Religion

Reproductive Rights: I've Got Some Good News and Some Bad News

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to relax these days (though I still haven't tried yoga.) Take the current fight around reproductive rights. Pro-choice advocates of women's health have heard plenty of good news in the past few days. The trouble is, it's almost always been tempered by bad news. See what I mean: Pre-Abortion Sonogram Debate After days of protests and media coverage, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell backed away from a state bill last week that required sonograms 24 hours before an abortion. Much of the criticism from pro-choice advocates focused on how the bill would require very invasive transvaginal sonograms for those women seeking an abortion early in the pregnancy. McDonnell explained he was opposed to requiring transvaginal sonograms and couldn't support the bill as written. The bill's opponents cheered. Now it seems likely Virginia will pass a less-extreme version of the bill—while Alabama may pass a bill more similar to Virginia's original. Virginia lawmakers have revised their...

Where Are All These Atheist Politicians?

(Flickr/gwilmore)
Throughout the 2012 race Rick Santorum has tried his best to distance his campaign from his image as a vehicle for the religious right. He has scorned the media for asking questions on the culture wars, spends his days touring the Midwest to tout his plan for manufacturing, all while leaving social moralizing at the dog whistling level. But on Sunday, the old fire and brimstone Santorum was back in full force in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos when the discussion turned to John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on the separation between church and state. "What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up," Santorum said. Paul already explained how Santorum misread Kennedy's message and Jamelle made the case for why, in a saner world, it would be enough to disqualify Santorum from being treated as a credible presidential candidate. When I first read Santorum's comments though, I was mostly...

Santorum's Double Standard

To follow-up on Jamelle's analysis of Rick Santorum's repudiation of fundamental First Amendment values, it's worth considering some comments made by Santorum in 2008, when he wasn't running for president and could be even more candid: But is there such thing as a sincere liberal Christian, which says that we basically take this document and re-write it ourselves? Is that really Christian? That’s a bigger question for me. And the answer is, no, it’s not. I don’t think there is such a thing. To take what is plainly written and say that I don’t agree with that, therefore, I don’t have to pay attention to it, means you’re not what you say you are. You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian. That’s sort of how I look at it. When you go so far afield of that and take what is a salvation story and turn it into a liberation theology story, which is done in the Catholic world as well as in the evangelical world, you have abandoned Christendom, in my opinion. And you don’t have a...

Rick Santorum's Cross to Bear

Rick Santorum and this guy go way back. (Flickr/
Apparently, Rick Santorum is displeased that he's being forced to talk about stuff like contraception, and Satan's war on America , when other candidates aren't getting the same kind of questions. One of his aides made the complaint to conservative journalist Byron York: But specifically religious questioning of Romney is as rare as specific Romney statements about Mormon beliefs. Given the current grilling of Santorum, that is a source of growing frustration to Santorum's advisers. "Why is Mormonism off limits?" asks one. "I'm not saying it's a seminal issue in the campaign, but we're having to spend days answering questions about Rick's faith, which he has been open about. Romney will turn on a dime when you talk about religion. We're getting asked about specific tenets of Rick's faith, and when Romney says, 'I want to focus on the economy,' they say, OK, we'll focus on the economy." In one way, Santorum's people have a point. Reporters haven't asked Romney lots of questions about...

Round Two in the Repro-Rights Fight

Flickr/WeNews
We've had a fun-filled few weeks in the repro-rights battles, haven't we? For one thing, Susan G. Komen revealed itself to be anything but politically neutral by trying to sidle out of funding Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screenings—and in the process, publicized the fact that PP is the women's health services provider of last resort for hundreds of thousands of women who need contraception, pap smears, STD and HIV tests, prenatal care, and, oh yes, abortions. For another, we watched as the Obama administration stood up for contraception as preventive health care that, under the Affordable Care Act, should be fully paid for by your health insurance, with no extra co-pay—even if you are a janitor, phlebotomist, bookkeeper, lab technician, administrative assistant, or processor who works for a hospital, social service agency, or university that happens to be affiliated with a particular church. (By the way, the contraception isn't "free." Jane pays through the nose for her health...

