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our bodies, ourselves

I’ve been following two news stories fairly closely these last few weeks. These are the kinds of things that you probably wouldn’t hear about unless you followed news and political opinion sites, though I think they do have health impacts, in this case on women’s health.

First, Komen for the Cure pledged to stop funding mammograms through Planned Parenthood because PP was under active investigation and because PP only did breast exams and referred people out for mammograms. There is much about Komen’s actions that seemed fishy to me, especially the being-under-investigation thing, since Komen has donated to other organizations similarly under investigation since imposing the rule, and has only stopped funding PP. And it was frustrating, as always, to see so much misinformation about PP out there.

But those topics are being hashed out elsewhere, I’m sure. What really piqued my interest was an aspect almost no one was talking about: In the short time Komen cut its ties with PP, lots of evangelicals donated to Komen and said they just couldn’t bring themselves to donate to them while they were PP-allied.  One example – and I’ve seen several these last few days – is Lifeway’s refusal to sale Breast Caner-awareness Bibles in their store. Lifeway is a Christian publishing-house operated by the Southern Baptist Church, and they had printed and pledged to sell a pink-covered Bible. They had planned to donate at least $25,000 and $1 per Bible sold (so whichever was higher), and they do seem to be living with their pledge to donate the $25,000 to PP.

But they also had never distributed the Bibles to stores. As Lifeway’s President explains it: “There’s nothing wrong with the Bibles. We just have no business being in even a perceived relationship with Planned Parenthood.” So donating to a group that donates to a group that does abortions is so wrong, you’d rather not stand by that group publicly. Because $1 per Bible is small potatoes, really. (And I have majorly mixed feelings about letting people “give” in ways that donates the company more than the charity.) But the exposure, the statement that we will stand beside you, is an important one. And the fact that evangelical organizations – and individual evangelicals – are willing to donate to Komen but only if it’s not two or three steps removed from abortions is pretty frustrating, actually.

Let me put it simply. I respect Christians’ right to oppose abortions. In some case I think it’s morally wrong; in other cases not, mostly depending on the development of the fetus. I also respect the Christian’s right to do with her charity $$$ what she wants. (So long as it really is charity; it’s different if we’re talking about something everyone should have access to, and I’d put cancer screenings in that category.) But we need a little consistency here. Back during the Bush years, evangelicals were happy to take other peoples’ tax $$$ through faith-based initiatives and funnel them to distinctly ideological groups. The test was, is the work being paid for a legitimate government function? Poverty relief, social services, disaster services, etc. Even medical research. Here many Christians are balking to the idea that their $$$ should go to a group whose ideology they disagree with, but that performs a service they’ve shown they would support if not for the ideology. It’s only fair.

I’ve already blogged about news story #2. Basically the RCC doesn’t want to pay for health insurance that covers contraception, because this would force the Church to either not offer medical insurance or else pay for something they didn’t approve of morally. Interestingly, it’s not a stance that the majority of Catholics actually hold. Back in April 2011, a survey found that about 98% of Catholic Americans used contraception at some point, and 70% used it currently. I suppose you could make a somewhat-reasonable point that if Catholics didn’t use birth control as a group it didn’t make sense to lump them in with people that did use birth control – essentially forcing them to buy something they didn’t need. It’s only semi-reasonable because insurance should force people to buy what they don’t need yet, since that’s how risk pools work – otherwise you’d just have the sick people in the group, and you wouldn’t have much of an insurance policy against illnesses you can’t afford.

But that’s not even what’s going on here. The Catholic hierarchy – single men all – are deciding based on ideology what women and families should do to manage their reproduction. It isn’t that Catholics don’t want insurance; it’s that the Catholic Church disagrees with it and is opposed to paying for it. And really, the RCC is no more a person than corporations are.

That’s the similarity I see between these stories, and that’s the detail that’s stuck in my throat. In both cases, you have women with a real need and because of a group affiliation, people stop from filling that need when either they would like to help if not for what it says about their group identity (“I’m an abortion-enabler, not an Evangelical”) or else they should provide it (because it’s the company’s right to provide health insurance and the individual’s right to make decisions on how to use that insurance).

That seems twisted to me. Whatever other lessons we should learn from these stories, I’d say rejecting that mentality should be at the top of the list.


