|Beth:||[age 4] "Did you know the Bible says you should love your friends?"|
|Mom:||"Actually, the Bible says you should love your enemies too."|
|Luke:||[age 8] "I am not going to school today."|
|Me:||"Yes, you are."|
|Luke:||"No. I can't! I can't go to school today."|
|Me:||"You can't? Is something preventing you from going?"|
|Luke:||"I just can't."|
|Me:||"Did someone build a thousand-foot wall between here and school that we can't get around?"|
|Me:||"Is there a moat full of hungry alligators around the school that will eat you if you try to get in?"|
|Luke:||"No, that's not what I mean."|
|Me:||"Has your school been mysteriously transported to the surface of Mars?"|
|Luke:||"No, none of that. I mean, I just can't go."|
|Me:||"I don't understand why. When you say 'can't', it sounds like you mean it is physically impossible. You know, like 'I can't fly up in the sky like a bird just by flapping my arms' -- that kind of 'can't'."|
|Luke:||"Well... technically nothing is impossible."|
|Luke:||"That's what the Bible says. All things are possible with God."|
|Me:||"Really? /All/ things? Even flying up into the sky?"|
|Luke:||"All things. Even flying."|
|Me:||"Just so I understand: nothing at all is impossible?"|
|Luke:||"Right. Nothing is impossible if you have God's help."|
|Me:||"So you /can/ go to school today?"|
|Luke:||"Oh, not that. Some things are only possible at certain times. And right now is one of those times when going to school really is impossible."|
|Me:||"I thought you said /nothing/ was impossible with God."|
|Luke:||"God has a time for everything, Dad."|
|Luke:||[age 7] "I don't like it when Grandma talks to me about the Bible."|
|Mom:||"Oh? Why not?"|
|Luke:||"She never lets /me/ talk! And everything she says is true just because she says it. I can't ask questions. I don't mind talking religion but I don't like that."|
|Me:||"These are beautiful marigolds."|
|Beth:||[age 4] "Like in the Bible?"|
|Me:||"Hmm. I don't remember any marigolds in the Bible. I remember roses and lilies, but not marigolds."|
|Beth:||"But there's lots of marigolds. Jesus had a lot of marigolds. He had a marigold with water and wine, and a marigold when he made a man not dead anymore."|
|Me:||"Do you mean 'miracles'?"|
|Beth:||"No. Marigolds. I think God just likes marigolds."|
Please excuse me. I am interrupting my usual reports of witty and wonderful things uttered by my children, to take an excursion into American politics and vaginas. I wrote this after getting up way too early in the morning, and was unable to post it until now.
Recently, CNN published an article titled, “Why don’t men in favor of birth control speak up?” It pointedly asked:
…where in these recent debates are the voices of ordinary men? Why aren’t we hearing publicly even now from husbands who are not ready to have children they would have to support? Or from boyfriends who do not have the means to support a child?
I am one very ordinary man who absolutely, completely supports the birth control coverage requirement. I’m going to continue discussing this below, probably in far too much detail, but if you’re a man who supports birth control, please speak up. Say so on your blog or Tumblr or whatever. Say it on Facebook or Twitter. Write to your local newspaper. Seriously. Birth control is not just an issue for women.
For me, access to birth control is an important issue. I have been married for more than 12 years and yet only have two children, ages 7 and 3. This is not due to abstinence or the rhythm method, nor biology or lack of salient activity. This is due to conscientious use of birth control methods in order to delay, space, and limit the number of our children, so that we could focus on strengthing our marriage and careers. We wanted to ensure a stable home, financially and emotionally, for our kids. My wife and I both came from homes where that stability was not necessarily the norm, so we agreed before marriage that we were going to wait awhile on kids. Then we spaced our children apart, and stopped at two because we felt that we could not support any more. It’s called “family planning”—intentionally planning to have a family which would not exceed our capacity to support. I strongly recommend family planning for everyone who has sex. If you want to delay/space/limit your kids, you can’t do it well without birth control, and birth control isn’t cheap. We were able to afford it, but not everybody can, especially in today’s economy.
As a result, I support the birth control insurance mandate, and I am appalled and angered by the recent Republican demonization of it. It is misguided on many levels. Let me give you a few reasons:
- It’s entirely disingenous, Part 1. A federal birth control insurance mandate has been in place since the final days of Clinton’s presidency, and was supported (if not evenly enforced) by President Bush and his attorney general, John Ashcroft. In 2009, the Weekly Standard—a highly conservative source—reported on the trials of Catholic educational and health institutions fighting the rule. It notes that most Catholic institutions had succumbed to the rule under Bush. Thus, claiming that this is a new thing completely ignores the fact that it was barely newsworthy for more than a decade until Obama made a slight adjustment to the laws. Where was the enormous conservative outrage six months ago on this? Or ten years ago? It wasn’t there, because the law makes sense.
- It’s entirely disingenous, Part 2. Federal rules aside, roughly two dozen states already have state-level rules mandating coverage of birth control. Several Republican governers supported and signed these laws—among them Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and George Pataki. These men were not blind, ignorant, coerced, or anti-religious when they signed their laws.