What Is Sex For?

(Flickr/multi.phrenic)
What is the purpose of sex? Who should be able to have it, and at what cost? Apparently, that was on many minds on Valentine's Day. That's when the Prospect 's indefatigable Abby Rapoport told us that the Virginia House just voted to go full-steam ahead on a personhood bill, which will define life as beginning from the very second that a sperm bashes its head into an ovum. Yesterday, too, in the state of Washington, opponents of same-sex marriage launched their effort to repeal the state's newly signed marriage-equality law. Washington's gender-neutral marriages won't begin, at the earliest, until June 7, after a "standard enactment period" that puts new laws on hold for a bit. According to the Chicago Tribune , Opponents were led by Roman Catholic bishops and other religious conservatives. "Marriage is society's way of bringing men and women together so that children can be raised by, and cared for by, their mother and father," said Joseph Backholm, head of the Family Policy...

Colbert Explains Contraception And the War On Religion

Stephen Colbert can't say that, can he?! Stephen Colbert Explains the Catholic Church and Contraceptives The comedian describes what Obama's birth control plan looks like to conservative Catholics. It involves a banana and a guillotine. The Colbert Report Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes , Political Humor & Satire Blog , Video Archive Log in or register to post comments

A Church We Can Believe In

At a time when the influence of the Catholicism is in decline, there’s nothing like a “war on religion” to rally your troops.

(AP Photo)
Before Archbishop Timothy Dolan becomes a cardinal next weekend, he will deliver a speech to the Pope and other Vatican luminaries regarding “evangelization and lapsed Catholics.” Back in the United States, Dolan has led the charge against the Obama administration’s decision to require that hospitals, universities, and other institutions that serve the general public but have a religious charter grant their employees access contraception. Dolan’s choice of speech topics in Rome suggests what may really be motivating his decision back home is to stir the contraception controversy. At a time when the scale and influence of the Catholic Church in America is in rapid decline, there’s nothing like a “war on religion” to rally your troops. None other than Pat Buchanan outlined the decline of Catholicism in America. In 1965, there were 58,000 priests in America. By 2020, it’s projected there will be only 31,000 left, most over the age of 70. In 1965, only 1 percent of parishes didn’t have a...

Virginia House Passes Personhood Bill

Republican delegate Bob Marshall says critics are overstating things when it comes to the personhood bill he is sponsoring in Virginia. Opponents of his bill have argued that not only does the measure grant legal protections to all fetuses beginning at conception, but it could also be construed to outlaw birth control. The bill is ostensibly less stringent than similar measures that came up in Colorado and Mississippi. As Marshall points out, it does not directly outlaw abortion, but would force the courts to include embryos in definitions of person. "I think I struck a middle ground," says Marshall. Try telling that to the bill's opponents, who fear the bill's consequences for women's health. The House rejected an amendment by Democratic delegate Virginia Watts that would have specifically protected birth-control access. Marshall called the amendment "a vehicle to entrap me," arguing it would have hurt the bill in court. By specifically allowing birth control, Marshall says, the...

Birth Control Chess

(Flickr/brains the head)
Last week, I argued that it was unlikely that many critics of President Obama's contraceptive coverage requirement would be mollified by a compromise that would allow a religious exemption but still mandate that employees be provided with contraceptive coverage at no extra cost. Apparently, we're about to find out if that’s the case. I was very concerned when I first read that Obama was planning to announce a "compromise," and part of me still wishes he had just stood firm given the that the arguments against the new regulation were so bad. But, as described, I believe that the “ accommodation ” that was announced by the administration is acceptable. The bottom line is that employees will still be able to receive contraceptive coverage at no extra cost, and as NARAL's statement explains "[i]t guarantees that women will encounter no barriers from their bosses or insurance plans in getting birth control without a copay." As long as the substantive rights and benefits of employees are...