Feb. 8th, 2012 07:54 pm (UTC)
Two quick comments--
Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms. I'm not sure how that crept into the discussion, but I am seeing it all over the place. PP provides clinical breast exams (visual inspection and palpitation by a healthcare provider) and a referral to a 3rd party for a mammogram if appropriate. While mammograms have a clear value as a screening tool, the opinion on the usefulness of clinical breast exams is more divided. Depriving someone of the benefit of a clinical exam is not as serious as depriving them of access to a mammogram. (Actually, it's a shame that PP doesn't provide mammograms.)
Lord Branwyn came home from Mass the other week and told me that the bishop claimed that coverage for abortions would be required under the new regulations. As a woman and as a former health insurance industry employee, I was interested so I did a little digging around and found that the abortion in question was actually the "morning after pill." Is that a form of abortion? Based on what I could find, there hasn't been much research on how the morning after pill actually works (because of the difficulty of running such a study on human subjects), but researchers believe that it works by preventing ovulation rather than preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg. They are certain that it does NOT cause a previously implanted egg to abort. So morning after pill probably <> abortion. (If you have heard otherwise, I would be interested to know.)
But you can get the parishioners far more upset by claiming abortion is involved rather than simply a form of prevention.
Edit: I don't recall that the defunding by Komen had anything to do with the lack of mammograms. My understanding is that Komen claimed to be concerned that PP's finances were under investigation.
Agreed that Komen does not come out of this looking very good. Which is their own fault but still a shame.

Edited at 2012-02-08 08:05 pm (UTC)
Feb. 9th, 2012 06:10 am (UTC)
If I recall correctly, the Catholic Church teaches that life begins at fertilization and not implantation. So if the morning after pill works by preventing implantation, then yes, the bishops are justified in saying that it's abortion (even if it isn't technically, from their perspective it's still the deliberate termination of unborn human life).

I don't know if Catholic parishioners have been polled and agree or disagree with their interpretation of the pill, but in my years of Catholic education we were taught that the RCC opposed the morning after pill because, since it prevented implantation, it was an abortifacient. (Of course, if it didn't, they'd still oppose it because it's a contraceptive.)
Feb. 9th, 2012 08:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the comments, Branwyn.

1. On PP and mammograms - I could have made that clearer. PP doesn't provide mammograms, you're right, but as I understand things Komen was paying them for the breast examinations and also for the referrals they gave to women to places that did do mammograms. Apparently that was a problem because Komen had a recently-passed policy saying they would give funds to places that actually provided the mammograms. I am not sure how exactly the old system worked - did Komen pay PP for the time it took to do a referral, or did Komen pay PP for the mammograms and PP reimbursed the people that actually did them? My impression is it was something like that, but I could be wrong.

I've heard both charges thrown around regarding PP and Komen - that either issue would be enough to cut funding, but that they noticed both before they made the decision.

2. On the RCC and abortions - I am a bit confused on the biology of one. As I remember from sex ed, the ovaries release the egg, the already-released egg encounters sperm and a zygote is formed, and eventually the zygote makes it way down to the uterus, implants, and the pregnancy continues. (Obviously not in every case; but I'm talking about the cases where the body doesn't spontaneously abort the fetus, so a pregnancy results.) My impression was that birth-control pills prevented ovulation, but if you had sex and a zygote is produced, how does preventing ovulation help anything? It seems like it would be too late for that, unless I'm not understanding something.

I do know that the RCC and many other Christian groups think human life begins at conception whereas most scientists (as I understand it) say it begins at implantation. The idea is that when egg and sperm join you have a new, unique life and that this life is human - it's just a question of it developing and anything that gets in the way of that so the life falters is considered murder (and specifically a murder by abortion). Scientists on the other hand only describe it as an abortion if it's an already-implanted embryo. I think a Catholic bishop would probably say that even if it's not abortion ion the scientific sense it's still murder because you're killing a human. (I disagree with the idea that a zygote is a human, of course, but as I understand it, that's the issue there.)

Again, appreciate the time and thoughts!
Feb. 9th, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC)
The window of time when you are fertile is surprisingly (some of us would say "mercifully") small, but sperm remain active in the reproductive tract for days after the sex act (which is kind of creepy in its own way). Ovulate a couple days after the sex act, and you can still get pregnant, so preventing ovulation would still prevent pregnancy.
There were studies where they compared conception rates with and without use of the morning after pill (levonorgestrel), and if ovulation had already occured, the conception rates were about the same (so it is effective at preventing ovulation but not the fertilization and implantation of an egg that had already been released). But heck if I can now find the website where I read about that...
Feb. 9th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
Okay, that does make sense. Thanks for explaining it to me. If that is the case, though, it makes me wonder why Christians are so concerned about this beyond all contraception. I was always taught that morning-after pills basically kept an already-formed human (the zygote) from implanting, so it was just flushed out of the body and died.

Anyway, thanks for the info!
Feb. 9th, 2012 10:50 pm (UTC)
This isn't what I originally found, but as part of a look at the economic impact of the morning after pill, these researchers did a review of literature about its mechanism and effectiveness.


Their conclusion is that the evidence (such as it is--very small human studies and some animal studies) is that the mechanism is contraception (mainly but not solely through preventing ovulation--some spermicide may be involved) and not abortion, though they admit that some people are not convinced (see page 6).
Surprisingly, they say it isn't very effective at preventing (or ending, if acting as an abortifaceant) pregnancies. That was a surprise to me, but in the circumstances (unprotected intercourse), it would definitely be better than nothing.



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