- Hormonal birth control pills are not just for preventing pregnancy. If you saw Sandra Fluke’s testimony (or read it), you learned about her friend who needed to take birth control pills to prevent cysts from forming on her ovaries. Alas, the friend couldn’t afford the pills any longer, and so one of her ovaries developed a cyst the size of a tennis ball, sending her to the emergency room for surgery. This is not a rare example. Many women take birth control pills as hormonal treatment for a wide variety of issues. As a result, regardless of a woman’s sexual activity, birth control pills should be covered by health insurance for whatever reasons they are needed.
- The law makes good economic sense. It is significantly cheaper for an insurance company to provide birth control than it is to pay for a baby delivery and a new insurance user (e.g. a child). Apparently, birth control pills cost anywhere from $160 to $600 a year (or up to $1200/year by Sandra Fluke’s testimony, though that seems ridiculously high) while an IUD might cost up to $1000 up front, though it lasts for several years. Meanwhile, delivering a baby costs an average of $6,900 to an insurance company, plus the ongoing costs of covering a new client on its roster, not to mention the out-of-pocket costs to the new parents (which average between $9,000 and $11,000 for the child’s first year). And birth control might actually save over a billion dollars. Who doesn’t want to save money?
- Abstinence is not the answer to preventing pregnancy. Some people have told me that if women don’t want to get pregnant, they shouldn’t have sex. Let’s look at teenagers: 80% of them are sexually active. Even among teens who take so-called “purity pledges” to abstain from sex until marriage, at least two-thirds break that promise. Of course abstinence is the surest way to prevent pregnancy, but for many reasons, the momentum of our society is clearly against abstinence. Historically, at least 95% of Americans have had sex before marriage. Thus, we are willfully negligent if we do not provide people with the knowledge and resources for using birth control. This is true for teens and every other sexually active person. More importantly, abstinence is an utterly ridiculous answer for happily married and sexually active couples who decide they cannot support more children, financially or for any other reason. In today’s economy, more and more couples are struggling to make ends meet and cover health expenses, and yet you want them to stop having sex? Try working that into a campaign slogan.
- Condoms are not the only answer to preventing pregnancy. I’ve been told that condoms are freely available from health services, so there is no need to make other birth control methods free. But there’s one major flaw with condoms: they require cooperation from men. Unfortunately, men have a lot of excuses for not letting anything, even a condom, get in the way of their dicks. Furthermore, unlike pills or IUDs (for example), you need to use a new condom every time you have sex, and in the heat of a moment, it’s easy to forget about it. Then, if you do remember, chances are it’s the woman who has to ask. And at that point, this country needs a discussion about gender roles and controls in modern relationships. Don’t get me wrong: condoms are also key for STD prevention. But in terms of birth control, there are a lot of reasons why pills, IUDs, or injections are preferable, providing more reliable protection and less physical/emotional overhead, so to speak.
- It’s the will of the American people. Nearly two-thirds of poll respondents support the birth control mandate. To whom do politicians listen, if not the people? (This is a rhetorical question.)
It also seems that all of the opposition to the birth control mandate is from Christian sources. Certainly, Catholics are the strongest voices in this, particularly the current Republican candidates who are Catholics. But many other Christians have jumped on the bandwagon. There are two major arguments: contraception is sinful, and requiring insurance coverage is a violation of religious freedom. As a Christian, I have a few thoughts on this:
- Contraception is not “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” It does open the door to sex without pregnancy, and sex without risk of certain infections, but that’s it. Really, the key phrase here is “counter to how things are supposed to be.”
If that phrase means “sex of a kind that the Bible disapproves of”— for example, sex outside marriage—then we must admit that these kinds of sexual acts existed long before modern contraception, so they cannot be the result of it. Furthermore, various forms of pregnancy prevention have been around since ancient times, and yet the Bible never addresses the issue directly.
However, if that phrase means “things that would not be possible without modern man-made technology”—e.g. “unnatural” in a literal sense—then it is very arbitrary to draw the line at contraception. Let’s see: air conditioning lets us work in comfort even when it’s unbearably hot (but is this in violation of Scripture?). Missiles allow us to kill enemies without being in eyesight of them. Telephones allow us to talk to people who aren’t physically in the room with us. Checks and credit cards let you spend money that isn’t physically real, while credit default swaps let people steal your money without even touching your wallet. Automobiles and airplanes let you travel in ways for which neither man nor beast was made. Robots. Power tools. Oil drilling. Let’s not even get started on television, the Internet, and smartphones, though they are packed full of filthy, unnatural opportunities. And pretty much everything in modern medicine is unnatural, especially Viagra—didn’t God want those men to stop having sex? And what of my friends who are biologically unable to have children? Should they stop their fertility treatments? I hope not. In short, if you find contraception unnatural, please be consistent and treat the rest of modern Western living as unnatural, too.