Don't Spill That Semen!

(Flickr/robertelyov)
When does a cell become a person? That's been widely up for debate with the "personhood" movement, whose goal is to "protect the pre-born" by passing state laws and amendments that define that first moment of sperm-egg contact as full personhood. But why stop there? Why not before the two cells meet? The handwritten semen amendment. Over in Oklahama, state legislator Constance Johnson—my new hero—has introduced an amendment to the state's "personhood" bill that states that "any action in which a man may ejaculate or otherwise deposit semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child." Here she explains why: The Personhood bill would potentially allow governmental intrusion into families' personal lives by policing what happens to a woman's eggs without any similar thought to what happens to a man's sperm. My amendment seeks to draw attention to the absurdity, duplicity and lack of balance inherent in the policies of this...

Catholic Men at CPAC Oppose Birth Control

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
CPAC, D.C.—The controversy around the Obama administration's decision to mandate birth-control coverage in health insurance has dominated the talk at CPAC. "You may not agree with what that religion agrees. That's not the point. The point is, the First Amendment still applies," Marco Rubio said in his early morning address on Thursday. A group called Confronting Religious Persecution in America was primed to take advantage of the latest controversy. They're a Catholic men's organization that favors the conservative interpretation of social morals. "We have a desire to fight in a peaceful manner," said James Bascom, who stood with perfect posture, "to defend the Church, to defend the teachings of the Church, and to defend the remnants of Christian civilization that are being undermined and being destroyed in our society." (The American Prospect/Patrick Caldwell) Bascom, of Confronting Religious Persecution in America, spoke out against the birth control clause in the Affordable Care...

Why Should the Government Enforce Catholic Church Beliefs?

Flickr/Kim TD
When I was growing up, we had an infinite supply of Catholic babysitters, who all came from families of 7 or 9 or 12. If Margaret stopped babysitting, Mary stepped right in. Once Mary got too old, there was Anne. That was no longer true for my baby sister, born 14 years after me. By the 1970s, those Catholic families had mysteriously stopped adding a new child every year. Now we all know what happened to those families: After 1968, en masse, they rejected the Catholic Church's ban on contraception. In her column today, Gail Collins explains that, now, the Catholic hierarchy is furiously trying to get the U.S. government to come in and enforce its beliefs. Is it really the role of a secular government to take sides in internal theological debates between a church and its members? No one in the administration is making it mandatory for Catholics (or non-Catholic employees at Catholic institutions) to take the Pill, whether for contraception or for the myriad reasons that women try to...

Fight to Be Ordinary

AP Photo/Jim Rogash
Recently, someone asked me what it felt like to be married in Massachusetts. After all, our state has had marriage equality longer than any other in the nation, since May 17, 2004 (which, not coincidentally, is the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education ). How does the controversy manifest these days? He was clearly surprised by my answer. And because the issue is current, I thought I'd try to explain what it feels like to you, too. But first, the background. Today the Ninth Circuit will issue a decision in Perry v. Brown . You remember Perry ; it's the best-known of the more than half a dozen federal court marriage-equality challenges now underway. Brought by celebrity lawyer team David Boies and Ted Olsen, this challenge would overturn California's Proposition 8 and reinstate same-sex marriages in California—although everyone expects the case to go either en banc or straight to SCOTUS before anything is final. (Chris Geidner has more background here .) Perry is not my...

Contraception, Co-Pays, and the Church

The Obama administration took some hits last week after it announced that employers with religious affiliations would not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act's mandate to cover preventive services without a co-pay—including contraception. At The Washington Post , E.J. Dionne* was quite peeved at the administration's insensitivity to the Catholic Church. Yesterday, the White House set up a news media conference call with senior administration officials to go over the decision's basic talking points. When I asked for a link, they pointed me to the following White House blog post , written by Cecilia Muñoz. Let me excerpt the bullet points, which are essentially what was covered in the call: Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception. No individual health-care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception : ... For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a...

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