Bad Medicine

Long before President Clinton coined the phrase don’t ask, don’t tell to reference gays in the military, it was an unspoken policy for most Catholic women of childbearing age.

As early as the 1960s, Catholic women were quietly asking their doctors to prescribe birth control pills, and doctors — even Catholic doctors — complied. Many devout women took the extra step of shopping around for a priest who would give them permission to do so, telling him that they were ill, or going crazy, or both.

While there has been some contention over a recent claim that 98 percent of U.S. Catholic women have at some point used contraceptives to prevent pregnancy (http://wapo.st/AiyHcd), there is no question that the great majority of U.S. women use it, and many Catholics. What’s more, most Catholic doctors say they would prescribe the Pill to any adult who requests it. Now, Catholic doctrine dictates that the use of any kind of contraceptives is a mortal sin — the most egregious kind of sin, along with murder, abortion and adultery. It incurs the worst punishment: eternal damnation in hell. Hell is evidently a very large place.

Social conservatives have latched onto this issue as a way to stick it to Obama under the guise of religious freedom. But make no mistake — this is a Catholic-driven issue being supported, both financially and in principle, by the Catholic hierarchy. The bill proposing that religious institutions be exempt from providing contraceptive coverage was proposed by Catholic U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

I was born into Catholicism. I was baptized, made my First Communion and have been confirmed. (Confirmation name: Joan, as in Joan of Arc.) I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. Soon afterward, like many women of my generation, I began to question my church’s antiquated views on the rights of women. Some of us continued to practice Catholicism, tacitly ignoring the rules that seemed impractical or oppressive. Others, like me, just quit.

I still hold a fondness for an institution whose structure helped me formulate a moral compass and learn to appreciate the value of a spiritual life. But the Church — with its child sex scandals, intolerance of gays and lesbians and antiquated views on gender — has also been a profound and continual disappointment. The current contraception issue — the Church’s insistence that it not be required to provide birth control pills to employees or clients of Catholic-run institutions — is particularly galling, and opportunistic. If providing contraception is truly a moral trespass, then Catholic hospitals ought to refrain from hiring non-Catholic doctors and nurses. It shouldn’t hire anyone, in fact, who breaks Catholic rules: No one who is cohabitating outside of marriage, or who has undergone infertility treatment, or who remarried without getting an annulment, or who is gay.

Obviously, this won’t happen. Catholic-run hospitals are among the best in the country, if not the world — and that requires hiring the best people to run them. And the majority of the best doctors believe that birth control is a safe, sensible, integral part of women’s healthcare.

So why is this single “sin” — birth control — being singled out? To make a point. By couching the issue in terms of religious freedom, the Church is attempting to flex its rapidly atrophying muscles. Throughout the country, Catholic congregants are quietly ignoring rules from the Vatican that frankly insult their (presumably) God-given intelligence. They’re voting for candidates they believe in, and planning their families as they see fit. They’re accepting gays and lesbians as people deserving of civil liberties. They’re marrying people outside their religion.

The Catholic Church can’t control that, and attempting do so would cost it millions of followers. But in this instance, religious leaders have found a way to throw down the gauntlet: “We can’t stop you from having sex, but we sure can refuse to pay for your contraception. Because unless you’re trying to get pregnant, you really shouldn’t be having sex. P.S. If you do get pregnant, and you aren’t married, don’t come to us for sympathy.”

In essence, the Church is attempting to force believers and nonbelievers alike to comply with a rule that nearly everyone thinks is ridiculous. Shame on non-Catholic conservatives who’ve joined them in this folly for political purposes. Shame on you, Sen. Rubio, for proposing it.

By the way, Rubio, while in Miami, has often attended a Southern Baptist church and has identified himself as a Baptist in the past. The Catholic Church would call that heresy, and it is a sin.

See you in hell, Senator.

Tricia Book

Booker is a writer and fitness instructor who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach. She blogs at mylefthook.com.

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