously, as one of religious freedom: they say that not being able to deny women potentially life-saving care is a “direct challenge to the fundamental beliefs of Catholics and are directly contrary to the Catholic faith.”
The Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, called it an “unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience,”and Rick Santorum, our favorite frothy-mouthed presidential candidate, said at CPAC, “It’s not about contraception, it’s about economic liberty, it’s about freedom of speech, it’s about freedom of religion, it’s about government control of your lives.” Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League and quite possibly my least favorite human being on the planet, rounded these protests off in typically batshit fashion, announcing that “This is going to be fought out with lawsuits, with court decisions, and, dare I say it, maybe even in the streets.”
There is so much to analyze in just those four quotes: admittance that Catholic doctrine advocates against equality and autonomy for women; “freedom of conscience” equaling oppression, capitalism, and a call for outright revolution to protect their inane and backwards beliefs. Frankly, it’s all horseshit.
As Amanda Marcotte points out, this is not about religious freedom in the slightest — but about maintaining gender divisions and hierarchy. Catholics as a whole are in favor of the mandate by a sizable majority. In fact Catholic women use birth control just as much as do other women, but the kicker is the fact that far more men are against this new law than are women. Imagine that. A majority of men want women to be unhealthy and unsafe and to be controlled by men. No sir, officer, no patriarchy here.
So, after all of this madness exploded, President Obama announced that he was working on a compromise that would make everybody happy — and my heart sank. Oh shit, I thought: here we go again. Another backdown from the administration that will further eradicate my nonexistent faith in the man.
Imagine my surprise, then, when it turned out that Obama has well and truly done a number on the haters. Now, religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals now don’t have to provide contraception through their own policies, but insurance companies can now provide such care directly if the employers object. So, religious institutions still get to officially hate women, but no matter what, women will be able to get contraceptive care. It’s quite frankly a brilliant move, and my hat is well and truly off to the President. Start pulling this kind of stuff more often, and you might make me a fan yet. (Y’know, if you stop torturing people and prosecuting whistleblowers. That’s still the kicker.)
In news closer to home, it turns out that the school I attend, DePaul University, the nation’s largest Catholic university, already provides contraception in its health insurance plan for its employees, which is awesome and keeps up with the institution’s habit of pissing off the Church for things like not hating queer people and the like.
However, there is still a rather large elephant in the room when it comes to their health policies, namely that it is not permitted to distribute contraception of any form on campus, that our Office of Sexual Violence Support Services has only one employee to deal with all of the issues that may arise on campus, and, furthermore, that the code relating to sexual violence is difficult to find and woefully written and organized. DePaul doesn’t even have a centralized student health office; those duties have been farmed out to an outside practice, Sage Medical Group, which any patient of will know is not necessarily the best place to go even for small procedures, much less assault counseling. For a university of 25,000 students in one of the biggest cities in the country, this is quite frankly a pitiful state of affairs.
Why am I talking about DePaul in this? I mention these issues to illustrate that, despite the new government regulations on contraception described above, we have a very, very long way to go in this country before proper health care for not just women, but all Americans, is not just offered, but also easily accessible. Just because this fight seems to be going in the right direction does not mean that we can stop and pat the President and ourselves on the back: there is so much more to do, on DePaul’s campus and across the country. So, by all means, we should congratulate Obama and DePaul on their steps forward, but we can’t let them off the hook until full coverage is achieved.
Andrew Tripp is a scoundrel, raconteur, and all around roguish individual who is studying Philosophy and Art History at DePaul University. He is the co-founder and President of the DePaul Alliance for Free Thought, the university’s first and only group serving its population of nonreligious students. You can find him on a barstool cheering on Manchester City Football Club on the weekends, at his blog dreamingofqueens.blogspot.com and on Twitter @ahtripp.