- We can stop filling the earth. Genesis 1 tells us to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” and some folks believe this means we’ve got to keep on having kids. Have you looked around? The earth is getting full! Mission accomplished! We can slow down now.
- Yes, children are a gift from God, but that doesn’t mean more children are better. Psalm 127 says, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children on one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.” Some people believe this means you need to have as many children as possible. And, if you live in a culture where community issues and financial transactions are handled via outdoor council meetings held at the gates to your walled township by local men wearing robes and sandals, then yes, you should apply this scripture to yourself. You will need more kids than the guy next door in case you get into a land dispute with him and need additional witnesses to argue (or perhaps fight) in your defense (assuming your kids are male). However, if you live in a culture where the number of your offspring has little relevance to your rights, influence, and purchasing power, then you should merely recognize that yes, children are a gift from the Lord, and so is a safe pregnancy and delivery; but no, your kids are not part of your legal, economic, and physical defense options. Sometimes, cultural context is key.
- Sperm is not sacred. Let’s look at the strange story of Onan in Genesis 38: “Then Judah said to [his son] Onan, ‘Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.” Apparently, some folks believe this means that God hates lost sperm, and that you should never try to stop the natural course of sexual activity (pregnancy) even if you’re using a very natural method (withdrawal) or else you’ll make God angry. But the sin of Onan was not preventing pregnancy; it was his violation of God’s rules about, um, “caring” for your childless brother’s widow. Admittedly, this passage raises many other questions, which brings us to…
- The Bible has some bizarre stories involving sex, and they shouldn’t be used as guiding principles for modern living. For example, to continue the story above: after Onan dies, the woman, Tamar, dresses up as a religious hooker and gets the clueless Judah, her father-in-law, to sleep with her. And even though this, too, is a clear violation of God’s laws, Judah isn’t killed by God. What lesson should we draw from that? The story of Lot’s daughters sleeping with their drunk father (warning: link is NSFW) is pretty strange. The book of Judges has an anonymous and mind-boggling story of rape. Kings of the Old Testament, including David and Solomon, had many concubines in their harems—explicitly for extramarital sex—which was apparently okay with God.
The Bible also contains the Song of Solomon. Most Christians insist that the book is an analogy for man’s relationship to God, but the book is very clearly about sex, and it may even include references to materials used for contraception in ancient times.
- If contraception is wrong, you should tell the women at your church. The overwhelming majority of religious women have used birth control. Are nearly 100% of Christian women sinning in their sexual activity? Are they going to hell for this?
- The “religious freedoms” argument has some holes. Catholics have fought birth control mandates for years, and almost always lost; here are examples from California and New York (as PDFs), and the Weekly Standard article I mentioned earlier. It seems more important to the court for the insured person (such as an employee) to exercise their freedoms, than it is for the insurance payee (such as a Catholic institution) to protect its religious beliefs. If a Catholic hospital hires a Baptist, whose religious freedoms should take precedence? It appears the courts usually side with individuals. When the religious institution willingly hires people who are not aligned with its beliefs, provides services to people who are not aligned with its beliefs, and accepts funding from sources that are not aligned with its beliefs, then the institution has chosen to subdue its own religious rights beneath those of the individuals with whom it interacts. Don’t want to support my religious beliefs over yours? Then don’t hire me for your jobs, enroll me with your students, or spend my tax dollars via government grants.
Also, nobody is being forced to use contraception. That’s absurd. Is birth control against your religion? Then don’t use it! But don’t take mine away in the process.
- You and your taxes aren’t going to pay for it, so it’s not violating your freedoms. Some people have said that if insurance companies must spend money handing out birth control, it’s going to raise insurance rates that we pay, which nets out to “I’m paying for people to have sex.” This completely ignores the fact that insurance companies save a lot of money by encouraging preventative measures like birth control—in fact, they’ll save more than they spend. Why do health insurance companies encourage exercise and healthy eating? Is it because they truly care about your health? Maybe a little, but mostly it’s because they would rather pay a little for gym memberships and nutritional counseling, than pay a lot for the increased healthcare costs of obesity (such as diabetes). It’s about their bottom line more than your bottom. Your health is not their business; the cost of your health is their business. And it’s much cheaper to prevent pregnancies than handle them. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Health insurance companies may still raise their rates, but don’t believe for a second that it’s because of the birth control mandate.
Other folks have said they don’t want their tax dollars going to pay for people to have sex. But your tax dollars don’t pay for other people’s private insurance plans. The closest thing might be health coverage through Medicaid and Veteran’s Affairs, which both have covered birth control for years, though nobody has complained about that.
[added March 2013] There are some additional excellent points made over at My Obama Year’s post, Abortion: Politics, Prevention, and the Pope, where a former (?) Republican gains a new perspective on abortion and family planning issues. It’s worth a read.
I’m going to stop now. Hopefully this has some coherence. In any case, it is time to rouse the brood and make breakfast. Dads, and all men: if you support the birth control insurance mandate, speak up and say so.
And now, back to silly stuff from my kids.